Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Place of Astrology in Christian Thought (2006)


The Place of Astrology in Christian Thought

by Timothy P. Grove

Presented to Dr. Douglas Hayward

20 November 2006

(Moral Relativity 755)
Astrology has always been a “gray area” from the Christian point of view.  Throughout the history of the church, Astrology has been controversial—sometimes condemned as a form of occultism, as a kind of idolatry, or a form of fatalism which was seen as incompatible with Christian teachings; or extolled as a part of God’s truth and His natural revelation to mankind.  “Some early Christian writers repudiated astrology absolutely, while others sought to grant it some degree of accommodation to Christian beliefs and practices” (Hegedus, 2003: ¶2).
Later on, some very eminent Christian thinkers, including St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventura, conceded the legitimacy of astrology as one means of studying and understanding God's creation.  During the Renaissance, astrology was regarded as a
legitimate and creditable field of study.  Most universities had professors of Astrology at that time. Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, who calculated and interpreted horoscopes for kings and statesmen, were both devout Christians as well as professional astrologers, and it is reported that Isaac Newton was also a student of Astrology in his youth.  The University of Salamanca had a chair of Astrology even into the early decades of the nineteenth century (Torres Villarroel, 1743).  The special sub-discipline of Medical Astrology was also highly regarded, and was an integral part of medical practice until the eighteenth century; it was necessary to demonstrate some knowledge of this branch of Astrology in order to qualify as a member of the medical profession. Astrology was seen as a valuable component of human knowledge; no serious contradiction was seen between the practice of Astrology and the profession of Christianity.
During the eighteenth century (the "Age of Reason"), astrology and revealed religion alike suffered from the discrediting attacks of the Deists.  Astrologers as well as Christian believers were subjected to ridicule.  Thus, in recent times (the past 300 years or so), astrology has been almost inextricably associated with sorcery.  Since 1700, virtually everyone involved in Astrology (with some notable exceptions) has been an occultist and an opponent to orthodox Christianity.  However, prior to 1700, Astrology was highly esteemed.
            As a student and practitioner of Astrology for the past 23 years, I am able to report much from my own experience and my own reading.  I have done a great deal of research on Astrology, much of it using original sources in Latin and other languages.  One of the main questions I have asked is whether one can indeed justify the study of Astrology in light of what the Bible says about the matter.  I will attempt here to summarize what I have learned about these questions; because much of what I have to report involves reading over a period of many years, there will occasionally be cases where I am unable to cite the exact source for some of the ideas.  However, I will still attempt to give an honest summary of what I have read, and will continue my attempts to track down the original sources for future use.
            The attacks on Astrology by Christians are of three kinds.  First, certain biblical passages appear to condemn Astrology as a form of witchcraft or divination.  Second, Astrology has been seen as embodying a kind of Fatalism which was incompatible with what Christian Theology teaches about Free Will.  Third, it is widely believed that whether licit or not from the Christian point of view, Astrology is a pseudo-science which has been conclusively invalidated by modern Science; so that it is at best a waste of time.
            The most important thing I have learned as a student of Astrology is that virtually everything that modern practitioners of Astrology do is based on ignorance, misunderstanding, and invalid procedures.  The newspaper Astrology columns, of course, are nearly worthless.  If you go into Border’s or Barnes and Noble, you will typically find an Astrology section with about 200 books displayed.  Of these, no more than five or six (typically) provide even the slightest glimpse of the traditional Astrology which was practiced in an unbroken tradition stretching from approximately 400 B.C. until approximately 1800.  The rest of the books embody various simplifications and innovations typical of “New Age” thinking and the nineteenth-century Occult revival which preceded it.  