What Does Easter Mean to God?
EASTER—the “queen of festivals!” festum festorum!—is said to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. But what did Jesus have to say about commemorating his resurrection? Did the apostles command us to celebrate it? Is the celebration of Easter a God-given command or a man-made tradition? You can easily find answers to these questions by examining two sources of information—history and the Bible.
First, what does history have to say? Writing in the fifth century C.E., historian Socrates Scholasticus stated in his Ecclesiastical History: “It seems to me that the feast of Easter has been introduced into the church from some old usage, just as many other customs have been established.”
The book Curiosities of Popular Customs explains that it was the policy of the “Church to give a Christian significance to such of the extant pagan ceremonies as could not be rooted out. In the case of Easter the conversion was peculiarly easy. Joy at the rising of the natural sun, and at the awakening of nature from the death of winter, became joy at the rising of the Sun of righteousness, at the resurrection of Christ from the grave. Some of the pagan observances which took place about the 1st of May were also shifted to correspond with the celebration of Easter. Many new features were added.”
In his book Celebrations, Robert J. Myers agrees, stating that “many of the pagan rebirth rites, celebrated at the vernal equinox, became part of the feast.” These statements are supported by The New Encyclopædia Britannica, which says: “As at Christmas, so also 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.”
Of Pagan Origin?
Evidently, then, Easter as it is celebrated today is saturated with pagan rites and customs. This is not to say, however, that the celebration of Easter has no relationship to some Biblical events.
For instance, Easter has been referred to as the successor to the Jewish Passover, a Biblical event. The book Curiosities of Popular Customs tells us that “in the early Church Easter was identical in date with the Passover, as in fact the two festivals are identical in their root.” It is not surprising then, that in a number of languages, such as French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and others, the word for Easter and the word for Passover are identical or similar.
However, early Christians did not hold an annual feast to celebrate a Christianized version of the Jewish Passover. The Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions states regarding Easter: “The primitive observance was actually the anniversary (14 Nisan, according to the Jewish lunar calendar) of Jesus’ crucifixion.”
The Bible tells us that on the evening before his death, Jesus met with his disciples in a large room to observe the Jewish Passover. (Mark 14:12-16) It was after this, his last Passover, that Jesus instituted what is known as the Lord’s Evening Meal. Then he commanded his disciples: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Luke 22:19.
This Lord’s Evening Meal, which was to be celebrated once a year, was in commemoration of Jesus’ death. The apostle Paul said regarding this anniversary: “As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 11:25, 26.
Adulterating Bible Teaching
In obedience to this Scriptural mandate, true Christians held this observance every year on the 14th of Nisan. However, in time, people also began to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The New Encyclopædia Britannica explains that the “earliest Christians celebrated the Lord’s Passover at the same time as the Jews, during the night of the first (paschal) full Moon of the first month of spring (Nisan 14-15). By the middle of the 2nd century, most churches had transferred this celebration to the Sunday after the Jewish feast.”
The book Seasonal Feasts and Festivals says: “It was apparently not until towards the end of the fourth century in Jerusalem that Good Friday and Easter Day were kept as separate commemorations.”
Some scholars believe that because of the growing enmity between professed Christians and the Jews, some leaders of Christendom did not want their most important holiday to correspond exactly in date with the most important Jewish holiday. This attitude led to a change. In time most of Christendom began to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the spring equinox and made this its most important religious celebration. In effect they downgraded to a lower position the celebration of Jesus’ death.
According to these sources, then, Christendom’s Easter actually usurps the original anniversary of Jesus’ death.
The Bible Speaks
What does the Bible have to say about Easter? Of course, the Scriptures give ample testimony to the fact that Jesus was resurrected. The resurrection of Christ is a basic doctrine of true Christianity. The apostle Paul clearly believed this. He said: “If Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain. Further, if Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless; you are yet in your sins.”—1 Corinthians 15:14, 17.
Nonetheless, nowhere does the Bible even hint at an annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The historian Socrates Scholasticus admitted: “The Saviour and his apostles have enjoined us by no law to keep this feast: nor in the New Testament are we threatened with any penalty, punishment, or curse for the neglect of it.” More recently The Christian Century magazine stated in an article on Easter: ‘Early Christians began celebrating the resurrection in the second century.’ Hence, Easter was introduced well after the death of all the apostles and after the Bible was completed. It is no secret that the tradition of Easter is man-made rather than God-given.
