The Star of Bethlehem from a Christian View

3 Wise Men

Dr. Ray Bohlin looks at the familiar story of the star of Bethlehem and provides several possible ways that God created this sign announcing the birth of the Christ. From a Christian worldview perspective, we know a bright light in the sky was able to lead the magi to the Christ child. Dr. Bohlin considers several ways God may have chosen to announce the coming of the Christ.

The Magi and the Star of Bethlehem

O, Star of wonder, star of night
Star of royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

download-podcastThis familiar and haunting chorus from the Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” introduces us to what seems to be the only ubiquitous biblical symbol during the Christmas season, the star of Bethlehem.

This Christmas, as you look over the Christmas cards in the stores or in your own burgeoning collection from family and friends, you will see one very constant element. Whether the scene depicts the nativity, a backyard nature scene, a Christmas tree, or just Santa making deliveries, if the nighttime sky is included, somewhere in the picture, eliciting warm and happy emotions, is a star. The star dominates the nighttime sky with its size and brightness and its long tail pointing to the earth. The star has almost become the signature which says, “This scene reflects a Christmas theme.”

At first, this may seem quite unusual for something which doesn’t even get mentioned in Luke 2, the more familiar account of our Lord’s birth. The star is featured only in Matthew’s brief description of the visit by the magi shortly after Jesus’ birth. I think the prevalence of the star stems from its mysteriousness. For example, what kind of star convinces a group of Gentile wise men to search for the new King of the Jews and actually leads them to Him? Before we explore this puzzle, let’s look at Matthew’s account beginning in Chapter 2 verse 1:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:1-2, NASB).

A couple of things to note: first, these events take place after Jesus’ birth; second, this was in the days of Herod the king; third, the magi arrived from an area east of Jerusalem (probably in the vicinity of Babylon or Persia); fourth, they already knew they were looking for the newborn King of the Jews, but the exact location eluded them; and fifth, it was viewing His star from their home in the east that led them on this journey.

After consulting with King Herod and finding out from chief priests and teachers that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the magi set out for the 5 mile trip south to Bethlehem. We pick up Matthew’s narrative in verse 9:

And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:9-11, NASB).

Here we see that Matthew appears to describe the star as moving, as leading the magi to Jesus. There is clearly more than one magi, but only tradition holds that there were three–presumably because of the three gifts. These Gentile wise men worship the King whom the star has led them to. In the rest of this essay, we will explore the nature of this strange star and what it could have been.

What Was the Star of Bethlehem?

The Gospel of Matthew states that the star informed the magi of the birth of the King of the Jews and actually led them to Bethlehem once they had arrived in Jerusalem. The star of Bethlehem has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since the first centuries after Jesus’ birth. Some believed it was a supernova explosion, others a comet or a conjunction of planets associated with specific constellations that would herald the birth of a king in Israel. Some have suggested that none of these astronomical events can adequately account for all that Matthew tells us within the context of his worldview. In this discussion, I will be investigating the more common explanations to see if we can come to some understanding as to just what the magi saw 2,000 years ago.

When Matthew quotes the magi as telling Herod that they observed the new King’s star rising in the east, this can be interpreted as a new star, something never observed before. This has led some scholars to believe that the star of Bethlehem was a nova or supernova. A nova is a white dwarf star that literally explodes. The explosion may increase the brightness of the star a thousand to a million times its previous brightness, making a previously invisible star, visible. A nova, however, does not last very long. The initial blast of the explosion may only be observed for a few months before the star shrinks to a remnant of its previous brightness and disappears altogether.

There are numerous problems with this view. First, although there was a “new star” recorded by the Chinese in the constellation Capricorn in March-April of 5 B.C. that lasted only 70 days, there is nothing to connect this event with the birth of a King in Israel. Second, and perhaps most troublesome, nova do not move.

This leads to a discussion of a different astronomical event that may be associated with the “new star” (a comet) recorded by the Chinese in 5 B.C. The Chinese would not have distinguished a comet from a nova since all they recorded was something new in the sky that was temporary. A comet has the advantage of a tail that can appear to be pointing in a direction which may have guided the magi. In addition, a comet moves! A comet can even disappear as it moves behind the sun and reappear as it comes out from behind the sun. A major objection is that the Chinese make no mention of the “new star” moving. Another problem is that comets are cyclical with a predictable periodicity. For instance, Halley’s comet appears every 76 years. If the star of Bethlehem were a comet, we would most likely have observed it again and been able to extrapolate back to the time of Christ to see if there is a match. Unfortunately, the only one to come close is Halley’s comet which appeared in 12 B.C., a date that is impossibly early.

One could always claim that the comet was one with a very long periodicity or one that has since disappeared from our solar system. This is certainly possible, but it does not really help the discussion. One might as well appeal to a purely supernatural occurrence that cannot be verified scientifically. There is no difference. And though comets were usually interpreted as heralding sweeping changes, the changes were usually for the worse and there is no way, once again, to connect these events to the birth of a king in Israel. Next, I will look at planetary conjunction, the most popular suggestion at planetarium shows during the Christmas season.

