So, where does ‘Easter’ come from?

Almost every Christian in the world today knows what the term “Easter” refers to? Usually it refers to the death, burial and (primarily) resurrection of Jesus Christ that occurred around 33 AD. However, Easter does not only seem to refer to celebrating/remembering this past event. With it also comes talk of the Easter bunny, Easter eggs, Easter egg hunt, and the numerous types of chocolate delicacies associated with these. There is also Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday, and let’s not forget the period of Lent leading up to all of this. With all of these traditional celebrations and events being recognized by almost every Christian, why do I question where it comes from? I mean, everyone knows, right? Well… maybe the origins of Easter may be different from what we all really thought.

Is Easter in the Bible?

The answer to this question is “yes” and “no”. I am not trying to be difficult, nor I am trying to confuse you. Nonetheless, to accurately answer this question, we have to make a distinction between the word “Easter”, the traditions and practices of Easter, and the event that Easter refers to. The word “Easter” is found in only one place in the King James Version (KJV) Bible. It is found in Acts 12: 4, which reads:

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. – Acts 12:4 (KJV)

The interesting thing about this single instance of the word Easter being used in the KJV Bible is that if you examine the Greek Textus Receptus (TR), there is no such unique or distinguishing word that could possibly be translated to mean “Easter” in that passage. In actual fact, the Greek word used is πάσχα (transliterated: pascha), which comes from the Hebrew פֶּסַח (transliterated: pecach). This Greek word Pascha is used 29 times in the New Testament (NT), but is translated to mean “Passover” in 28 instances, and “Easter” in that single instance in Acts 12. This is very suspicious to me. I certainly arouses my curiosity, because there is really no reason to translate that differently in that one instance. The Greek word Pascha refers to the same thing in all 29 instances. Even more fundamentally is the fact that the first century Christians would not have thought of a distinction between the Pascha in Acts 12 and the Pascha in all the other 28 instances when they read the text. It is clear to me that Pascha refers to Passover and should always refer to Passover. If this is the case, how could the translators decide to use “Easter” there? It is apparent that the first century Christians did not have a concept of “Easter” as we have it today. As a result, “Easter” was clearly added to the text due to a bias of the translators because they had already accepted the term Easter as a legitimate Christian practice. 

So, “Is (the word) Easter in the Bible?”. The most accurate and honest answer to that question is “No”. Or maybe, it would be more accurate to rephrase the question: “Is the word ‘Easter’ in the scriptures?”. The answer to that question is a definite, “No”. The only way we can get a “Yes”, is if we ask the question this way: “Is the word ‘Easter’ in the KJV Bible?”. If this is the question, then the most obvious answer is “Yes”. Nonetheless, this is unfortunate because the word “Easter” clearly should never be in any translation of the New Testament, as there is no specific or unique Greek word that refers to it.

Easter origins, traditions and practices

So, since the word “Easter” did not originate from the Bible, where did the word come from and what about the traditions and practices that are associated with it? To be honest, the answer to this question was actually more elusive than I originally thought. Interestingly enough, the Encyclopedia Britannica has two different entries for the origins of Easter.

In one entry, the word Easter is described as originating from the Old English ēaster or ēastre, a festival of spring. According to this first entry, it directly referred to the Christian celebration of the Lord’s Passover during the first (paschal) full moon of the first month of spring (Nisan 14–15), but was changed in the second century to the Sunday after the Jewish Passover feast, and in the fourth century, the Council of Nicea decreed that all churches observe the feast together on that Sunday.

In the second entry. the Encyclopedia Britannica directly relates “Easter” to Pascha in Latin and Greek, and further goes on to say the English word “Easter” is of uncertain origins and parallels the German word Ostern. It then goes on to state that there is an explanation given by an English Catholic Monk in the eighth century called Venerable Bede, who asserts that the word “Easter” was derived from Eostre, or Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility. The article goes on to say that the view expressed by the monk was based on the dubious presumption that Christians adopted pagan names and holidays for their festivals. It is worth mentioning that the word “Eostre”, as expressed by a sentence in the De Temporum Ratione written by Venerable Bede, is not mentioned in any other ancient text.

