Left to right: Pleiades star cluster, Jupiter, Venus, Aldebaran Pre-dawn sky: The Atacama Desert of Chile, South America.
Copyright 1994 - 2018 Bill's Bible Basics
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August 8, 2012
Last Updated :
April 9, 2014
Doubts Regarding The Star of Bethlehem Being A Typical Comet, Great Comet Of 1811 And 1997 Comet Hale-Bopp, God's Ways Are Past Finding Out, Was Star Of Bethlehem Visible To Everyone? The Star Of Bethlehem Appeared, The Splendor Of Magnificent Venus, The Secrets Of Psalm 19, Does Greek "Phaino" Suggest A Comet, Kuiper Belt Objects, Awe-Inspiring Comets, Foolish To Assume That We Understand God And His Ways, Star Of Bethlehem Went Before Magi And Stood Over Jesus' Birthplace, East-West Movement Of Stars And Other Celestial Objects, Bethlehem's Star Moved In Directions Contrary To Natural Order, Bethlehem Was Final Piece In Messianic Puzzle, Magi Search For The New King, Modern Science Dictates That All Celestial Objects Move East To West Across The Sky, With God All Things Are Possible, Foolishness Of Trying To Limit God Based On Our Understanding Of The Laws Of Physics, Basic Requirements For Life To Exist, Demonstrate Humility, Spiritual Beings Represented By Stars
As I mentioned in part one, some people have proposed that the famous Star of Bethlehem may have been a bright comet. Based on my rather limited knowledge regarding the field of astronomy, and given what crude instruments were probably at the disposal of astronomers two thousand years ago, I am not fully convinced that the Star of Bethlehem was any kind of a comet. If it truly was a comet, it was by no means a typical comet. I embrace this position for a simple reason. As I will explain more at length in a moment, the Magi had followed the "star" for approximately two years. If we assume that most of their observations were visual observations -- that is, with the naked eye, and without the aid of any kind of instruments -- it would have been nearly impossible -- or maybe totally impossible -- to have watched a comet for so long a period of time.
To help you to better understand my position, consider the fact that during the past two hundred years, there have only been two comets which have been observable with the unaided eye for extreme periods of time; and neither of the two was seen with the naked eye for two years, as the "comet" of the Star of Bethlehem would have been. The first of the two was what has been dubbed the Great Comet of 1811. This comet -- which is designated as C/1811 F1 -- was visible to the naked eye for approximately two hundred and sixty days, or about eight months and three weeks, based on a thirty-day month.
The second comet will be very familiar to many of my readers. Dubbed the Great Comet of 1997, Hale-Bopp was discovered on July 23, 1995 while it was still at a very great distance from our Sun. It reached perihelion -- its closest point to the Sun -- on April 1, 1997. Comet Hale-Bopp was not only one of the brightest comets that has been seen for many decades, but it is also regarded as perhaps the most widely observed comet of the entire Twentieth Century. In fact, Hale-Bopp was was visible to the naked eye for a period of eighteen months, or twice as long as the Great Comet of 1811.
As you can see, as wonderful as they were, neither the Great Comet of 1811, or the Great Comet of 1997 -- Comet Hale-Bopp -- were visible to the naked eye for a period of two years; and it would have been considered highly unusual if either of them had been observable with the unaided eye for so long a period of time. Of course, once it was no longer within our range of human vision, Hale-Bopp was tracked for a number of months by astronomers who did possess the required equipment which enabled them to do so.
This is not to say that God could not have created a comet two thousand years ago that was observable with the unaided eye for approximately two years. After all, He is the great Creator of the entire Universe, and He can do whatsoever He pleases. I am reminded of the following verses:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9, KJV
"Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number."
Job 9:10, KJV
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
Romans 11:33, KJV
If God chose to create such a comet to serve as a sign which would lead the Magi to the Christ child, it would have been very awe-inspiring, because I would think that its magnitude would have to have exceeded anything we have observed in our modern day -- even greater than that of Comet Hale-Bopp -- in order for it to have been observable with the naked eye for a period of two years. Furthermore, all of the ancient world would have certainly talked about such an event, and written about it. Yet, for some strange reason, only Matthew mentions the Star of Bethlehem in his Gospel.
It mystifies me that not even the other Gospel writers seem to have thought it important enough to mention this Divine Sign in the sky. This has left me wondering if perhaps it is possible that the "star" was only seen by the wise men, and that it was not physically visible to everyone else. Or is it possible that it required certain scientific knowledge in order to recognize the "star" for what it was?
