Is There a Gospel in the Stars, a Christian Zodiac?
by Charles Strohmer
Synopsis. Since the 1980s, an increasing number of Christian ministers, authors, and apologists have been teaching that the signs of the zodiac and the names of certain stars once carried a non-occult meaning for the Hebrew patriarchs and ancient Israel about the story of Israel’s Messiah-Redeemer, which today Christians know as the gospel of Jesus Christ. The story of “the gospel in the stars” has been overlooked, proponents of the theory say, because astrological and other pagan myths have dominated star and constellation meanings for millennia. The gospel in the stars theory attempts to disconnect, if not redeem, the constellations and the stars from their pagan associations to reveal their original gospel meaning. It must be stressed that this is not an attempt to legitimize or Christianize astrology or to practice divination. Proponents merely purport to have uncovered the gospel-meaning of the stars and constellations, which ancient cultures clouded over through astrology. This article examines why a normative view of Scripture and history suggests the doubtful merit of the theory.
Nineteenth century connection
At the very outset, it must be said that the exegesis used to justify the gospel in the stars (GIS) theory is esoteric and complex. It is impossible in one article to canvass all the esoterica and the quite complicated biblical and historical arguments and interpretations that GIS advocates may deem important tot their theory. In order to examine GIS theory in fundamental ways, as here, it will be necessary to avoid secondary considerations that may be interesting but would sidetrack us.
Seminal background material for GIS theory comes from Frances Rolleston’s (1781-1864) extensive research, during the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, into the ancient names of the signs of the zodiac and numerous stars. Rolleston elucidated their pagan meanings in various cultures and then, through an impressive and systematic exegesis surrounding hundreds of verses from the Bible, she proposed gospel-meanings for these signs and stars. In 1862, this encyclopedic knowledge eventually became the 4-part book Mazzaroth, or the Constellations. 1
By the late-nineteenth century, two ministers, one in the United States and one in Britain, released books almost concurrently that quarried extensively from Rolleston, popularizing her theory and eventually over-shadowing it. The first of these, The Gospel in the Stars; or, Primeval Astronomy (1882), 2 was written by Joseph A. Seiss (1823-1904), a prolific theological author, eloquent orator, and Lutheran minister in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. In Britain in 1893, E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913), an Anglican minister, theological author, and creator of the massive Companion Bible, published the second of these works, The Witness of the Stars. 3 Bullinger had met Rolleston, who lived in Keswick, and remained in correspondence with her. He said that she was the first to create an interest in the subject.Something doesn’t seem to be sitting quite right with many Christians about GIS theory.
In recent years, a number of parachurch organizations and respected Christians, including Dr. D. James Kennedy, Kenneth C. Fleming, Marilyn Hickey, Chuck Missler, Henry Morris, and the Southwest Bible Church radio program, have promoted GIS theory in books and sermons. This has steadily raised grassroots Christian interest in the theory, as can be seen by the many websites that now promote it and the cassette tape sets now being circulated. Some enterprising folk in North Carolina even hold an annual “Mid-Atlantic Star Party” every year for amateur astronomers and stargazers that includes a “biblically based” GIS astronomy program. Reprints of The Gospel in the Stars and The Witness of the Stars are published in our day by Kregal, and contemporary advocates of GIS theory, although they add their own interpretive nuances, generally follow Bullinger and Seiss when replacing astrological and mythological meanings with ideas and stories of the Christian religion.
The contemporary push of GIS theory is causing a lot of confusion, at least this is the impression I get from people (both sides of the Atlantic) who ask about it while I travel and speak. Something doesn’t seem to be sitting quite right with many Christians about GIS theory. They would like it to be true, but something seems to be preventing them from accepting it. The Bible and history can assist intuition here and clear away confusion.
The Bible and the theory
GIS proponents cradle the theory in a number of key biblical texts, especially Genesis 1:14-18; 3:1-15; Job 26:13; 38:31-32; Psalms 19:1-6; 147:4; and Matthew 2:1-12. Advocates employ these passages to support the ABCs of the theory, which in brief is: God created the stars as “signs” having the unique message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but this message began to get lost after the Fall; nevertheless, the heavens still “declare” this special message, as people like the Magi knew. 4 Numerous biblical verses and phrases are also retained to illuminate the names of certain stars and the 12 zodiac signs with various gospel themes. The object is to find biblical passages that “redeem” the “distorted” astrological and mythological meanings of the stars and the zodiac signs.
