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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, March 02 2023

What are the real origins of Easter?

The word Easter appears only once in the King James Version of the Bible (and not at all in most other translations). In the one place it does appear, the King James translators mistranslated the Greek word for Passover as "Easter."

by Jerold Aust

The verse in question is Acts 12:4: "And when he [King Herod Agrippa I] had apprehended him [the Apostle Peter], 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." The Greek word translated “Easter’ here is ‘pascha’, correctly translated everywhere else in the Bible as "Passover."

Referring to this mistranslation, Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible says that "perhaps there never was a more unhappy, not to say absurd, translation than that in our text."

W.E. Vine—a trained classical scholar, theologian, expert in ancient languages and author of several classic Bible helps—supports the view that the word ‘easter” originates from the name ‘astarte’, a babylonian goddess worshiped as "the queen of heaven, " referred to in the Bible in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:17-19, 25. In 1 Kings 11:5 and 33. In 2 Kings 23:13 this pagan goddess is mentioned by the Hebrew form of her name, Ashtoreth.

Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, in its entry "Easter," states, "The term ‘Easter' is not of Christian origin. It is another form of Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess, the queen of heaven. The festival of Pasch [Passover] held by Christians in post-apostolic times was a continuation of the Jewish feast…the pagan festival of ‘Easter' was quite distinct and was introduced into the apostate Western religion, as part of the attempt to adapt pagan festivals to Christianity" (W.E. Vine, 1985).

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines Easter as follows: “The English term, according to the [eighth-century monk] Bede, relates to Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring…” (1909, Vol. 5, p. 224). Eostre is the ancient European name for the same goddess worshiped by the Babylonians as Astarte or Ishtar, goddess of fertility, whose major celebration was in the spring of the year.

Author Greg Dues, in his book Catholic Customs and Traditions, elaborates on the symbolism of eggs in ancient pre-Christian cultures: "In ancient Egypt and Persia friends exchanged decorated eggs at the spring equinox, the beginning of their New Year…Christians… adopted this tradition, and the Easter egg became a religious symbol. It represented the tomb from which Jesus came forth to new life" (1992, p. 101).

The same author also explains that, like eggs, rabbits became associated with Easter because they were powerful symbols of fertility: "Little children are usually told that the Easter eggs are brought by the Easter Bunny. Rabbits are part of pre-Christian fertility symbolism because of their reputation to reproduce rapidly" (ibid p. 102).

The New Testament records the Apostles and early Christians, observing the annual biblical Passover, with the symbolism of the bread and wine introduced by Jesus Christ before his crucifixion, as noted in Matthew 26:26-28 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-28. There is no mention of an observance of Easter with easter bunnies and eggs. These symbols demean the truth of Christ's death and resurrection.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes the transition from the observance of Passover and the following seven Days of Unleavened Bread: "There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers…The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals…The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, unfettered by Jewish traditions, identified the first day of the week [Sunday] with the Resurrection, and kept the preceding Friday as the commemoration of the crucifixion, irrespective of the day of the month" (11th edition, p. 828, "Easter").

In 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea, almost three centuries after Jesus Christ was crucified, Easter, with its pagan fertility symbols, was formally acknowledged as replacing the God-ordained festivals Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the early Church observed. "A final settlement of the dispute [over whether and when to keep Easter or Passover] was one among the other reasons which led [the Roman emperor] Constantine to summon the council of Nicaea in 325…The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and ‘that none should hereafter follow the blindness of the Jews'" (ibid., pp. 828-829).

Those who continued to observe the biblical festivals kept by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, rather than the newly "Christianized" pagan Easter festival, were systematically persecuted by the powerful church-state alliance of Constantine 's Roman Empire. Easter soon became entrenched as one of traditional Christianity's most popular celebrations. Jesus referred to such developments in Matthew 15:9 when He said: "In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."