Pastor David B. Curtis

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Astronomy and the Birth of Christ

Delivered 12/20/15

I'm sure that you are all aware that this Friday is Christmas. And I'm also quite sure that you know, or at least you know that I believe, that Christmas is not when Christ was born. For our study this morning I'd like to show you when Christ was really born and what significant event actually happened on December 25.

To get some background let's go to Genesis:

Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. Genesis 1:6-7 NASB

The Hebrew word for "expanse" is raqiya. Raqia comes from the Hebrew verb raqa, which means: "beat," "stamp," "beat out" and "spread out." It was used for a beaten out metal plate. In the ancient world, the sky was thought to be a solid, dome-like structure that encircled and enclosed a round, flat earth.

Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, Genesis 1:14-17 NASB

Here we see that the sun, moon, and stars are actually located inside the firmament (verse 17), as if embedded therein. These lights are to be for signs and seasons. The word "sign" is from the Hebrew word oth, which means: "the sign" or "the seal." Examining the Hebrew letters of the word oth we get alef, meaning: "leader," vav meaning: "nail," and tav meaning: "cross." The sun, moon, and stars were first and for- most a "sign" of "the Leader nail[ed] [to the] cross."

How do the heavenly lights point to Messiah? Two ways:

1) The word "season" is the Hebrew mow'ed, which means: "appointed times," referring to the Feasts of Yahweh. The Feasts point to Messiah, and they are dependant upon the moon and sun. So the sun, moon, and stars are placed where they are for the Scriptural determination of the Feasts of Yahweh, which point to Messiah, "the Leader nailed to the cross."

2) I think there is more to this than just the feasts. I believe that the stars are a sign that points to Messiah. To be more specific, I believe that the constellations of the Zodiac are signs that point to the Messiah and his death on the cross. Before you get upset, please understand that what I am talking about is astronomy NOT astrology. Astronomy is the study of God's creation in the stars, and "declares the glory of God." Astrology means: "the word about the stars." But in our culture it is no longer that at all. Astrology is horoscopes and fortune telling from your "sign," which is forbidden in the Scriptures. People think the astronomical signs are about THEM. Today, astrology says a man can tell something about himself from the stars. That is nonsense. Their original purpose was to tell us something about Yahweh and His plan for the world.

The word "zodiac" is not a bad word in itself! It comes from "zoad," meaning "path" or "way." It refers to the way the sun appears to pass through the various constellations during the year.

The "signs" talked about in Genesis 1:14 can be understood when we look a the wise men (magi) from the East who visited the young child Yeshua. They must have been very assured of the signs that they read in the heavens. They were convinced enough of the star they observed in the East to travel a great distance by camel. These wise men were priests from the country where Daniel and the children of Israel had been led captive. Their culture was schooled in the study of the stars. Daniel was made chief and master over all the wise men and astrologers of Babylon (Daniel 2:48 and 5:11). Daniel could have taught these priests about the promise of the coming Messiah to be born of the tribe of Judah, and out of the house of David.

This view that I want to share with you this morning is laid out in E. W. Bullinger's, Witness of the Stars and Joseph A. Seiss's, The Gospel in the Stars. It is asserted that the signs of the zodiac were originally designed by God to communicate the "Gospel"; that this "Gospel in the Stars" was known to those living before the flood; that it was later corrupted into astrology; and that the alleged recovery of the "Gospel interpretation" of the zodiac is a great witness to God and His Word.

Let me also say that this view has its critics as do most views. But all I am asking is that you be a Berean and hear what I am saying and then study it out for yourself.To me this view is fascinating and has answered questions that I have had about various texts.

John P. Pratt writes this about the view of Gospel in the Stars, "Suffice it to say that when I examined the evidence, as a PhD in modern astronomy, a student of ancient wisdom, and as a practicing Christian, I have found more evidence favoring the proposal than against it. I now accept the overall concept in spite of several reservations. To me there is enough good evidence to accept the overall theory, even though many of the details, and especially the translation of star names, need a lot of work."

The Book of Enoch states that an angel revealed the constellations to Enoch.

