Is Easter Biblical?


Easter is looked on by the Christian World as the most holy celebration of the year.  
However there are those who question the Easter tradition and hold that it is not Biblical.

If we are seeking to live by every word of God and are trying to make the Bible the 
guide by which we conduct our life we need to look into the conflicting claims about 
Easter and determine what is God's answer to the question.


What can we know about Easter, its history and origins?

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition) says in the article Easter:

"The name Easter, like the names of the days of the week, is a survival from the old Teutonic mythology.  According to Bede [an eight century monk] it is derived from Eostre, or Ostdra, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eoster-monath, was dedicated."

Later studies indicate the word may be derived from an ancient festival celebrated in the spring in honor of the rising sun.

Many of the customs associated with Easter harken back to ancient and non-Christian religious practices.  The Encylopaedia Britannica says, regarding the egg:

"The egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who had also the custom of colouring and eating eggs during their spring festival." (article Easter).

Jesuit author Francis X. Weiser in "The Easter Book", pages 15, 181 and 188, says:

"Just as many Christian customs and similar observance had their origin in pre-Christian times, so, too some of the popular traditions of.... Easter dates back to ancient nature rites...  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 forefathers knew, serving as symbols of ... new life in the spring season".

So we see that Easter, its celebrations and traditions long predates Christianity, but few ever stop to ask, just what does all this have to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

History shows that Easter was not a tradition of the Apostles and the early Church.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica further states about the holiday in its article entitled Easter:

"There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers.  The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians, who continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed.  Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it of Christ, as the true Paschal Lamb and the firstfruits from the dead, continued to be observed, and became the Christian Easter."

The Change From Passover to Easter

How did this change from Passover to Easter come about, and by whose authority was it made?  Do we find any instruction in the Bible to celebrate Christ's resurrection?

We do find Easter mentioned in the Bible in Acts 12:4, but only in the King James version.  The New King James and almost all other versions correctly translate the word as Passover.  However even in the King James there is no indication in this passage of the celebration of an Easter Festival in commemoration of Christ's resurrection.

Looking again to history we can find much about the change of Passover to Easter.  By the second century there began to be many changes in the Christian Church.  Writer J.L. Hurlbut in his book The Story of the Christian Church, (page 41), says that at that time,

"...we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul".

It was in the second century that the emphasis began to change from the commemoration of Christ's death at the Passover to celebration of His resurrection at the same time.  Eusebius, a church historian who wrote in the fourth-century, says:

"There was a considerable discussion raised about this time, in consequence of a difference of opinion respecting the observance of the paschal [Passover] season.  The churches of all Asia, guided by a remoter tradition, supposed that they ought to keep the fourteenth day of the moon for the festival of the Saviour's Passover, in the which day the Jews were commanded to kill the paschal lamb... it was not the custom to celebrate it this manner in the churches throughout the rest of the world... Hence there were synod and convocations of the bishops on this question; and all unanimously... communicated to all the churches in all places that the mystery of our Lord's resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than [Sunday]" (Ecclestical History, book 5, chapter 23).

Easter Established

By the fourth century the controversy had reached the point that the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to step in and bring it to an end.  Constantine decided to intervene, not for religious reasons, but for political reasons. He saw Christianity as a means of securing unity in his empire but first he must insure unity in the Christian church.

In A.D. 325 Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea.  The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology in the article "Easter" has this to say concerning the Council of Nicaea:

" ...despite the efforts in Asia Minor to maintain the Jewish Passover date of 14 Nisan for Easter (hence the name Quartodecimans), the Council of Nicaea adopted the annual Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21)".

So we see Easter adopted by the professing Christian Church not on the authority of God, but rather by the authority of men.

Now Christianity had adopted Easter as its official dogma and with Constantine's patronage and protection the Church began to grow.  All manner of people began to convert to Christianity.  J.L. Hurlbut in his Story of the Christian Church, page 79 writes concerning that period:

"Everybody sought membership in the Church and nearly everybody was received.  Both good and bad, seekers after God and hypocritical seekers after gain, rushed into communion... The services of worship increased in splendor, but were less spiritual and hearty than those of former times and replaced the nighttime Passover service that was a commemoration of Christ' death.  Not only had the date and time been changed but the whole meaning of the festival was changed. "

Does it make a Difference?

Humanly, it seems that it would be a wonderful and reasonable thing to celebrate Christ's resurrection.  Because it does seem that it must be the right thing to do.  Many, over the years from the second century onward, have embraced Easter as a way to worship Jesus Christ.

But what does God say in His word?  Does it make a difference?  Nowhere in the Bible is there any commandment that we should commemorate Christ's resurrection.  But there are very specific commands that we should keep the New Testament Passover not with the sacrifice of a lamb as the Israelites did, but with the unleavened bread and wine that Christ presented to His disciples at the Last Supper.  These were symbols of Christ's sacrifice for us, as the perfect Passover Lamb.  If we are Christians shouldn't our goal be to order our life according to the standards God sets in His Word?

The dilemma we face with Easter is that it follows the traditions of men and not the clear commands of God. So we are placed in the position of having to decide if we will do what seems humanly right and follow the traditions of men, or if we will follow the clear commands of Christ and the example of the Apostles and live according to ever word that proceeds out of the mouth of God and not according to the traditions of men?

Christ Himself addressed this dilemma and said it was possible to worship him in vain by following tradition: "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honourth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15: 8-9, KJV unless noted), and He also said that it was not enough to call Him Lord, we must also do what He commands: "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the thing which I say." (Luke 6: 46). Are we going to be found guilty of worshipping God in vain, following men's traditions rather than obeying God's commands?  It does make a difference to God.  Are we willing to follow and obey Him even though it may mean going against the traditions that all those around us are following?

 

Written by: Fred Mobley