Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Study on Revelation 12: Part One (A summary of my position and a critique of the “constellation view”)

In this five-part study I will be defending the following interpretation of the imagery found in Rev. 12:

1. The “woman clothed with the sun” figuratively represents faithful Israel – i.e., the collective entity referred to by Paul as the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). Depending on the time period and generation in view, the woman that is faithful Israel has been (and will be) comprised of different individuals. For example, those individuals who constituted the Israel of God in Paul’s day are not the same individuals who will constitute the Israel of God during the 70th heptad/day of the Lord.

2. After the snatching away of the “male child” toward God and toward his throne, the company of faithful Israelites whom the sun-clothed woman represents will consist of the 144,000 sealed and “firstfruit” Israelites referred to by John in Rev. 7:3-8 and 14:1-5. Therefore, when the sun-clothed woman is described by John as fleeing into the wilderness and being nourished for 1,260 days, she represents this particular group of faithful Israelites.

3. The seven-headed, fiery-red dragon figuratively represents the hierarchy of wicked celestial rulers (or “chiefs”) of which the one called “Adversary and Satan” is the leader and representative (Rev. 12:9).

4. The “male child” whom the sun-clothed woman (faithful Israel) is said to “bring forth” – and whom the dragon is described as seeking to devour - figuratively represents that corporate group of saints referred to by Paul as “the body of Christ” and “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body,” of which Christ himself is the Head (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27; Eph. 1:22-23).

Before I begin my remarks on the content of Revelation 12 and my defense of the position summarized above, I need to express my gratitude and indebtedness to fellow brother in Christ, Andre Piet. I have been a regular reader of his blog,, for a few years now, and have gained many valuable insights from his articles. Andre’s blog entries on the identity of the "male child" of Rev. 12:5[1] have had a significant influence on what I’ve come to believe on this particular subject. Although I differ with Andre on a few minor points concerning the interpretation of Rev. 12 (including the issue of the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th heptad), I agree with him concerning the overall interpretation of this chapter, and will be quoting from his blog articles on several occasions. Although Andre was not the first to hold to the particular view concerning the male child that he defends on his blog (it’s at least as old as the “pioneer of dispensationalism” himself, John Nelson Darby), I credit Andre as the one who first introduced me to it and motivated me to research it further.

With these preliminary remarks out of the way, I’ll begin my analysis of Rev. 12 with verse 1.

Revelation 12
1 And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon underneath her feet, and on her head a wreath of twelve stars. 2 And being pregnant, she is crying, travailing and tormented to be bringing forth.

A Critique of the Constellation View

According to some, the sun-clothed woman that John saw should be understood as a particular zodiac constellation (i.e., Virgo) that appeared in conjunction with other celestial objects and astronomical events on September 23rd, 2017. All arguments for and against this interpretation aside, I must confess that it has never struck me as the obvious or primary meaning of the “great sign in heaven” that John saw. The woman-as-constellation theory would be, at best, a secondary (and very much inferred) interpretation of the text. At the most, I believe that one could, perhaps, say that the astronomical event that occurred on 9/23/17 should be understood as pointing us back to the symbolism of Rev. 12, and (possibly) indicating that the fulfillment of what is being symbolized in Rev. 12 was (or is) soon to take place (whatever one takes “soon” to mean).

But even this could, I believe, be too generous a response to the constellation theory. It could, in its entirety, be an erroneous and illegitimate application of the scriptural data. There are several considerations that have made me doubtful as to the validity of the theory. Among these is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful sense in which it can be said that the sun “clothed” the constellation Virgo on 9/23/17. In every image I’ve seen, the sun was over (and not even touching) Virgo’s “left shoulder” rather than being somewhere over her “body” (a peculiar way of being “clothed,” to be sure).

