Is Easter Pagan or Christian?
by Arthur Daniels Jr.
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It almost never fails. Every time a major Christian holiday rolls around, like Christmas or Easter, there are those who want to tell us that these are “pagan” holidays and should not be celebrated.
Around this time, Christians celebrate what we now call “Easter.” It commemorates the death, burial and, more specifically, the resurrection of Jesus as recorded in the four historical and theological writings known as the Gospels. The word “Easter” may be pagan in origin, but this is as unclear as how it became associated with the Gospel tradition.
The Internet is practically littered with websites trying to argue the "pagan origins" of the word "Easter," but few of them ever give you the full story. The bare fact of the matter is, the word "Easter" may or may not be pagan in origin, as explained by this quote from the World Book Online:
"The word Easter MAY HAVE come from an early English word, Eastre. Some scholars say Eastre was the name of a pagan goddess of spring, the name of a spring festival, or the name of the season itself. Other scholars believe the word Easter comes from the early German word eostarun, WHICH MEANS DAWN. This word may be an incorrect translation of the Latin word albae, meaning both dawn and white. Easter was considered a day of 'white' because newly baptized church members wore white clothes at Easter observances." (emphasis added)
We know that Jesus arose on Sunday morning around "dawn." We know Jesus is called the "bright and morning star"(Rev. 22:16). We know that "star" in Greek is "aster" (notice how we can get "Easter" by simply adding an "E" to the Greek for "star"). So does it make more sense that the early Church believers blindly adopted a "pagan" fertility goddess name for the resurrection of Jesus, or that they found (or made) a word that signifies that Jesus is the "sun of righteousness" arising at "dawn," the Morning Star (Malachi 4:2)?
So what we can positively say is that there is a dispute in scholarship about the origin of the word "Easter" which does not allow anyone to honestly argue that it is clearly or conclusively a "pagan" name. And since there is good Scriptural reason to believe that "Easter" may in fact refer to a specific aspect of the resurrection of Jesus that the early believers had focused on, there is no good reason to accept dogmatic assertions about "Easter" being pagan when the complete facts say otherwise.
History records that the early Christians celebrated the death of Jesus, known as communion, but also that they began to celebrate His resurrection. But there was a theological and historical problem.
The old Jewish system celebrated Passover, which commemorated how God delivered Moses and the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. In the last plague on the Egyptians, God’s “death angel” would “pass over” the homes displaying the blood of the lamb placed over the entrance to the doors as God had instructed. This was celebrated according to the Jewish calendar on the 14th of Nisan (March-April).
However, in the New Testament system, Jesus was the true and enduring “Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Jewish Christians were caught in a dilemma since Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection coincided with the old Jewish Passover. Which one should be observed and at what time?
Some Christians celebrated Easter when the Jews celebrated Passover. These Christians were called “Quartodecimans.” Others preferred the Roman and Alexandrian practice of celebrating it on the first Sunday after the 14th of Nisan after the full moon of the spring equinox. This historical and theological dilemma probably best explains why the King James Version translators decided to use “Easter” in Acts 12:4, which is an inaccurate translation of the original Greek word “pascha,” best translated as “Passover.”
To remedy this dilemma, the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) decided on a more fixed and universal way of celebrating Easter to promote unity in the Empire. Here no “pagan” symbols were instituted. There were no “Easter eggs” or “Easter Rabbits.” Such things were added and commercialized much later.
It may be true that some pagan religious rights involved colored eggs and bunny rabbits, but this does not prove that today’s Easter celebration is pagan in origin, or that Christians today who celebrate Easter are engaging in some form of pagan worship.
For example, it is a fact that just about every day of the week is named after some pagan deity. But does this prove we would be worshipping a pagan god by using names like “Thursday” (named after the Norse god Thor)? Would a Christian pastor who started a special annual Thursday "Worship the Lord" service be guilty of pagan god worship?
Logically speaking, even if everything the "Easter-bashers" on various websites say is true (which is not the case), it would not prove that when Christians celebrate Easter they are wrong for doing so. In logic this is called the "genetic fallacy," assuming that the pagan origin (or usage) of something in the past proves paganism in the present. Not so. The "Easter-bashers" could use a good course in logical and critical thinking. Only if you could prove that they were truly worshipping a false god on Easter could you prove true pagan worship. But we know that is not the case, and it seems most "Easter/Christmas" bashers pay little attention to this fact.
True, eggs and rabbits have little or nothing to do with the real meaning of Easter. But it is also true that God created both the reproductive ability to produce eggs and the bunny rabbit. Therefore, in and of themselves they cannot be “pagan.”
So there is no good reason to get all bent out of shape about alleged "pagan" symbols around Easter time. The God of the resurrection is also the God of eggs and bunny rabbits. God is the Author of them all. This means we can indeed celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday with a clear conscience and joyous heart, knowing that what others mistakenly call "pagan" is really a joyous celebration of what Jesus did for us so long ago. We will pray that one day the "Easter-bashers" will learn from their mistakes and join us in celebrating the Lord because at the end of the day, Easter at its heart is thoroughly Christian, not pagan.
Any comments or questions regarding this article should be directed to my website: www.GospelAnswers1.com and the "feedback" link. I cannot reply to messages sent through Faithwriters at this time.
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Yes, quite insightful. It is sad to see this day attacked over issues which are obviously petty when compared to the celebration of Christ's Resurrection. We need to get this right for the sake of our children, and grandchildren.
Very well done. Regardless of efforts of some to connect Easter with paganism, Easter is my celebration of my Savior coming out of the grave after giving His life on the cross. My celebration of Easter has nothing to do with paganism, but everything to do with eternal life. Thank you for sharing this with us. Thomas
Good treatment of a sometimes sensitive issue. We need to stand for the freedom that His Spirit brings; but also need to acknowledge our Jewish roots. If you've never been to a Messianic Passover, try to attend one. The truth of Messiah's resurrection is right there in the symbolism!