Did the Star of Bethlehem Result from a Triple Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter?

The bright star usually seen hovering over Nativity scenes depicted on numerous Christmas cards actually dominates nearly every nighttime Christmas panorama. As I stated earlier, the Star of Bethlehem is just about the only ubiquitous biblical symbol associated with Christmas. The reason probably has to do with the mystery surrounding what this star was. Earlier, I showed the unreasonableness of the star being a comet or supernova explosion. If you were to attend a planetarium show concerning the star of Bethlehem, they would most likely present the idea that the star was a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the year 7 B.C. followed by a massing of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in 6 B.C. Realizing that planetarium shows view Scripture as something less than historically accurate, it is still necessary to ask if this indeed could have been the Star of Bethlehem.

In the early 17th century the great astronomer and Christian, Johannes Kepler, calculated that a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn had occurred in 7 B.C. While Kepler did not believe this to be the actual Star of Bethlehem, it may have alerted the magi to the coming star. 7-4 B.C. have become the usual dates for fixing the birth of Christ since Herod the Great’s death, the Herod mentioned by both Matthew and Luke in their birth narratives, is well established in 4 B.C. Therefore, Jesus had to have been born in the few years prior to 4 B.C. since He started his three-year public ministry around the age of 30 (Luke 3:23) and His death is usually fixed between 27-30 A.D.

So just what is a triple conjunction, and why would it be significant to the birth of a King in Israel? A planetary conjunction is what happens when two planets come in close proximity to one another. A triple conjunction refers to when three separate conjunctions of the same two planets occur within a one year period. Triple conjunctions can be predicted, but they do not occur with regularity. There have been only 11 such triple conjunctions since 7 B.C. and the interval between them varies between 40 and 338 years.

The triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. was seen in the constellation Pisces in the months of May, September, and December. This provides sufficient time for the magi to see the first conjunction, begin their trip west to Judea, visit Herod by the second conjunction or at least soon afterwards, and perhaps not reach Bethlehem until the third conjunction when it is said to have appeared in the southern sky, and Bethlehem is just south of Jerusalem. Remember how the magi rejoiced to see the star again as they departed Jerusalem for Bethlehem. Ancient astrologers associated Jupiter with royalty or even a ruler of the universe. Saturn was associated with Palestine or even with the deity who protected Israel. And Pisces was associated with the nation of Israel. Later a massing of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn occurred again in Pisces in 6 B.C. It seems feasible then that this triple conjunction followed by the massing of the three planets in Pisces could indicate to the magi that a King of Israel and a Ruler of the Universe was about to be born in Israel.

While this seems to wrap things up rather nicely, there are significant problems. First, Jupiter and Saturn never were close enough to be confused as a single object. Matthew definitely describes a singular star. Perhaps more importantly, the use of astrology is necessary to interpret these astronomical signs properly. The Old Testament, particularly, mocks astrologers in Isaiah 47:13-15 and several times in Daniel (1:20, 2:27, 4:7, and 5:7). Jeremiah 10:1-2 seems to forbid astrology outright. The use of astrology is clearly outside the worldview of Matthew as he penned his gospel. It seems woefully inconsistent for the Lord to use astrology to herald the incarnation and birth of His Son into the world.

Was the Star of Bethlehem the Planet Jupiter?

In this discussion, I have considered a nova, a comet, and a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn as the Star of Bethlehem between 7 and 4 B.C., and none have seemed to be satisfactory. In 1991, Ernest Martin published a book titled, The Star That Astonished the World. His major thesis is that Herod died in 1 B.C. and not 4 B.C. If 4 B.C. is the wrong date for Herod’s death, then everything must be reevaluated.

While there are many lines of evidence that Martin uses to make his point, a critical issue is a lunar eclipse that occurred just prior to Herod’s death. According to the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, on the night of a lunar eclipse, Herod executed two rabbis. Herod himself died soon afterwards, just before Passover. Martin points out that the lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C., was only a 40% partial eclipse and barely visible. Also he reconstructs the events between the eclipse and Herod’s death, about 4 weeks, and determines there was not enough time for all these things to take place. However, Martin has located a total lunar eclipse on January 10, 1 B.C., twelve and a half weeks prior to Passover.

If we assume that Martin’s date for the death of Herod is correct, then the years 3 and 2 B.C. can be added to the search parameters for the Star of Bethlehem. Martin points out that the planet Jupiter passes through a series of conjunctions over the course of these two years indicating that Jupiter is the star of Bethlehem.

Remember that Jupiter is considered the royal star. Well, in 3 B.C., Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo, the first of several such conjunctions over the next year. Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was also closely associated by some with the Lion of Judah. This is beginning to look interesting. “The royal planet approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel.”(1) In addition, on September 11, 3 B.C., Jupiter was not only very close to Regulus, but the sun was in the constellation Virgo. Hmmm, the royal planet in conjunction with the royal star while the sun is in a virgin. September 11, 3 B.C., is also the beginning of the Jewish New Year. There seems to be an awful lot coming together here.

