What was the Star in Matthew 2?

The answer to this question has to be “a miracle” since there are a great many variables to say with any sort of certainty that it was any particular stellar event.  It appeared in the east:  if Persia is meant then it is perhaps a two year journey to find Bethlehem.

The Christmas star

It is possible that this simply means, as astrologers, they read the signs and determined that the birth of the messiah was near.  “We read his horoscope” sounds far less Christmas-y, but that may be in fact what Matthew meant.

Other things besides stars could be considered as omens and portents.  Comets and meteors were always considered signs, it is possible that one of these appears at the right time and made the Magi think that Messiah had been born.  In addition, the star guides the Magi to the house, this is unlikely to be a comet, meteor, conjunction, etc.

Why would a star be the sign that the Messiah was born?  Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17 describes a king who will rise from Israel who will rule over the nations:

Numbers 24:17 (ESV) I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.

While it is difficult to state for certain that this “star” in Numbers was the star in Matthew 2, the connection of a celestial sign with the birth of a great king is a well-known feature of Ancient culture.  If Jesus was the Messiah, his birth would have been accompanied with signs and great men (like the magi) would observe and understand the importance of the birth.

5 thoughts on “What was the Star in Matthew 2?

  1. Hello,
    I wrote a piece recently about the Magi following the star. Stars as stellar bodies are always perfectly place in the heavens. On the other hand, angels are called stars in the Bible. An angel could lead the Magi to the house of the Messiah and not be recognized as an angel.

  2. As stated in the post, it is most reasonable to say that the star in Matthew was simply a “miracle”. Determining what the exact star was, or whether or not it was an actual star seems pretty impractical. In Matthew 2:2, there is no name given to this “star” and it is just called “his star” by the magi. In Matthew 2:9, the star appears to the wisemen, then goes ahead of them, and finally stops over where Jesus was born. This verse shows that the star was basically moving before their eyes, and leading them where to go. Obviously this is no normal star, this was something special that was made by God in order to direct the wisemen. I think it is important to note that this “star” was most likely only visible to the wisemen as well, or else I am sure this would have also drawn other people in, and the Bible never mentions others seeing it. Miracles and signs can come in many different forms, and it is very possible that this could have come in the image of a star for the wisemen. What this “star” really was is not really important I think, but what it did and the role it played is what is important.

  3. While the star of Bethlehem was undoubtedly a miracle, I think I would also follow the line of thought that the wise men were astrologers that “read the signs and determined that the birth of the messiah was near” (Long). Yes, it is not very “Christmas-y”, but to be honest there is probably a lot in our traditional Christmas that would not match up with the true story. Stars can be used in the recognition of the passing of time. For example, every year on the days surrounding my birthday the Perseid meteor shower appears. For someone who studies the stars, the Perseid meteor shower will announce the arrival of August 12, no questions asked. This could explain just why the magi were aware of what this new star could be announcing and why they might be looking for a star to lead them to the Messiah. “The magi were probably Persian or Arabian astrologers who charted the stars and attached religious significance to their movements” (Strauss 506). Would they have known about Daniel’s prophecy of the coming Anointed One (Daniel 9:25-27) and realized the years were matching up to the prophecy? Not only would they have noticed a new star in the sky, but as Strauss says, “it was widely believed in the ancient world that the stars heralded the birth of great people” (506). This would give further evidence as to why they would have taken special notice of this appearance.
    Derrick, while we cannot clearly know who could or could not see the star, I would probably lean towards the thought that the star was not something only the magi could see. If I were to look at the sky tonight, I would have no idea if there was a new star that had just appeared because I do not have a detailed knowledge of the night sky. However, for someone who spends their life studying the stars, a new appearance would seem to be immediately obvious. So, the star could in fact have been right above Bethlehem without anyone else having an awareness of its appearance. I guess this is another question we can ask when we get to Heaven!

  4. It is interesting to consider the reason why the star that appeared over Bethlehem was a sign to the Persian or Arabian astrologers that the messiah was going to be born, and equally as intriguing- Why were they so moved by this that they left their homeland to go find Jesus? Strauss talks about how the wise men of Jesus’ time often charted the stars and thought that the sky showed signs of what was to come. They were obviously very well versed in the happenings of astrology. Even though it was normal for the wise men to “attach religious significance” to the changes in the stars I wonder if there was any other event where the wise men were so moved by what they saw that they left their land (Strauss, pg. 345, 2007). In the book Strauss also considered how the trip that the wise men took could have been up to a two years journey. This is possible because of Matthew 2:6 and how it makes it clear that Herod sent a decree to kill all of the children two years and younger, which would be “indicating that Jesus may have been as old as two” by the time the wise men arrived (Matthew 2:6) (Strauss, pg. 345, 2007). Strauss did not talk about if it was normal for wise men to travel when they perceived that a big event was going to happen or a powerful ruler was going to come. The fact that the men were so moved that they left their homes behind and embarked on a long journey just to bring Jesus, this messiah they had never seen or met, such expensive and meaningful gifts I believe is just as much of a mystery or miracle as the star itself.

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