Only a handful of the techniques employed by modern “astrologers” have any validity in light of the traditional practice.  I began to suspect this almost immediately, shortly after I began my own study of Astrology back in the spring of 1983.  Unfortunately, most of the texts I had access to were steeped in occultism, and I had to wade through an awful lot of highly distasteful material along the way; eventually, however, I succeeded in obtaining some of the primary sources in their original languages (indeed, my original purpose in enrolling in Greek at Wheaton College had been to obtain access to this material).  In the mid-1980’s, I became very interested in the project of re-examining the Classical sources, with a view to re-establishing the study of Astrology on its original foundation.  I enrolled in the Master’s program in Classics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with this in mind, and although I never completed that program I did learn a great deal about traditional Astrology while I was there.  My advisors at Illinois suggested that I ought to prepare a modern, annotated edition of an astrological text.  There are innumerable candidates for such treatment, including texts which have not been printed since the fifteenth century, and texts which remain in manuscript, never having been printed at any time (though many of these are readily available on microfilm, or scans of them are available on-line).  I have spent many hours examining these texts, and although I have never edited one of them, a great deal of what I know is based on the study of such sources in their original language (usually Latin).
            The primary texts which establish what we now know as “traditional Astrology” are the following:  the Astronomica of Manilius (1st century), Claudius Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (Quadripartite) (2nd century), the Anthologies of Vettius Valens (2nd century), Porphyry’s commentary on the Tetrabiblos (3rd century), the Apotelesmatica of Hephaestio Thebanus (4th century), the Mathesis of Firmicus Maternus (4th century), the Introductory Matters of Paulus of Alexandria (378 A.D.), with the 6th century commentary of one Heliodorus (or Olympiodorus), the Liber Hermetis (5th century), Proclus’ paraphrase of the Tetrabiblos (5th century), and the treatises of Rhetorius of Egypt (6th or 7th century) and Theophilus of Edessa (8th century).  There are, in addition, numerous smaller works extant from antiquity, such as Ptolemy’s Centiloquium (Karpos), the anonymous work On the Fixed Stars (379 A.D.), and the extant fragments of Dorotheus, Thrasyllus, and Balbillus (all 1st century) and of the Thesaurus of Antiochus of Athens (2nd century), as well as a number of important papyri, all of them illustrative of variations and subdivisions of Hellenistic tradition.  From outside the Classical world, we have a very large number of Arabic works dating from the 8th century onwards, many of which preserve and translate material from Classical sources not otherwise extant; as well as Indian sources from as early as the 1st century A.D., delineating a parallel tradition which is in many ways derived from the Greek tradition.  The Book of Enoch (discovered in the 18th century in an Ethiopic translation) is replete with astrological material, as are two surviving encyclopedic works from pre-Islamic Persia, the Denkard and the Bundahishn.  These last are of the greatest importance because they incorporate the traditions of the Persian magi; yet their astrological material has scarcely been studied as far as I know.  Finally, there is the Kitab al-falaha al-nabatiya (Nabataean Agriculture) of Ibn Wahshiyya (c904 A.D.), which purportedly preserves many of the teachings and cultural practices of the Sabeans of Harran.
            Anyone who calls himself an astrologer ought at least to possess copies of Ptolemy, Firmicus Maternus, Vettius Valens, and Hephaestio, and should seek to become thoroughly conversant with all that they contain.  Any approach to Astrology which is not based on these primary sources is fraudulent.
            This is a vast subject, one on which I could easily write hundreds of pages.  However, I will limit myself here to attempting to establish a basis for the Christian practice of Astrology.  The best way to begin this is to examine the specific biblical passages which appear to condemn Astrology, as well as those which appear to validate it.
            The verses which are most often put forward as embodying a clear condemnation of Astrology are to be found in the Pentateuch:

            “Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times” (Leviticus 19:26).          

“There shall not be found among you any that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.  Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).  

It has been widely taught that “observing times” refers to the practices of astrologers.  However, an analysis of the Hebrew text fails to support this idea.  In the Leviticus passage, the verbs N-H-SH and ‘-N-N are used.  The first of these is probably best translated as “to practice augury”, meaning the practice of divination using natural phenomena such as the flights of birds.  The second verb (‘-N-N) is an obscure term whose meaning is not clearly understood.  Etymology suggests that it may be related to the noun ‘anan (“cloud”), in which case it may refer to a form of divination involving the changing configuration of clouds (Hartley, 1992).  This suggestion appears to originate with Ibn Ezra, a Jewish commentator of the 11th century (Christensen, 2001).  Since the exact meaning of ‘-N-N is unknown, it is best to translate it with a general term such as “sorcery” or “divination.”  There is absolutely no basis for reading a condemnation of Astrology into this verse. 
The Deuteronomy passage provides a long and explicit list of activities which the
LORD forbids:  first, people are forbidden to sacrifice their children in the fire to Molech.  Then, a number of specific occult practices are enumerated:  qosem qesamim (“divining divination”)—this is perhaps a reference to hepatoscopy or other forms of divination using the organs of sacrificial victims (Christensen, 2001).  Since a participle (qosem) is used instead of a prohibition (lo tiqsom), the divination is probably to be understood as directly relating to the child-sacrifice, i.e. “thou shalt not sacrifice your children, practicing divination.”  Similar prohibitions follow, all of them participles:  me‘onen (meaning unknown, but this is the same verb used in Leviticus 19:26; if Ibn Ezra’s suggestion is correct, it might refer to the practice of divination by observing the smoke of an altar or furnace); menaches (practicing divination using liquids—this is the same verb used in connection with Joseph’s silver goblet, which he used to practice divination [Genesis 44:5]); mekhashsheph (“using witchcraft [black magic]”); chover chaver (“casting spells”—in Psalm 58:5 this verb refers to divination using snakes); sho’el ’ov we-yidde‘oni (“inquiring of a ghost or familiar spirit”—’ov may mean “ghost” or “pit”, probably because communication with the dead was facilitated by pouring blood or other offerings into a hole in the ground and speaking and listening through that hole; ’ov is also sometimes used to refer to the medium himself; yidde‘oni [“familiar spirit”] is always used in conjunction with ’ov, suggesting that ’ov we-yidde‘oni [“ghost or familiar spirit”] was a fixed expression); doresh el-hammethim (“consulting the dead”, i.e. by any other means not specifically mentioned here) (Christensen, 2001).
            All these prohibitions have to do with specific ways of contacting the dead in the context of human sacrifice—either using the spirits of the sacrificial victims themselves or using the victims as intermediaries to consult other spirits.  The entire passage is best translated as follows:
            “There shall not be found among you one who causes his son or daughter to pass through the fire, while practicing divination using their entrails, smoke, body fluids, or practicing witchcraft by this means; nor as a means of casting spells, contacting a ghost or familiar spirit, or otherwise consulting the dead” (my translation).
            Again, there is nothing whatever to suggest Astrology in this passage; indeed the context makes this impossible.
            Another passage frequently cited as a prohibition of Astrology is the following:

“And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” (Deuteronomy 4:19 NASB).

There are indeed some astrologers who practice their art in support of various kinds of demonolatry, and who may indeed be implicated in the worship of the “host of heaven”; however, most astrologers are merely practitioners of a precise mathematical discipline, which will always yield the same results (given the same data), no matter who performs the calculations.  I fail to see the “opening” in this rigorous procedure which would allow for the influence of supernatural spirits.  Nothing is worshipped; nothing is invoked—which being the case, this verse would have no application to Astrology.

            “Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.  Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame:  there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it” (Isaiah 47:13-14).

            Here, astrologers are clearly indicated as “those dividing the heavens” (hoverei shamayim), “those gazing at the stars” (hachozim bakkokhavim), “predicting according to the months” (modi‘im lechodashim). Kepler was apparently influenced by this passage when he decided to abandon the seemingly artificial division of the heavens into twelve mundane houses, which all astrologers had practiced until his time, basing his prognoses solely on the division of the Zodiac into twelve visible constellations.  These are the only verses in the Bible which appear to explicitly condemn Astrology. However, this is true only when the passage is read out of context.  That context is Isaiah's denunciation of the entire nation and culture of Babylon.  Let me cite some parallel passages:

Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine;
But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the LORD, Nor do they consider the work of His hands. (Isaiah 5:12)

Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth? (Isaiah 23:8)

My point is that astrology per se is not condemned in Isaiah 47:13-14, any more than banquets, music, and wine are condemned in Isaiah 5:12, or mercantilism is condemned in Isaiah 23:8.  All of these function as descriptive details only; thus, this passage is not prohibitive, but descriptive. “To say that the astrologers could not save Babylon because of her misdeeds is like saying a doctor cannot save a patient because he has abused his body.  Such line of reasoning is neither a condemnation of astrologers or doctors” (Dewey, “Old Testament,” ¶30).