Enoch 8: - 1) And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all 2) colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they 3) were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjaza taught enchantments and root-cuttings, Armaros the resolving of enchantments, Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven…

Now if what Enoch says is not true, knowledge of the constellations would have to have been a special revelation because those pictures just are not there for anyone to see without a lot of instruction.

Let me share with you some texts from Scripture that lead me to believe that the Zodiac points to Christ. In Romans 1 we see something interesting:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:18-20 NASB

How has God made his eternal power and divine nature clearly seen? Some people point to the beauty of creation, some to the size of the universe, some to the complexity of life - all these are fine, but this may not be what the Bible is talking about.

Later on in Romans, Paul seems to be following through on this. In Romans 10, we read something very familiar, which is answered by Paul in a way not many catch at first:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; "THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD." Romans 10:17-18 NASB

The objector here says, "Surely they have never heard, have they?" This construction is a double negative. The effect is to rule out entirely the possibility that they did not hear. So Paul replies, "Indeed they have." And then he quotes form Psalm 19 as proof that they have heard the Gospel. The standard view of Psalm 19 is that it tells us that the knowledge of God has been written for us in two volumes, general revelation—the Creation; and special revelation—the Bible. In the first part of this Psalm most commentators see David saying that God reveals Himself through His world, through nature. These verses are a declaration of the greatness of God as seen in the world of nature.

But in Romans 10, Paul asks, "Did they not hear? Of course they did!" And then he quotes from Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalms 19:1-6 NASB

Is David saying that we can see the hand of God in the physical creation? We stand by the Grand Canyon, and we are awed by what we see; or we stand on the beach of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, and are awed by that great body of water; or we're in the Alps, and we look and we see one of these magnificent peaks, and we are awed by that. And because of that we know that there is a God? I don't think so.

"And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands"—the Hebrew word for "expanse" here is raqiya. We saw this word in Genesis 1. We saw that the stars are in the expanse. I think that what David is referring to here is the Zodiac. The word "zodiac" means: "path" or "way." The Zodiac is the stages of the sun's path through the heavens in 12 months. Notice verse 3:

There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Psalms 19:3 NASB

Does that make sense? Verse 2 says, "Day to day pours forth speech" and then the next verse says, "There is no speech"? Which is it. Is there speech or not? The KJV puts it this way:

There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Psalms 19:3 KJV

See the difference? The Geneva Bible put it, "[There is] no speech nor language, [where] their voice is not heard." Then has this note, "The heavens are a schoolmaster to all nations, no matter how barbarous."

Albert Barns writes, "The idea conveyed by our common version [KJV] is probably the correct one. This is the idea in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate. According to this interpretation the meaning is, 'There is no nation, there are no men, whatever may be their language, to whom the heavens do not speak, declaring the greatness and glory of God.'"

I think that Psalm 19 is referring to what some have called, "The Gospel in the Stars." God's glory is seen in the Zodiac as it tells the plan of redemption.

So what is it that utters, or pours forth speech; which voice goes out to all the world? Whatever it is, it shows the glory of God. Is the glory of God seen in the existence of stars alone? No, those are all the result of a big bang says the scientist.

For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 NASB

It is the work of Christ that shows the glory of God more than anything else. So the glory of God is not just stars, but the work of Christ in redemption. If the heavens declare the glory of God, then they are saying something about Christ. There is something about the heavens which declares Christ.

There is another indication, also which is explained later by Paul, about a message in the stars. We find in Genesis that Abram has no children, but God has promised him many offspring:

"I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Genesis 13:16 NASB

So Yahweh promises Abraham multiple descendants. But in Genesis 15, there is another incident which Paul later explains:

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great." Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6 NASB

In verse 5 Yahweh tells Abram to "count the stars." The word "count" here is from the Hebrew saphar, which can means: "intensively to recount, that is, celebrate: shew forth, speak, talk, tell." It comes from a root meaning: "a book" or "a scroll."

In the LXX the word "count" is arithmeo, which can means: "reckoned up." The meaning of arithmeo, is much wider than "count" and can mean: "enumerate" or "reckon."