But what about the star appearing to stop over Bethlehem? Planets will actually appear to do just that as they reach the opposite point in the sky from the sun as they travel east across the sky. They will stop, reverse directions for a few weeks, stop again, and head east once again. It’s called a retrograde loop. Jupiter performed a retrograde loop in 2 B.C. and was stationary on December 25, during Hanukkah, the season of giving presents.

Just in case you are ready to proclaim the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem solved, remember that this whole scenario rests on Herod dying in 1 B.C. rather than in 4 B.C. The majority of historians and biblical historians can’t accept this critical revision. If Herod indeed died in 4 B.C., all of these coincidences I just reviewed are just that, coincidences. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the use of astrological meanings is contrary to the worldview of Matthew. There is another option that has become very popular, and I’ll discuss it next.

The Shekinah Glory as the Star of Bethlehem

So far in this essay, I have discussed several naturalistic explanations for the Star of Bethlehem: a nova or exploding star, a comet, a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C., and the planet Jupiter as it traveled in the constellation Leo in 3-2 B.C. Each of these astronomical events represents a natural occurrence that God used to announce the birth of His Son. One of the major problems has been that in order to interpret any of these signs, one would have to use astrological meanings for these events and their locations in the night sky to reach the conclusion that a new King of the Jews has been born–something that is foreign to the biblical worldview. Perhaps there was a physical “star” that gave off real light but indeed was new but not reflected by any astronomical event.

Remember that Jesus’ birth was the ultimate coming of the presence of God in the midst of His people. How was God’s presence manifested elsewhere in the Bible? Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed and God spoke to him from the bush. Again in Exodus, Moses was allowed to see God’s backside and afterwards his face shone with light so bright that the other Israelites could not look on his face. The Israelites were led through the desert by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When Jesus was transfigured He shone with a light as bright as the sun. When Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul was blinded by the light which the others with him saw as well. When God was imminently present, a bright light was associated with His presence.

The Shekinah Glory denotes the visible presence of God. This presence was real, and the physical manifestation was real. Remember that Saul was blinded by the light. The Lord often announces His presence by a very physical manifestation of bright light. What better way to announce the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, the second Person of the Trinity than by a special light that is not some mere improbable astronomical event, rather an expression of the Shekinah glory, God’s divine presence among men?

Astronomer Sherm Kanagy and theologian Ken Boa advance this thesis in their as yet unpublished manuscript, Star of the Magi. One of their strong emphases is the necessity to try to interpret the text of Matthew from first century Jewish perspective. They reject the idea that any astrological meaning could have been on Matthew’s mind concerning this star. It is certainly fair to wonder, therefore, what this star was and how the magi interpreted it as a star signifying the birth of the King of the Jews. Kanagy and Boa reveal that Kepler concluded that the star was not some astronomical event and was a light that appeared in the lower atmosphere and therefore was not visible to everyone. But how did the magi interpret the star? This admittedly is the weakest part of the interpretation. The text gives no real hints. Magi were simply wise men of the east, not necessarily astrologers. They were Gentiles whose presence in the context of Matthew’s Messianic gospel hints at the eventual spread of the gospel beyond the Jews. But how did they know what the star meant? We can only assume there was selective revelation. Only Paul understood the voice from the light, though all who were with him saw the light. Only Moses was allowed up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. Only Peter, James, and John were present at the transfiguration, and they were told to keep it to themselves until Jesus rose from the dead. Manifestations of God’s presence with men often were accompanied by selective revelation. Perhaps the meaning of the “star” was only revealed to the magi though others could actually see the “star.”

Well, what was it, an astronomical event or the Shekinah Glory, manifesting God’s presence among men? In my mind the mystery remains. Perhaps that is how God intends it to be.

© 1999 Probe Ministries


Astrology: Do the Heavens Declare the Destiny of Man?

Dr. Michael Gleghorn critically examines the claim of astrology that the heavenly bodies somehow influence, or even determine, events on earth.

Spanish flag This article is also available in Spanish.

A Brief Historical Introduction

Astrology is based on the notion that the heavenly bodies somehow influence, or even determine, events on earth. It is believed that an accurate understanding of these heavenly influences, especially at the time of one’s birth, can give us insight into a person’s character and destiny. Although belief in astrology is very ancient, it continues to have many adherents even in our own day. One writer estimates that as many as one quarter of the world’s population “believe in and follow astrology to some extent.”{1} Unfortunately, Christians are not exempt from such beliefs. Estimates indicate that anywhere from ten to thirty percent of those claiming to be “born again” Christians entertain some belief that astrology is true.{2}

Although there is some scholarly disagreement over when the western system of astrology originated, astrologer Robert Parry observes, “Conventional scholarship leans toward the view that astrology began in the old Mesopotamian civilizations of the Middle-East sometime around the second millennium B.C.”{3} At this time there was no distinction between astrology and astronomy. However, “because centers of learning were also . . . centers of religion, natural astrology soon became corrupted by pagan myths, deities, and magic. As a result, two forms of astrology began to coexist: natural astrology ([or] astronomy) and religious astrology.”{4} It was “the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy . . . [who] refined astrology to its present form in the second century A.D.”{5} It is this brand of astrology that has most influenced the West. But it is by no means the only form in existence.

