The Christmas Star Myth

Updated: Dec 25, 2019

Written by: Christopher Sernaque

Dear Readers,

Mythology tends to take the real world by a storm. Back in the year 2005, Rick Riordan’s first book in his Olympian series was released to eager masses. The titular protagonist, Percy, was framed as “The Lightning Thief.” Accused of stealing a bolt from Zeus, Percy, the son of Poseidon, had to clear his name and find the real “lighting thief.” How exactly one steals a bolt of lighting is beyond me, but the idea seemed to resonate with the readers who liked the mythological story. While some myths endured because in some ways they are endearing, the Bible is everlasting because it is inspired by the eternal one.

Authors have sometimes taken liberty with the historical accounts in the Bible and transformed them into dramatized fiction. Sometimes, this creative liberty is taken to far and ideas that are tentative at best are presented as absolute fact. I believe that Frederick A. Larson’s view that what is commonly called the “Christmas Star” has become a myth surrounding the birth of Christ. On a personally level, I do not know Frederick A. Larson. While I have no idea about what the intents of his heart are, only God knows, I am not going to assume that he has an ill-intent towards the Bible. In fact, I believe that he believes that he is defending the Bible. For that motive, I commend him, however, I disagree with his view that the “Christmas Star” is the retrograde motion of the planet Jupiter. Just exactly what “retrograde motion” is will be explained, along with why Larson’s view is incorrect, and finally, we shall find what, or who, the “Christmas Star” was made of.

Larson’s view of what the Christmas Star is problematic, albeit well-intended. Larson believes, as stated, that the Christmas Star is the planet Jupiter experiencing “retrograde motion.” Retrograde motion is “the apparent motion of a planet to move in a direction opposite to that of other bodies within its system.” In other words, he believes that Jupitar was the Christmas Star that led the Magi to Christ on December 25th. There are several complications with this view.

A “traditional story” is not always exactly identical to the actual historical narrative surrounding an event. Frederick Larson relies on a semi-twisted, albeit traditional, “Christmas story” of Christ’s birth. The traditional Christmas saga goes like this: “On December 25th, a very long time ago, there was little baby Jesus in the manger. His parents, Joseph and Mary, were there rejoicing over their new-born child of promise. There were also shepherds and sheep present rejoicing along with Joseph and Mary over the newborn Jesus. This “Little King” was already getting royal VIP treatment as three wise men presented gifts of praise to him.” This is the scene that is portrayed by many a Nativity set, although is not the record outlined in Scripture:

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”-Matthew 2:11

As we can see, this event did not take place in a manger, but in a house. Furthermore, Jesus was not a “newborn babe”, but was already a young child when the “Magi” greeted him. The Wise Men most likely met Jesus about over a year after he was born. This is indicated by the fact that King Herod ordered his soldiers to murder all of the infants in Bethlehem two years old, and younger. There are numerous other problems with Fredrick Larson’s idea.

1. Matthew 2:10 clearly indicates that the Wise Men had not viewed the Star of Bethlehem for a period of time, and thus were exceeding in joy when they saw it again. However, in Fredrick Larson’s theory, Jupiter would have been visible during the Wise Men’s travels, therefore there would be no reason for them to be rejoicing. This indicates that the Star of Bethlehem was not Jupiter.

2. Fredrick Larson invokes Jupiter's retrograde motion to explain how Jupiter could have moved in the manner in which the Star of Bethlehem moved. However, the Magi already had directions to go to Bethlehem, and so the star appearing over Bethlehem, in general, would have been of no use. Furthermore, because Larson states that Jupiter appeared over all of Bethlehem in general, he is contradicting the Bible. I say this with all due respect, but Larson’s theories specifically contradict Matthew 2:9-11, which states that the Star of Bethlehem appeared over “where the young child was.” Jesus was not in Bethlehem in general, he was in a specific house. It would be impossible for Jupiter to appear directly over a specific house in Bethlehem, and therefore the Star of Bethlehem could not have been Jupiter.

3. Finally, the idea that Jesus was born on the 25th of December is not supported by the Biblical text or Biblical scholarship. Therefore, if the retrograde motion of Jupiter did make it appear above a specific house in Bethlehem on December 25th, we can rest assured that that is nothing more than mere happenstance.

So, what exactly is the Star of Bethlehem? The Spirit of Prophecy gives us a clear-cut answer: “As the light faded, a luminous star appeared, and lingered in the sky. It was not a fixed star nor a planet, and the phenomenon excited the keenest interest. That star was a distant company of shining angels, but of this the wise men were ignorant. Yet they were impressed that the star was of special import to them. They consulted priests and philosophers, and searched the scrolls of the ancient records. The prophecy of Balaam had declared, “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17.

However, does this explanation make sense? As seen from the three points above, this star was not a natural phenomenon, like the planet Jupiter. It only makes sense that the star is a company of angels. Foremost, Angels were always actively involved in the life of Christ. Angels announced the conception of Christ in Matthew 1:20-21. Angels heralded his birth in Luke 2:10-12. When Christ was tempted in the wilderness angels came and sustained him after the ordeal was over (Matthew 4:11). When Jesus was resurrected, angels were there to witness it and proclaim it. (1 Timothy 3:16, Matthew 28:5-7). Finally, it was angels that brought him to heaven after his resurrection (Acts 1:9-11) and its angels who will be coming back with him (Psalm 104:3-Matthew 24:30) so why is it so farfetched that a band of shining and glorious beings would be the beacon that guided the wise men to Jesus’ house? Additionally, the Bible calls Angels “stars” in Revelation 12:4 and Revelation 1:20 (as well as in several other places like Job 38:7 and Isaiah 14:12). On a final note, according to the Bible, history repeats itself (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 3:15). The Bible says that it is the Three Angels Messages that will guide people to Christ in these last days (Revelation 14) and so it only makes sense that it was a company of angels leading the Wise men to the young child Jesus.

“An Evaluation of The Star of Bethlehem DVD.” Answers in Genesis. N.p., 22 Dec. 2010. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.

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Unwrapping Christmas

Should We Heed the Season's Greetings?

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