So what Yahweh said to Abram was not "count the stars," but to "recount or tell" the stars. There was a story in the stars, and Yahweh wanted Abram to take note of it. And there was something about this story in the stars that Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness:

Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 NASB

What did Abram believe? Was it that he would have a bunch of decedents, or was it the message of redemption in the constellations? Paul tells us that Abraham had the Gospel preached to him:

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." Galatians 3:8 NASB

Was the Gospel in the stars? Whatever Abram believed it caused him to be counted as righteous. Yahweh evidently showed Abraham that one of his decedents would redeem man from the curse and satisfy the justice of God. How do I know that? Yeshua told me:

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." John 8:56 NASB

Abraham believed that God would provide a redeemer to deal with man's sin. When Yahweh told Abram in Genesis 15:5, "So shall your descendants be" was He saying the Messiah would be Abram's offspring? Was that what Abram was to "tell" in the stars? I think that Paul explains this in:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB

Paul is clarifying that Yahweh told Abraham his SEED was being referred to, in the singular, not the Hebrew plural, which would translate "seeds." It is possible that Abraham thought that his "seed," Isaac, was to be the promised Messiah. Remember Abraham had received a very specific promise that he would have a son at a particular time (Genesis 17:15-16, 18:10). Then, in Genesis 22, we read of Yahweh's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

What does Abraham do when Yahweh tells him to sacrifice Isaac? He doesn't question or argue with Yahweh, he simply obeys. Did Abraham know the Messiah had to be sacrificed and then would be resurrected? If so, did he believe his son was the sacrifice?

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. Hebrews 11:17-19 NASB

Abraham believed that Yahweh would raise the Messiah and perhaps he believed that Isaac, his "seed," was the Messiah.

Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." Genesis 22:5 NASB

Abraham seemed to believe that they were both coming back. He may have believed that Isaac was the Messiah who would be resurrected. He seems to have known the Gospel. He may have seen it in the stars.

Paul refers directly to the Psalm, which says the heavens pour forth knowledge NIGHT after NIGHT. Abraham was told to "recount" or "tell" the stars, and he believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Paul says the reference there is to Christ.

So let's look at the stars. We read in the Bible that Yahweh named the stars:

He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Psalms 147:4 NASB

The stars all have names, and their names all have meaning. When we look at the ancient names, some interesting things emerge. However, because of the perversion of astrology today, many Christians are afraid to take a look at these names and see if God had a purpose in what He named them. It is wise to remember, however, that names in the past always meant something. Today we choose names for our children because they sound pretty, or we are perhaps honoring a relative or friend. But the ancients used names that meant something.

Now finding the original meanings is not always easy and can take a lot of time and research, going back into different languages, root words, etc. But for enough of the stars it is possible, and when this is done, something quite remarkable emerges.

How are we supposed to know the meaning of the constellations? How did anyone before know the meaning of the constellations? It was the same as reading. You had to be taught. We cannot look up into the sky and say, "Oh, look, there's a lion!" Just like reading a book, it is something that has to be learned.

The constellations themselves have been known from antiquity. Their identities have remained basically unchanged, although a few of the ancient large constellations have been divided up by modern astronomers into smaller constellations. But for many, the identities remain. For instance, the constellations of Taurus (the bull) and Orion appear in cave art dating back to 3000-2900 B.C.

The names of the stars have retained their meaning in various languages. For instance, the constellation "Virgo," meaning "virgin" is referred to as "Bethulah" in Hebrew, "Parthenos" in Greek, "Kanya" in Hindi—all of which mean: "virgin." This indicates a prior knowledge of the names of the stars and constellations, prior to the language confusion at Babel. This knowledge may well have come down from Noah and even from Adam. The star and constellation names have been handed down from antiquity.

