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Easter

Updated: Mar 31



Easter Sunday is a holiday celebrated by millions every year. Many view It as a day of remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection and consider it one of the most holy holidays, with Christmas being a close second. This also is one of the only days that some will come to church out of the whole year. But did you know that when you examine the NT church from the Scriptures, you cannot find where they observed Jesus’ resurrection as a yearly event?

 

Now, out of fairness, you can find the word Easter one time in the Bible, and it is only found in the KJV.

 

Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

 

I cannot tell you why the translators put the word Easter in this one place. The Greek word they translated from is pascha, which should be translated as Passover. In fact, in the other 28 places this Greek word is used in the KJV, it translates as Passover. The word Easter should not have been used, and every commentator and Greek dictionary I looked at says the same thing.  Now, I am not condemning the KJV; I am just pointing out a bad judgment call on the translators on this particular word.

 

It is believed that the word Easter comes from the Old English word Eastre or Eostre, which was an Anglo-Saxon name for a Germanic goddess of spring or dawn. A whole month was dedicated to her, which corresponds to our month of April. When Christianity spread in Anglo-Saxon England, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ resurrection coincided with these springtime festivities. The term "Easter" was adopted to denote this Christian Passover holiday. I will talk more about this in a minute, but this was a typical practice of Christians to rebrand pagan traditions with Christian ones.

 

I want to be clear that the information about this particular goddess is hotly debated among scholars because the information we have about her comes from only one source: a 7th-century monk known as the Venerable Bede. He is recognized as one of the greatest historical writers, especially in English history, but he briefly mentions Eastre in chapter 15 of his book called, The Reckoning of Time. Whether this information is historically accurate or not doesn’t matter that much in the long run because we know that the English Word Easter is used to describe how Christians honor or celebrate Jesus’ resurrection once a year via the Christian Passover.

 

Knowing what I have just told you should really get you thinking about several questions.

 

How did this yearly observation of Jesus’ resurrection get started in the first place?

 

To answer this question, we must first understand the Passover. The Passover was a yearly feast that was very important to the Jews because they were supposed to observe it to remember how God delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage. It was during the Passover feast that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper. Once Jesus died on the cross and the new covenant began, the Passover was no longer binding, nor were any of the other feasts that were specifically for the Jews. However, many Jews still observed the Passover and the Jewish festivals after they became Christians.

 

Even after Paul became a Christian, he observed some Jewish customs. For example, in Acts 18:18, he took a vow, and in verses 19-21, he sought to keep a Jewish feast in Jerusalem. But we also learn in Acts 15 that the Gentiles, that is, you and I, were not obligated to keep any of the Jewish traditions, such as the Passover, other feasts, or circumcision.

 

History tells us that not long after the apostles died, many of these Jewish festivals turned into Christian festivals, and the Passover and the days leading up to it began to be observed as a yearly remembrance of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection even though Christ never intended it or commanded it. Instead, He was very specific that when Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper, they are to remember what Jesus did for us as we think about His death.

 

1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;  24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."  26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.  

 

This observance was not a yearly event but a weekly event according to Scripture and history.

 

Acts 20:7  Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread,

 

It makes sense that Sunday is the day that giving  (1 Cor. 16:2) and partaking of the Lord’s Supper happens because Sunday is the day that Jesus was raised from the dead (Mt. 28:1). We also see the disciples together and Jesus appearing to them after His death on the first day of the week (Jn. 20:19, 26). The church was established on a Sunday (Acts 2:1). The term “the Lord’s day,” as used in Revelation 1:10, was used in reference to Sunday as can be seen in 1st or 2nd-century writings:

 

Didache 14:1 But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread,

 

One external source, who was not a Christian, said Christians met on a fixed day. Pliny the Younger, who wrote around A.D. 112. In his letter to Emperor Trajan, he told him about some information he extracted from Christians by torture.

 

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light when the sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deeds.

 

Pliny knew little about Christians, but he learned that they met on a fixed day and that part of their meeting included singing. Combining this nonChristian source with what the Bible teaches makes it easy to conclude that the fixed day he talks about was the first day of the week.

 

One of the early non-inspired Christian writers named Justin Martyr, writing around A.D. 160, wrote:

 

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxvii.html

 

Also, within that same text, Justin talks about how they partook of the Lord’s Supper on that day. Though history written by man is not inspired, there is no early historical evidence from the first or second century that Christians partook of the Lord’s Supper on any other day than the Lord’s Day, which is Sunday.

 

The Bible and these external sources show that Sunday is the day Christians come together to partake of the Lord’s Supper. 

 

With that in mind, you might be surprised that what has become known as Easter, or as some call it, the Christian Passover, originally came from Christians wanting to honor Christianity’s Jewish roots. Those who practice the Christian Passover today focus on Jesus’ resurrection and don’t usually follow any of the things done during the Jewish Passover. However, I found that some Christians will try and follow the Jewish Passover as best they can.

 

We also have uninspired early Christian writers who talk about keeping the Passover. For example, Irenaeus, writing in the second century, wrote: When the blessed Polycarp was visiting in Rome in the time of Anicetus [c. 155], . . . they were at once well inclined towards each other, not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this matter [the observance of Easter/Passover]. For Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [of his Easter/Passover customs] inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.569. (Bercot, David W., editor. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (p. 223). Hendrickson Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

 

This doesn’t tell us in what way he or the apostles observed the Passover, but please note it doesn’t say anything about them observing as part of the church or as something that all Christians are to keep. Let me share a few more quotes from these early writers: In Alexandria, too, they observe the festival on the same day as ourselves. For the Paschal letters are sent from us to them, and from them to us. Theophilus of Caesarea (c. 180, E), 8.774.

 

In Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest, who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord. . . . These all kept Easter/Passover on the fourteenth day, in accordance with the Gospel. Polycrates (c. 190, E), 8.773, 774.

 

If it were true that the apostle has erased all devotion absolutely of “seasons, days, months, and years,” why do we celebrate Easter/Passover by an annual rotation in the first month? Tertullian (c. 213, W), 4.112. (Bercot, David W., editor. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (p. 223). Hendrickson Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

 

Again, we are not told how they observed the Passover, but they did observe it in some way. In fact, one of the issues they argued about was when to observe it and what time.


The Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.) addressed the question directly, and it was decided to reject the Jewish date and keep Passover on the first Sunday after the 14th of Nisan instead. This choice to break with the prior tradition was essentially a choice to break with any kind of dependence on Jewish leadership, as made evident by Emperor Constantine:

 

“We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Savior has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course (the order of the days of the week); and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast. How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Savior, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them? They do not possess the truth in this Passover question” (Eusebius’ Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20).

 

Constantine’s decree that the Church shouldn’t have “anything in common with the Jews,” drew a sharp boundary between the Christian practice of Passover and the Jewish practice. Within a few decades after his letter was written, it became prohibited in various regions for Christians to keep Passover with the Jewish community (Apostolic Canons 7). https://centerforisrael.com/papers/a-christian-guide-to-passover/


It wouldn’t be until the 8th century that the term Easter would be used in reference to this Christianized version of the Passover. However, the Catholic church added more traditions to this manmade Passover, such as:

 

Palm Sunday: which represents Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem prior to His death. Started being observed in the 4th century.

Good Friday: the day Jesus was crucified. First observed in the 13th century.

Resurrection Sunday: which represents the day He arose from the dead, which became known as Easter in English-speaking countries.

 

However, these celebrations didn’t happen without controversy. As these manmade traditions developed, many could not agree on when to celebrate these days. Some wanted to do it by the Jewish Lunar Calendar, meaning Easter/Christian Passover would be on various days of the year. Others wanted Easter/Christian Passover to fall on Sunday every time, but they still couldn’t agree on which calendar to use. Some wanted to use the Gregorian calendar, while others wanted to use the Julian calendar. Even today, the Roman Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox churches celebrate Easter/Passover at different times because they each stick with their own calendar.

 

Clearly, Easter/Christian Passover is a manmade tradition because you cannot find it in Scripture. Even when you read about these early Christian writers talking about observing or teaching certain things or claiming that apostles did this or that, we cannot forget that they are uninspired writers. While reading what these early writers wrote and what they practiced is fascinating, we must always use God’s Word as our ultimate authority.

 

God’s Word tells us that the Jewish Passover was for the Jews. Though Jesus is called our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) and instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover meal, it doesn’t command us to observe the Jewish Passover or some Christianized version of it. Again, the only thing we are authorized to practice as the church is partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week.

 

How did Easter and these other traditions become associated with what many deem to be one of the most holy Christian Holidays?

 

To answer this question, we must understand that when Christians went into a new Pagan area, they did not try to get rid of the Pagan rituals. Instead, they encouraged them to give their rituals a Christian flavor. A historian named Helms had this to say about Easter.

 

"With the advent of Christianity, the egg, still taken as a symbol of life, was simply borrowed to be a symbol of the Christian holiday." "The earliest Easter eggs were dyed red to represent the blood shed by Christ.""Many cultures celebrated the advent of spring down through history. When Christianity came along about 2,000 years ago, there was already a number of pagan celebrations in place." "People rarely discard a holiday. When a new system of beliefs comes along, you simply come up with a new mythic structure to explain why you were celebrating that holiday in the first place."