Another problem with the theory concerns the twelve stars that John saw as comprising the woman’s “crown” (or “wreath”). According to proponents of the constellation theory, the stars of which the woman’s wreath consists are the nine stars that constitute the constellation Leo in conjunction with the planets Venus, Mars and Mercury. However, if the woman of Revelation 12 is to be interpreted as being a literal zodiac constellation (i.e., Virgo), it doesn’t make any sense for another zodiac constellation (i.e., Leo) to be the woman’s “wreath” (and the theory becomes even more bizarre when we take into account the claim that Leo is merely part of the woman’s wreath). As strange as it would sound, it would at least be more consistent with the constellation theory for John to have seen and described a sun-clothed woman with a lion sitting on (or, perhaps, lying next to?) her head. Why would one zodiac constellation appear as the woman associated with it, while another zodiac constellation (which is just as conventionally associated with a lion as the constellation Virgo is associated with a woman) be seen and described as a “crown” or “wreath” on the woman’s head?

What’s even more problematic for the “Leo-as-wreath” aspect of the constellation theory is the fact that there are, apparently, already twelve stars that can be understood as comprising the “wreath” of Virgo. In chapter six of his book The Star of Bethlehem, Ernest Martin remarks as follows: “And note: Professor Thorley who reviewed the first edition of my work has shown that there are exactly twelve stars surrounding the head of Virgo as we see them from earth. And indeed there are. If one will look at Norton’s Star Atlas, twelve visible stars will be seen around Virgo’s head. They are (according to astronomical terminology): (1) Pi, (2) Nu, (3) Beta (near the ecliptic), (4) Sigma, (5) Chi, (6) Iota — these six stars form the southern hemisphere around the head of Virgo. Then there are (7) Theta, (8) Star 60, (9) Delta, (10) Star 93, (11) Beta (the 2nd magnitude star) and (12) Omicron — these last six form the northern hemisphere around the head of Virgo. All these stars are visible and could have been witnessed by observers on earth.”

Thus, assuming that the constellation Virgo is even in view in Rev. 12:1, there is simply no need for the constellation Leo - in conjunction with an alignment of three planets – to form the “wreath” of twelve stars on her “head.” Whatever significance the astronomical event involving Leo and the three planets may (or may not) have had in September, I see no good reason to force it into the imagery described in Rev. 12:1. And yet, it does seem that it was forced into the imagery by proponents of the constellation theory. And it seems that the only reason it was done so was to make the astronomical event seem more “rare,” and thus of greater significance and more likely to be something that could be understood as fulfilling prophecy. However, to my knowledge, God has never revealed in scripture that the “rareness” of an event (whether it occurs on earth or in the heavens) necessarily, and without qualification, gives it some sort of prophetic significance. And the fact that nothing happens randomly or coincidentally in our universe doesn’t mean that God necessarily intends for us to know what the exact significance or meaning of a certain event is. Apart from its having been revealed to us by God in scripture, we cannot simply assume that the significance or meaning we have assigned to some naturally-occurring event (like the astronomical occurrences of September) is, in fact, correct.

These aren’t the only problems involved in the woman-as-constellation interpretation, [2] but it was these, in particular, that initially led me to doubt the validity of this interpretation. However, my main issue with the constellation theory lies in how it has been presented by some proponents of the theory. According to its most outspoken proponents, the constellation view is not just a secondary, possible interpretation of Rev. 12 (or at least the first few verses of this chapter); rather, it’s viewed as the “key” to understanding the meaning of the passage itself. The verses involving the sun-clothed woman, the dragon and her child are understood as being entirely, or primarily, about (and as pointing the reader to) a certain astronomical event that took place on 9/23/17, and which involved certain constellations and the movement/positions of other celestial objects. However, this interpretation of the imagery described by John in the first few verses of Rev. 12 just doesn’t seem to fit with the passage as a whole.

Few would deny that the various entities that John described as seeing in Rev. 12 are meant to be understood as representing something else (and thus to be symbols). But I think consistency is important in coming to a right understanding of things even of a symbolic nature. And this is precisely where the constellation view – as has been typically presented by those holding to it – breaks down. It simply fails to hold up as part of a broader and more consistent interpretation of the whole passage. If the sun-clothed woman is to be understood as being a particular constellation appearing at a certain future time, then what about the other entities and events described as taking place? It seems that as soon as we start incorporating the rest of the entities and events described by John, the constellation interpretation necessarily fades into the background (or vanishes altogether), and a more primary and consistent meaning of the symbols takes precedence in order to even make sense of what John is describing.