The book of Job is the earliest completed book of the Tanakh, written about 2900 B.C. The specific twelve constellations we recognize today as the zodiac is referred to as the Mazzaroth in Hebrew. In Job the Pleiades and Orion are both mentioned by name:

"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion? "Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, And guide the Bear with her satellites? Job 38:31-32 NASB

The word "constellation" is the Hebrew word mazzarah, which means: "constellation (only in the plural), perhaps collectively the zodiac." In Job 26:13, Job says God formed the constellation figures:

"By His breath the heavens are cleared; His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent. Job 26:13 NASB

The "fleeing serpent" mentioned there is Hydra, a constellation which takes seven hours to pass overhead because of its length (it is the longest constellation in the sky).

So there are some indications in the Bible that there is something going on 'up there' in the sky that we no longer are aware of, but that the people generations ago knew about.

Around 2700 - 2500 BC, the Sumerians recorded the existence of a "Tablet of the stars of the heavens." Mesopotamian tablets dating about 1800 B.C. record both star names and the observations of planetary movements.

As early as A.D. 150, Ptolemy in his Almagest listed 48 constellations and 1,022 star names. His accurate description of the position of each constellation and star he mentioned make it easier to trace today. (ref: R.C. Taliaferro, The Almagest of Claudius Ptolemy, 1952; also G.J. Toomer, Ptolemy's Almagest, Duckworth & Co., London, 1984).

Some think that the various pictures associated with the constellations were ancient imaginings taken from the arrangement of the stars. This is crazy. When you look at the constalation Cassiopeia, which is a bent "W," would you ever come up with a lady chained to a chair? I don't think so. And Sagittarius looks more like a teapot than an archer. And yet, the names of the constellations tend to be consistent, with small variations, throughout different cultures around the world.

When we look into the ancient records, we see ancient Persian and Arabian traditions and the Jewish tradition, preserved by Josephus, suggests that Bible astronomy was invented by Adam, Seth and Enoch. For nearly 2,500 years the revelation of God's redemptive plan for mankind was written in the naming of the stars and their grouping in the 12 signs of the Zodiac.

Associated with each sign's constellation are three other smaller constellations called "decans" for a total of 36, each rising in the same area of the sky as their associated major constellation. Every ten days, a different decan is visible on the eastern horizon just before sunrise, and 2100 years before Christ, symbols on Egyptian coffins show they were used to keep track of time.

The first sign of the Zodiac is known best by her Latin name Virgo—the Virgin, a young maiden holding a leafy branch and/or a small sheaf of grain. In the Mazzaroth, the Hebrew name of this constellation is Bethulah, which also means: "Virgin, and she holds a branch in her hand."

The brightest star in the constellation is Spica, Latin for "ear of grain." The Hebrew name for the star, Tsemech, means: "branch" as does the Arabic name, Al Zimach. In Egyptian, the star is Aspolia—"the seed."

There are 20 Hebrew words that can mean "branch." Tsemach is consistently associated with the Messiah—the Branch who will sprout up out of the root of David (Isaiah 4:2, Jeremiah 23:5, Zechariah 3:8).

In Arabic, the whole constellation is called The Branch, and the other bright stars in the constellation are Zavijaveh: "gloriously beautiful" and Al Mureddin: "who shall have dominion" (Psalm 72:8). In Chaldean, this last star is Vindemiatrix: "son who cometh."

Bethulah/Virgo corresponds beautifully with Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14, the first Biblical prophecy of the coming Messiah, born of the seed of the woman, born of a virgin.

The three decan constellations associated with Virgo are Coma, Centaurus, and Bootes. In the Egyptian Temple of Denderah, Coma is portrayed as a woman holding a child. Bullinger quotes the Arabian astronomer Albumazar saying of Coma, "There arises in the first Decan, as the Persians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians and the two Hermes and Ascalius teach, a young woman, whose Persian name denotes a pure virgin, sitting on a throne, nourishing an infant boy (the boy, I say), having a Hebrew name, by some nations called IHESU…"

Another decan constellation associated with Virgo is Centaurus, and the centaur we know from pagan mythology. Half-man, half-horse, a centaur is a being with two natures. The name of the constellation in Hebrew is Bezah, which means: "the despised"—as in Isaiah 53:3: "He is despised and rejected of men…" Asmeath: "sin offering," was another name for this constellation in Hebrew.

