Bible Basics

Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?

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On Easter Sunday hundreds of millions of Christians all over the world observe what is arguably the most holy day in the Christian calendar. Easter is perhaps the most important of all the Christian festivals. If you fail to observe Easter then you would not be considered Christian. Jesus was crucified around the same time of year, in early spring wasn’t he? Did he not rise from the dead on Easter morning?

Around this time each year, many churches are preparing special Easter services; mothers are painting eggs and hiding them for their children to find; chocolate bunnies are being devoured with glee. On Easter Sunday, Christians everywhere, put on their most impressive Sunday clothes, and head off to their places of worship. Millions rise before dawn for special sunrise services. Surely Easter is the central to the faith of all Christians.

But many Christians do not observe Easter. These Christians are still as convinced as those that celebrate Easter that Jesus died and rose again and that through his sacrifice we may have hope of resurrection and eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

In a survey of students at Kansas University, USA, 67% claimed to be of Christian faith. When the students were asked what they first thought of when Easter was mentioned, what do you think they answered?

The leading answer was Easter eggs at 26%, followed by Easter bunny at 16%,

14 %    Church

11 %    Christ

11 %    Resurrection

5 %      Sweets

5 %      Family

12 %    Other- nothing profound…

If you count Church, Christ and Resurrection together, that adds up to 36%, whereas Easter eggs and Easter bunnies together add up to 42%. Remember 67% of these claimed to be Christian, and only slightly more than a third connected their first thoughts about Easter with Christianity. It is true that this survey samples the younger age group but this trend doesn’t bode well for the future of Easter.

Even 50 years ago… Easter was a much more spiritual affair. Sure, they still had Easter eggs, and bunnies, but the true Christian meaning of Easter remained firm in the foreground. Nowadays, I think you’ll agree, Easter has become much more commercial. Shops always used to close over the Easter holiday and now they exploit the name of Easter to increase trade. Families would get together, Jesus would be the focus, but now Jesus is slowly fading into the background. In the average home, Easter is a time for chocolate, sweets, an extra couple of days off work and time to find a bargain in the Easter sales.

But in the 1st century, there were no Christians celebrating Easter at all.

It wasn’t for perhaps a century after the resurrection of Christ that Christians began to observe the resurrection of Christ in the festival of Easter. The word ‘Easter’ is not to be found in the Bible except for one gross mistranslation in Act 12:4 in the King James Version. One commentator writes, “There never was a more absurd or unhappy translation than this.”

The word here is pascha and it is used twenty nine times in the New Testament. Twenty eight of those times pascha is translated Passover. There is no way you can translate pascha as Easter unless it is done deliberately in an attempt to distort the Word of God.

Instead of endorsing Easter, this verse really proves that the Church was still observing the supposedly Jewish Passover ten years after the death of Christ! The Passover was established at the time when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, back in book of Exodus… way before the time of Jesus.

There is no other hint of the Bible instructing us to honour the resurrection of Jesus at sunrise on Easter Sunday, or any other time. The apostles who continued the work of Jesus, from the creation of the New Testament church till near the end of the 1st century, when the apostle John died, left absolutely no record of keeping Easter or teaching others to do so. Not one of the apostles gave even the slightest hint of keeping or promoting the observance of what we know today as Easter Sunday.


So, if Easter wasn’t sanctioned by Jesus or established by his apostles, then where did Easter come from?

You might be surprised to learn that Easter takes its name from Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love and fertility. The Phoenicians knew her as Astarte, the wife of Baal, a god worshipped in much of the Middle East and Mediterranean. Some of the ancient Hebrews also worshipped Baal.
Astarte spread through Europe, becoming known as Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, fertility, and the rising sun. The Old English word for Easter, “Eastre” refers to Ostara.

After the death of the 1st century apostles, the church of the day gave in to the pressures of the pagan society in which they lived. To avoid persecution and to increase their political status they typically chose to adapt to the festivals of the day. As Christianity grew and spread throughout the world it was common to adopt, modify or simply take over existing festivals of the day and incorporate them into the Christian faith.

The origins of Easter were no different and Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe realised that the time of the crucifixion of Jesus roughly coincided with the springtime celebrations of the goddess Eostre (which emphasized the triumph of life over death). Her festival (probably including the worship service at sunrise) was combined with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection when the Anglo-Saxons and Germans were converted to Christianity. Easter gradually absorbed many of the traditional symbols we see today and after a long-standing dispute in the church concerning when Easter should fall, it was decided in AD 325 by the church council of Nicaea decided that it should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox of March 21.

What of all these symbols anyway? There are so many different symbols of Easter. Many having pagan origins, few directly relating to Christ.

Eggs, bunnies, chicks, bells, lilies, sunrise, hot cross buns….

You will quickly notice an absence of any link or reference to the Bible when it comes to many of these symbols, although many are indeed convenient for tying in with the resurrection of Christ:

Don’t worry though. These may be pagan symbols, but that is all they are. Easter eggs – they are just lumps of chocolate and have no association with Jesus or his resurrection. There is nothing wrong with these items, the eggs, the bunnies, the sweets and all the others in themselves… until we try to use them to symbolise Christ in someway that is.

Going back to the origins of Easter, the goddess Astarte is probably the same Ashtoreth we find in the Old Testament and also known as ‘queen of heaven’, who led to the downfall of Solomon.

I Kings 11:4-6

1Ki 11:4  For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

1Ki 11:5  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.

1Ki 11:6  So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.

In the Ten Commandments which one is first? The first Commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”. In Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus Christ was asked which is the great commandment in the law, He said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment”.

Let’s see what God had to say to Solomon for going after Ashtoreth.

I Kings 11:11-14

1Ki 11:11  Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.

1Ki 11:12  Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

1Ki 11:13  However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.”

1Ki 11:14  And the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite. He was of the royal house inEdom.

In Jeremiah 7:17-20 you can read what God thinks of people worshiping the “queen of heaven.” In verse 20 God said that His anger and fury shall be poured out upon man, beast, trees of the field and the fruit of the ground. God goes on to say in verse 20 that “it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.”

All this for worshiping Ashtoreth! What God is telling us here is that people who know that Easter is a pagan festival are not going to receive His blessings if they take part in it. And what about going to an Easter sunrise service? In Ezekiel 8:15-18 we are told that God thinks that is an abomination. Worshipping the sun is a form of idolatry.

Eze 8:15  Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.

Eze 8:16  And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.

Eze 8:17  Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose.

Eze 8:18  Therefore I will act in wrath. 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.”

However, this doesn’t mean the early Church did not hold to specific religious observances. The apostle Paul, some 25 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, spoke plainly to members of the church atCorinth that they should continue to keep the Passover as Christ commanded. Paul wrote: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Paul was concerned that the Church members in Corinth observe the Passover in the right way, with reverence and proper comprehension of its meaning.

What was the Passover?

The first Passover took place when the children of Israel were still held captive in the land of Egypt. God’s instructions were to take a male lamb without blemish and to kill it. The children of Israel were to take the blood from this lamb and put it on the two side posts and the upper door post of the house where they were going to eat the lamb. The Egyptians would not let the children of Israel go, so that night God would hit the Egyptians with the tenth and last plague. The tenth plague was that God would kill all the first born of man and cattle in the land of Egypt. The reason for the blood on the door posts was that when Lord saw it, He would “passover” that house and not kill the first born. You can read about the first Passover in Exodus 12:1-28

Bible scholars freely admit that Jesus never sanctioned the Christian holiday of Easter, nor did His apostles. Not until Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 (almost three centuries after Jesus was killed and rose again) did Easter replace the Passover – the biblical ceremony Jesus and the apostle Paul told Christians to observe.

What Passover is today?

Passover for Christians today is different than it was in Old Testament times. The fact that God told the children of Israel to use a male lamb without blemish might lead to think about what we are told in the Gospel of John.

John 1:29

Joh 1:29  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus was the only person to ever walk this earth in the flesh and not sin. Everyone else will sin at some point in their life. It was God’s plan all along that Christ should shed his blood on the cross as the perfect sacrificial lamb for the forgiveness of sins.

