Originally published June 25, 2015
I’ve heard that Christians shouldn’t read horoscopes or get involved with astrology, but weren’t the wise men who came to see Jesus astrologers? Maybe there’s something to astrology.
Well, if we were to say that, then we could also say maybe there’s something to stealing, too. Because, after all, that’s what got the thief on the cross to Jesus, and Jesus said that he would be with Him in Paradise that day. And maybe there’s something to persecuting and murdering Christians, too, because that’s how Paul came to encounter Jesus. But we don’t say those things because that’s not the way we rightly handle and apply Scripture.
There are two broad categories of Scripture: descriptive passages and prescriptive passages. Descriptive passages are descriptions of something that happened, like the story of the wise men visiting Jesus, or Noah and the ark, or David and Goliath. Prescriptive passages could also be called commands or direct instructions, “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”
When we have a question about whether or not it’s OK with God for us to do something, say, consulting horoscopes and astrologers, we look first at the relevant prescriptive passages, such as Deuteronomy 18:9-14:
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.
While this passage was obviously written as a command to Old Testament Israel, we can still draw out some applicable principles for today by asking ourselves why “the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.” God calls these practices an “abomination” several times and links them to paganism. Verse 14 is reminiscent of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and 1 John 2:15-17, which tell us not to love or partner with the dark things of the world and to separate ourselves from such things.
This is a clear, prescriptive passage that answers our questions about following horoscopes and astrology, so this is where we get our instruction, not from a descriptive passage about someone who was an astrologer.
Additionally, there’s good reason to believe that the wise men who went to see Jesus were not astrologers in the same horoscope/tarot card/palm reading/fortune teller sense in which we use the word astrology today. The Greek word translated as “wise men” is magos (magi). Its primary meaning is “Oriental scientist,” a term which was also applied to teachers, priests, and physicians, among others. It would seem that the wise men were much more akin to astronomers than astrologers, and were learned in the Old Testament messianic prophecies as well.
If you’d like to read more about this topic, here are some good resources: