Easter – is it a Christian or pagan holiday?

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When there is some confusion, for centuries, about an important topic, it is best to lay the foundation for the correction in a terse manner, in order to build the premise.  Otherwise, there will be immediate contentions from a myriad of secondary positions, and we will never get to the facts that support the truth of the matter.

Jesus Christ never gave us Holy Days [holidays], and Easter is not to be found in the Bible, except in the King James Version at Acts 12:4. That particular translation for the word “Easter” was an anachronism, and was later corrected in the Revised Edition as, “Passover.” However, Christians do follow traditions of the Church, and especially those which commenced with the Apostles or early Church fathers. Nowhere are Christians forbidden to offer a free expression of affection for Jesus Christ. Sadly, sometimes in history, the Church got carried away with its power and introduced something celebrative, more for preventing paganism, than for the celebration itself.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates a Mass every day, and that celebration is the Eucharist, from Mt.15:36; 26:27, [Gk. eucharisteo] which means: “thanksgiving.”  The Protestant’s similarly commemorate Christ with fellowship [Gk. kiononia], which means “fellowship or Communion.” Hence the Mass emulates the thanksgiving and praise to God – similarly as Christ gave before and during the Last Supper, and the Protestant services emulate Christ’s words at the Last Supper to affect fellowship with God.  Jesus did not tell the Roman Church to celebrate a Mass with all the pomp, or the Protestants to comply only once a month, but he did tell all disciples to remember his death burial and resurrection [Mt.26:26; Mk.14:22; Lk.22:19; 1Cor.10:16; 11:23].  One Church body uses the word “Eucharist,” the other “Communion” yet it was Jesus who emphasized to do this act in “Remembrance” [Gk. anamnesis] of Him.”  Does any church call this worship “Remembrance Sunday” or solicit that there will be “Remembrance” on the first of every month?

My point here is to demonstrate that a particular sectarian mode of worship may not be found exactly as presented in Scripture, but it may have at its root what God had intended – the spirit of the law, not the letter.  In all cases, Protestants and Roman Catholics, including Greek and Russian Orthodox, etc., meet Jesus’ requirements for “remembering” Christ’s atoning sacrifice.  Further, the early church, met on the first day [Sunday] of the week in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ [Ac.20:7].

So what has this to do with Easter? Well, a whole lot, but not from the point of view of a direct command of Christ, but from a willing desire of “Remembrance,” because Easter celebrations are about Jesus Christ’s Resurrection – but before a resurrection, there has to be a death and burial – so “Good Friday” [Christian Passover].

That said – let us hold to the truth of history and the primary doctrines of the church.  We cannot be dissuaded from truth, simply because people misunderstand or close off their hearing.  To reiterate, the facts are simple – Jesus never instituted holidays!  However, all Christian holidays were memorialized by the hierarchies of the Eastern and Western Churches, so the holidays are not to be considered primary doctrine.  But they may be considered secondary doctrine, commissioned and kept out of respect and love. Similarly, the Bible talks in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ, not simply his death.

Before we trace the origin for the name, “Easter,” which usurped the proper designation of Pascal Sunday, let us note that the earliest discussions concerning the Pascal celebrations comes from Polycarp of Smyrna and Anicet of Rome [circa 150AD].  The Eastern Church testified that it derived its celebration from the Apostle John, and by the second century the feast days were universal. [History of the Christian Church, by Schaff, Vol.1, pg. 480]

If a celebration of Christ is to be accomplished, it ought to be Biblical, as well as scriptural. The term “Easter” is not Biblical, and as a matter of fact it is pagan in reference.  I don’t wish to go into the reasons why the Church officials specifically chose to use that term, or their strategy for converting the pagans – suffice that they meant well, but the term is pagan, most probably from the German, with potential leads from Middle Eastern cultures, because of the similarities within the Indo-European languages.   No matter how you dress it up, Easter is an imposter nomen, for a legitimate and very old Christian tradition.

The Jewish Passover and Pentecost rituals, having been celebrated by Jesus and all Jews, typified the Passover of Death during the night of the Exodus. Later, after Christ’s resurrection, Passover became the sacrifice of Messiah [Christ] and His resurrection – and so it was a natural transformation from the Jewish holiday calendar to a Christian calendar.