I Corinthians 5:7

1Co 5:7  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Jesus has become our Passover Lamb. In the Old Testament, the shedding of animal blood was needed for the forgiveness of sins but Christ has fulfilled that part of the law by shedding His blood on the cross. We only need believe in Him and repent of our sins and be baptised to share in the hope that his perfect life has given us.

Now that you know that Jesus Christ has become our Passover, you can perhaps begin to understand how God might feel when we celebrate the holiday of Easter instead of Passover. The original Passover was the time to remember what God did for the children of Israel when they were still captive in the landof Egypt. The new Passover is the time to remember the price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross. By celebrating Easter as we do we have taken away the meaning of Passover.

The pagan Easter, along with the symbols such as the Easter rabbit, and Easter eggs have nothing to do with Passover. However, I can see that if you have celebrated Easter for many years, and your fathers did so before you, and their fathers did before that, it would be very difficult to break with what you see as Christian tradition. As far as most Christians are concerned, Easter has always been there and so it must be right. In answer to this we perhaps need to think what Jesus would have done. Would Jesus have kept Easter?

There is no doubt that he could have told us to do so. He might have said, ‘on the 14th day after the first full moon after spring I would like you to celebrate my resurrection by doing this and doing that’. So could the apostles. But there was nothing like this. Nowhere in the Bible is there any hint or suggestion that we should be keeping a festival called Easter or anything resembling it. What we do find however is clear instruction in the Bible from Jesus and Paul, to keep the Passover as prescribed to us. Scripture does not support the celebration of this Christian holiday called Easter and we should try to match our beliefs as closely as possible to those that Jesus taught and the 1st century teachings of the apostles. Because, it is not there, because there is no talk of it in scripture, it is not something that we should readily adpot into our beliefs.

The Bible in fact does not support such festivals but rather condemns such celebrations. The Bible condemns pagan practises and the worship of false Gods, as we read in Deut 12:29-32.

Deu 12:29  “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land,

Deu 12:30  take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?–that I also may do the same.’

Deu 12:31  You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

Deu 12:32  “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

This is so clear. God was telling the Israelites that they were not to look at the gods of the nations they conquered and not to look at the ways they served their gods. God explicitly told them not to worship Him using the practices that other nations used to worship their gods and not to add or take away from the observances that he had commanded. This is exactly what we have done to Easter, and for example when we watch the Easter sunrise this is what the pagans did to worship their goddess Eostre. As followers of Christ we are a spiritual Israel and as such we should heed to these principles.

Jesus is also opposed to religious rituals that supposedly honour him, but are actually rooted in the worship of false gods. Jesus makes the clear difference between pleasing God and men. Mark 7: 6- 9

Mar 7:6  And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

Mar 7:7  in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

Mar 7:8  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Mar 7:9  And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

Easter is a tradition of men, not a commandment of God. But it’s more than that. It is a pagan tradition of men that, like other traditions involved in the worship of false gods, is offensive to the true God. Jesus and His apostles would never sanction its observance because it mixes paganism with supposedly Christian symbolism and ritual. It is rooted in ancient pre-Christian fertility rites that have nothing to do with Jesus.

So, if Jesus walked along the roads of Galilee today, would He keep Easter? Certainly not.
Anyone who wants to be at peace with God, anyone who wants to be a true disciple of Christ, will carefully examine his beliefs and practices to see whether they agree with the Bible and not go along with the crowd just because everyone else is doing it. Such a person will not try to honour God with ancient idolatrous practices. Easter, as we have seen, is filled with all sorts of pitfalls. Simply claiming that something is Christian or is done to honour God doesn’t make it acceptable to God.

You might be wondering if there is a better way for Christians to celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection, undoubtedly one of the most pivotal days in biblical history. In hindsight, it seems obvious that it would have been a better if Christians had not attempted to “Christianise” pagan celebrations and adopting the goddess name “Easter” in remembrance of Christ – indeed some Christians have tried to distance themselves from the name by calling it Pascha instead rather than after a false god.

Jesus has been obscured by painted eggs and little fluffy bunnies. Attention has been shifted away from spiritual truth and toward materialism. Shops sell products in the name of Easter and sell goods that have nothing to do with Christ’s death and resurrection. Many Christians naively use symbols and practices that stem from ancient anti-Christian traditions.