Considering that no one can definitively say how Easter came to be, it is strange that we cling to the word do strongly. What I find to be more telling is how Easter is uniquely associated to traditions like the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, Easter chocolates/candy, and not only with the resurrection of Jesus Christ in most churches. I find it strange that Christians are quick to be involved in these traditions. Where do these traditions come from and why are Christians so quick to participate in them? They are typically driven by a commercialization of the Easter holiday, and the weeks leading up to it. It is indeed tempting to by the candy and chocolate delicacies, and those types of candy are typically only available at that time of the year during Easter. 

There are chocolates and candies made in the shape of Easter bunnies and Easter eggs. There are Easter egg hunts for kids, and Easter parades in certain cities. Regardless of how popular these traditions are, there is no mention of Easter bunnies or Easter eggs in any Bible anywhere. It just does not exist. And technically, it doesn’t even make any sense, since bunnies do not lay eggs. Bunnies birth their young like any other mammal. Most of the articles that I have read on this subject suggest that these Easter practices have a pagan origin that could be Roman, German or even Egyptian. For me, the fact that they are not in the scriptures at all is evidence enough for me to not participate in them. 

Considering that the word Easter does not come from the scriptures and may be related to some sort of pagan source, which is tied to false expressions of a rabbit’s birthing process, I would prefer to never use it to refer to the Resurrection of Jesus. The more I research these traditions the more I realize that just because the majority of people blindly accept them, it does not make it right, nor does it make it honorable to our Lord Jesus. I truly wish that Christians would review their acceptance of these things and see how they do not properly magnify the name of the Lord.

Is it a sin to participate in these traditions and practices? I honestly can’t say whether it is or it is not. However, to call them “Christian practices” is indeed wrong, and should never be done, as they have no association with Jesus, nor do they draw us closer to him in any way. I would even argue that they take away, and distract from, the true event that “Easter” is supposed to refer to. It also deceives children to think that Easter is about (imaginary) bunnies that lay eggs, rather than the power of Jesus’ resurrection. I think that these practices should be avoided by all Christians, as they undermine the importance of Jesus Christ to us.

And he who may receive one such child in my name, doth receive me, and whoever may cause to stumble one of those little ones who are believing in me, it is better for him that a weighty millstone may be hanged upon his neck, and he may be sunk in the depth of the sea. – Matthew 18:5-6 (Young’s Literal Translation)

The true power hidden by “Easter”

If “Easter” is supposed to refer to the resurrection of Jesus, but really is associated with imaginary egg-laying bunnies, and no one can say definitively why we even have to term “Easter”, then why do Christians still use it? Why don’t we just call a spade a spade? I think that the true power of what Jesus Christ did for us is shrouded by this fake term, “Easter”.

I personally believe that Christians should never use the term “Easter”. Rather, we should say “Resurrection day”. Why is this so important? It is absolutely the most important truth of the Christian faith that many Christians throughout the world have lost sight of. The apostle Paul made it plain to us:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (KJV)

The truth is that the entire Christian faith is predicated on the fact that Jesus Christ actually died and rose again three days later. If this one thing did not happen, then Christianity is absolutely useless. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, you cannot be a Christian, and declaring that you are a Christian for any other reason is totally worthless. The true power of being a Christian is the belief that Jesus conquered death, and all Christians that died before his second coming will be resurrected by him when he comes again. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the pillars of our faith, and we should regard it as such.

Regardless of creeds, doctrines, traditions, practices, holy days, rituals, rites, and any other man-made ordinance that Christians follow, they are all worthless if Christians do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. The apostle Paul made this clear in his letter to the believers at Corinth. To an unbeliever, this is an absurd assertion, and does not relate to accepted reality. However, it is an undeniable truth that the Christian Faith is predicated on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The word “Easter” with all its associated practices and traditions do not reflect this fact. Let us then focus on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the great hope that we have because of what he did on the cross to save us from our sin.

References:
  1. History of the Church Year – Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. Easter Holiday – Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. Easter Origins – Got Questions
  4. Easter Symbols and Traditions – History

Leave a Reply