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.

8 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.

  5. The rumor or question of the star being a comet or meteor is another example of non-believers trying to give a logical answer to a biblical event. Comets usually are moving through the sky. However, there is not reference in the Bible of the star physically moving. While the star in Matthew 2 might not have been a comet, it is certain that it was a sign from God. Matthew 2:2 says, “and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” They follow the star to the place where Jesus was born. Some could suggest that they “accidentally” stumbled upon Jesus. However, I believe that God placed that star in the sky to guide them to Jesus. I believe it is also possible Numbers 24:17 is referring to the future of Jesus being born. Perhaps the Magi was familiar with this passage and instantly knew what had happened once he saw the star. It is clear he had some information about the coming Messiah. Strauss says, “It was widely believed in the ancient world that stars heralded the birth of great people” (Strauss, 506). Therefore, perhaps this belief is why the Magi thought to follow the star. Because it was a sign something great was happening.
    Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels, Zondervan
    Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2020

  6. The event of the star that was seen when the three “wise men” or magi were traveling is an interesting event to analyze. Thinking about the situation logically, the star had to be unique – brighter, bigger, more noticeable – compared to other stars surrounding it. From an astrological standpoint it can be easy to come to the conclusion that it was either a meteorite or asteroid – a sign to the magi that Dr. Long explains can be seen as a miraculous event happening. Strauss furthers Dr. Long’s explanation by saying, “This latter event is intriguing since Pisces was sometimes associated with the Hebrews and with the end times, Saturn with the Syria-Palestinian region, and Jupiter with a world ruler. This could explain why the magi came to Israel looking for a king.” (Strauss 334). I have not considered in the past what the star could actually be logically, as I didn’t think it was very significant. However, the star obviously is significant as it led the magi to the place of Jesus, fulfilling a prophecy in the Old Testament. Knowing that the OT prophecies are becoming fulfilled, we as Christians have a greater hope in the fact that we know we will be saved and spend eternity in heaven through Jesus.

  7. This is a question that I have ALWAYS had as long as I’ve known the story of Christ. I have always thought it was just a really bright star but that it has to be there for a reason at that exact time of the year. The fact that there is a connection between Numbers and the celestial sign of Christs birth that is the star. According to prophecy the star and the Magi make sense to fulfill all that the Messiah birth needs. I agree with what some of the other people have said that the star itself is not what’s important, the role in which it played is what is the really important piece. I find it interesting that it is never really explained what really it was other than “his star” like in Matthew 2:2. It leaves open a lot of interpretation and question as to if it was really like the childhood stories, a glowing light in the sky, or if it was something completely different.

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