Star of Bethlehem and the Planetary Conjunction

Star of Bethlehem and the Planetary Conjunction

People give many different explanations of what the ”wise men” saw that led them to the Christ child. (See Matthew 2:1-12.) One of those explanations says there was a planetary alignment in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin). Since the magi may have been Zoroaster astrologers, they knew Christ had been born and followed “the star.” There is no connection between the star of Bethlehem and a planetary conjunction.

This December 21, at the winter solstice, there is a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. If you go outside about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest, you will see that the two planets are separated by less than a minute of arc, even though they are hundreds of millions of miles apart. If your eyesight is not very good, they may look like one very bright star.

This planetary conjunction is an exciting astronomical event, but it is not a good explanation of the star of Bethlehem. Whatever the magi saw, it could not have been a celestial star. Herod could have seen a celestial star for himself and would have had no reason to question its appearance as Matthew 2:3-10 describes. He could have had his people follow the star to find Christ and kill him.

Matthew 2:9 tells us that the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the young child was.” The closest star to planet Earth, outside of the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, and it is 4.2 light-years away. No stars move that way, and a planetary alignment is not a star.

The Bible does not present the star of Bethlehem as a natural object but as a miraculous act of God. Anytime the Bible says something is a miracle, it becomes a matter of faith, not science. How Jesus rose from the grave is not something we can scientifically explain. You either accept it, or you reject it, but all attempts to explain it naturally fail–and there have been many.

The star of Bethlehem was a miracle to show God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and to give Mary and Joseph the resources to move to Egypt and avoid Herod’s infanticide. The star of Bethlehem was not a natural event, but today’s planetary conjunction is. As we said yesterday, today’s event is not an omen and has no religious importance, but it is a rare, predictable astronomical event.

— John N Clayton © 2020