As I mentioned a moment ago, there are a few possible flaws with my personal theory regarding the Star of Bethlehem possibly having been the planet Venus. The problem reveals itself in the fact that King Herod diligently inquired of the wise men "what time the star appeared". Furthermore, after the wise men had their audience with Herod, Matthew informs us that "the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was". To refresh your memory, here are the only four verses where the "star" is mentioned in the entire New Testament:
"Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. . . . Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared . . . When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
Matthew 2:2, 7, 9-10, KJV
The first problem lies in the fact that "the star appeared". If we study the original Greek word that is used in this verse -- that is, "phaino" -- the implication appears to be that the "star" was not there and then it was. Consider the following excerpt that is taken from Thayer's Greek English Lexicon:
----- Begin Quote -----
KJV - appear 17, shine 10, be seen 2, seem 1, think 1; 31
1) to bring forth into the light, cause to shine, shed light
2a) to shine, be bright or resplendent
2b) to become evident, to be brought forth into the light, come to view, appear
2b1) of growing vegetation, to come to light
2b2) to appear, be seen
2b3) exposed to view
2c) to meet the eyes, strike the sight, become clear or manifest
2c1) to be seen, appear
2d) to appear to the mind, seem to one's judgment or opinion
----- End Quote -----
So it seems that whatever this celestial object was, it may not have been visible in the sky prior to the time that the wise men first observed it. As the previous excerpt points out, the "star" was brought forth into the light. It began to shine, shed light, became evident, appeared, and came into view.
So why is this a problem insofar as my theory is concerned? Because if we accept the traditional Judeo-Christian view that God created everything during the first Six Days of Creation, as per the Genesis account, then by necessity, this would also have to include the planet Venus. In other words, if these Magi were such learned men as we suppose, then it would seem that they would already be quite familiar with the planet Venus. They would have observed it many times over the years, and marvelled at its brightness and beauty. They would have also been familiar with its orbit. As such, they would not have considered it anything out of the ordinary or really something new. Of course, the Scriptures do not say that what they saw was something new. They simply say "we have seen his star in the east".
If you are personally familiar with Venus's unique appearance in the night sky, then you will know what I am talking about. There is no mistaking it. It stands out. Even lovely, bright Jupiter cannot compare to the splendor of magnificent Venus. Perhaps you have likewise made the mistake of thinking that low-lying Venus was an inbound airplane. That is how bright it is; particularly on a very clear night. Imagine how much more beautiful -- as well as visible -- our night sky must have been two thousand years ago before man-made pollution began to slowly block out God's wonderful Celestial Creation. Nowadays, one has to escape to the dark countryside to even get a glimpse of such celestial wonders. I am reminded of the following verse that begins King David's nineteenth Psalm:
"[To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.] The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."
Psalms 19:1, KJV
While it is a short Psalm -- being only fourteen verses in length -- within its lines it reveals how God indeed uses His celestial wonders to reveal some of His secrets to the wise who know how to read and interpret them. For example, verse two through four state the following. Please notice the clear references to showing knowledge, and their voice and words being heard everywhere.:
". . . night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."
Psalm 19:2b-4a, KJV
If my assumption concerning the wise men being knowledgeable of Venus is correct, then it seems to me that whatever the Star of Bethlehem was, it may have displayed a magnificence even greater than that of the planet Venus. This explains why the wise men would be drawn to it in the first place. They took notice and realized that it was something very special, and something of great importance which they should follow, in order to determine where it would lead them. Thus they did.
As I studied the meaning of the Greek word "phaino", a very interesting realization came to me. If we accept the literal meaning of the word -- that is, to bring forth into the light and cause to shine -- it perfectly describes exactly what a comet does. As many of you will know, comets can spend a long time in the dark depths of Space. Depending on the particular comet, years, decades, centuries or even millennia can pass before it enters the inner neighborhood of our Solar System. In fact, as I point out in "Alien Life, Extrasolar Planets and Universal Atonement", it has been estimated that there are some 70,000 of such objects in the distant Kuiper Belt which never leave that frigid region of Outer Space.
Until that time when a comet enters the inner regions of our Solar System, it remains invisible to both the naked eye, as well as to most astronomical instrumentation. However, just as soon as it begins to approach our Sun, what happens? The Greek word "phaino" tells us precisely. It is brought forth into the light and it begins to shine. Its surface begins to heat up and vaporize resulting in the formation of gaseous jets; it brightens more and more as it approaches the Sun; and in most cases, a long majestic tail forms behind it. To the unaided human eye, one minute it is not there, and the next minute it is. It appears as an awe-inspiring sight in the night sky.
In short, if we consider this meaning of the Greek "phaino", it would seem to lend support to my earlier statement that even though there is no knowledge of any comet having ever been visible to the unaided eye for a period of two years -- as would have been necessary for the Magi -- being who He is, God could have very easily created a comet which would meet these unique specifications. Who are we to say otherwise? As the Lord inquired of the Patriarch Job in the Old Testament:
"Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? . . . Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth [the constellations of the Zodiac] in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?"
