by Norm Olson
Q. I heard someone say the wise men were into astrology. I’ve been taught that astrology is sinful. Please comment.
A. First we need to make sure we know the difference between astrology and astronomy. Astrology, a pseudoscience, is the study and use of the sun, moon, stars, planets, and so forth in an attempt to predict the future and discover their influence on behavior and events. Astronomy, a legitimate science, is the study of God’s handiwork outside the earth’s atmosphere—minus the aspects of astrology.
Astronomy doesn’t violate Scripture; it can actually cause us to worship God and His omnipotence: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man?” (Psalm 8:3, 4). Astrology, on the other hand, does violate Scripture; it is an attempt to delve into the future—which only God knows. Astrology is synonymous in Scripture with apostasy, idol worship, unbelief, and lack of wisdom from God (Isaiah 47:13–15; Jeremiah 10:2, 3, 5; Daniel 1:20; 4:7). Children of God have no business in or need for getting into astrology of any kind, including horoscopes.
There are ways to prove that astrology is unscriptural, dangerous, and unscientific. Even Dr. Carl Sagan, the great humanist, noted that astrology could be disproved by the lives of twins. If astrology were true, each twin should die at the same time, as well as simultaneously. But instead one twin can die in childhood and the other live to a very old age. He also noted that astrologers disagree concerning what a given horoscope means.
Ancient wise men lived in an age of much astrology. After all, that was what the heathen religions of the time were basically about—worship of the sun, moon, stars, and the like. This worship went on in Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and just about everywhere else. Here we need to distinguish between knowing about something and actually believing it or doing it. Though many magi embraced astrology, they had other knowledge as well, including what was known then in the field of astronomy. Further, at least a number of them would have been familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures that had been written up to that time. Daniel 2:12 and 18 and 4:6 and 18 tell of wise men in Babylon. The Scripture accounts of Daniel cause us to believe that he and his friends probably led many magi to turn away from false worship to the worship of the true God of Israel. The men who saw Christ’s natal star were likely influenced by the writings of Daniel.
From the words of Daniel 9:24–27, the wise men could have calculated the time of the appearance of “Messiah the Prince,” and the divine giving of the star would only confirm that this time had come. Though the Bible account doesn’t say that the star actually led the wise men to Jerusalem (just from Jerusalem to Bethlehem), they would have known where to go in response to the star, since this sign was for the King of the Jews and Jerusalem was the “capital” of the Jews. Another passage that they could have known is Numbers 24:17, where the prophet Balaam said that “a Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Other passages, too, speak of the seed of David and the ruler that will one day reign over the world (e.g., Isaiah 11:9, 10).
Astrology surely didn’t come into play with the wise men’s sojourn to see the Christ Child. God forbade the use of astrology, and He wouldn’t use it to lead the wise men. There is no such thing as Biblical astrology. Instead, God might have communicated supernaturally with those searching men. After all, He did so when He warned them not to go back to Herod after they had seen the Christ Child (Matthew 2:12).
Some Bible students believe the star that the wise men saw was not a star as we would think of one today, but a “brilliance” (word connotation in the original) that appeared to them as a star, which suggests the Shekinah glory, the visible manifestation of God’s presence. Interestingly, we note that when the wise men spoke to King Herod, they said, “ ‘We have seen His star’ ” (Matthew 2:2). Whatever that “star” was, it was specially created by God; it was not just some astrological lining up of certain heavenly bodies.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send your Bible questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.