Ancient astrological systems differing from our western variety were developed both in China and India–as well as elsewhere. But not only do these systems differ from ours, they also differ from each other. Furthermore, within each of these three major systems, we also find many contradictory subsystems.{6} For example, “Not all western astrologers agree that there are 12 zodiacal signs. Steven Schmidt in his book Astrology 14 claims . . . a total of 14 signs. But some argue for only 8, others for 10, and a few for 24.”{7} It was doubtless these many differences that led astrologer Richard Nolle to admit that there are nearly as many astrological systems as there are astrologers!{8}

But don’t all these differences affect astrology’s reliability? After all, won’t different systems give different results? Indeed they will. For instance, one astrologer may predict that you’ll have a wonderful marriage; another that you’ll never marry–you might easily receive contradictory readings from different astrologers! And the law of non-contradiction says they can’t both be right (though they could both be wrong). It is for reasons such as these that we should be hesitant about placing our faith in astrology.

Difficulties in Chart Interpretation

“The basis of all astrological work is the Birth Chart. This is an accurate map of the sky for the exact date, time and place of birth. . . . [T]his can be the birth of a person . . . a nation . . . or even of an idea or question.”{9} Once the astrologer has such information, he is ready to begin interpreting the chart. But what sort of information is most relevant to chart interpretation?

Although we cannot cover all the details, the astrologer is primarily concerned with examining the planets, houses, and signs–and how these are related to one another. Thus, astrologer Robert Parry writes, “[E]ach planet has a distinct and definite character which is modified by the sign and house in which it is placed. Mars, for example, is the planet of aggression, extraversion, self-confidence and sexuality.”{10} The “signs” are the twelve signs of the zodiac. “Everyone is . . . born under one of these . . . signs (Pisces the fish, and so on).”{11} Finally, “the houses are the 12 divisions of the zodiac that are said to correspond symbolically to every area of life . . . the planets are said to travel through the houses, influencing each area of life as they do.”{12}

But the astrologer must not only pay attention to the planets, houses and signs, he must also note their relationships to one another. For instance, “Angular relationships between planets are . . . very important. These relationships are called ‘aspects’ . . . a Square (90-degree) aspect between two planets indicates tension or disagreement . . . whereas a Trine (120-degree) aspect indicates sympathy and cooperation.”{13}

Interpreting a birth chart is thus a very complex affair. Indeed, one astrologer “calculated the least possible number of different combinations resulting from the most basic . . . chart . . . [as] roughly equivalent to the estimated number of atoms in the known universe!”{14} And such complexity is just one of many difficulties.

Another is that not all astrologers agree on the number of signs that need to be considered in interpreting a chart. While most acknowledge twelve, some think there are less and others more than this. There are also differences regarding where the various houses should be placed on a chart. And clearly such differences will lead to conflicting interpretations.

Finally, there is the problem of authority.{15} What factual basis do astrologers have for asserting that the Square aspect indicates disagreement, while a Trine indicates cooperation? Why do some astrologers consider Saturn a “bad” planet and Jupiter a “good” planet? How does the astrologer know “that the first house represents personality, the second . . . money [and] . . . the eighth . . . death?”{16} Since such assertions appear to be arbitrary, it follows that results will be arbitrary as well. One should, therefore, be wary about accepting the advice of astrologers–at least when they’re speaking as astrologers!

The Problem of Twins

In his book, In Defense of Astrology, Robert Parry attempts to defend astrology against the twelve most common objections that are usually raised against it. Let’s consider just one of these: the problem of twins.

Some twins are born within minutes of each other, yet they may lead very different lives. But if one’s character and destiny are largely determined by the positions of the heavenly bodies at the time of birth, we would expect twins to be remarkably similar in these respects. Clearly, however, this is not always the case. Even Parry admits that one twin may die quite young while “the other lives on to a ripe old age.”{17} As an astrologer, how does he deal with this difficulty?

He begins by observing, “Even a few minutes can make a lot of difference to a birth chart.”{18} He then argues that even when one twin dies while the other lives, “the same event, namely death, has entered both lives at the same time. One twin dies . . . the other is touched radically by the sorrow . . . of . . . death.”{19} He concludes, “Surely this is an argument for, rather than against astrology.”{20} But how convincing is this argument, really?

While it may be true that a few minutes can occasionally make a big difference to a birth chart, this is clearly not always the case. Indeed, some scholars state that even “a birth interval of several minutes would make no real difference.”{21} Second, there is surely a very big difference indeed between someone actually dying on the one hand, and someone losing a loved one to death on the other. It seems undeniable that the destinies of two such people are radically different. Surely this constitutes a legitimate objection to the ability of astrology to predict a person’s destiny.

Additionally, for those of us who accept the authority of the Bible, it’s instructive to contemplate the lives of Jacob and Esau, twins born so close to one another in time that Jacob came out of the womb “with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel.”{22} Astrology would expect these two men to have very similar personalities and destinies. But did they?