Kennedy, in The Real Meaning of the Zodiac, includes Daniel 5:27 (“You have been weighed on the scales…”) in his interpretation of the sign Libra, which astrologically is “the scales.” 5 He includes Psalm 21:12 (“drawn bow”) and Psalm 45:5 (“sharp arrows”) for the sign Sagittarius, which mythologically is the “the archer” (Ibid., pp. 49-50). Hickey, in Signs in the Heavens, includes Leviticus 10:16 (“the goat of the sin offering”) for Capricorn, which astrologically is “the goat,” 6 and Psalm 92:10 (“a wild ox”) for Taurus, “the bull” (Ibid., pp. 89-100). Fleming, in God’s Voice in the Stars, includes Revelation 5:5 (“The Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . hath prevailed”) in his interpretation of the sign Leo, which astrologically is “the lion.” 7
The astrological meaning of constellation Gemini, which includes myths about the twins Castor and Pollux and the messenger of the gods, Mercury, is given the Christian images of Jesus Christ as “Judge and Ruler” (Kennedy, pp. 107-115) or “Prince and Savior” (Fleming, pp. 115-121). To replace the myths associated with Demeter, Persephone, and Astrae (goddess of innocence and purity), the constellation Virgo is superimposed with stories about the virgin Mary, the desired Son, the despised sin offering, and “the coming One” (Kennedy, pp. 19-25) or “the coming Shepherd” (Fleming, pp. 35-41). Using Psalm 91:13, Seiss “redeems” the Scorpio myth from its astrological meanings (surrounding Mars and Juno) by giving it the biblical identity of the Genesis serpent and the story of the battle between Christ and Satan (pp. 43-51).
This is but the tip of a vast iceberg of Christian religious ideas substituted for pagan myths to bolster GIS theory. Seiss himself admits that exegesis like this “may sound strange” (Ibid., p. 15).
The insider’s Eden
The origin of the theory sounds strange, too, and Seiss fails to bolster the credibility of GIS theory by his view of its origin. Citing the Jewish philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus, Seiss states that the patriarch Abraham, when sojourning in Egypt, taught the true meaning to the Egyptian priests, who eventually distorted that meaning in astrology (Ibid., cpt 16) But Seiss then goes farther back. He suggests that Abraham received the true meaning through Noah, who probably received it from Methuselah, who had received it from the sons of Adam, especially Enoch and Seth.
But where did these two men get it from? Seiss states that they got it from their father, Adam, who got it from God. “It is a matter of inspired record,” Seiss writes, “that God gave Adam special revelations” (Ibid., p. 152), apparently including the gospel message written in the stars, which Seiss calls “a pictorial memorial of [the] promised Redeemer” (Ibid., p 158).just when this alleged knowledge was given to Adam reveals the most fundamental flaw in GIS theory
Adam, therefore, was the first person to have the original true meaning of the stars: how human salvation and history would play out in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This meaning of the stars began to be passed on from Adam generationally but at historical points became distorted through pagan mythology and astrology (Ibid., p. 150).
A careful look at just when this alleged knowledge was given to Adam reveals the most fundamental flaw in GIS theory. Because Adam “was in perfect fellowship with the Divine Intelligence,” he “came out of the hands of his Creator indued with innate science, and … did not lose it by sin” (Ibid., pp. 151-152). Seiss continues, “God certainly did not make man without at the same time beaming into him all the light and intelligence to equip him fully for all the requirements of the highest perfection of his being in his sphere, and for the intellectual and physical mastery of the whole earthly creation at the head of which he stood. The first man fell, but that fall did not obliterate from his intellect the knowledge which his Maker had previously shined into it. An apostate from Christianity does not thereby lose that knowledge he possessed. Judgement came upon Adam, and hard necessities, but there was no obliteration of his intellectual treasures or his intellectual powers. Much as they have depreciated in transmission to his posterity, they were not blotted out of Adam himself” (Ibid., p. 158). (Although much of that language and reasoning sounds like a doctrine straight out of nineteenth century New Thought, we must ignore those implications here.)