  Once again, I want to point out that some would argue the English word Easter coming from a pagan goddess doesn’t have enough historical evidence, and some suggest that the traditions stemming from dying eggs incorporate rabbits are more from folklore. However, this practice of adding a Christian flavor to holidays has been done numerous times. People do it with Easter, Christmas, and other holidays. People love to add additional practices, such as we talked about earlier, such as Palm Sunday and Good Friday. While I am all for people being focused on God and what Jesus did for us, we must not create mandated festivals or practices and uphold them as if they are from God’s Word. So far, we have mainly examined Easter from a historical perspective. Let's now examine what the Bible says about keeping feast days and manmade traditions. Galatians 4:8  But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.  9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?  10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.  11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. Paul was concerned for these Galatians because they were starting to turn back to their old way of doing things. The reason he was so concerned was that these people were starting to seek justification through their old ways instead of remembering that justification only comes through Christ. That is why Paul later says: Galatians 5:4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

 

When people think they have to keep it or that they are in some way justified by it, this is when a feast day or holiday becomes a problem. In the first century, many Jewish Christians thought the Gentiles needed to keep the Law of Moses.

 

Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."

 

These Jews were trying to bind customs from the old law on the Gentiles, but this was wrong. They met with the apostles and elders, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it was decreed that Gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised, nor did they have to observe the other customs of the old law to be saved.

 

Jesus shows us how manmade traditions can become dangerous.

 

 Mark 7:1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.  2 Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.  3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.  4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.  5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"  6 He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.  7 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'  8 "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men -- the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do."  9 He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.  10 "For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.'  11 "But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban" -- ' (that is, a gift to God),  12 "then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,  13 "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do."

 

After reading what Jesus said about the Pharisees, we must be careful not to make manmade traditions part of our Christianity. I certainly don’t want God asking me on judgment day why I made a manmade tradition into a religious ceremony. Everything that we need to know to worship God in spirit and in truth is found in the Word of God.

 

Making a manmade tradition part of our worship service would be adding to God’s Word and would make us guilty of worshiping Him in vain.

To Christians, Easter Sunday shouldn’t be more important than any other Sunday of the year. The church should never mandate Easter as a yearly observance of Christ's Resurrection.

 

Should Christians observe certain aspects of Easter or other manmade pagan holidays at home or as individuals?

 

Before I answer this question, I just want to say again that we should be careful not to intertwine manmade traditions into our worship service. However, when it comes to observing manmade traditions outside of the church, we will quickly see that the Word of God makes this a personal choice as long as it doesn’t break God’s commandments.

 

1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;  20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;  21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law;  22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

 

Paul understood that he must meet people where they are in order to develop a trusting relationship with them so that he could have a better chance at winning souls. Now, I don’t believe that Paul would have engaged in a sinful practice to reach someone, but as long as it was a harmless custom, he would partake in it for reasons of expediency.

 

Acts 16:1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek.  2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.  3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.  

 

Paul didn’t have Timothy circumcised because he thought it was lawful for him to do so. The text says he did because the Jews in that area knew his father was Greek. Paul didn’t want Timothy’s uncircumcision to become a stumbling block for the Jews. In the previous chapter, Paul argued that circumcision wasn’t necessary to be saved. Even though Titus was Paul's companion, he was not forced to be circumcised because he was Greek (Gal. 2:3).  

 

As I mentioned earlier, in Acts 18:18-21, Paul took a vow and sought to take part in a Jewish tradition based on the Law of Moses.

 

Acts 21:18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.  19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;  21 "but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.  22 "What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.  23 "Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.  24 "Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.  25 "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."  26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

 

Paul goes through a purification ceremony to show he doesn’t have a problem with people observing Moses' customs. Again, there is nothing wrong with observing customs or feasts on a personal level as long as they don’t turn into an obligation or are forced on others. For instance, there are a great number of men who are circumcised today for hygiene reasons, and there is nothing wrong with that. Now, if people started saying that you have to be circumcised in order to be saved, then it would become wrong. 

 

Colossians 2:16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,  17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.   

 

Paul is teaching us not to judge people because of the customs they may keep on a personal level. What they choose to do in this area is between them and God.

 

Romans 14:5  One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

 

So, with that in mind, if you want to color Easter eggs and hide them for personal entertainment, there is nothing wrong with that. If you want to put up a Christmas tree and lights and give presents to each other, again, there is nothing wrong with that.

 

In conclusion, we have learned about the origin of Easter, also called the Christian Passover, and how it is a manmade tradition that cannot be found in the Bible. I hope you have learned from this lesson that we should keep manmade traditions out of the church as they will cause confusion. Outside of the church, manmade traditions can be observed on a personal level, but make sure that you never turn them into an obligation or force them on others as a religious necessity. Instead, let’s continue to worship God in spirit and truth based on His Word alone. One last thought. While the church shouldn’t promote or celebrate Easter/Christian Passover as some special religious event, there is nothing wrong with preaching about the resurrection of Jesus on that day or any related lesson. It is just another Lord’s Day, like the week before and after. So, as long the truth is being preached, it doesn’t matter what that lesson is about. So, keep preaching the Word.

 

 

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