Question and Answer

How can the story of the "Christmas star" be true?

Question:

I'm reading the Bible again and have a question about the star mentioned in Matthew 2. How can this story be true? How do you "follow a star?" And how does a star lead you to a particular house? Why didn't Herod just follow this star if it was so evident that this star was actually leading somewhere? This is impossible according to science. Thank you.

Answer:

Thanks for your question concerning the star associated with Jesus' birth.

Our church believes that the Bible is totally trustworthy in all matters. Modern science cannot explain everything, frequently changes its consensus, and often steers people toward tragic ends. True science admits its limitations.

Keep in mind that "with God nothing will be impossible." (Luke 1:37) God is not subject to the laws of nature that he himself established. God is transcendent and stands apart from the creation. It should not surprise us that from time to time he will interrupt or overrule in order to accomplish his purposes.

According to the Bible's creation account, God placed "lights," the moon, the planets and the stars, in the heavens (Gen. 1:1-19). Although their conclusions were often superstitious, ancient astrologers proved amazingly accurate in their mathematical calculations concerning the movements of planets and stars. This sort of study was one way of "following a star." When an unusual light appeared, students of the heavens were quick to note it and wonder if it portended something of great importance.

Modern astronomers have speculated that the "wise men" mentioned by Matthew saw a conjunction of planets or some sort of exploding star. While one of these explanations cannot be completely ruled out, it seems more in keeping with God's special activity that the Lord created a unique "star." He who created the original stars would have no trouble creating a new one. The Bible gives no explanation as to the star's physical characteristics.

So God created an "event" in the heavens that would direct the wise men westward to Palestine. No one is sure exactly how the wise men made the connection, but the "Magi" (highly trained nobility) concluded that a great King of the Jews had been born. This was the conclusion God wanted them to reach.

Generally the Jews avoided astrology, being convinced that God, not the stars, controlled the destinies of men and nations. If the star was visible to them, they probably took it only as a curiosity. King Herod likely had little awareness of the star until the wise men showed up in Jerusalem asking to see the newborn King. Once he was aware of the Magi's quest, Herod left star-following to the "experts."

As to how the Magi physically followed the star, we can only speculate. Obviously, they decided to make Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, their destination. The narrative seems to suggest that once on their way, they did not see the star for some time. Given Herod's two-year time frame for murdering the infants of Bethlehem and the travel time from Mesopotamia, many months may have passed between the first and last sightings. When the star did reappear (Matt. 2:9-10), "they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy."

But how did the star pinpoint the house in which Jesus was then living? Again speculating, one would think the star was low on the horizon. Having been told to take the road to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:8), the wise men might well have viewed the star as sitting atop a certain building silhouetted against the evening sky. Alternatively, the light from the star might have fallen in a miraculous fashion upon the house. In the case of the shepherds in Luke 2:9, "the glory of the Lord shone around them." Something similar may have occurred with respect to the star and the house.

The primary reason for the unusual happenings surrounding the birth of Jesus is the need to emphasize the supernatural character of the event. God himself came to live among us and satisfy divine justice with respect to our sins. He came to conquer death and grant everlasting life to people who believe in him and accept his plan of salvation in Jesus.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

Return to Formatted Page