What Seiss is saying that God gave Adam the gospel story before the Fall. I have not been able to find where any contemporary GIS advocate disagrees with this belief. Fleming, explaining Genesis 1:14, which describes a time before the Fall, Fleming writes, “Signs and seasons were therefore ordained by God to indicate happenings and the periods of time pertaining to them. God designed the stars with the purpose of using them to signify specific historical incidents at chosen times which would come to pass as the plan of salvation unfolded” (Fleming, p. 15). Kennedy writes that “from the very beginning, God has given a story of His salvation from which have come most of the ancient mythologies and ancient traditions. The signs are describing the salvation that would be wrought by Christ, and was given by God to Adam in the Garden of Eden” (emphasis added; Kennedy, p. 12).
The probationary pickle
Knowing when indicates the theory’s fatal theological and philosophical flaw: Adam knew “from the very beginning” that he was destined to sin. The irony is that GIS theory gets trapped in what its Christian advocates would accuse astrologers of: the determinism of a fatalistic worldview. Like people today who claim they are not responsible for their bad actions because they have suffered as “victims,”Adam and Eve could blame their sin on its inevitability. “Was it not written?” One can almost hear this among the litany of their excuses during their interrogation by God (Gen. 3:10-13).
As it is presented in Scripture, however, the Eden story quite plainly indicates that God gave the first couple a choice. This choice would have been a meaningless command had they known that they were going to sin, which is what they would have known had they been told their history (future!) ahead of time – if the gospel story been “written” in the stars for them to “read” before they sinned.The irony is that GIS theory gets trapped in what its Christian advocates would accuse astrologers of: the determinism of a fatalistic worldview.
On God’s part, it would be like a parent teasing a child, “Don’t touch that hot stove, you’ll burn your hand. But don’t worry, because when you do touch it …” What is the point of the prohibition? So, too, with the first couple. The choice was meant to place them in a probationary period, the object being the development of their moral character. Of course, they failed. Yet to think that they failed because they had to, would be like the Christian who thinks, I better not sin, but when I do, God will forgive me, so it will be okay. We’re simply not allowed to think like that (see Romans 6).
If the gospel in the stars message was given to Adam and Even before the Fall, it makes God’s original command to them meaningless because their sin was inevitable. Why even bother to command it? Why even bother to try to obey it? The history is already set out. They never had a chance. This would have been a terrible blow to their morale. It would have seemed like bad news to them, not good news.
Bullinger may have seen the problem of such deterministic fatalism. Although his GIS theory does not avoid getting caught by its consequences, he does state, “These pictures were designed to preserve, expound, and perpetuate the one first great promise and prophecy of Gen. iii. 15 [after the Fall], that all hope for Man, all hope for Creation, was bound up in a coming Redeemer . . .” 8 “Adam, who first heard that wondrous promise, repeated it, and gave it to his posterity as a most precious heritage” (Ibid., p. 27). Bullinger knew Seiss’s work, but it is not clear if by such statements Bullinger meant to refute Seiss’s belief that Adam had been given the gospel in the stars before the Fall, or if Bullinger was merely anchoring what he believed Adam had been told by God before the Fall to a biblical text given after the Fall. [For Part 2 of this article, click on “View All”, below.]
- Frances Rolleston, Mazzaroth, or the Constellations (London: Rivingtons, Waterloo Place, 1862; Keswick, 1863; new Rivingtons ed., 1882. Research copies of the 1862 and 1882 eds. are available at the London St. Pancras branch of the British Library. ↩
- Joseph A. Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars; or, Primeval Astronomy (Philadelphia: E. Claxton & Co., 1882). A new and enlarged edition was published in 1884/1885 by J.B. Lippincott & Co. (Philadelphia). Since 1972, several reprints of the 1882 edition have been published by Kregal (Grand Rapids). ↩
- Ethelbert W. Bullinger, The Witness of the Stars (London: published by author, 1893). Reprinted in 1967 by Kregal, Grand Rapids. ↩
- Joseph A. Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1978), p. 13. ↩
- D. James Kennedy, The Real Meaning of the Zodiac (Ft. Lauderdale: CRM, 1989), pp. 29-36. ↩
- Marilyn Hickey, Signs in the Heaven (Denver: Marilyn Hickey Ministries, 1984), pp. 51-59. ↩
- Kenneth Fleming, God’s Voice in the Stars (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1988), pp. 135-141. ↩
- E. W. Bullinger, The Witness of the Stars (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1967), p. 19. ↩