I’ve been doing some research on extra Biblical evidences as I continue studying the Bible with Chinese people. In my search I came across something about the moon turning to blood. Every time I study out that section in Acts 2, I’m not really sure whether that’s going to happen in the future, or if it already did and I just didn’t understand it. Then I read an article about it being from a lunar eclipse.
However that was right after I had read that the three hour darkness at the crucifixion couldn’t possibly be from an eclipse. So do you know something I don’t about the moon turning to blood?
I can definitely see how the interpreting the three hours of darkness literally but not interpreting the moon turning to blood literally can be very confusing, especially for a newer Christian who is still trying to find her way around the Bible.
Acts 2:20 and Matthew 27:45 are very different cases, despite what seems to be a fairly plain parallel. Here is what is going on in these two passages.
Matthew 27:45 is a matter-of-fact description of events that the writer clearly intends to be taken as actual, literal events. I believe there is no reasonable question that Matthew is reporting a historical event. It is not metaphorical or symbolic that Jesus said "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani." Therefore it is good Bible hermeneutics to assume that it actually got darker than normal for three hours. The nature of the event is not completely clear. Was this a natural phenomenon, with three hours of very dark clouds, or was this a miraculous darkening. I strongly favor the second interpretation, but in any case, Matthew is reporting a surprising or even shocking darkening at the sixth hour of the day Jesus was crucified.
The situation with Acts 2:20 is very different, despite some superficial similarities. In this case, Peter is referring back to a prophecy in Joel. Everything about the event and the nature of the prophecy tells me that this is what is called "apocalyptic" writing. This is a special writing style used by the Jews when they are describing a judgment by God–often called the Day of the Lord. The book of Revelation is jam packed with such language. There is much apocalyptic language in Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel, of course, and other OT books of the prophets. The hermeneutical rule with apocalyptic language is in a sense the exact opposite of historical passages. With historical passages the rule is to take what you read literally unless the language of context demands a symbolic interpretation. With apocalyptic language, the rule of interpretation is that one should take what one reads as symbolic unless the context or wording demands a literal interpretation.
Getting back to Acts 2:20, I assume that this is apocalyptic language and that the statement that blood and fire and billows of smoke would be seen and that the sun would be turned to darkness and the moon to blood are all symbolic of the Coming of the Lord which took place at Pentecost. As another example of apocalyptic language, picked almost at random from the dozens in the OT and NT, I suggest you read Daniel 7:2-12. All of these descriptions are symbolic. They describe a time of God’s judgment on his people through the persecution of Domitian.
For this reason, the moon turning to blood is not a literal description of a literal eclipse of the moon. As far as I know, the moon does not turn red during an eclipse anyway. Besides, I am confident (but to be honest, I am faking it a bit here, as I do not have the time to look it up right now) that if you were to look up in astronomical charts, you could prove that there was no eclipse of the sun on a Day of Pentecost in AD 29 or 30 when these events occurred.
This brings me to your last comment about the darkness at the crucifixion. It turns out that there was an early skeptic of Christianity and historian named Thallus. Writing in about AD 55 he tried to explain away the darkness at the time of the crucifixion by saying it was due to a natural solar eclipse. The irony here is that astronomers can do calculations and can prove without a doubt that there was no eclipse of the sun on the day before the Passover in Jerusalem in AD 29 or 30. So, the attempt to naturalize this event does not work.
In conclusion, I believe that Matthew 27:45 is a description of a literal darkening which occurred as a miracle at the time of the death of Jesus. I believe that Acts 2:20 is part of an symbolic/apocalyptic passage. It is a symbolic way of saying that God’s kingdom was coming on the Day of Pentecost. It is not definitely not an eclipse of the moon and we can prove that no natural eclipse of the moon occurred on that day.
I hope this helps.
John Oakes, PhD