What was the star of Bethlehem?

In the gospel of Matthew the Bible tells of the wise men who came to Jerusalem following a star from the east. Most nativity scenes today show a bright star shining over the stable. The star is mentioned by the wise men, “We have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) Later, after the wise men left Jerusalem for Bethlehem, the Bible says, “The star which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” (Matthew 2:9) Matthew 2 indicates the wise men saw the star at least a year before they arrived in Jerusalem.

The identity of this mysterious celestial object has given rise to many speculations. The most popular suggestions are that the star of Bethlehem was a comet, a miraculous light or a conjunction of stars and constellations that indicated to the astronomically astute magi that a great king was born in Palestine. What was the star the wise men followed?

One idea involves some sort of conjunction of constellations with stars or planets. The speculation is that a particular star crossed into a constellation like Leo (the Lion) indicating the arrival of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The problems with this are several. Most important, the Bible never gives the Christian, or anyone else, authority to interpret the constellations as messengers of supernatural events. The Bible contains no positive examples of this kind of astrology. The star of Bethlehem could not have been a star, planet or supernova in astrological conjunction. The wise men followed the star from the east. The appearance of a major star in the western sky might have been in the right position to lead the men from the east to Palestine, but after their detour to Jerusalem the star led them to a specific house in Bethlehem. In Bethlehem the star stayed above a single house. What constellation, star, planet or supernova can do that?

A comet is a more plausible suggestion, though it still seems unlikely. Some comets do remain visible for the length of time required for the wise men to follow it to Palestine. However, comets do not hover in one spot. Nor do they have the ability to point out a single house. The star led the wise men and then remained over the house where Jesus lived.

The most likely explanation is that this was a miraculous point of light given by God to guide the magi. This star was another miraculous manifestation from God telling men that the promised Savior was born. However, the Biblical information is limited and no conclusion about the nature of the star can be held with any high degree of certainty. More important than the identity of the star is the identity of the one pointed to by the star. The baby worshiped by the wise men was the promised Savior sent by God the Father to redeem men. He is Jesus, God the Son and God the Savior, worshiped by wise men throughout history.