Job 38:1-7, 31-33, KJV
So once again we see that it is really foolish -- as well as boastful -- for any of us to make the erroneous assumption that we fully understand God and His ways. As I point out in the article entitled "Humility in Our Understanding of God's Word", what we understand is so infintesimally small compared to God's greatness and Wisdom. Try as we might, a lifetime of dedicated study will still not reveal all of His secrets, and we will barely scratch the surface. As Solomon was inspired to write:
"And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
Ecclesiastes 12:12-14, KJV
Aside from the fact that Venus has graced the night sky since the dawn of Creation as far as we know -- which means that it could not just suddenly appear as the Gospel of Matthew may be indicating -- a second problem with my theory lies in the fact that Matthew informs us that after the Magi's audience with King Herod, "the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was". Whether this means that the "star" stood over the town of Bethlehem, or exactly over the precise spot in which Jesus was born, we honestly do not know.
Of course, as I mentioned in part one, modern movie producers don't care either way. For dramatic effect, they like to show a brilliant star shining down directly on the exact location of the manger. At the same time, if we consider how exact our Heavenly Father appears to be in the Scriptures, it would not surprise me in the least if the "star" paused precisely over the spot where Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living. So why is this forward motion of the Star of Bethlehem a problem for my theory regarding Venus?
As most people realize, due to the rotation of the Earth, all celestial objects appear to rise in the east and set in the west. Yet it would seem that this wondrous sign from God did something strange. As any modern map will verify, Bethlehem is located about five or six miles to the south of Jerusalem. Political realities place it in the Occupied Territory of the West Bank. However, two millennia ago, it is possible that it was situated slightly more to the southwest of Jerusalem. We need to remember that at that time, only the Old City -- or what is today referred to as East Jerusalem -- existed. That means that if the "star" went before them, it must have been moving in a southwesterly direction as they traveled the short distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. It does not seem that it moved westward as a normal star would do. Very interesting!
Here is a related point to consider. The wise men obviously didn't make a beeline from their point of origin to the city of Jerusalem. Due to the various geological features of that region of the Earth -- that is, deserts, mountains, rivers, marshes, etc. -- at times they probably had to travel north, south, and west. Other factors -- such as dangers along the way in the form of roving thieves, etc. -- may have also had an effect on their planned route. Yet if the unusual "star" in fact "went before them" from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, then it is probably safe to assume that it also went before them even if they traveled north, south or west from their place of origin. Again, normal celestial objects cannot do that.
To add to this mystery, not only did the object move in a direction which was contrary to the laws of nature, but as we have seen, it also came to a stop once the house of Joseph and Mary had been reached. As I explained earlier, we really don't know if it just came to a standstill over the entire village of Bethlehem, or if somehow it paused right over the very house where Joseph, Mary and toddler Jesus resided. Given the physics involved -- that is, the size of the object, its distance from Earth, etc. -- it would not seem that it could actually settle over any one particular house. Of course, this is assuming that it was actually a real star.
However, as I mentioned earlier, I suspect that it may have done that very thing for the following reason. Consider the situation in which the wise men found themselves. They were obviously strangers in a strange land. Apparently, with the help of God, they read the signs in the stars and learned of the birth of a great king who was born in the lands west of them. In fact, somehow, it appears that they may have known that this king was born in Israel, because when they arrived in Jerusalem they specifically inquired "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?".
Their natural reaction was to go to Jerusalem, because they supposed that as the capital of Israel, that is where this great king was to be found. Instead, they found crafty, murderous King Herod who was apparently clueless until the Scribes and chief priests informed him of the prophecies. However, that was the Wisdom of God at work; because the Lord knew that the Magi had to go to Jerusalem in order to acquire the final piece of His great "Messianic Puzzle". That piece was Bethlehem.
At any rate, they were strangers in a strange land. No doubt they spoke a foreign tongue as well. Perhaps Babylonian or Persian. They certainly didn't know anyone in Bethlehem; and a two-year-old toddler named Jesus probably didn't stand out from any other child in the neighborhood; at least not yet. So how were these wise men to find this child? It would more than likely be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So given the importance of their visit, perhaps in His abundant Graciousness and Mercy, God allowed the "star" to in some way lead them to the exact house. Can I prove it? Obviously not.
The only other possibility is to suggest that the Magi went from house-to-house in Bethlehem, and inquired if there were any boys who were two years old or younger. Even still, once they found Him, how would they know that He was God's young Son in the flesh, and a king-to-be? How would they be able to recognize Him as such? So God had to give them some kind of special assistance.
