Saturday, January 14, 2012

Talking with an Atheist: The Magi Talk

One of my dearest friends is an atheist, in fact he is my Favourite Atheist (FA). He tries not to hold my faith in Jesus against me and I try to offer him the same courtesy. The friendship has lead to some interesting conversations and fun debates. Often he will ask me a question I've never even considered. In trying to attempt a response I feel completely out of my depth. I'll say something like "I don't know let me think about that" and I'll ponder, seek others thoughts, start researching. But normally the topic is too big and takes up to much time and energy. I never develop a response and sadly the topic is shelved for Future Liz to figure out.

Well, no more, no more hiding, putting off, or procrastinating. I am going to find answers for the Favourite Atheist...or at least blog about the questions and maybe find answers. Please join the discussion. Add your thoughts or counter arguments. My one request, which ever side of the debate you are play nice with the other children in the sand box. No throwing toy trucks, dirt, or names at each other -thank you.

This is one of our most recent discussions:

The Topic:
FA: I read an interesting article today about an apparent contradiction in your scriptures. I wonder if you've heard it before.

Me: Okay, what was it?

FA: The Bible condemns astrology, right?

Me: Yes

FA: The magi read the stars to find that the King of the Jews was born. They are credited as doing a good thing but charting the stars as signs about future leaders would be astrology -something the Hebrew Law is against.

Me: Interesting, I haven't heard this before. Let me think about it.

My "thinking" was me asking two friends how they would responded. My first friend is a pastor, I've already run this response by FA and will include the counter argument. The other friend is a prof at the divinity college. We just talked about this earlier tonight so the idea is new to me and FA is reading it for the first time (Hi Friend *waves*).

The Astronomers Argument:
The magi were astronomers not astrologers. These scientist were watching and carting the night sky when God put a star in the sky that would be a remarkable sign to them. They did research and decided to investigate (is there any know prophesy that says that a star would mark the birth of the Messiah?)

FA's Reaction: The science of astronomers at this time would have still be closely associated with magic and astrology. Even if God put a star in the sky for them to follow how they noticed it would have been a condemned magical act.

Celestial Being Thought:
In scripture the word used for "stars" or celestial bodies often (he might have said always but I don't want to put words in his mouth if he didn't) refer to angels. The example was the Lucifer was the "bright and morning star." An angel could have been sent to light the place Jesus was, been close the the earth, and stood in one place. If it was an angel it would have been a specific messenger to these wise men. I think this means that when the magi were saying "we saw his star in the east..." the word used for "star" could also mean "angel".

What do you think? Is there a flaw in either argument? Is there a better response? Or do you have a counter argument for either they were astronomers or it was an angel arguments?

For me the questions that the magi raise were: How did they know that this "star" or celestial being was a sign? Is there writings, oral teachings, or a prophecy that lead them to this conclusion?Who were these guys and what did they do? Where did they go after they met the toddler Jesus? Why didn't they stick around and see what would become of him? Those might not be connected to the current discussion.


Gloria Sigountos said...

a lot of these come from Greg and I talking but here you go:

it is a genera motif, a special birth is accompanied by signs. this is where it is important that the wise man are gentiles they are not called blessed or righteous gentiles. also the law against the divining of the stars is one of those laws that set the Jews apart. they are not in danger of worshiping other gods when their religion.

in the gospels one of the very important features of the gospels is that it is not the classic righteous Jews who recognize Jesus as the messiah it is all the wrong people who know Jesus. his opposition comes from those who know the law and are righteous before the law. the era of you must be Jewish is over. there is the gentile mission and that is where the gospel of Luke is because Luke is writing in a style that is not for the Jerusalem church. this is why Luke's gerontology goes back to Adam because his concern is the gentile mission.

Nuchtchas said...

Gloria brings up a lot of points I had, about how the Magi were not jews and not bound by Jewish law. They were simply "from the east"

I always imagined that they saw what they thought was a new star that was moving and they tried to follow it. I imagine it was a comet or something like that, I also imagine they continued to follow it or returned home.

So little is actually said about the Magi in the bible that people have speculated so much that a lot of people think there were three, they have names and they were kings. None of these things are known, it is just that people crave more information so it was essentially made up. These details aren't the important part of the story, the important part is that they saw Jesus and knew what he was even as a baby.

Next, is divining really condemned? Joseph had prophetic dreams and saw the famine coming for egypt, so some divining is OK, but other is not. Prophecy is always mentioned in the bible and again isn't that kinda the same thing? I think the line that isn't to be crossed here is worshiping of false idols, so Joseph seeing 7 ears of corn and knowing that means 7 years of food is ok, but if you worship a star and think it to be god then it's not OK? I think that's the issue.

Again, the details of this isn't the point of the story, and details could be argued a million times over, but the point of the story is what is important. Details get muddled in translation, details change over time, details are just the seasoning of the story, not the morel.

Sharon Stocking said...

I admitt that I really haven't the biblical knowledge, but very interesting that I seen a show on tv that addressed this question. The wise men where astronomers that studied the stars. The star that shone over Bethleham was the coming together of 3 other stars into line to become one unique light. There was reference to the name of each star I remember that one was the king star and one called david star. The wise men knew that this was an event that only happen once and would never happen again. It did mean that something very significant was taking place. It took quite a few years for the stars to line up and they remained that way for quite sometime also allowing the magi to follow it. I wish I had taped it and even now can't remember the name of the show. Mark warched it with me and we were very amazed by how it all came to be and the facts they stated show it was reliable information. Wish I had more hard facts instead of recall. Glad to be apart of the discussion Liz.

Robin said...

Maybe they were astronomers, but could it be that God, in His grace, sometimes reveals Himself even to people of false religions... perhaps because they are sincerely seeking truth, not just blindly believing? Could it be He does this even through their own religions? Ultimately it led them to Jesus.