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Scripture Studies

Is “Easter” Christian?

easter boyHave you ever wondered why one of the most important of Christian holidays was named Easter? Such a strange name, isn’t it? What does a feminine sounding name Easter have to do with the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? Surely you wanted to know!

Undoubtedly, Easter is the most solemn of Christian commemoration, and we, Filipinos are particularly very observant of this holy week. But has anyone asked how the name Easter came into play? Added to this are the equally strange mascot of bunnies and colored eggs for hunt? Now that is really weird considering that what we are supposed to be celebrating is the most brutal and murderous death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve got be earnestly looking into this, if we are to be serious about the basis of our Christian faith!

A quick look at the word Easter in the Bible will show that the name appears only once in the King James Version of the Bible, inActs 12:4, and it was a clear mistranslation. Reputable scholars will point out that the word Easter in this verse comes from the Greek word pascha, meaning Passover. Modern translations correctly translate the word to “Passover”—as even the King James Version does in other verses (seeMatthew 26:2-19;Mark 14:12;1 Corinthians 5:7). But the name stuck in our Christian vocabulary.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words also explains on the name Easter:“Pascha… mistranslated ‘Easter’ inActs 12:4,KJV, denotes the Passover … 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 … From this Pasch the pagan festival of ‘Easter’ was quite distinct and was introduced into the apostate Western religion, as part of the attempt to adopt pagan festivals to Christianity” (1985, p. 192, “Easter”).

Who was this Astarte or Easter? Let our authoritative Bible scholars and other reference works tell us about the name and its adaptation.

Nelson’s Bible commentary noted of the name “Easter”: “Easter was originally a pagan festival honoring Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of light and spring. At the time of the vernal equinox (the day in the spring when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length), sacrifices were offered in her honor. As early as the eighth century, the word was used to designate the annual Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ.” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary,“Easter,” p. 373).

Explained by the editors of Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “The ancient Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar symbolized Mother Earth in the natural cycles of fertility on earth. Ishtar was the daughter of Sin, the moon god. She is the goddess of love, so the practice of ritual prostitution became widespread in the fertility cult dedicated to her name. 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 similarities also exist between Ishtar and the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, and the Roman Venus.

“Associated with Ishtar was the young god Tammuz (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 New Illustrated Bible Dictionary,“Gods, Pagan,” p. 509).

Come to think of it, a prostituting Babylonian and Assyrian fertility goddess named Ishtar, from which derives the names Astarteand Ashtoreth and very likely the Anglo-Saxon Eostre or Germanic Ostara, goddess of spring, was the real origin of the word Easter! (This is also the reason why ancient pagan worshipers face the east at sunrise, as modern worship holds sunrise services). The Bible refers to her as “Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians” (2 Kings 23:13) and, as Vine’s mentions, “the Queen of Heaven,” whose worship God condemns.

“The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. 19 Do they provoke Me to anger?” says the Lord. “Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?”

20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.”(Jeremiah 7:18–20; see alsoJeremiah 44:24-28)

On the Easter eggs and bunnies, wrote Francis Weiser, professor of philosophy at Boston College: “The origin of the Easter egg is based on the fertility lore of the Indo-European races … The Easter bunny had its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. Hare and rabbit were the most fertile animals our fore-fathers knew, serving as symbols of abundant new life in the spring season” (Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs,1958,pp. 233, 236).

As observed further by Nelson, “In time an elaborate system of beliefs in such natural forces was developed into mythology. Each civilization and culture had its own mythological structure, but the structures were often quite similar. The names of the gods may have been different, but their functions and actions were often the same. The most prominent myth to cross cultural lines was that of the fertility cycle. Many pagan cultures believed that the god of fertility died each year during the winter but was reborn each year in the spring. The details differed among cultures, but the main idea was the same” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary,1995, “Gods, Pagan,” p. 508).

How do we keep up for this? It’s been clearly established that the roots of the Easter celebration dates back long before Jesus Christ’s life, death and His resurrection! As a matter of fact, the Prophet Ezekiel made reference to such a practice occurring during his time—more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus (Ezekiel 8:16). In addition, Ezekiel was emphatic in telling the Israelites that God does not approve of these practices:

And He said to me, “Turn again, and you will see greater abominations that they are doing.” 14 So He brought me to the door of the north gate of the Lord’s house; and to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.

15 Then He said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Turn again, you will see greater abominations than these.” 16 So He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house; and there, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, and they were worshiping the sun toward the east.

17 And He said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a trivial thing to the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence; then they have returned to provoke Me to anger. Indeed they put the branch to their nose. 18 Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.” –Ezekiel 8:15-18

This was the reason why the New Testament does not mention of any “Easter” observance among believers. Early Christians with their Jewish roots had known and kept a different celebration, and it’s called the Passover. Passover was instituted by God Himself centuries earlier at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12:13-14;Leviticus 23:5). Jesus Christ personally kept this festival (Matthew 26:17-18) and gave it a clearer meaning and fulfillment (Matthew 26:26-29). He is the Lamb of God, offered as the true Passover sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 1:29).

The Encyclopedia Britannica offered: “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, though in a new spirit, as commemoration of events which those festivals had foreshadowed” (11th edition, “Easter”).

As the apostle Paul enjoined everyone,

“For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

So as Christian believers we are called to act on and follow the truth “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Not on a mere man-made traditions (Mark 7:13), and worst still borrowed from ancient cultic practices, long condemned in the Bible! And so, even after Christ’s death, the Passover was still being kept by the early Christians.

Again, God warns us in no uncertain terms about adopting any of the heathen practices:

“Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.

32 “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).

The Easter traditions the world celebrates were undeniably based on ancient pagan customs and rituals. These practices and traditions of Easter were incorporated into modern religious worship and labeled as Christian today!

Now that you know the pagan origin of the Easter celebration, isn’t it about time to sincerely and honestly seek God and come clean to Him even as we are admonished to “come out” from among these things?

“Therefore ‘Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.’
‘I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.’” (2 Corinthians 6:17–18).

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