Origins of Easter
Many have asked the questions,
- "The Bible says that Jesus Christ was crucified at Passover, according to the Bible calendar, so why do Christians observe it at Easter, which almost always occurs on another date?"
- "What do rabbits, lilies, and colored eggs have to do with Jesus Christ?"
- "Where did the term "Easter" come from?"
- "Is it true that people observed Easter sunrise services long before Jesus was even born?"
- "And what about the halo - why did the heads of the saints glow like that?"
All very good questions! Let's have a look at the surprising answers that can be found quite easily in the history or reference section of any library:
- The word Easter is not correctly found anywhere in The Bible. The King James Version of 1611 does use it once, in Acts 12:4, but Bible scholars all agree that it was an error in translation from the original Greek (the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek) - all other translations correctly use the word Passover in that verse. Jesus Christ was crucified at the time of Passover, at the very same time that the Passover lamb was slain (Matthew 26:17).
- The date of Passover, according to the Hebrew Calendar, is on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan (see Bible Months). Because the Bible calendar is based on the lunar month, the first day of the month always occurs at the new moon, and the fifteenth always occurs at the full moon. Passover always occurs at the full moon, which may have had an intended practical benefit to the Israelites during the first nights of the Exodus.
The date of Easter has been set and accepted by Western Christians (i.e. Roman Catholics and Protestants) to be observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Therefore, Easter can occur anytime between March 22 and April 25. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different dating system for Easter, which can occur up to 5 weeks after the Roman Catholic/Protestant Easter.
- The name Easter originated from the two names, one Babylonian (see King Nebuchadnezzar), one Phoenician (see Tyre), of a pagan idol - Astarte (or Ashtaroth) and Ishtar - both of which were pronounced "Easter." Ishtar/Astarte, a female idol, was supposedly married to the male idol Baal (see also Jezebel). The pagan people who venerated them were also deeply influenced by sun worship.
- As the person who asked the question pointed out, sunrise services were indeed practiced by people long before Jesus Christ was ever born. It was an integral part of pagan sun worship. An example can be found in Ezekiel 8:16 - "they were bowing down to the sun in the east" (the sun is only in the east when it's rising). And what did God think of it? "detestable" (Ezekiel 8:17)
- The heads of Saints didn't really glow as is so often portrayed in religious art. The use of the halo, or nimbus, originated with the pagan Greeks and Romans to represent their sun god, Helios. Later, artists adopted it for use in Christian images. The halo is actually just the sun behind the person's head (it's easy to recognize once one realizes what it is) - a very devious way of mixing pagan sun worship with Christianity.
- Rabbits, eggs, and lilies were all used as symbols of fertility by the pagans, who often included extremely immoral behavior in the "worship" of their idols.
But how did these pagan and idolatrous practices enter Christianity?
Most often, they were practices that people brought with them upon their professed conversion. The church authorities of that long-ago time (who presumably knew better) allowed it, probably for political or economic reasons, to keep membership and income growing, without sufficient concern for whether the new converts were sincerely converted. Perhaps they believed that the pagans would abandon their cult practices and replace them with the correct manner of observance, but the exact opposite occurred. The Christian church abandoned the Passover and replaced it with many of the colorful pagan rituals, while many faithful early Christians were actually excommunicated, or even martyred, for holding to the truth.
But why are they observed by hundreds of millions of Christians today?
Easter rituals have been around for many centuries. Long-established traditions that many of us have known right from the time we were little children, often with so many fond memories, may seem so right to us, while actually being so wrong before God.
Many people are shocked when they discover the reality of the origins of Easter - I know that I was. But the facts are readily available in any relevant history text or general encyclopedia. Shocking though it may be to us, it is nevertheless reality.
There is absolutely no doubt that Jesus Christ was born just south of Jerusalem at Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth in Galilee, conducted His ministry from Capernaum on the north shore of the beautiful Sea Of Galilee, was arrested That Fateful Night, was Crucified, and rose alive again from The Tomb as our Savior. But, many of the observances that became so popular to commemorate that Great Event did not originate with Jesus Christ, or in your Holy Bible.
Fact Finder: What did Almighty God say about using pagan rituals to worship Him?