A Thorough Look At Easter
SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE "EASTER"? When springtime rolls around, one of the first holidays that comes to mind for almost everyone, is Easter. While churches celebrate the Passover feast and the death, resurrection and glory of Jesus,
SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE “EASTER”?
When springtime rolls around, one of the first holidays that comes to mind for almost everyone, is Easter. While churches celebrate the Passover feast and the death, resurrection and glory of Jesus, many parents are busy dying Easter eggs and thinking about where they are going to hide them for their children to hunt.
The commercial world is abuzz during this time as well, depicting the occasion as one in which happiness and life is renewed and transformed. You’ll see advertisements touting Easter baskets, costumes and other holiday accessories as well as chocolate bunnies and other tasty goodies. Most families will bake a ham, not stopping to think that pork wasn’t even a staple in the Jewish household then, or now.
Some churches hold a sunrise service and while many of the festivities are varied, the focus is still on the rising of the sun, commemorating the day on which Jesus rose from grave, conquering death and hell, and assured our salvation, once and for as, as the Lamb without blemish.
Still, we can’t help but wonder how rabbits and brightly colored boiled eggs came to be associated with the resurrection of our lord.
We wonder, as well, why Jesus made no specific observation for the celebration of this day in this way. In fact, there is no Scripture reference for an Easter celebration as we know it today. If millions of people choose to celebrate this day in the way we’ve mentioned, where do those customs come from exactly?
And why haven’t Christians though about this before? Rather, they fall into the celebration “tradition” without taking any thought to the roots of the celebration’s activities.
Is Easter In The Bible?
In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 2, 1986, you can find this statement:
“The Easter feast has been and still is regarded as the most important event in the life of its Founder.” Because of statements like this, it would seem plausible that many relevant Scriptures could be found in the Word of God.
Many will cite the Scripture in Acts 12:4 that says, “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.”
The important thing to note is that, in the King James Version, translators chose to use the word “Easter” in place of the actual Greek word, “Pasha”, which actually means “Passover”. Going back to the root word, and taking it at its literal translation, there would be absolutely no mention of Easter in the Scriptures at all.
Exactly Where Did Easter Originate?
If it’s not in the Bible, then where did the idea of this type of celebration come from? And what does the word “Easter” really mean? To get a clearer idea of, one must do a bit of historical research for a clear understanding. But it’s worth it!
For instance, you can read in The Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, Macropaidia, Volume 4, page 605, under the heading “Church Year”:
“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.”
Historically speaking, the people of the Middle East were far more concerned with and connected to natural cycles than people are in this day and age. It was absolutely necessary to depend on the fertility of the land in order for the growth and survival of their crops. Springtime, which signified a return to fertility after the latency of winter, was highly anticipated and celebrated.
There were many celebrations in which god and goddess worship were central, especially the gods and goddesses of fertility. Some of those were Baal as well as Astarte, also known as Ashtoreth. Both of these are mentioned in the Bible and both are condemned there as well.
The further incorporation of fertility symbols like eggs and bunnies (that reproduce quickly and in great numbers), were often incorporated into the celebrations of the season and the gods.
One Scottish Protestant clergyman of the 19th Century named Alexander Hislop, wrote a work entitled, The Two Babylons. That work is still taken as one of the most definitive pieces relating to the customs of the pagans that seem to survive and flourish in religion today. Of Easter, he had this to say:
“What means the term Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name, as pronounced by the people of Nineveh, was evidently identical with that now in common use in this country. That name, as found by [early archaeologist Sir Austen Henry] Layard on the Assyrian mountains, is Istar” (1959, page 103).
We see, then, that the name “Easter” isn’t from the Bible at all, but rather comes from a pronunciation of the Mesopotamian goddess, “Ishtar”, also known in the Bible as Astarte or Ashtoreth. In fact, let’s look at what the Word of God has to say about this goddess:
For Solomen went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites. (1 Kings 11:5)
Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments, as David his father. (1 Kings 11:33)
And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom, the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. (2 Kings 23:13).
So what, exactly, happened in the worship of this “Ishtar”? We find some clue in Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1995, page 509, under “Gods, Pagan”:
“Temples to Ishtar had many priestesses, or sacred prostitutes, who symbolically acted out the fertility rites of the cycle of nature. Ishtar has been identified with the Phoenician Astarte, the Semitic Ashtoreth, and the Sumerian Inanna. Strong similiarities also exist between Ishtar and the Egytian Isis, the Greek Aprodite, and the Roman Venus. 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”.
Alan Watts is known to be an expert in comparative religions, and wrote Easter: It’s Story and Meaning, published in 1950. On page 58, we read,
“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…But their universal theme – the drama of death and resurrection – makes them the forerunners of the Christian Easter, and thus the first “Easter services”. As we go on to describe the Christian observance of Easter we shall see how many of its customs and ceremonies resemble those former rites.”