Regardless of whether we are talking about a star, a comet, a planet such as Venus, a planetary alignment, a supernova, or any other natural celestial phenomenon that is observable from the Earth, if we adopt a purely scientific approach, we can only conclude that none of them possess the ability to advance in a southwesterly direction as they traverse the night sky. They certainly can't zigzag north, south and west from some locale in the East, to the village of Bethlehem. Neither do they possess the ability to stop in their tracks when a particular destination has been reached. Finally, as far as we know, since the beginning of time, God has set all of their courses to appear to move from east to west across our sky, and not north to south as the Star of Bethlehem seems to have done for at least a portion of its journey.
So, where does this leave us? Some of you may be thinking to yourselves, "Well, wait a minute Bill! Now I am really confused! First you share with us what appears to be a solid theory concerning the planet Venus, even offering Scriptures which seem to support it, and then you just shoot it full of holes. Next you offer scientific reasons regarding why the Star of Bethlehem could not have been a comet. Finally, you explain that stars just don't move north, south and west in the night sky. So exactly what are you saying?"
If you have carefully read everything that I have stated thus far, then hopefully you will have recognized that I have also intentionally injected a caveat in my statements. I have repeatedly said in so many words, "Science says this, and science says that." But you see, as Christians, we need to see beyond what science states is possible, and look at what is possible with God. The fact of the matter is that according to His Word, all things are possible with God, as we see by the following group of verses:
"God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"
Numbers 23:19, KJV
"But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."
Matthew 19:26, KJV
"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."
Mark 9:23, KJV
"And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible."
Mark 10:27, KJV
"And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt."
Mark 14:36, KJV
"And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible."
Luke 1:36-37, KJV
"And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
Luke 18:27, KJV
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,"
Ephesians 3:20, KJV
If all things are possible with God, then there is no limit. If our great God set the courses of the stars and the planets in the sky at the beginning of Creation, exactly as His Word informs us, who are we to say that He does not possess the power to also change the course of one of them, if it is His desire, and if it suits His Divine Purposes? For us to limit God, and what He is capable of doing, based on our extremely limited understanding of His Laws of Physics, is foolishness indeed. God does not operate according to how we humans think He should operate; He operates according to how He chooses, regardless of whether or not we understand it.
Even modern scientists recognize that what they think they understand, often proves to be false or shortsighted, once additional tests have been carried out, and new data has been analyzed. At the very least, they discover that there is a lot more to the picture than even they had at first realized.
Let me give you a simple example. Just a few decades ago, the general consensus within the scientific world was that life could only exist within a certain temperature range. Likewise, it was assumed that all forms of life must be carbon-based. It was also believed that oxygen and hydrogen -- and thus, water -- were necessary requirements in order for life as we know it to exist. It was repeatedly affirmed that if life exists in some form outside of our planet, it has to meet these rigid, basic requirements. However, as you may know, in more recent years, these long-held notions have all been challenged by evidence on the ground, and possibly in Outer Space as well. What the future may reveal is rather difficult to say.
The bottom line is that regardless of whether an individual happens to be a Bible-believing Christian, an agnostic, a staunch atheist, or a man of science who demands hard-core scientific facts and evidence, we simply don't know it all; and to pretend otherwise is ludicrous. As I stated earlier, we all need to exercise a degree of humility in our personal understanding.
Concerning the nature of the Star of Bethlehem, there is one school of thought which has in fact dismissed the possibility that it could have been a star, a comet or some other body in Space. This rejection is due in part to some of the reasons which I have already explained to you. In other words, based on purely scientific reasoning, and the behavior of the Star of Bethlehem, they are convinced that the "star" could not have really been an actual physical star or similar celestial body. Therefore, they conclude that it must have been purely supernatural; that is, something above and beyond the natural laws and physics. In other words, it must have been a purely spiritual manifestation -- such as an Angel perhaps -- which was permitted by God in order to lead the wise men to the young boy Jesus.
While I believe that the people who adopt this position are making the mistake that I described a moment ago -- that is, limiting God based upon scientific reasoning -- at the same time, neither do I totally dismiss a spiritual interpretation of the event either. After all, as I explain in such articles as "The Children of Light: Are You One of Us?" and "Comet Hale-Bopp, Chernobyl and the Deathstar Wormwood", there are quite a few Scriptures found throughout the Bible which also compare God and His children to celestial lights, and Angels to stars. Consider the following sample verses:
"Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
Job 38:6-7, KJV
"For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
Psalms 84:11, KJV
"And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."
Daniel 12:3, KJV
"All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
1 Corinthians 15:39-44, KJV
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
James 1:17, KJV
"And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day . . . Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."
Jude 1:6, 13, KJV
"And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit."
Revelation 9:1, KJV
"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born . . . And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9, KJV
Please go to part three for the continuation of this series.
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