            “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them” (Jeremiah 10:2).

            This passage is comparable to the Isaiah passage just discussed.  What is condemned is the superstitious terror of the stars which the heathen experienced because they were subject to demons and ignorant of God.  The Israelites are enjoined to place their trust in God who created the stars, rather than succumbing to fear of the calamities the stars portend.  In our own day, a similar comment could be made with reference to our anxiety about the economy, the environment, terrorism, or world politics—all of which are routinely analyzed by “experts;” yet the outcome remains in God’s hands.  In the words of Rumen Kolev, whom I consider to be the finest living astrologer,

     Dear Colleague astrologer:  I have examined and inquired into this
most elaborate part of Astrology, the Great Doctrine of the Primary
Directions, which surely is the Crown and the Fame and the Glory
of our fascinating science, for 19 years and very laboriously so in the
last 6 years. . . . From what learned from these 19 years of hard work,
I can advise you:  . . . For factors supporting the current primary
directions, assess also the Progressions, the Eclipses, the Ingressions
and the Transits.  They may show, God Willing, some minor events.
Never dishearten, burden or forsee [sic] evil for any living creature.
Never forget that only God Almighty Knows Everything” (Kolev, 2002).

            Various passages from the book of Daniel are also cited by those who claim the Bible forbids Astrology.  In contrast to Daniel, the Chaldaean astrologers (kasdim) were unable to  reveal or interpret the king’s dream (Daniel 2), and Daniel and his companions are said to have surpassed them in insight and knowledge (Daniel 1:20).  It must be remembered that Daniel and his companions were trained in all the sciences of the Chaldaeans in order that they might function as advisors to the king (Daniel 1:17).  Thus, Daniel was himself an astrologer, among other things, and eventually became the prefect (rab-sigenin) over all the “wise men” (chakkimin) of Babylon (Daniel 2:48). There is no indication in the text that Daniel or his companions refused to study any part of the curriculum placed before them.
            In short, the only authentic references to Astrology in the entire Old Testament are Isaiah 47:13 and Jeremiah 10:2.  These passages ridicule the astrology of the heathen in the context of a critique of many heathen cultural institutions.  None of this amounts to a prohibition of astrology.  The oft-cited passages in Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:10-11 are condemnations of various kinds of divination, mostly involving communication with the dead.  If these statements are generalized into a condemnation of every form of divination, then they might be invoked against Geomancy, Horary Astrology and other forms of astrological divination, but they still could not be generalized to a condemnation of all forms of Astrology.
Thus, Astrology is not “expressly prohibited in the Word of God,” as numerous Christian teachers claim, nor is it “occultic and very dangerous,” or an “entry for malevolent influences” (Missler, 2002).  These charges make no sense because Astrology is not a form of divination, an act of worship, or an attempt to communicate with the spirit world.  Astrologers simply make a chart of the actual positions of the stars and planets at a given moment, and then analyze that chart according to traditional rules.  Any person who understands the procedure will get the same result, just as anyone who solves a math problem correctly will get the same answer.  Where in this process is there an “entry for malevolent influences”?
            It might even be asked whether the Bible actually condemns the practice of divination.  In Genesis 44:5, Joseph’s stolen drinking cup is found:  Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?”  The phrase hu naches yenaches bo (“he divineth in it”) employs an especially strong form of the verb, expressing emphasis, certainty, importance, intensity, frequency, or emotion.  It is very curious that the same intensive form is repeated in verse 15:  naches yenaches ish asher kamoni (“such a man as I can certainly divine”).  Yet this practice is in no way censured or condemned, and the entire account of Joseph portrays him consistently as a good and admirable figure, an almost perfect character.  This tends to imply that there was nothing wrong with the “divination by liquids” which Joseph practiced.  The prohibition of the same activity (N-CH-S) in Deuteronomy 18:10 may thus refer only to its use in the context of child-sacrifice and/or contacting the dead.
            Moreover, the urim and thummim (instituted in Exodus 28:30 and mentioned from time to time throughout the Old Testament) were clearly some form of divination.  Also, lots (goral) were used to make decisions repeatedly throughout the Old Testament—to apportion the land among the tribes (Numbers 26:52-56), to determine guilt (Joshua 7:13-18), and for various other purposes, sometimes at God’s specific direction, sometimes not.  Finally, even in the New Testament, the Apostles chose a successor to Judas by lot (Acts 1:23-26).  There is no indication in the text that they were divinely instructed to do this, although it does say that they prayed first to seek God’s guidance. “And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). 
There is a passage in Proverbs which provides a basis for all of this: “The lot is cast into the lap; but its decision is from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33).  Based on all of this, a case could certainly be made for some form of Christian divination which seeks to ascertain the will of God.
            In any case, I have established to my own satisfaction that the Bible contains no prohibition of Astrology.  On the other side, there are a number of biblical passages which actually appear to validate Astrology:

