It is not unusual for Christians to ponder the Star of Bethlehem and its origins every Christmas but this season, Facebook "lit up" as thousands of people and news outlets throughout the world heralded the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn as a potential Star of Bethlehem. And yet, despite planetary alignments (past or present), comets, or any other celestial events failing to measure up to the biblical text, people still believe it to be a literal star and, in so believing, expose their worldview - Empiricism.
According to Webster's dictionary, empiricism is:
2 a: the practice of relying on observation and experiment especially in the natural sciences,
b: a tenet arrived at empirically
3: a theory that all knowledge originates in experience
That is, our method for acquiring knowledge comes from our ability to use our senses - empowered by science's processes - to ascertain knowledge or - philosophically speaking - to ascertain truth or comprehend reality. While this method is certainly valid and rational, is it the "only" method for a believer of God? Are people of faith called to abandon their faith commitments when they're informed by a "higher authority" of truth? Consequently, are believers called to abandon reason altogether given their Creator is also rational (logikos)?
For the Christian, the Word of God is the lens by which each believer is called to comprehend reality - not through their senses but through how the Creator designed reality. Certainly, the believer is not called to irrationality but they're to submit their senses, along with all of their presuppositions, to the authority of the Word of God - that is Christ - "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Col. 2:3) In so doing, the believer begins to transform their thinking from natural (temporal) to supernatural (spiritual).
Take for instance the following verses:
"...do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind , so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Rom 12:2
"...lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind ,24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God..." Eph 4:22-23
"...the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:22-23
Did you get that? Our default setting for thinking should be spiritual first and temporal second. In other words, we consider all of life including our triumphs and joys, our failures, our disappointments - the entirety of life and the world is examined and understood in the light of God's Word first - not our senses nor our emotions.
So, let's get back to the Star of Bethlehem. If it's not a celestial event, then what was it? Well, the Bible informs us that the "star" arose, moved to guide the magi, disappeared, reappeared, and moved again to land right over the house where Jesus was residing. Celestial objects simply do not behave or act with this type of movement (reference His Star by astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle and An Evaluation of The Star of Bethlehem by Dr. Danny Faulkner). I would like to suggest a more biblical or textually compliant option - the "star" was an angel. Let's review my theory.
Firstly, consider that there had been no prophets sent to Israel in 400 years leading up to the birth of Jesus. Then, in what seems to be an explosion of heavenly activity, angels are appearing everywhere. We see them appearing to Mary, Zacharias (in the Temple), to Joseph in a dream, and lowly hillside shepherds. Later on, we see them appearing at Jesus' agony at Gethsemane, at His tomb, and His ascension.
Secondly, consider that the ancients referred to angels as stars. Princeton theologian, Dr. Dale C. Allison Jr. notes the following:
"In antiquity, stars were widely thought to be living beings, and this is the clue to a correct understanding of Matthew’s text. A belief that the stars are alive belongs to worldwide folklore and indeed lies behind the common phenomenon of star worship. Greek myths depict divinities (Venus, for example) and heroes and heroines (such as Hercules and Andromeda) as stars. The Zoroastrian Pahlavi texts from ancient Iran equate the fravasûis (the eternal spirits of humanity) with heavenly bodies. The Egyptians identified the dead pharaoh with the Pole Star. Oceanic mythology regards the stars as children of the sun (female) and the moon (male). I could easily go on in this vein. Jewish tradition also shared this view."
Thirdly, the bible refers to stars as angels. In Job 38:7 we find “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted together.” Also, Judges 5:20 states, "The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera."
There are also two apparent references to angels identified as stars involving Satan. The first is found in Isa.14:13 where the King of Babylon - who is empowered by Satan - speaks his heart's desire "...to ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God ..." The other reference is just as apparent. In Rev. 12:3-4, "a great red dragon...swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth."
While all of the above texts are compelling, there is none more compelling than the next reason. Fourthly, Jesus refers to stars as angels.
"...the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand...the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.." Rev. 1:20.
Because there is no greater authority on the matter than Jesus and He - symbolically speaking - refers to angels as stars, then it is plausible that the "star" that guided and moved like no planet, comet, sun/star, or asteroid ever have could be an angel - the same angel that appeared at His birth along with the other heavenly hosts.
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.
Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of. And in this world you have already met a star: for I think you have been with Coriakin [the master on the island of the Dufflepuds].” ― Aslan
Allison, Dale C. “What Was the Star that Guided the Magi?” Bible Review 9.6 (1993): 20–24, 63.
Lewis, C.S. "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" HarperCollins eBook: page 117