However, some may ask: ‘What is wrong with remembering Jesus’ resurrection?’ True, the Bible does not require that Christians celebrate Easter. But is there anything in the Bible that prohibits it?
Clean and Undefiled Worship
Admittedly, there is no specific prohibition in the Bible regarding the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. However, the Bible does warn Christians against adulterating pure worship with man-made traditions. This would apply especially to a tradition, such as Easter, that is laced with pagan customs and the ancient rites of false religions.
In the preface to his 123-page book on Easter, Alan W. Watts stated: “The full story of Easter is a most complex mixture of history and mythology—so much so that the difficult task of distinguishing between the two is far beyond the scope of a short book.” This being the case with Easter, would God accept our worship if it included such a mixture of pagan customs? No. God accepts only “the form of worship that is clean and undefiled.” And this means to “keep oneself without spot from the world,” which would include the worldly customs associated with Easter.—James 1:27.
The apostle Paul warned Christians against the introduction of man-made traditions into the congregation when he said: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.”—Colossians 2:8.
Jesus himself spoke against the Jewish traditions that twisted Scriptural truths and adulterated true worship. At Mark 7:6-8, Jesus’ words to the religious leaders of his day are recorded: “Isaiah aptly prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach as doctrines commands of men.’ Letting go the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men.”
At 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, the Bible warns us: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’”
The Anniversary of His Death
Additionally, according to Bible teaching, the arrangement for our salvation includes Jesus’ sacrifice of his perfect life, his resurrection, and his presenting the value of his sacrifice to God in heaven. All these elements are important. (Hebrews 7:25; 9:11-14) Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate the anniversary of his death. It is the only event Scripturally commanded to be memorialized by Christians.
This year millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses will meet after sunset, April 17 (Nisan 14), 1992, to commemorate Jesus’ death. The celebration will include a discourse explaining the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death. It will help you appreciate the extent of Jehovah God’s love for humankind in offering his only-begotten Son so that you can enjoy the prospect of everlasting life. Meet with us on the most important day of 1992!
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Pagan observances were shifted to correspond with the celebration of Easter
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Nowhere does the Bible even hint at an annual observance or celebration of Jesus’ resurrection
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What Is the Origin of the Word “Easter”?
▪ “The name, which is in use only among the English- and German-speaking peoples, is derived, in all probability, from that of a goddess of the heathen Saxons, Ostara, Osterr, or Eastre. She was the personification of the East, of the morning, of the spring.”—Curiosities of Popular Customs, by William S. Walsh.
▪ “We are told by an ancient English chronicler, the Venerable Bede, that the word ‘Easter’ was originally the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn, known as Eostre or Ostara, whose principal festival was kept at the vernal equinox. We only have Bede’s word for it, for no record of such a goddess is to be found elsewhere, but it is unlikely that Bede, as a devout Christian, would have gone out of his way to invent a pagan origin for Easter. But whether or not there was ever such a goddess, it seems most likely that some historical connection must exist between the words ‘Easter’ and ‘East’, where the sun rises.”—Easter—Its Story and Meaning, by Alan W. Watts.
▪ “The origin of the term for the feast of Christ’s Resurrection has been popularly considered to be from the Anglo-Saxon Eastre, a goddess of spring. However, recent studies by Knobloch . . . present another explanation.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
▪ “The English name Easter, like the German Ostern, probably derives from Eostur, the Norse word for the spring season, and not from Eostre, the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess.”—The Encyclopedia of Religion.
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Danish påske påske
Dutch Pasen joods paasfeest
Finnish pääsiäinen pääsiäinen (juutalaisten)
French Pâques La Pâque
German Ostern Passah
Greek Paskha Paskha
Italian Pasqua Pasqua ebraica
Spanish Pascuaflorida Pascua
Swahili Pasaka Pasaka
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Ancient rites of pagan origin were given a Christian significance and were added to the Easter festivities
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Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal with his disciples