Table of Contents
As I finalize my transcript for a book I’m writing around Astrology in the Bible, I want to touch on some of the key elements from it in anticipation of its release.
The Bible has much to say about the stars. The most basic to our understanding of the stars is that God created them. They show His power and majesty. The heavens are God’s “handiwork” (Psalm 8:3; 19:1). He has all the stars numbered and named (Psalm 147:4).
The Bible also teaches that God arranged the stars into recognizable groups that we call constellations. The Bible mentions three of these: Orion, the Bear (Ursa Major), and “the crooked serpent” (most likely Draco) in Job 9:9; 26:13; 38:31-32; and Amos 5:8. The same passages also reference the star group Pleiades (the Seven Stars). God is the One Who “fastens the bands” of these constellations; He is the One who brings them forth, “each in its season.” In Job 38:32, God also points to the “Mazzaroth,” usually translated as “constellations.” This is thought by many to be a reference to the twelve constellations of the zodiac.
The constellations have been tracked and studied for millennia. The Egyptians and Greeks knew of the zodiac and used it to measure the beginning of spring centuries before Christ. Much has been written about the meaning of the zodiacal constellations, including theories that they comprise an ancient display of God’s redemptive plan. For example, the constellation Leo can be seen as a celestial depiction of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), and Virgo could be a reminder of the virgin who bore Christ.
The Bible says that stars, along with the sun and moon, were given to us BY GOD for “signs” and “seasons” (Genesis 1:14); that is, they were meant to mark time for us. They are also “signs” in the sense of navigational “indicators,” and all through history, men have used the stars to chart their courses around the globe, even fishermen and farmers use the stars.
God used the stars as an illustration of His promise to give Abraham innumerable seeds (Genesis 15:5). Thus, every time Abraham looked up at the night sky, he had a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness. The final judgment of the earth will be accompanied by astronomical events relating to the stars (Isaiah 13:9-10; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29).
Astrology is the “interpretation” of an assumed influence the stars (and planets) exert on human destiny. According to astrology, the sign you were born under, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, or Capricorn, impacts your destiny. This is a false belief. The royal astrologers of the Babylonian court were put to shame by God’s prophet Daniel (Daniel 1:20) and were powerless to interpret the king’s dream (Daniel 2:27). God specifies astrologers as among those who will be burned as stubble in God’s judgment (Isaiah 47:13-14). Astrology as a form of divination is expressly forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10-14). God forbade the children of Israel to worship or serve the “host of heaven” (Deuteronomy 4:19). Several times in their history, however, Israel fell into that very sin (2 Kings 17:16 is one example). Their worship of the stars brought God’s judgment each time.
The stars should awaken wonder at God’s power, wisdom, and infinitude. We should use the stars to keep track of time and place and to remind us of God’s faithful, covenant-keeping nature. All the while, we acknowledge the Creator of the heavens. Our wisdom comes from God, not the stars (James 1:5). The Word of God, the Bible, is our guide through life (Psalm 119:105).
Imagine my surprise when I started reading Bible with an open mind around astrology. It quickly became obvious that astrology was deeply entwined with the Bible and its practice. When looking for Jesus, after all, the Magi (3 Kings) in Matthew 2:1–12 follow star signs.
The devout are regularly instructed to look up into the heavens for information. “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,” Jesus says in Luke 21:25.
This remains true throughout the Old Testament. Try Daniel 1:20 & 2:10, where astrology is among the modes of “knowledge and understanding” that God’s prophet is taught.
The Bible assumes a reader who knows how to ‘read’ the stars.
As I looked over all the references, this seemed a clear fact: a Christian, like a Jew, was assumed to know something about astrology. As in Psalm 19:1–2, it’s seen to furnish proof of God’s greatness:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”
In Isaiah 47:13, God taunts an evil power:
“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.”
God is saying that astrologers will be able to give accurate information about future events, but this won’t be able to save rulers who oppose God.
In Jeremiah 10:2, the prophet says the stars have key information about the future, and one should not be ‘terrified’ by it.
The Bible is full of references to the Zodiac.
“He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south,” says Job 9:9 (cf. Amos 5:8).
In Deuteronomy 17: 2–7, a Jewish person isn’t to worship other gods “or the moon or any of the host of heaven,” etc. The key idea here is that minor divinities were understood to be connected to astral bodies. To read the stars was to see an interplay of divine beings.
Zodiac imagery is common. The lion, the bull, the water-bearer, etc., are regular biblical images. Animals with possible astrological associations float through prophetic books.
Could there be an astrological design to the entire Bible? In Genesis 37:9, Joseph dreams “The sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” For Philo, the 1st-century Jewish sage, this meant that Joseph was “thus classing himself as the twelfth, to complete the circle of the zodiac.”
