A Response to Charles Strohmer
on "Is There A Christian Zodiac, A Gospel In The Stars?"
by Ross Olson
In his article in Christian Research Journal,1 Charles Strohmer warns us that attempting to find the gospel story in the original meaning of the zodiac is like "trying to get round the cherubim's flaming sword in Eden." Mr. Strohmer is a warm-hearted servant of the Lord who wants to protect the Kingdom from the many perverse influences of our age. But is his caution reasonable in this case, or does he misinterpret what "the gospel in the stars" is really about?
If someone thinks that investigation of this area is encouraging Christians to check their horoscopes, then the concern is legitimate. But in avoiding anything that he thinks smells funny, he may be tarring a legitimate area of historical and Biblical investigation. And similar arguments could be used to forbid investigation of the flood stories of many ancient and isolated peoples (which actually corroborate the true story of the Flood of Noah). Or amazing evidences of God's grace in the Celtic world might be declared off limits because old pagan symbols were sanctified and used in conveying that truth. In fact, because certain charismatic gifts are also seen in false religions, they might be automatically disqualified by one of that mindset. Caution and discernment are indeed called for but not necessarily snap judgements.
One set of pertinent facts remains abundantly clear in Scripture. The Magi knew from the stars that the King of the Jews was born and that He deserved to be worshipped, even if it required a long and risky journey. Their quest was allowed to succeed and their praise was accepted. These were clearly "good guys" who also received special direction from God to avoid going back to Herod after finding Jesus. And they were stargazers!
The fact that astrology today is a tool in the hands of the enemy does not mean that it was always so. Satan does not create but distorts, and a good counterfeit is always very close to the truth. Although the arts are not completely perverted today, many areas of creative expression are being used in the service of evil. Yet music, drama and visual representation can also be powerful tools for good and fruitfully used in communicating the gospel. We need not reject these uses just because of the misuses.
A few specific points deserve mention. Mr. Strohmer seems to think that proponents of the gospel story in the Zodiac think that it was known to Adam before the Fall. He quotes a passage from Seiss' "The Gospel in the Stars" 2 about the intellect and knowledge of our first parents to support this assertion. Yet Seiss actually believes that the meaning of the Zodiac came to man in the time of Seth. This is because, in his opinion, the placement of the vowels in the first alphabet is related to the position of the planets in the constellations at the date 3447 BC 3
Strohmer's main thesis is that if Adam knew about the Fall ahead of time, then he was not free. Aside from his misreading of Seiss, the problem here is a much broader one of God's foreknowledge and man's free will. Although many bright scholars stumble on this mystery, it is not really hard to believe that God created us with free will at the same time as He knew the outcome of our decisions. After all, He inhabits eternity and sees the end from the beginning. Of course, we can ask why He chose to create this particular world, but that question gets us nowhere.
And, in addition, prophecies in general might be interpreted as controlling the outcome if prediction in general is felt to usurp our decisions, but rarely does anyone make that claim. To be sure, some prophecies are in the form of an "either/or" depending on whether the people repent, and in the case of the Fall, there is nothing that could undo it, only the possibility of redemption.
By being convinced that if the "gospel in the Stars" message were already on the marquee of heaven before sin entered the world, Strohmer also questions whether God would have created a message in the sky for a contingency. The problems with this conclusion are many. First of all, God could have changed the stars after the Fall. A lot did change and we are told that the whole of creation groans in travail. But mainly, the message is a hidden one. This is not an endorsement of occult religion but an acknowledgment that the Zodiac is not obvious by looking at the stars. Yes, you can sort of imagine Orion's belt and sword, but you don't really see a man. Those of us brought up with the simplified version of the sky can see a Big and Little Dipper, but how about seeing them as the Greater and Lesser Bears (or Sheep, as they were originally)?