The Bible records, “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man living in tents.”{23} In addition to being quite different in personality and temperament, they were different physically as well. Esau was a hairy man, but Jacob a smooth man.{24} But most importantly, the destinies of both men, as well as their descendents, were drastically different. God bestowed His special favor on Jacob, but rejected Esau declaring, “I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau.”{25} Surely if astrology were true, one would not expect twins born at virtually the same time to be so thoroughly different in both their character and destiny.

Astrology and Science

Numerous studies have attempted to test the claims of astrology. The scientist most often cited by astrologers as having furnished “proof” for some of its ideas is the late French psychologist Michel Gauquelin. Astrologer Robert Parry writes:

Gauquelin’s results are remarkable. For instance, the traditionally energetic and aggressive planet Mars is shown quite conclusively to be more frequently strong in the charts of sportsmen than chance would normally allow. . . . These professional attributes tend, moreover, to be in line with traditional astrological law, which has always associated Mars with competitive spirit.{26}

Gauquelin’s results are known as the “Mars effect.” He claimed to have found evidence for this effect in “a study that attempted to test whether or not the birth dates of 2088 sports champions were ‘statistically significant’ according to the position of Mars.”{27} Ironically, although some slight evidence for this effect was indeed noted, Gauquelin “did not consider it an astrological effect.”{28} Moreover, although frequently cited as lending validity to the subject, he “never claimed to validate traditional astrology in any sense.”{29}

Still, he did claim to find some evidence for the “Mars effect.” Doesn’t this lend some credibility to astrology? Not necessarily. “The problem for astrologers is that the ‘Mars effect’ has never been confirmed in 30 years of subsequent studies.”{30} One of the most damaging studies in this regard was published in 1995 by a team of French scientists. After an exhaustive twelve-year study, the team’s “attempt to independently replicate Gauquelin’s findings failed; it offered ‘no evidence for the Mars effect.’”{31} Since this “effect” is generally considered strong confirmation for the truth of astrology, it seems that scientific support for the subject is quite hard to come by.

But aren’t there other tests for the validity of astrology? For instance, don’t all the predictions made by astrologers offer a means of testing the subject’s accuracy? Indeed they do, but the results are usually quite unconvincing. While successful predictions may sometimes occur, as a general rule, “published predictions . . . seem to have a worse record than client self-disclosures.”{32}

In a study conducted between 1974-79, over 3,000 predictions by such alleged astrologers as Jeane Dixon and Carroll Righter were examined. The number of failures was 2673–almost 90 percent! Moreover, “the astrologers . . . were given the benefit of the doubt for any prediction that could have been attributed to shrewd guessing, vague wording, or inside information.”{33} Without such benefits, the failure rate would have been almost 100 percent! The authors of the study concluded, “The results . . . paint a dismal picture . . . for the . . . claim that ‘astrology works’.”{34}

Astrology and the Bible

What does the Bible say about astrology? According to one astrologer, “The Bible is full of the philosophy of astrology.”{35} But when one carefully examines the passages thought to speak favorably of astrology, one is bound to conclude with Drs. Bjornstad and Johnson: “Absolutely NO scriptural passage supports astrology . . . not a single reference even indicates tolerance of this art.”{36}

The Bible condemns faith in astrology as futile and misplaced. In Jeremiah 10, God issues this warning: “Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them; for the customs of the peoples are vanity.”{37} God is both the Creator and sovereign Ruler of the heavens; people are therefore to trust and fear Him–not what He has made.

Unlike God, astrology is powerless to deliver those who trust in it. In Isaiah 47, “God condemns Babylon and tells of its impending judgment.”{38} In verse 13 He says, “Let now the astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons, stand up and save you from what will come upon you.” But that their efforts would be in vain is clearly seen in the concluding words of the chapter, “There is none to save you.”{39} Whatever predictive power astrology has, it is utterly eclipsed by the power of the sovereign Lord who created and rules all things!

Finally, in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, astrology comes under the same condemnation as all other forms of divination. There are likely many reasons for this, but let me mention just one. If the ideas of astrology are largely discredited, what accounts for its sometimes-remarkable predictive power? The Bible, as well as the frank admissions of some astrologers, indicates supernatural, or spiritual, involvement. But if God condemns astrology, what sort of spirits are we talking about? Though it may be unpopular to say so, the Bible suggests they are demons.{40} And it’s eerie how many astrologers actually attribute their predictive powers to the wisdom of their spirit guides. One professional astrologer of twelve years confessed: “I never met a really successful astrologer . . . who did not admit . . . that spiritism was the power behind the craft.”{41} Could it be that astrology works (when it works) not because of its discredited and contradictory ideas, but because of the unseen power of the spirit world? If so, God’s condemnation of astrology may be partially motivated by a concern to protect people from the influence of such evil spirits.

In conclusion, the heavens do not declare the destiny of man, but the glory of the God who made them.{42} It is God, not the heavens, “who works all things after the counsel of His will.”{43}

Notes

1. Lawrence E. Jerome, Astrology Disproved (Prometheus Books: Buffalo, NY, 1977), 1, cited in John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, Oregon, 1996), 54.
2. For instance, Ankerberg and Weldon mention a Gallup poll cited by the National and International Religion Report for July 4, 1988, which “estimated that ten percent of evangelical Christians believe in astrology” (Ibid., 54). Additionally, Chuck Colson cites a figure from Wade Clark Roof’s book, Spiritual Marketplace, indicating that a third of “born again” Christians believe in astrology (“The Feng Shui Way: The Paganization of Our Culture,” Jubilee Extra [October 2001]: 7).
3. Robert Parry, In Defense of Astrology: Astrology’s Answers to its Critics (Llewellyn Publications: St. Paul, Minnesota, 1991), 37.
4. Kenneth Boa, Cults, World Religions and the Occult (Victor Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 1990), 152.
5. Ibid., 154.
6. Ankerberg and Weldon, 58.
7. Boa, 158.
8. Richard Nolle, Critical Astrology: Investigating the Cosmic Connection (American Federation of Astrologers: Tempe, AZ, 1980), 22, referenced in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 58.
9. Parry, 24.
10. Ibid., 31.
11. Ankerberg and Weldon, 55.
12. Ibid.
13. Parry, 31-32.
14. Ankerberg and Weldon, 57.
15. Boa, 158.
16. Ankerberg and Weldon, 56.
17. Parry, 88.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Boa, 160.
22. Genesis 25:26.
23. Genesis 25:27.
24. Genesis 27:11.
25. Malachi 1:2-3; see also Romans 9:10-13.
26. Parry, 188.
27. Ankerberg and Weldon, 60.
28. Patrick Grim, ed., Philosophy of Science and the Occult (State University of New York Press: Albany, NY, 1982), 33-46; cf. pp. 55-60, referenced in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 60.
29. Ankerberg and Weldon, 60.
30. Ibid.
31. “French Committee Announces Results of Test of So-Called Mars Effect,” Skeptical Inquirer (January-February, 1995), 62, cited in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 60.
32.Ankerberg and Weldon, 63.
33. Ibid.
34. R.B. Culver and P.A. Ianna, The Gemini Syndrome: A Scientific Evaluation of Astrology (Prometheus Books: Buffalo, NY, 1984 Rev.), 169-70, cited in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 63.
35. Joseph F. Goodavage, Astrology: The Space Age Science (Signet: New York, 1967), XI, cited in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 64.
36. James Bjornstad and Shildes Johnson, Stars, Signs and Salvation in the Age of Aquarius (Bethany House: Minneapolis, MN, 1976), 43, cited in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 67.
37. Jeremiah 10:2-3a.
38. Boa, 161.
39. Isaiah 47:15
40. See in particular Acts 16:16-18.
41. Personal correspondence from Karen Winterburn to John Ankerberg and John Weldon, cited in Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 71.
42. See Psalms 19:1 and 8:3, as well as Genesis 1:16.
43. Ephesians 1:11.

©2002 Probe Ministries.


“How Can a Christian Be Superstitious?”

Sue, I have a Christian friend who is highly superstitious. This is very surprising to me. I would like to be able to give him scriptural references which apply to this. I cannot understand how he reconciles the sovereignty of God with superstition. He actually thinks that things like “knocking on wood” have affect on the outcome of situations. He is also highly intelligent. If you know if any articles which address this, I would appreciate that information as well.

I share your incredulity at your friend’s belief in both superstition and a sovereign God!

Here are two powerful scriptures that I think are eye-opening concerning superstitious Christians:

Exodus 20:2-5 — The first commandment:

“I am the LORD your God . . . You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . . “

Being superstitious is to trust in an act, like knocking on wood or not stepping on a crack, instead of in God. It is nothing less than idolatry! (This is why astrology is also wrong, also idolatrous—it is trusting in the stars instead of the Star-Creator!) When we trust in a superstition instead of in God, we are making it into an idol.

The other scripture is in 2 Kings 1:3:

“But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, ‘Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, `Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’”

I think this verse makes it clear that consulting (and of course, trusting) anything other than the one true God is an insult and affront to God.

I’ll be interested in hearing his response to this information . . .

Sue Bohlin

Probe Ministries


The Occult Connection – A Christian View

Occult philosophy has permeated nearly every area of our society. I believe that Christians need to think clearly about these issues and apply a biblical worldview to them.

Consider the pervasive influence of the occult. Students are involved with role-playing fantasy games that introduce them to occult concepts. Universities offer courses in paranormal and occult science. Occultic themes provide popular material for television shows and movies. Police departments are beginning to realize that many of the crimes they investigate have occult origins. Everywhere we go, it seems that the occult is present.

The word occult comes from the Latin occultus, which means “concealed.” In its ordinary usage, it means “beyond the bounds of ordinary knowledge–the mysterious, the concealed, or that which is hidden from view.” The occult involved such practices as magic, divination, incantations, paranormal experiences, and the New Age concept of the expansion of consciousness.

Students of the occult frequently divide occult phenomena into three areas: (1) forms of divination, (2) types of mystical experience, and (3) magical manipulation.