However, a controversy arose between the Eastern and Western rites as to the emphasis of the celebration, during the anti-Nicene era [circa 100 – 325 AD].  This was called the Paschal controversies of the second century involving the church luminaries Polycarp (eastern rite) and Anicet (western rite). The problem involved the customs and dates applied to the celebration, and as well what time a celebration started in the Jewish calendar.  Because of legalistic approaches to “hair splitting” terminologies, tensions escalated to the point that the bishops of Rome and Antioch “Anathematized” each other.  In effect they both called each other an apostate, and asked God to erase their names from the Book of Life. Fortunately, Jesus died for the sins of the Bishops as well, and retained Lordship of His Church.  Jesus may have been disappointed with his Bishops, but I do not believe his eraser was worn out that day.

The celebration was called the “Pascha” from the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew. The term “Easter” is of Saxon origin, though many epigraphers argue of Semitic origin coming from Astarte.”  The term is related by some to the Teutonic form of “auferstehung” or “auferstehn” which interpreted means resurrection.  However there is some doubt as to this, since there is a German cognate “Ostern”.   [History of the Christian Church, by Schaff, Vol.II, pgs. 206-222]

From: The Dictionary of Word Origins“EAST  [OE] Etymologically, east is the point of the compass at which the sun rises (and hence is a parallel formation to orient, which comes from a Latin word originally meaning ‘rising’).  It goes back to an Indo-European base *aus-, source of a range of terms meaning not only ‘east’ but also ‘dawn’: Latin aurora, for instance, and Greek auos, had both senses.  Its Germanic descendant, *austo-, produced German ost, Dutch oosten, Swedish oster, and English east (which was subsequently borrowed by French as est).  It was also the source of *Austron, the name of a goddess of the prehistoric Germanic peoples, originally the dawn-goddess, whose festival occurred in spring.  In Old English her name was Eastre, which is generally taken to be the ultimate source of English Easter (German Ostern ‘Easter’ has a parallel origin).”

As relating to Astarte being found in European German cultures, and so Ostern, and Austron coming from the Middle Eastern Indo-European language groups, consider that the goddess Astarte was found among the Etruscans, who lived well before the Roman culture.  The Etruscan culture held the territory of what is now upper Italy – a stone’s throw from what is now Austria, of Germanic heritage. How did the goddess get that far into Europe?  The Greeks worshiped her as Aphrodite and Artemis, and so did the Phoenicians – two cultures that spoke Indo-European languages and sailed into many a harbor in Sicily, Sardinia, and the lower boot of Italy.

It is not hard to understand how we got from Passover to Easter when one considers common language groups, populous migrations, and overzealous religious goals.  The Western Church wanting to hold all titles within its circle of influence, refused using a transliteration from the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and instead Latinized and Germanized the terminology.  But by doing so, they stretched the bounds of the word’s origin and left open the premise that we are celebrating a Pagan deity’s holiday.

Tertullian [circa 150 AD] testifies that the Pascal Feast celebrations ran fifty days as a continuous Sunday service, with standing prayer vigils, fasting and “Communion” every day.  Later controversies arose between the Eastern and Western Churches over the celebration of the birth of Christ, with the East celebrating the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th, and the West as December 25th [the same day as the pagan Sun worship].   Apparently, renaming of a particular pagan day of worship, with a Christian identification, was thought of as, “bringing in the sheep.”

In all, the resurrection of Christ is better suited to the word, “Pascha” and not the Saxon or German “Easter,” even though “Pascha” comes from the Jewish Passover feast – the killing and eating of the lamb. Though the Jewish lamb [Pesach] never resurrected, the Messiah did.  The two Jewish feasts, Passover and Pentecost [Heb. Shabouth, or Shavout] ran concurrently back to back, for a period of fifty days [Lev.23:6-7].  The resurrection of Christ has nothing to do Easter Bunnies, or Cadbury chocolate. It has nothing to do with Saxon terminology or the German goddess “Austron” or the Indo European goddess “Astarte,” however, it has a great deal to do with the proper exegesis of Church history, and the original languages of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, and the proper understanding of the Jewish calendar of feasts.

Jesus died as the final “Passover Lamb,” and was seen by many after his resurrection, for a period of fifty days before he was taken up into Glory [Lk.24:50-51; Ac.1:3, 9].  The scripture tells us in Acts that he was with the disciples, after his resurrection, for a period of OVER forty days. At the end of the fifty days came the day of Pentecost, at which the Holy Spirit fell upon the Church believers and they spoke in other languages [Ac.2:1-4].  Between Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and gift of the Comforter [Jn.14:15 – The Holy Spirit], the Jewish feast days of “fifty” was emulated.

What better name could be given to the feasts surrounding Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection and gift, than the Pascal Feasts.

Sources:

Schaff’s History of the Christian Church

Sheldon’s History of the Christian Church

Eusebius Pamphilus’ Ecclesiastical History

Dictionary of Word Origins, by John Ayto, London England Arcade Publishing, New York, NY

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