The Bible seems to have prompted making horoscopes.
But I was surprised because I realized I’d been raised with a set of ideas that were contrary to fact—and the evidence for it was overwhelming. I began to think of my religious education as a deceptive process.
Many scholars study astrology in biblical studies. Kocku Von Stuckrad notes that “midrashic and Talmudic literature displays a deep-going interest in all aspects of heavenly prediction.”
But they seem not to be Christian scholars—as Christianity, I saw, had put us behind in the study of the Bible. It was as if the religion didn’t want anyone to know about this key feature of the worship of God.
Judaism was not so ill-informed.
To read about Jewish history is to find that astrology was often practiced by rabbis. “By the Middle Ages, astrology had become such a prominent aspect of Judaism that Jewish sages were frequently employed as court astrologers,” notes Anthony J. Tomasino. “Among the great medieval rabbis astrology was considered a science quite compatible with the Jewish faith.”
And early Christians, too, understood astrological ideas. For Origen, the important early Christian scholar, the stars are “heavenly writings, which the angels and the divine powers are able to read well . . .”
The stars, that is, are like the Bible itself—scriptures capable of being read, or misread.
When they stopped believing in astrology in the church….
Anti-astrology picks up with the Catholic period when Augustine of Hippo denounced it. That continues in the Christian culture to this day. No one can point to any verse in the Bible that supports such a condemnation. It was generated without any support and kept alive simply by hate.
“The truth is that the Old Testament does speak against a large number of occult arts (e.g., Ex 22:18; Deut 18:10), but astrology is not among them,” notes Hard Sayings of the Bible.
Christians like to say that astrology is that it makes ‘free will’ impossible.
This is clearly false. Christians, first of all, love prophesy! They often say that Revelation, etc., reveals a future that will occur—regardless of any ‘free will’ exercised by people now.
Astrology, in contrast, is founded on the idea that conditions are always changing.
Astrology seems to be an effort at “interpreting time,” suggests Von Stuckrad. The effort is to “gain insight into the meaning of past, present, and future events.”
The heavens and the scriptures are both bodies that can be read and interpreted.
The Bible might be a vast astrological allegory.
The number twelve is rather key to the biblical narrative—from Jesus’ twelve disciples to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Could the Bible be a kind of astrological allegory? Some have worked out systems of references. The Christian astrologer Carmen Turner-Schott here offers some references. “It is believed that Jesus and Christianity started the Age of Pisces.”
An ‘astro-theology’ might be possible, if speculative, and many scholars work on possibilities. The scholar Helen R. Jacobus notes the Aries of the Dead Sea Scrolls is represented not by a Ram . . . but ‘The Lamb’.
The Bible has a narrative explaining how astrology came into the world.
In the Enoch texts, called ‘scripture’ in early Christianity, knowledge of the stars is among the ‘wisdom’ taught to humans by rebel angels—an illicit transmission.
But as Amy E. Richter notes, knowledge of astrology is also taught by agents of God.
An angel speaks to Enoch, the prophet:
“I have revealed everything to you so that you may see this sun and this moon and those who lead the stars of the sky and all those who turn them — their work, their times, and their emergences.” (1 En. 80:1)
Knowledge taught by rebel angels is aimed at changing and controlling the physical world for personal gain. The good angels teach the prophet to see and understand the system.
Abraham is discussed as an astrologer. He is the man who awakens to God’s deeper designs and power. “If he wishes he will make it rain in the morning and evening; and if he wishes he will not make it fall,” Abraham says in Jubilees 12:17–18. “Everything is under his control.”
The idea here would be: that the natural processes of the earth are to be respected. Only on rare occasions does God change the earth’s natural flow of events—as when parting the Red Sea.
Jesus seems to be associated with the sun.
This is noted throughout the gospel narratives. During his crucifixion a darkness “came over the whole land” (Matt 27:45, etc.). Darkness foretells his return (Matt 24:29, etc.). Such passages “may well reflect astrological theories,” notes Tim Hegedus in Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology.
Jesus is the ‘light of the world’, which seems to indicate that he is seen as the sun. Early Christianity faced the sun as a divine practice, as a way of seeing Jesus. “Christians prayed facing east, seeing in the rising sun a symbol of the risen Christ,” notes Anscar J. Chupungco in Liturgical Time and Space.
To pray facing the east is to face the rising sun. This was the direction the Jerusalem Temple faces in Ezekiel 47:1. And even modern Christian churches are often built to face east.
Many Christians have preserved astrological information.
Farmers were astrologers. The Old Farmer’s Almanac would give the astrological information for conditions for new stages of growth being most favorable.
Could that be a useful approach to understanding astrology? Not a prediction of what ‘will happen’, but a recommendation for encouraging life?