            “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:” (Genesis 1:14).

This verse provides the whole basis for what astrologers do.  We examine the heavens for signs which are relevant to events taking place on earth.  I challenge anyone to give an intelligent interpretation of the word "signs" (othoth) as meaning anything else.  The word “seasons” (mo‘adim) refers to any time-interval which is defined by celestial phenomena.

“Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me" (Genesis 37:9).

            It is interesting to compare Joseph’s dream to Jacob’s blessings of his twelve sons (Genesis 49), a passage which contains much probable astrological symbolism.  Indeed the Twelve Tribes (as well as the Twelve Apostles) have traditionally been associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
            Concerning the “seven lamps” of the menorah (Exodus 25:37), Josephus states that “each lamp represented a planet and the seventh candle was symbolic to the Jews of the planet Saturn as well as the seventh day” (Dewey, “Old Testament,” ¶54).

            “The stars in their course fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20).

This verse strongly supports the claim of Astrology that earthly events are influenced or determined by the movements of the heavenly bodies.  Recently, while using a “Study Bible”, I came across the following patronizing comment on this passage:  “This verse has been cited as a validation of astrology; however, there is no basis for this.”  I can explain this writer’s stance only as the expression of a Christian world-view that is fundamentally opposed to the world-view of Astrology; as a reaction to what the Bible actually says, I find it entirely inexplicable.

            When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

            This verse implies that the planets (and fixed stars?) are animate in some sense, perhaps that they are angelic beings of some kind.

            “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?  Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?  Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?” (Job 38:31-33).

The Pleiades, Orion, and Arcturus are all important fixed stars, while the mazzaroth (or mazzaloth) are the twelve signs of the Zodiac; this term is used in another passage: them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven” (2 Kings 23:5, where the word mazzaloth should be translated “constellations,” rather than “planets”).  The Job passage implies a number of important things:  first, the reference to the “sweet influences” of the Pleiades implies a real and direct influence of the stars on human affairs.  Second, the verbs “bind,” “loose,” “bring forth,” and “guide” clearly imply that God is in control of the stars and their influences.  Although from a human point of view, astrological influences appear to be inevitable and fatal in their necessity, God still stands above the entire mechanism, since He created it.  Again, as Kolev affirms, “only God Almighty Knows Everything” (Kolev, 2002).

            “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).

            This concept of “declaration” implies and legitimates some kind of interpretation, which is the very task astrologers are engaged in.

            “He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names” (Psalm 147:4).

            “A name in ancient Hebrew was suggestive of different characteristics similar to modern astrological description of the planets” (Dewey, “Old Testament”, ¶39).

            “Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night . . .” (Jeremiah 31:35).

The use here of the word chuqqoth (“ordinances,” “statutes”) is very interesting.  The term refers to various Old Testament commandments which were of an immutable nature.  In this context, “appointed times” might be an appropriate translation.

            “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 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” (Matthew 2:1-2).