No, the stars had to be given meanings. The pictures and the stories that go with them were imposed on them. They had to be made into celestial object lessons and memory devices whose significance was agreed upon and disseminated from one original source. Therefore, it could have been like this: As Adam was growing old and the knowledge that he possessed was going to lose its primary human source (besides the fact that the population was getting pretty large for ordinary family reunions) perhaps God spoke to a prophet, perhaps Seth. What knowledge did Adam have? He knew for sure about the coming seed of the woman who would bruise the head of the serpent while being bruised in the heel. To make the telling of the story easier, it was tied to something visible to all, the stars.
Remember that this was long before our Scripture was recorded in the time of Moses. Did God have no other way of communicating prior to that time? Of course not! We know of the priest Melchizedek in the time of Abraham and that Noah both heard and spoke the words of the Lord. Enoch walked the walk and talked the talk as well. Also there most probably were written records handed down to Moses from the patriarchs of the pre-flood world (recorded by moses as "these are the generations of...), but oral tradition is also common and can be quite reliable, especially if tied to some sort of a memory device, and what better than a book you can't lose, like the sky?
After the flood, the very brief summary of Genesis 11 indicates that there was something terribly wrong about the Tower of Babel but does not give us a lot of detail. What is significance of the phrase "reaching the heavens?" Descendents of the generation that walked off the Ark resting on a 14,000-foot mountain would hardly think that a building a few hundred feet high would reach some heavenly place. But perhaps the phrase refers to an observatory. If their goal was to alter the message of the stars and assume the authority of that message, it makes more sense and there is abundant evidence that looking at the stars was for some reason very important to many early civilizations.
God then dispersed the people, who still carried with them the true stories of Creation, the Fall and the Flood, and the story of the Zodiac as well. The Creation and Flood stories are indeed conveyed down through the ages and found as remnants, with greater or lesser distortions, among tribal peoples predating their contact with the Bible and even in the great ancient pictographic written language of the Chinese. 4
By the time our Scripture was recorded, the use of the Gospel in the Stars was very limited because so much distortion had been introduced. Yet some elements of truth were preserved amidst the false uses of it. It may well have been, as astronomer Kepler proposed, that a conjunction of planets alerted Egypt's astrologers that a protector of Israel was to be born and this prediction led to the Pharaoh's order to kill the baby boys. Yet Moses lived anyway. And through him, the Law was recorded and the marvelous preservation of that written record became the main vehicle for communicating God's will. The rabbinical tradition and the commentaries on Moses came even later, by which time there was very little left of the original message in the stars so it is no wonder that it is not an area endorsed or even much addressed.
There were prophets, of course, but also false prophets. God gave credentials to the true prophets and then inspired the apostles to record His complete message. Yet even God's Holy Word is perverted by false teachers so that in some churches, the truth is barely recognizable and many are led astray. We do not reject the Scripture because some misuse it. And in the case of "The Gospel in the Stars," an important remnant of the truth was still clear to a small group of devout and scholarly Magi whose story got recorded in the Bible for us to see. Why did God do that? The Christmas narrative could have been told without that particular detail.
For one thing, God showed us how He reveals His plan in many different ways. The Magi found out about the central event of all time and eternity by multigenerational scholarship and painstaking observation. Mary and Joseph were visited by individual angels. Anna and Simeon, devoted and saintly followers of the Lord, were told in the manner they were accustomed to hearing from God. The shepherds got a spectacular light show in the sky that they could not possibly mistake. Clearly God has more than one method of revealing His plan and purpose, and those receiving one kind should not automatically discount the methods God may have used to speak to others.
1 Charles Strohmer, "Is There A Christian Zodiac, A Gospel In The Stars?" Christian Research Journal Volume 22, number 4, page 22 - 25, 40 - 44
2 Joseph Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars, Philadelphia, E. Claxton and Company 1882, Republished, Grand Rapids, Kregel, 1972, p. 158
3 Seiss, p. 23
4 Ethel Nelson, Richard Broadberry and Ginger Tong Chock, God's Promise to the Chinese, Dunlap Tennessee, Read Books Published, 1997