Easter doesn’t represent a resurrected Jesus Christ, it merely continues the practices pagans followed thousands of years ago to honour their non-existent gods.

But we have already seen that there is a better, correct way… we don’t need Easter at all! By reading the Bible and following the commandments of Christ, we already know exactly how to honour Christ and acknowledge his resurrection – and the answer isn’t Easter. We have the Passover feast, given a clearer meaning to us by Jesus, through the eating of the bread and the drinking of wine in remembrance of him – something as Christians we should do every week of the year at his command.

Hundreds of millions of Christians keep the pagan feast known as Easter, believing themselves to be honouring Jesus Christ! Most are in complete ignorance of what they are doing. But can Easter be kept “in honour of Christ”? Some may say, “Okay, I know Easter comes from paganism—but I’m not pagan! I celebrate it in honour of Christ. I focus on Him.” But, because God knew that Israel would feel this way when they encountered the religious customs of pagan nations, and would try to use false customs to honour the true God, He gave the instruction that we have already looked at in Deuteronomy 12:28-32. God always commanded that people worship Him exactly as He instructed! And Christ did likewise.

So, to summarise, we can see that the Easter we celebrate is not as God intended. The Passover, which embraces Christ the Paschal Lamb, continued to be celebrated after his ascension… but within a few centuries it became the Christian Easter which we know today.

The motivating force behind the changeover from Passover to Easter was a fierce determination to distance Christianity from Judaism. The Bible establishes the date of Passover as the 14th of Nisan (the first month of the Hebrew calendar).

The biblical name “Passover” or “pascha” was changed to “Easter,” a name derived from the Germanic goddess of Spring. Searching for and removing leaven from homes stopped, and Easter egg hunts began. The evening Passover service gave way to an Easter sunrise service.

I think that the history of this transformation should be taught in all churches, so that each Christian can make an informed decision about how they celebrate the resurrection of Christ, rather than being kept in the dark about the true nature of what they are celebrating.

Over the centuries Easter has become enshrined as an almost universally observed Christian tradition. Time has also softened the anti-Jewish attitudes that triggered the massive changes from Passover to Easter. The replacement of biblical commands with customs from other religions or paganism is rarely questioned today.

However, we would be wise to reconsider the biblical instructions regarding Passover and other Holy Days God established. Paul tell us that these festivals offer “a shadow of things to come” in God’s plan of redemption (Colossians 2:16 -17). Jesus, as we have read, warned that it is possible to worship God in vain by following humanly devised traditions rather than the true forms of worship described in the Bible (Matthew 15:9; Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

Consider this. What will you do when, facing Christ, you plead your case for admission to the Kingdom? You may say, “Didn’t I religiously worship you every Easter from childhood? Didn’t I dress up in my smartest clothes and paint eggs and for years worship you at our annual Easter sunrise service? Didn’t I give up chocolate for Lent? And didn’t I teach my children that the Saviour was to be worshipped through the Easter bunny?”

His reply may well be: “In vain did you worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men” (Matthew 15:9). Simply because you call Jesus “Lord” is not enough. You must “do the will of my Father which is in heaven”. Otherwise Jesus Christ may say to you in that day: “I never knew you; depart from me you that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-27). To go through life thinking you were truthfully serving God and then to at last find out He hadn’t noticed you is a troubling thought.

I’m sorry if this has come as a bit of a shock to you, or you have read things you weren’t expecting, but you can’t deny the truth of the Bible. Don’t let me stop you enjoying your Easter eggs. I will enjoy mine, for the reason that they are chocolate and not because they are an ancient pagan symbol adopted by Christians to represent the new life of Christ.

If you want to celebrate Easter, then that is your own free choice, but I have tried to give you a true account of Easter so you can make your own decisions. God has put in place all the ceremonies and commands that he wishes us to observe. It is all written in the Bible for us to read for ourselves. The Bible tells us how to remember the death and resurrection of Christ:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

One thought on “Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?

  • Marlene Thompson

    Thank you. I was looking for clarification about the pagan celebration of easter.


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