He makes further explanations describing such events as Lent, singing hymns with mourning, lighting of candles and the services on the night preceding Easter, and the deity image in the sanctuary, as practices of idolatry that originated in ancient times.
We take another quote from Sir James Frazer, who lived from 1854 until 1941. He was knighted for contributions that he made towards understanding these ancient religions and his description is:
“The sorrow of the worshippers was turned to joy…The tomb was opened: the god had risen from the dead; and as the priest touched the lips of the weeping mourners with balm, he softly whispered in their ears the glad tidings of salvation. The resurrection of the god was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grace. On the morrow…the divine resurrection was celebrated with a wild outburst of glee. At Rome, and probably elsewhere, the celebration took the form of a carnival” (The Golden Bough, page 350, 1993).
An Ancient Idolatry Turns Into A New Celebration
The worship of gods such as Adonis, Attis and Tammuz, to name a few, took place in various forms and spread so far as Rome itself, throughout the entire Empire. But then, a major development happened. The leaders of the early Catholic Church merged those practices and customs that had been connected to that earlier “resurrected” God (Tammuz) and the celebrations of springtime fertility, applying them rather to Jesus’ own resurrection.
Historians admit that the origin of the “Easter” name correlates to those ancient practices. In fact you can find the story in nearly any encyclopedia you choose to study. Sir Frazer goes on to make this observation:
“When we reflect how often the Church has skillfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis” (from page 345).
He further expounds the use of pagan traditions by saying that the Catholic Church was so desirous to bring in the heathen from the outside world, that they didn’t want to make them have to surrender those celebrations of idolatry that they held so dear, and that this “may have led the ecclesiastical authorities to assimilate the Easter festival of the death and resurrection of their Lord to the festival of the death and resurrection of another Asiatic god which fell at the same season…the Church may have consciously adapted the new festival [of Easter] to its heathen predecessor for the sake of winning souls to Christ” (from page 359).
Here, it would be most interesting to note that the formal Easter celebration did not finally catch on until 325 AD, about 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus!
You will find, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, page 332, from 1995, in a section entitled “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”.
Until that decision was made by the Council, Jesus’ followers had commemorated his death by observing the feast of Passover, just as Jesus and His apostles had, and had instructed others to do so:
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delievered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye dirnk it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye yeat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
With the Roman Empire rooted firmly behind it in acceptance via the Council of Nicaea, the Catholic Church forced this new Easter commemoration. Anyone who wished to continue following the example and commandment of Jesus in celebrating His death with the Biblical feast of Passover, was forced to do so underground, or they would be violently persecuted by the Church as well as the Empire.
What Would Jesus Do?
The New Testament and historical documents are all quite clear. Those who were faithful to the early church chose to observe the resurrection in the same way the apostles had taught them, as the apostles had been taught by Jesus Himself. However, later customs, doctrines and Church practices were introduced, creating something new that those early Christians did not even recognize!
So one of the most vehement questions would be: Should Christians be taught to follow what Jesus instructed, or should they fall in line with the later religious leanings as established at the Council of Nicaea?
If Jesus walked this earth today, He simply would not celebrate Easter. In fact, Hebrews 13:8 tells us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever”. He never observed the Easter festivities, He did not sanction such a celebration and He certainly did not instruct his disciples to do so. In turn, the apostles did not teach the early church to do so either.
So what would Jesus do? Why, the same thing He did then, of course. He would observe the Biblical Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, just as the Word of God teaches, just as He Himself practice, and just as He taught others to do:
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John 13:15-170
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Furthermore, it should be noted that Jesus said that He was specifically anticipating the observance of Passover with His followers in His Father’s Kingdom upon His return:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom. (Matthew 26:26-29).
Should Christians Observe Easter?
This takes careful examination, if you are a follower of Jesus, to see whether or not your ideas and beliefs line up with what is in the Word of God. We must never assume that God approves celebrations that are not Biblical, even if they are done with a “good” motive. In Jeremiah 10:2, we are told not to learn the way of the heathen. In other words, don’t learn from those who do not know what the Truth of God is.
In fact, there are specific instructions given for worshipping Him using practices that bleed over from pagan idol worship:
Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve other gods? Even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hatesth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. (Deuteronomy 12:30-32)
Jesus also commanded that people should repent from the practice of following religious traditions rooted and grounded in man-made practices:
But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?( Matthew 15:3)
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent. (Acts 17:30)
The instructions of Jesus were not only life changing, but life saving as well, and He will bless you for following them:
If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. (John 12:26).
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!