The most common form of divination is astrology. Other examples of divination would include palmistry, ouija boards, tarot cards, biorhythm, crystal balls, and interpretation of dreams. Divination is evil and is strictly forbidden in Deuteronomy 18.

Types of mystical experience would include any paranormal attempt to transcend the bounds of our physical world. The out-of-body experiences reported by psychics fit into this category. Other examples would be telekinesis, clairvoyance, and psychic trances. This would also include seances, necromancy, and psychic healing.

The final category would be magical manipulation. This is not to be confused with the art of illusions used by professional magicians. By contrast, occultists say they can use hidden forces in the spiritual realm to manipulate people and circumstances.

Practitioners would include sorcerers, witches, and witch doctors. Many of these practitioners are mentioned in the Bible. In the Old Testament we find Jezebel as well as the magicians in Egypt. In the New Testament are Simon (Acts 8) and Bar-Jesus (Acts 13).

Finally, let me address how Christians should respond to the occult. We should be equipped to counteract its influence in society. First, Christians should know God’s word. The best way to discover a counterfeit is to know the real thing. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Know God’s word and put on the whole armor of God.

Second, resist Satan and all of his influence in your life. If we resist the devil, the Bible teaches that he will flee from us. Third, destroy occult books and paraphernalia in your possession. Confess and repent any involvement you have had with the occult.

Fourth, submit your life totally to Jesus Christ. As we yield to Him and allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, we are fortified for spiritual warfare. The Bible teaches that greater is He who is in you, then he who is in the world. Lean not on your own strength but on the strength of the Lord. You can have victory over the forces of darkness if you know the enemy and marshall God’s spiritual resources for the battle.

Halloween

Next I would like to focus on Halloween. Most people see Halloween as nothing more than a harmless festival that allows kids to collect candy. Yet Halloween is much more than a harvest festival. Its origins are deeply rooted in the occult, and the various practitioners of the black arts identify Halloween as a significant event in the pagan calendar. The following questions and answers should help you be more aware of the occultic nature of Halloween.

The date, October 31st, has long been known as “The Festival of the Dead.” The Celtic tribes and their priests, the Druids, celebrated this day as a marker for the change from life to death. Today, the modern celebration of Halloween is usually performed by adherents of witchcraft who use the day (and especially the night) for their rituals.

Witches celebrate Halloween as the “Feast of Samhain”–the first feast of the witchcraft year. Being a festival of the dead, Halloween is a time when witches attempt to communi- cate with the dead through various forms of divination.

Witches believe that this day marks the time when the Mother Goddess (also known as Mother Nature, Goddess of the Earth) returns to the underworld to sleep under a blanket of snow. In her place comes another god–the Horned God–who emerges to begin his reign of death. Witches believe this is a time when the life of summer is replaced by the death of winter. Halloween is a high feast day to celebrate the end of summer and the coming of winter.

In later centuries, the Catholic Church attempted to redeem this pagan holiday by designating it as “All Saints Day.” Protestant churches during the Reformation chose not to celebrate this day, seeing it as an attempt to Christianize a pagan holiday.

For example, let’s look at the practice of dressing up on Halloween. During most of the 20th century, children in America have been dressing up on Halloween so they can go out and “trick- or-treat.” This tradition has been self- perpetuating for decades, but if we go back to the origins of Halloween, we can again see the occult connection.

Occultists who revered Halloween as a pagan holy day saw this day as a time of transition between life and death. They believed that during this transition from life to death, the two worlds were momentarily in contact with one another. The veil between these two worlds (the land of the living and the land of the dead) was very thin, and so many believed they would come in contact with the spirit world.

Some occult practitioners practiced divination and believed one could learn the secrets of life and wisdom by lying on a grave and listening to the messages from the long-departed. Others taught that spirits and ghosts left the grave during this night and would seek out warmth in their previous homes. Villagers, fearful of the possibility of being visited by the ghosts of past occupants, would dress up in costumes to scare the spirits on their way. They would also leave food and other treats at their doors to appease the spirits so they would not destroy their homes or crops but instead move on down the road.

Another technique used to scare away the spirits was to carve a scary face into a pumpkin. People hoped this horrible visage would move the spirit on to another home or village and spare their home from destruction. Sometimes the villagers would light a candle and place it within the pumpkin and use it as a lantern (hence the name “Jack-o-Lantern”). Then they would walk from the local grave yard to their homes in an effort to scare off evil spirits that might be walking down the road after leaving the grave.

Within witchcraft there are four pagan festivals celebrated throughout the year. The first festival in the witchcraft calendar is Halloween (October 31). This is the celebration of life and death. It is also known as Hallowmas. Second is Candlemas (February 2) which honors the “God of Death.” This festival gives thanks to him for keeping them from sickness and wishes him well as he journeys back to the underworld. The third festival is Beltane on May eve (April 30). This celebration welcomes new life and involves fertility rituals. A final festival is Lammas (August 1), which is a festival of the harvest. Witches give thanks to the Goddess of the Earth for making the crops grow.

The pagan origins of Halloween should be sufficient to cause Christian parents to question the wisdom of allowing their children to participate in a witchcraft festival. Given this information, parents really have only two choices: fight the celebration of Halloween and provide alternatives.

