In the early history of humanity, astrology and astronomy were closely related. The latter dealt with the movements of heavenly bodies, while the former attempted to interpret the possible effects that these might have upon earth's inhabitants. In Babylonia, where astrology had its origins, considerable importance was attached to such phenomena as eclipses and meteors, to say nothing of planetary movements. Individual stars and constellations were given names, and when they began to be worshiped as gods, the way was opened for astrologers to make predictions as to how people on earth might be affected.
In the second millennium b.c., Babylonian astrologers drew up horoscopes indicating what might be expected to happen in each month. Once twelve of these menologies had been compiled, they were used year after year without change. The superstitious Babylonians also devised the zodiac, a division of the celestial sphere into twelve equal parts known as signs or houses, which were named after the sun, moon, and principal planets. By the late fourth century b.c., Mesopotamian astrology had spread to Greece, and about a century later was adopted widely by the Egyptians. When Greek culture was absorbed by the Romans, astrology assumed the form of a religion, and its practitioners began to design individual horoscopes.
The Old Testament While some have asserted that the twelvefold blessing pronounced by Jacob on his sons (Gen 49:1-28) had some astrological significance, there is nowhere in the material any mention of the possible influence of heavenly bodies. The Israelites were forbidden to worship stars (Deu 9:14), this being seen as an offshoot of astrological speculation. Several centuries later, the influence of Mesopotamian star adulation was being experienced in Israel, causing Amos to condemn the northern kingdom's worship of Saturn (5:26). Jeremiah also referred to the pagan veneration of Ishtar or Venus (7:18; 44:17-19) as well as celestial bodies generally (8:2; 19:13). Isaiah was the first to refer specifically to astrologers and their activities (47:13), and in his prophecy he predicted their destruction, saying that "the fire will burn them up" (47:14).
Daniel seems to have been familiar with astrologers (2:27; 4:7) and with their inability to interpret the king's dreams. Some writers have suggested that the term "Chaldean, " used to describe the wise men of Babylon who acted as astrologers, had actually been written galdu, "astrologers, " by Daniel, but later on was transcribed incorrectly as kaldu, since by then Chaldea (mat Kaldu) had become known as the place where they flourished. Daniel repudiated their supposed abilities by declaring that only God can be regarded as the true source of revelations concerning the future (5:14-16).
Some two centuries before Christ was born, astrology gained a foothold in Jewish religion, when identification of certain angels with stars and planets came into vogue. Although the tradition was repudiated in Wisdom 13:1-4, it had already become impossible to halt the Jewish fascination with astrology. The remains of a Byzantine synagogue floor, unearthed at sixth-century a.d. levels at Beth Alpha in Palestine, included a mosaic in the form of a zodiac, thus showing the extent to which astrology had infiltrated religious architecture.
The New Testament It is against the intertestamental period's concern with angels and elemental spirits that the influence of astrology on early Christianity must be assessed. What may have been an example of celestial phenomena being given an astrological interpretation involved the appearance of an unusual star in the heavens. Such occurrences were not entirely unknown in antiquity, and sometimes were taken as pointing to the birth of a famous person, such as Alexander the Great. Thus the Mesopotamian magi (Matt 2:1-2), who were most probably professional astrologers, were able to both reassure and alarm Herod by offering him astrological reasons for their journey. The star has been a matter of debate also. The magi spoke of it as a single entity, but some scholars have regarded it as a conjunction of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. Others prefer the translation "in its ascendancy" to the traditional "in the east." If the star was a single celestial body, it could possibly have been a nova in its final stage of existence, but this cannot be demonstrated. The Greek word magoi [μάγος] appears again in ac 8:9 and 13:6-8, to describe magicians rather than astrologers.
There could possibly be a reference to the worship of angelic beings in some of Paul's writings, notably in Galatians 4:3 and Colossians 2:15, 20, where the veneration of celestial bodies, particularly among Colossian Christians, was being condemned. Less probably is the speculation that the depth (Gk. bathos [βάθος]) and height (Gk. hypsoma [ὕψωμα]) as in Romans 8:39 can be interpreted astrologically. If anything, they are astronomical terms intended to denote space in relation to the earth. It would thus appear that the New Testament contains no explicit statements that would support the practice of astrology. While some have argued that the magi's visit to Bethlehem gives proper credence to the value of astrology, the fact is that, from a theological perspective, the obedient believer is led in life by the Holy Spirit, who was promised by Christ as the one who would guide the godly into all truth (John 16:13).
Anthropologists and others have observed that when religion declines in a culture it is replaced by superstition. Consequently, it is only to be expected that when people fall away from the faith once delivered to the saints they will place increasing trust in such astrological devices as horoscopes. Part of the popularity of these ancient Mesopotamian devices is that they are seen to afford a possible glimpse into the immediate future. It is unhappily true that they are immensely popular among superstitious persons, and are given wide circulation in the press. It is almost unbelievable that some scientists, who above all others insist upon a pragmatic, empirical approach to their work that is devoid of any possible religious influence, should consult their horoscopes each morning before undertaking the day's responsibilities.
Many of those in bondage to horoscopes argue that nowadays the stars are not consulted, but that instead the predictions are formulated mathematically, and customized to accommodate the latitude and longitude of particular individuals. Christians need to reject such spurious "science, " and commit their way consistently to the continual guidance of the Holy Spirit.
R. K. Harrison
See also Divination
Bibliography. R. Gleadow, The Origin of the Zodiac; L. MacNeice, Astrology.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.