            The famous story of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12) is the most important biblical text relating to Astrology.  There can be no doubt that these magoi (“magi,” “magians,” “wise men”) were Persian (or perhaps Indian) astrologers.  It is interesting to note that there are other appearances of the word magos (and its derivatives) in the New Testament in Acts 8:9 (the account of Simon Magus [“Simon the sorcerer”]), and in Acts 13:6-8 (the account of the sorcerer Elymas Bar-Jesus).  It is also very interesting to compare these passages:  the Magi who brought gifts to Jesus are portrayed in entirely positive terms.  Their activities are neither explicitly nor implicitly condemned in any way.  Simon Magus and Elymas, by contrast, are clearly to be seen as villains; so it appears that there were Magi of both sorts!  It is interesting to note that there are extensive extra-biblical accounts of both:  the names of the “Three Wise Men” (probably because of the three gifts they brought) are given by Bede (8th century) as Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar, the kings of Arabia, Ethiopia, and Tarsus, respectively.  However, this tradition appears to be no older than the 6th century, and may be based on an interpretation of Isaiah 72:10 (“ The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts, the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute”).  However, Syriac and Persian sources give names for all three which appear to be Persian or Indian in origin (“Concerning the Magi and their names”).  There is another tradition that there were twelve Magi in all, and that “one of the special gifts they brought to the Christ was an ancient scroll written by Seth, the son of Adam. This scroll was said to contain prophesies of the Messiah and the signs which would appear at his birth” (Dewey, “New Testament 2,”  ¶14).
            It becomes very clear that the Magi located the infant Christ by means of Astrology if the text is read in light of what we know about ancient astrological practices.  The phrase “we have seen his star in the east” (Matthew 2:2) is better translated as “we have seen his star at its rising”, since the verse employs the common astrological phrase en te anatole, by which a star’s heliacal rising is meant.  Later (Matthew 2:9), it is stated that “the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”  The phrase este epano (“stood over”) would be more accurately translated “went stationary direct”, a technical term referring to the apparent cessation of a retrograde planet’s motion, just prior to its resuming direct motion. This and other details found in Matthew 2 can all be accounted for in terms of predictive and horary astrology as it was understood and practiced at that time.
Numerous suggestions have been made as to what astronomical phenomena were involved, including the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occurred in 7-6 B.C., a comet, a supernova, or various other planetary configurations.  Michael Molnar is probably correct in arguing (in The Star of Bethlehem:  The Legacy of the Magi, 1999) that “Matthew does not refer to a celestial phenomenon that was astronomically impressive (such as later astronomers have looked for), but rather to a sign whose significance was primarily astrological” (Hegedus, 2003: note 15).
            Early Christian commentators saw a connection between the coming of the Magi and the ancient prophecy of Balaam that “a star shall arise out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17).  According to Origen (Homilies on Numbers 13.7), “it is said that the race of magi descends from [Balaam], and that their institution flourishes in eastern lands, and that they had copied among them all of Balaam’s prophecies, including ‘A star shall arise out of Jacob.’  The Magi had these things written among themselves, and so when Jesus was born they recognized the star and understood that the prophecy was fulfilled” (Hegedus, 2003: ¶16).  It is interesting to note that Bar Kochba, who led the second Jewish revolt against Rome (135 A.D.) apparently derived his name (“son of the star”) from this same passage (Hegedus, 2003).  Although he regarded Astrology as demonic, Jerome had to admit that the Magi followed the star “either from their knowledge of astrology (ex artis scientia) or from the prophecy of Balaam” (Hegedus, 2003: ¶18).  Ambrosiaster says of Balaam that he “received confirmation from a source that is usually condemned; for astrologers are enemies of the truth” (Hegedus, 2003: ¶18).  Despite their hostility to Astrology, these comments demonstrate that the Patristic writers were attempting to deal honestly with what the biblical text actually says.
            More recent Christian attempts to deal with Matthew 2 frequently fall into absurdity. Based on a priori assumptions, various commentators have attempted to argue either that the Magi were not really astrologers, or that their journey from the East was not in any way guided or motivated by their knowledge of Astrology (“it was not any astrological prediction that led them to Bethlehem!”), or that “their presence in the biblical record is not a divine endorsement of astrology” (Wiersbe).  One commentator states that “even in the midst of their involvement with the occult, God used a star to point them to the truth” (Jarvis, 2003b: ¶2).  Another claims that

    3 witches came and found Jesus through a star . . . He allowed these
men to find Jesus because of this scripture ‘I'll have compassion on whom
I'll have compassion and mercy on whom I'll have mercy’ . . . He allowed
those men to find him. And think about this. He MAY have allowed us to
see this in action just to show us how real witchcraft is. How real astrology
and astronomy is. And that real results can manifest in that practice. And
that it's not a joke but real indeed. So that we may not be ignorant
(“Astrology and the Bible,” 2003).
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-30).