At a time when schools are removing any religious significance from Christmas (now often merely called winter break) and Easter (spring break), it is ironic that most public schools still celebrate Halloween. Responsible parents should ask school administrators to restrict Halloween celebrations. Pictures of witches, haunted houses, and other occultic practices in the public schools are a promotion of pagan, religious practices.

Many churches have begun to develop creative alternatives. Church youth groups hold bowling or skating parties. Some groups spend the night going out and witnessing to those in the streets. Other churches hold a Fall Fun Festival and have children come to the church facilities in biblical costumes. Such programs keep children safe and focus their attention on the Bible rather than on a pagan, occultic ritual.

Astrology

Less conspicuous and more insidious than Halloween is the practice of astrology. Even occupants of the White House have failed to see its occultic connection.

Former White House chief of staff Don Regan said in his book that “virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff was cleared in advanced with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes.” The friend was later identified as Joan Quigley, a San Francisco astrology author.

When Ronald Reagan scheduled the signing of the INF treaty for the afternoon of December 8th instead of during prime-time television hours, many were puzzled. Former chief of staff Don Regan said it was performed in the afternoon because Nancy Reagan said that was when “the stars were right.”

The Reagans were hardly the first national leaders to be interested in astrology. Teddy Roosevelt mounted his natal horoscope on a chessboard so he could study it each day. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler shared at least one thing in common: they were all interested in horoscopes. And even Charles DeGaulle quoted a pre-war horoscope predicting he would rule France.

Even though astrology is unscientific and illogical, it is still very popular. Over 1200 daily newspapers carry horoscopes, and there are 12,000 full-time and about 175,000 part-time astrologers. Many people make it a daily ritual to consult their horoscopes, and some hire professional astrologers to help them make business and personal decisions.

Astrology had its beginnings in the fertile crescent in Mesopotamia. During the period from the Sumarians through the Chaldeans, astrology gained prominence and developed into the formalized occultic structure found today.

Astrology is based upon the questionable assumption that the fixed stars, sun, moon, and planets have an influence upon people and historical events. This influence can be determined once one knows the exact hour of one’s birth. In fact, the word horoscope means “a consideration of the hour.” Once the time and place of birth are known, the stars can be consulted and a forecast can be made.

There are good scientific reasons to question the basis of astrology. First, it is based upon a geocentric solar system rather than a heliocentric one. The basic premise of astrology is that the sun and planets rotate around the earth. Yet science tells us that the earth and planets rotate around the sun. Thus, the science of astronomy undermines the quackery of astrology.

Second, astrology is based upon the assumption that there are seven planets. Moreover it identifies the sun and moon as planets. Lacking telescopes and other astronomical instruments, the founders of astrology incorrectly identified some heavenly bodies as planets and were unaware of other planets. Thus, a second assumption of astrology fails to square with scientific data.

Third, astrology mixes and matches stars that should not be grouped together. The 12 signs of the zodiac are quite arbitrary. They mix together stars in one constellation that are actually quite far from each other–often in entirely different parts of our Milky Way galaxy. Moreover, since the stars are in motion, some of the constellations change shape over time. In essence, the zodiac of astrology is arbitrary and subject to change and hardly reliable as a guide for one’s future.

But in addition to the scientific problems with astrology, there are also logical problems. First is the well-documented fact that different astrologers sometimes cast different horoscopes for the same person. If astrology were an objective science, we would expect different astrologers to cast the same horoscope for the same person. Instead, they make vastly different predictions about the same person. If we can determine our destiny from the stars, we should not find such vastly different predictions. Since we do, we must conclude that astrology does not lead to logical conclusions.

A second logical problem related to the previous one is that if astrology were true, then twins would have the same destiny. Being born in the same place and at approximately the same time should ensure that twins would have the same destiny. Yet the history of twins shows that although there are similarities, there are also significant differences not readily predicted by astrology.

A third problem is the inability to predict accurately the future of people with known destinies. In order to test this idea, one researcher put together what he called a “test of destinies.” He gave astrologers 40 birthdates. Twenty belonged to known criminals and 20 belonged to peace-loving citizens. He asked them to separate the birthdates into the two categories.

None of the astrologers separated them correctly. The researcher said, “The result is always great confusion: the astrologers invariably select a mixed bag of criminals and peaceful citizens in about the same proportion that a machine would pick randomly.”

Finally, in addition to scientific and logical problems with astrology, there are also scriptural problems with astrology. In Deuteronomy 18:9-12, God lists five categories of detestable practices. These range from witchcraft to child sacrifice. They also include divination, which is the attempt to predict the future through such methods as reading the stars. All of these are listed as detestable practices.

Unfortunately we live in a society that sets up a dichotomy between hard-core occult activity like witchcraft and satanism and so- called soft-core occult such as reading horoscopes and playing with ouija boards. All are considered detestable practices and should be avoided. Don’t be tempted to dabble in these activities. Instead, resist Satan and he will flee from you.

 

©1992 Probe Ministries.