For example, when the same sun-clothed woman described in v. 1 is later described as being given “two wings of a large vulture” and flying into the wilderness to be protected from the dragon and nourished for "a season, and seasons and half a season" (v. 14), is she still to be understood as a constellation? And if there’s something else being symbolized here, then wouldn’t consistency demand that what was in view in v. 1 was not, in fact, a constellation (or at least, that it’s not the primary meaning of what John saw)? After all, the same sun-clothed woman who is described as fleeing into the wilderness is the woman who is previously described as bringing forth a male child. Considerations like this lead me to doubt that the constellation interpretation should be seen as the “key” to understanding Rev. 12 (again, assuming it has any validity at all).

In an article entitled, “Why the Revelation 12 Sign Can’t be Debunked,” one proponent of the woman-as-constellation theory writes, “The author of Revelation 12:1-2 describes an actual celestial event. He doesn't use similes. He doesn't call it a parable. He describes the Sun, Moon, and stars, which are real objects in space. There is nothing in the text that states the description is not to be taken literally.”[3] As a staunch proponent of the literal-historical-grammatical method of scripture interpretation, I’m all for understanding something literally, if possible. However, it is (ironically) this very interpretive principle that has led me to reject the constellation view affirmed by the author of this article.

The simple fact is that no grouping of stars – including that which is conventionally identified as “Virgo” – is literally anything other than a grouping of stars. The zodiacal constellation “Virgo” is not literally a woman (and, strictly speaking, it does not even resemble an actual woman). Nor does any constellation literally have “feet” or a “head.” The constellation Virgo is a grouping of stars that is conventionally understood to represent an imaginary woman. So right off the bat we run into a problem with the assertion of the author quoted above that there is “nothing in the text that states the description is not to be taken literally.” Even if we allowed that a constellation could literally be referred to as having a “head” or “feet,” there is no way that what we read in v. 2 could be literally applied to any actual collection of stars.  

Just as John later saw what appeared to be a woman riding a frightening beast in Rev. 17, in Rev. 12:1-2 John was clearly viewing what appeared to him to be a woman in labor, and not merely a collection of stars. In fact, based on John’s description alone, the only thing he saw that even appeared to him to be actual stars are those that were seen to constitute the “wreath” on her head! There is no indication whatsoever that the woman herself appeared to consist of stars, or to be a constellation. Thus, while it’s technically true that “there is nothing in the text that states the description is not to be taken literally” (but when is this EVER “stated” in scripture?), one can reasonably infer that the text shouldn’t be taken literally. Verse 2 (and the rest of the chapter) puts a contextual limitation on how v. 1 can, and should, be interpreted.

When we allow v. 2 to inform our understanding of what John described as seeing in v. 1, I think we can reasonably conclude that John was NOT seeing and describing a literal celestial event involving a particular positioning of literal celestial objects in space. The sun, moon and stars seen by John are, I believe, to be understood no more literally than the sun, moon and stars that we’re told Joseph saw in a dream (Gen. 37:9). The woman is not to be identified with a constellation; regardless of how realistic the woman may or may not have appeared to John, what John saw was nonetheless the image of an woman and not merely a literal constellation of stars (again, the only stars seen in John’s vision are those that constituted the wreath of the woman). And it’s equally reasonable to conclude that the woman that John saw was not a literal woman (since no literal woman can be “clothed with the sun,” have “the moon underneath her feet,” etc.). So we can conclude that the “woman” John saw was neither a constellation nor a literal woman. This means that the sun-clothed woman that John saw should be understood as a symbolic representation of something else. But what is the woman to be understood as representing?

Part Two:

[2] Another problem involves the claim that the planet Jupiter was in the “womb” of Virgo for a normal gestation period of nine months before being “birthed” and leaving the constellation. In the following video, Joel Richardson challenges this and other claims (it’s at around the 29 minute mark that Richardson begins discussing the subject of Jupiter).

No comments:

Post a Comment