            The most obvious meaning of “the sign of the Son of man” is the Cross.  This passage may predict a catastrophic tipping of the earth’s axis,  resulting in worldwide visibility of the Southern Cross (currently invisible to most of the world’s population).

            “And surely  I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20 NIV).

            “The age” may refer to the doctrine of the Great Year, the precessional cycle of 25,920 years, which Origen believed was the full cycle of redemptive history (“Biblical Astrology”).

“There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” (Luke 21:25).

            Jesus himself here makes clear reference to Astrology.  The plural astrois is very often used in reference to the 12 zodiacal constellations, and that meaning cannot be ruled out here (Dewey, “New Testament 1”).

“His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven. . . . And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought” (Revelation 12:4, 7).

This passage, like Job 38:7, appears to identify the stars as angelic beings; the “dragon” may possibly be a reference to the important circumpolar constellation of Draco, with its 31 stars.  Draco is of great significance because it encircles the North Ecliptic Pole (the fixed point in the heavens around which the circle of precession revolves once every 25,920 years).  It is also the only constellation which can be projected around (almost) the entire ecliptic circle.

            “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Revelation 22:16).

            Thus, the first chapter of the Bible establishes an astrological system of signs, seasons, days and years, while the last chapter of the Bible identifies Jesus as “the bright and morning star,” the consummation of all astrological “signs.”
            In light of what the Bible actually does (and does not) say about Astrology, it is astonishing to read comments like the following: 

   Astrology, along with occult and new age practices, is a ‘doorway’
for dark spiritual forces to enter and influence a person’s life. . . . In
the Bible, astrology is often lumped together with other magic arts,
fortune-telling, and sorcery.  All of these are dangerous, in that they
can mislead people, and even open them up to temptation or even
demonic influence.  So, does the Bible talk about astrology?  Absolutely.
 It affirms that astrology is dangerous, useless, and wicked.  It is sinful
because it draws attention away from the only One with real answers
for life . . . God Himself! (Jarvis, 2003a).

            It is hard to understand what is motivating this kind of (seemingly deliberate) misrepresentation.
            Finally, a few words must be said in answer to the charge that Astrology is a pseudo-science whose claims do not bear up under objective scrutiny.  Most of the attempted refutations of Astrology  are put together by people whose writings clearly demonstrate that they don’t know enough about Astrology to make statements about it.  Among the more common lines of argument are criticisms of the astrology columns in the newspapers (“how can one-twelfth of the population be having the same kind of day today?”), which no professional astrologer takes seriously anyway.  Also frequently heard is the charge that Astrology is overturned by the dramatically different life-experiences reported by identical twins (in fact a difference of as little as a few seconds in birth-times will result in a dramatically different sequence of life-events).  Another tiresome claim is that the precession of the earth’s axis somehow invalidates Astrology, since the zodiacal constellation of Aries (for example) no longer corresponds to the actual stars of Aries—in fact the phenomenon of precession was clearly understood and is discussed in the earliest extant Hellenistic texts on Astrology, where the divergence of the sidereal and tropical zodiacs is described in detail.  In addition, much is made of the fact that the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were discovered long after the rules of Astrology had been established—this is supposed to somehow invalidate the entire system.  However, traditional astrologers have never included those planets in their calculations because they are not visible, and the entire edifice of Hellenistic astrological practice is based on the concept of stars and planets casting and receiving visual rays (or aspects). Above all, it is objected that the astrological “influences” cannot be explained in terms of gravity or any other known force.  However, astrologers do not claim that planetary influence is exerted as “gravitational pull” or “tidal force”.  In simple terms, astrological influence is “action at a distance,” an idea once dismissed by science but now made plausible by quantum physics.  It may be understood in terms of geometrical relationships (most strongly felt when angles are nearly exact), or in terms of “synchronicity” (in other words, the relationship is not causal, but coincidental or concurrent).  Astrologers view the universe as a whole, with all of its parts interrelated.  It is interesting that, with the rise of chaos theory, string theory, and the mathematics of fractals, science is beginning to share our viewpoint!
It is no secret that Christian churches today generally teach that Astrology is a form of occult practice, dishonoring to God and extremely dangerous to those who practice it or look into it.  However, it is my belief that “all truth is God's truth”; therefore, if Astrology has any truth in it, that truth is from God and we honor Him by studying it.

