Every spring, the excitement of Easter is anticipated by many with churches preparing programs portraying the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and participating in Easter sunrise services. But if this celebration is so important, why didn’t Jesus teach His apostles and the early Church to observe it?
Some cite Acts 12:4 as authority for celebrating Easter: ‘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’ (King James Version). But the problem with this verse is that the word ‘Easter’ isn’t really mentioned here. The King James Bible translators substituted “Easter” for the Greek word ‘Pascha’, which means “Passover.”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: “The word [Easter] does not properly occur in Scripture, although [the King James Version] has it in Acts 12:4 where it stands for Passover, as it is rightly rendered in RV [Revised Version]” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986, Vol. 2, “Easter”). The vast majority of Bible translations recognize the error in the King James Version and rightly translate the word as “Passover” in Acts 12:4. The truth is, “there is no trace of Easter celebration in the [New Testament]” (ibid.).
It’s important to review credible historical sources to understand Easter’s true origins and history. The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us: “At Easter, popular customs reflect many ancient pagan survivals—in this instance, connected with spring fertility rites, such as the symbols of the Easter egg and the Easter hare or rabbit” (15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 605, “Church Year”).
“Associated with Ishtar was the young god Tammuz [mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14], considered both divine and mortal . . . In Babylonian mythology Tammuz died annually and was reborn year after year, representing the yearly cycle of the seasons and the crops. This pagan belief later was identified with the pagan gods Baal and Anat in Canaan” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1995, “Gods, Pagan,” p. 509).
Alan Watts, an expert in comparative religion, also wrote: “It would be tedious to describe in detail all that has been handed down to us about the various rites of Tammuz . . . and many others . . . their universal theme—the drama of death and resurrection —makes them the forerunners of the Christian Easter, and thus the first ‘Easter services.’ (Easter: Its Story and Meaning, 1950, p. 58).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains in the section titled “The Liturgical Year,” “At the Council of Nicaea in 325, all the Churches agreed that Easter . . . should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon . . . after the vernal equinox” (1995, p. 332). Up until this time, many believers had continued to commemorate Jesus’ death through the biblical Passover as Jesus and the apostles had instructed (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). After this proclamation those who wished to continue to observe the biblical Passover had to go underground to avoid persecution.
The key question for Christians is should we follow what Jesus taught or the false doctrines of later religious teachers? God instructs us to: “Learn not the way of the heathen”—those who don’t know God’s truth (Jeremiah 10:2, King James Version) , and gives explicit instructions regarding worshipping Him with practices adopted from pagan idolatry. “Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise (Deuteronomy 12:30).
Beyond Today magazine