Many wonder: Were the Magi in Matthew chapter two who came to see Jesus astrologers? Does this mean astrology is okay? What was the star of Bethlehem?
The Magi were probably a Persian caste of wise men who were experts in mathematics, medicine, interpreting dreams, and the study of the stars. Like all wise men at the time, they were advisers to kings and rulers.
Astronomy, which is the scientific study of the stars (and planets, though they were not called planets then), and astrology, which is the occult interpretation of the position and movement of the stars (and planets), were one and the same in ancient times. The physical study of the stars, astronomy, had not been defined or developed and instead was combined with astrology, a divinatory art. Therefore, the Magi were probably practicing a mixture of astronomy and astrology but functioned as astrologers.
At that time, astrologers served kings and rulers, not individuals. It was the normal thing for a pagan ruler/king to have advisers who were astrologers.
The passage does not give much information on the star that was seen by the Magi. Astronomers and others have tried to discover if there was a particular astronomical event in the time period when it is believed Jesus was born that would account for an unusual or extremely bright configuration, but so far nothing satisfactory has been proposed. Although videos and websites spout various theories of possible planetary conjunctions, none can be confirmed as fitting the account in Matthew. Most of these astronomical events where short-lived, were not visible in that part of the world, and/or did not last throughout the time period of the Magi’s’ travels.
Even astrologers work at coming up with an astrological birth chart for Jesus (I was one of them when I was a professional astrologer before becoming a Christian). Jesus is important in astrology and the New Age as the avatar of the Age of Pisces (from those viewpoints). See CANA article on the Piscean Jesus for more about this.
The Magi believed that God showed signs in the heavens. Thus, the Magi looking for a king because they saw what appeared as a star is consistent with their history (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2; Grand Rapids: Zondervan and Paternoster, 1976, 557, 558). Their belief does not mean one should look for signs in the heavens as this was a pagan belief. Nor does it mean that God used astrology or a natural heavenly body to guide the Magi.
Other ideas are based on the debunked Gospel in the Stars theories which posit that the zodiac signs give the Gospel. However, reading hidden meanings into the natural world is divination and forbidden by God. General revelation is evidence there is a Creator God that makes everyone accountable (Romans 1:18-32). The Gospel is given in special revelation.
There are also speculations that Revelation 12:1-5 is about a sign in the heavens indicating the birth of Christ. All of these ideas have no merit and yank biblical passages from their context as well as reading meanings into the text that are not there. [See articles by Christian astrophysicist Danny Faulkner which carefully refute the Gospel in the Stars:
So what kind of star was this? The Greek word in this passage for star is singular and would not ordinarily indicate more than one heavenly body according to those who know Greek, which rules out conjunctions. Also, it seems the star was not visible when the Magi reached Jerusalem because neither Herod nor his advisers were aware of it. Surely any unusual bright light in the sky would have been noticed. Many Bible scholars and commentators believe the star was a supernatural star created by God that He used to lead the Magi to Christ. I find this to be the most reasonable conclusion.
After hearing the king, they went on their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. Matthew 2:9, New American Standard, 1995
Verse 9 of Matthew chapter 2, states that the star rested or stood over the dwelling of Jesus. This does not indicate the normal behavior of a natural star or planet since no heavenly body that far away could actually stand over a specific area as small as a dwelling. (The Greek word means to stand as in standing on or over something).
Some believe that the star was an unusually bright light, the Shekinah, — the light of the glory of God — the same light that was the pillar of fire for God’s people in the wilderness and the fire seen by Moses in the burning bush.
Such a view makes sense in light of the fact that the star stood or came to a stop over the place where Jesus was (Matthew 2:9), just as the cloud of God’s glory stood over the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness and filled the Temple (Exodus 33:9, 10; 2 Chronicles 7:2-3).
The text of John 1:14 is that Jesus dwelt among us, a word which can also be translated as tabernacled among us, making the connection between the cloud of glory over/in the Temple and the Star as indicators of God’s glory over the dwelling of Jesus even more likely. A supernatural star or light fits well with the account as well as with the context of Scripture.
First Stop: King Herod
The Magi first went to Jerusalem, where a Jewish King would be expected to be reigning. They asked King Herod, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?
Herod’s chief priests and scribes indicated that the Jewish prophecy foretold the birth of a ruler to take place in Bethlehem. But King Herod was not serving God; he was serving Rome and did not want a possible rival since he considered himself as the king. The Magi who came to Herod were probably a group of Persian-Parthians. There had been rivalry and wars between the Romans and Parthians and, fearing another Parthian invasion, Herod thought that the Persian Magi were politically maneuvering to choose a successor king (Colin Brown, ed. and trans., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan and Paternoster, 1976, Zondervan; vol. 4, 33-4).
The Magi left Herod, and the text then states that the star led them to the child, indicating his dwelling. The star was apparently only for the Magi and led them directly to Christ after Herod was told of their mission.
Herod was not given the location of this King, and the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. These events are supernaturally managed by God, so to believe the star was a supernatural star or light is more than reasonable.
In the context of passages before and after this account, are several supernatural events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The passage before the Magi story (Matthew chapter one, verses 18-25) relays Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit, and God’s angel visiting Joseph in a dream to confirm to him that Mary would give birth to Jesus, who will save his people from their sins, (verse 21).
In the passage following the Magi’s visit to Jesus (chapter 2, verses 12-15), an angel warns the Magi in a dream not to return to Herod, and an angel appears again in Joseph’s dream, warning him of Herod’s plan to slay Jesus and telling him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Thus, the account of the Magi and the unusual star rests solidly between accounts of several other supernatural events, showing God’s hand in the birth of Jesus.
A lecture given by Hubert J. Bernhard, who for many years was a lecturer at San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium, dealt in part with the topic of the Star of Bethlehem. Bernhard stated:
If you accept the story told in the Bible as the literal truth, then the Christmas Star could not have been a natural apparition. Its movement in the sky and its ability to stand above and mark a single building; these would indicate that it was not a normal phenomenon, but a supernatural sign. One given from on high and one that science will never be able to explain. From lecture; go to end of article
The Word Magi
Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 9) and Bar-Jesus (Acts 13) were magicians, men who used powers and/or trickery to entertain and impress. The word magician is from Magi but the meaning and context of this word applies more to the occult arts used for the display of power or for entertainment. There is no indication that astrology was used to find Jesus, although the Magi undoubtedly practiced the kind of astrology used at the time, which was for rulers, not for individuals.
The Magi, who were royal advisers from a pagan culture, were the first to be recorded as worshiping Jesus (verse 11). So the first worshipers of Jesus were pagans. This fits a major theme of Matthew, that the gospel would go to the Gentiles.
Since God clearly condemns occult divination (astrology is divination) in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:10-12, and he condemns astrology in passages like Isaiah 47 and elsewhere, there is no question that the use of astrology is always against God. God’s use of the Magi does not endorse the practice of astrology. [See CANA article, “The Magi Word Study” for more information on the Magi].