                                                WORKS CITED

“Biblical Astrology” (n.d.).  Retrieved 13 December 2006 from

Christensen, D. (2001).  Deuteronomy 1:1 – 21:9.  Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 6A,   revised.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

“Concerning the Magi and their names.”  Retrieved 13 December 2006 from  

Dewey, J. (n.d.).  “Astrology and the Old Testament.”  Retrieved 13 December 2006        from

Dewey, J. (n.d.).  “Astrology and the New Testament, Part 1.”  Retrieved 13 December    2006 from

Dewey, J. (n.d.).  “Astrology and the New Testament, Part 2.”  Retrieved 13 December    2006 from

Hartley, J. (1992).  Leviticus.  Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 4.  Dallas:  Word Books.

Hegedus, T (2003).  “The Magi and the star in the Gospel of Matthew and early Christian           tradition.”  Laval theologique et philosophique 59:1.  Retrieved 9 December 2006    from

Jarvis, D. (2003a).  “Astrology in the Bible?”  Retrieved 13 December 2006 from

Jarvis, D. (2003b).  “Following the Star”  Retrieved 13 December 2006 from

Kolev, R.  (2002).  “Practical advice from the author.”  Placidus 4.1 [software package]

Missler, C. (2002).  “Dangerous myths: astrology.”  Retrieved 13 December 2006 from

Torres Villarroel, D. (1743).  Vida, ascendencia, nacimiento, crianza y aventuras del           doctor don Diego de Torres y Villarroel.

                 Is Astrology an Acceptable Practice for Christians?


                                                Timothy P. Grove

                                                13 December 2006

                                               Dr. Douglas Hayward

                        ISCL 755 (Christian Morality and Cultural Relativity)

Then the "Magi" are mentioned by some to defend astrology. First, "Magian"
or "magi" was once a specific term, but later became used generally of all
Median wise men, and those from elsewhere. These might or might not have
been Zoroastrians, might or might not have been astrologers. BUT IT WAS NOT
knew the ancient Scripture, "There shall come a star out of Jacob," NUMBERS
24:17. (However, in both the forgoing passages, the verb translated as “observe times” is ANAN.  However, the meaning of this term is obscure; it appears to be related to the observation of clouds, and any connection to Astrology is highly dubious. Does a verse like “Physician, heal thyself!” amount to a condemnation of the medical profession?
Later on, some very eminent Christian thinkers, including St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventura, conceded the legitimacy of astrology as one means of studying and understanding God's creation.  During the Renaissance, astrology was regarded as a legitimate and creditable field of study.  Most universities had professors of astrology at that time.  Johannes Kepler, the renowned astronomer, calculated and interpreted horoscopes for kings and statesmen.  No conflict was perceived to exist between astrology and science, or between astrology and Christian belief.  In recent times (the past 300 years or so), astrology has been almost inextricably associated with sorcery.  Since 1700, virtually everyone involved in astrology (with some notable exceptions) has been an occultist and an opponent to orthodox Christianity.  However, prior to 1700, Astrology was highly esteemed.  Major universities had chairs of Astrology, and Astrology was seen as a valuable component of human knowledge; no serious contradiction was seen between the practice of Astrology and the profession of Christianity.  Both Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler were both devout Christians and professional astrologers, and it is reported that Isaac Newton was also a student of Astrology in his youth.  The University of Salamanca had a chair of Astrology even into the early decades of the 19th century (Torres Villarroel, ).  The special sub-discipline of Medical Astrology was also highly regarded, and was an integral part of medical practice until the 18th century; it was necessary to demonstrate some knowledge of this branch of Astrology in order to qualify as a member of the medical profession.
Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest theoretical physicist of all time, was also an astrologer, and left several thousand pages of writings on that subject.  However, during the 18th century (the "Age of Reason"), astrology and revealed religion alike suffered from the discrediting attacks of the Deists.  Astrologers as well as Christian believers were subjected to ridicule.