So we see in the constellation Virgo and her decans the framework for the story to follow. We see the Virgin suckling, the greatly desired son, also called, "the seed of the woman" and "the branch." We then see the two-natured teacher and prophet who was pierced and sacrificed, and finally the Coming One, who will hurry with a sickle in his hand as ready for a harvest.

Coupled with Leo, this also signifies Yeshua as the First (Virgo) and the Last (Leo)— as signified by the Great Sphinx in Egypt with its woman's face and lion's body.

With that as an introduction let's look at:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Revelation 12:1-2 NASB

Notice that John says, "a great sign appeared in heaven." It is important to recognize the relationship of all this to the astronomical symbolism in the text. The word John uses for sign was the term used in the ancient world to describe the constellations of the Zodiac. John's model for this vision of the Church is the constellation of Virgowhich does have a "crown" of twelve stars (Virgo, the second largest constellation and one of the earliest to be distinguished, lies on the zodiac east of Leo). All of the twelve stars are visible ones that could have been seen by observers. It seem likely that the twelve stars also represent the twelve signs of the Zodiac, from ancient times regarded as symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel; in Joseph's famous dream his father, mother, and the twelve tribes were symbolized by the sun, the moon, and twelve stars of constellations (Gen. 37:9).

In his book The Birth of Christ Recalculated, Ernest Martin says, "In the period of Christ's birth, the Sun entered the head-position of the Woman about August 13, and exited from her feet about October 2. But John saw the scene when the sun "clothes" or "adorns" the Woman. This surely indicates that the position of the Sun in the vision was located somewhere mid-bodied of the Woman—between the neck and knees. "The only time in the year that the Sun could be in position to "clothe" this celestial Woman (to be mid-bodied) is when it was located about 150 and 170 degrees along the ecliptic. This clothing of the Woman by the Sun occurs for a 20 day period each year. This 20 degree spread could indicate the general time when Christ was born. In 3 B.C., the Sun would have entered this celestial region about August 27 and exited from it about September 15. If John, in the book of Revelation, is associating the birth of Christ with the period when the Sun is mid-bodied to the Woman, then Christ would have had to be born within that 20 day period. From the point of view of the Magi (who were astronomers), this would have been the only logical sign under which the Jewish Messiah might be born—especially if He were to be born of a virgin. Even today, astrologers recognize that the sign of Virgo is the one which has reference to a messianic world ruler to be born of a virgin.

The key to narrowing the date down is the Moon. The apostle said it was located "under her feet." Since the feet of Virgo, the Virgin, represent the last 7 degrees of the constellation (in the time of Christ this would have been between about 180 and 187 degrees along the ecliptic), the Moon has to be positioned somewhere under that 7-degree arc. But the Moon also has to be in that exact location when the Sun is mid-bodied to Virgo. In the year 3 B.C., these two factors came to precise agreement for less than two hours, as observed from Palestine, on September 11. This is the only day in the whole year that this could have taken place. Now I'm not an astronomer, but if Martin is right, then it seems quite clear that Christ was born on September 11, in the year 3B.C.

What about December 25? Martin states, "Jupiter, recognized by Jews and Gentiles alike as the "Planet of the Messiah," was located in Virgo's womb and standing still, directly over Bethlehem, on December 25, 2 B.C., when the Child was a little over a year old. Matthew states that the holy family was settled in a house by the time the Magi visited:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 NASB

Herod ordered the slaughter of the infants "from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Magi," indicating that the child was no longer a newborn. So when the Magi showed up to worship Yeshua it was December 25, 2BC.

But you know it really doesn't matter when Yeshua was born or how we celebrate His birth. What matters is that we understand why He was born. The birth of Yeshua the Christ is a miraculous event of great significance to mankind. The incarnation has got to be the greatest miracle, the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture, God became a man. And He became a man to die for sinners. Christ's death was subsitionary, He died to bear our sin and give us His righteousness. Yeshua paid it all, all He asks of us is that we trust in Him.

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