Less than 20 years after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to heaven, the Apostle Paul warned the saints in Thessalonica that an apostate system would arise: “And for this cause he shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie” (2 Thess 2:11). A few verses earlier in his epistle, he warned the Thessalonians that the seeds of this system had already been sown and were in the process of germinating: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work …” (v 7).
Is it an accident that this warning is contained in a letter to a Greek ecclesia? The Greeks were renowned for philosophies that corrupted first century doctrine. An example of an ancient Greek belief is that the Earth is at the centre of the solar system. Though this is an example of a belief that is not essential to salvation, many were: for example, belief in an immortal soul.
Before we discuss the Church, false doctrine and astronomy, we will briefly explore the scriptural meaning of the Greek words that have been translated “strong delusion” in 2 Thessalonians 2:11. The Greek word translated as “strong” is energeia, from which the word energy in the English language comes. To put it simply, the delusion spoken of in this verse has energy – enough to maintain a false system of belief effectively all the way from the first century AD to the 21st century. It was God who sent the strong delusion.
The Greek word translated “delusion” is plane, which according to Strong’s Concordance has the meaning of “fraudulence, a straying from orthodoxy or piety, to deceive, delusion, error”. It is derived from planos, which Strong’s defines as “an impostor or misleader”. A related word is planetes, defined as “a rover, an erratic teacher”. The English word planet is a transliteration of this Greek word.
A planet is a celestial body that wanders against the backdrop of the fixed stars. Planos occurs in a few other places in the NT, for example in 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing (planos) spirits, and doctrines of devils”. Planos occurs again in Jude 13: “Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering (planatos) stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever”.
Another place where planos occurs is 2 John 7, which is of particular relevance to the subject of this article: “For many deceivers (planos) are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver (planos) and an antichrist”. This verse mentions a core difference between truth and error. A large portion of Scripture contains parables. All the parables in the Bible, including those spoken by Jesus, present a consistent picture – what we might call a ‘Parable Universe,’ in which planets represent those who promulgate false doctrine and the stars those who believe and preach the truth (Dan 12:3).
Ptolemy and Copernicus
In 140 AD, the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, presented a model of the solar system that could explain the retrograde motion of the planets using a system of epicycles – the five planets visible to the naked eye revolved about the Sun that in turn revolved about the Earth. Although it was, in some respects, an accurate model of the heavens, it was wrong. The Ptolemaic model of the heavens held sway over people’s minds for a period of about 1400 years until the heliocentric view was revived by Nicolaus Copernicus.
In 1543, Copernicus published a book called Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium or The Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs. The Church soon learned of this book (remember there were very few books in existence in these times) and correctly interpreted the central idea of the book as a direct challenge to Church authority. The geocentric model of the heavens was a tenet of Church doctrine; the heliocentric model was listed in their “doctrines to be rejected”. No doubt Copernicus delayed publication of his book until late in his life because, as a cleric, he was well aware his views would brand him a heretic.
In 1608 some spectacle makers from Flanders visited the Republic of Venice, peddling a primitive telescope. Galileo, a mathematics professor at Padua, learned of the telescope and built his own improved version and turned it on the heavens. He discovered the craters on the moon, the phases of Venus and four of the moons of Jupiter. When Galileo saw points of light revolving about Jupiter, he deduced that he was viewing a mini solar system and that opened up the far simpler explanation about our solar system that the planets revolve about a central sun.
In 1610, Galileo recounted his observations in a book called Sidereus Nuncius, or Starry Messenger. In 1611, the year after Sidereus Nuncius was published, the Holy Office of the Inquisition (HOI) started collecting evidence against Galileo. The following entry is recorded in the Holy Office of Inquisition records of 1616 : “Propositions to be forbidden: that the sun is immovable at the centre of the heaven; that the earth is not at the centre of the heaven, and is not immovable, but moves by a double motion.”
Galileo, a heretic!
In 1632, Galileo published a book called the Dialogue on the Great World Systems in the form of a conversation between two characters discussing the Ptolemaic and Copernican world views. Th e Pope of the day, Urban VIII, was outraged as he identified himself with a character in the book named Simplicius (as in ‘simple’), who attempted to ineffectually defend the Ptolemaic view! The book was immediately banned, the presses stopped and an attempt made to buy up existing stock – although they were too late as the book was a best seller and all the copies had gone! In 1633, Galileo was called to Rome for trial as a heretic. He was forced to recant, although never tortured and lived under house arrest until his death in 1642. After Galileo’s trial, the French scientist Rene Descartes shut up shop and migrated to Sweden. All research in Catholic Europe stopped.
In 1993, the Church finally pardoned Galileo, which was in effect an acknowledgement that the Church ‘had got it wrong’ in 1663. Siderius Nuncius remained on the Church’s index of banned books (Index Expurgatorius) for 200 years.
Th e clash between the Church and Galileo was part of a wider pattern of events to do with the curtailing of Papal power to pave the way for the re-establishment of the state of Israel, an essential precursor to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Many historians date the beginning of the end of the power of the Church at 31 October, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, listing 95 serious problems with the Church doctrine of indulgences (the “pay-as-you-sin” system).
In response to this threat to the Church, in 1542 the Pope set up an organisation known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, which, in 1622 was rebadged as the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, or the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (the origin of the English word propaganda). 1611 saw the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in England, a major catalyst in the development of England as a strong Protestant power, separate from Catholic Europe.
Papal infallibility falsified
The involvement of Galileo with the Church is a very clear demonstration that Papal announcements can be anything other than infallible. If the Pope was God’s representative on Earth, how could he be so wrong on something as fundamental as the construction of the solar system? In the dispute with Galileo, would not God have told the Pope of the day how the solar system really worked in order to save the Church a lot of subsequent embarrassment? Even if the Church had backed down at this time, there would have been some degree of embarrassment, as the question could be asked why the Church had an incorrect belief about the planets for 1400 years!
The Galileo affair is a supreme example illustrating the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” This incident also exemplified es Daniel 7:25: “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws…” The treatment of Galileo by the Church is a clear example of the Church effectively attempting to override God’s work of creation by asserting that the observational evidence was wrong and that the solar system was in fact constructed according to the Ptolemaic system.
Long term impact of Galileo’s trial
The events surrounding the trial of Galileo hastened the Reformation in northern Europe but not in the Catholic dominated south. It can hardly be an accident that the majority of scientific and technical development occurred in the reformist countries, Britain, Holland, Germany and France (especially among the Protestant Huguenots).
The trial of Galileo stopped all scientific research in Catholic Europe, the consequences of which are still with us today, 378 years later. All of the top research universities of the world are to be found in the Protestant countries of Britain and the USA . There are many Catholic universities throughout the world but according to _ e Times Top Universities 2011–2012, the highest ranking Catholic university is the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, that comes in at number 67. This is not to say that Catholic universities, and universities in Catholic countries are not capable of excellent research; it’s just that the Protestant universities had a head start that goes back to the trial of Galileo in 1633. In the trial of Galileo and surrounding events, we see the finger of God moulding the affairs of mankind to establish His purpose or, in other words, to make prophecy happen.
This article reveals the blatant ignorance of the Roman Catholic Church as it sought to bind the conscience of a brilliant physicist, who published the unassailable facts about Earth’s orbit around the sun and its own revolutions as it does so.
Not till 1993 did the Vatican acknowledge their error: by then they had made themselves the laughing stock of the world.