Easter: Masking a Biblical Truth

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Easter

Masking a Biblical Truth

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As with Christmas, we find that the popular customs associated with the Easter celebration—rabbits, Easter-egg hunts and sunrise services—have nothing to do with the biblical record of Christ’s life, in this case His rising from the dead.

Where, then, did these practices originate?

The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us, “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” (15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 605, “Church Year”).

The word Easter appears once in the King James Version of the Bible, in Acts 12:4 Acts 12:4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
American King James Version×
, where it is a mistranslation. Reputable scholars and reference works point out that the word Easter in this verse comes from the Greek word pascha, meaning Passover. Modern translations correctly translate this word this word “Passover”—as even the King James Version does in other verses (see Matthew 26:2-19 Matthew 26:2-19 2 You know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. 3 Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, to the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him. 5 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. 6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7 There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. 8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 When Jesus understood it, he said to them, Why trouble you the woman? for she has worked a good work on me. 11 For you have the poor always with you; but me you have not always. 12 For in that she has poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13 Truly I say to you, Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman has done, be told for a memorial of her. 14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, 15 And said to them, What will you give me, and I will deliver him to you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him. 17 Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, Where will you that we prepare for you to eat the passover? 18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say to him, The Master said, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.
American King James Version×
; Mark 14:12 Mark 14:12And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said to him, Where will you that we go and prepare that you may eat the passover?
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
American King James Version×
).

Notice what Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says about the term Easter here: “Pascha … mistranslated ‘Easter’ in Acts 12:4 Acts 12:4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
American King James Version×
, 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 adapt pagan festivals to Christianity” (1985, p. 192, “Easter”).

Easter’s ancient history

The roots of the Easter celebration date to long before Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Various Easter customs can be traced back to ancient spring celebrations surrounding Astarte, the goddess of spring and fertility. The Bible refers to her as “Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians” (2 Kings 23:13 2 Kings 23:13And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile.
American King James Version×
) and, as Vine’s mentions, “the Queen of Heaven,” whose worship God condemned (Jeremiah 7:18 Jeremiah 7:18The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 44:24-28 Jeremiah 44:24-28 24 Moreover Jeremiah said to all the people, and to all the women, Hear the word of the LORD, all Judah that are in the land of Egypt: 25 Thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; You and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to her: you will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows. 26 Therefore hear you the word of the LORD, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, said the LORD, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord GOD lives. 27 Behold, I will watch over them for evil, and not for good: and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them. 28 Yet a small number that escape the sword shall return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah, and all the remnant of Judah, that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall know whose words shall stand, mine, or their’s.
American King James Version×
).

Francis Weiser, professor of philosophy at Boston College, provides these facts: “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). (For more information about these symbols, see “Fertility Symbols: Beneath the Dignity of God” on page 22).

Fertility rites and customs were incorporated into religious practices early in history. After Adam and Eve rejected God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), humanity looked for other explanations for life. Forces of nature and seasons that could not be controlled began to be viewed as gods, goddesses and supernatural powers to be worshipped and feared. Man soon created his own gods, contradicting God’s instruction against idolatry (Exodus 20:3-6 Exodus 20:3-6 3 You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
American King James Version×
; Deuteronomy 5:7-10 Deuteronomy 5:7-10 7 You shall have none other gods before me. 8 You shall not make you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: 9 You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, 10 And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
American King James Version×
).

“The pagan nations made statues or images to represent the powers they worshiped. Most of these idols were in the form of animals or human beings. But sometimes the idols represented celestial powers, like the sun, moon, and stars; forces of nature, like the sea and the rain; or life forces, like death and truth …

“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).

In pagan mythology the sun represented life. The sun supposedly died around the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. (As discussed earlier, the date set for Christmas celebrations is rooted in this myth.) Complementing the rebirth of the sun were spring fertility rites, whose surviving symbols thread their way throughout Easter celebrations.

In addition to rabbits and eggs, another popular Easter custom had pre-Christian origins: “Also popular among Europeans and Americans on Easter is ham, because the pig was considered a symbol of luck in pre-Christian European culture” ( The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, p. 558, “Easter”).

Sex rites in ancient cultures

Ancient fertility rites revolved around overt sexual immorality and perversion. Such rites are referred to throughout the Bible under a variety of names and descriptions.

The Babylonian and Assyrian fertility goddess was Ishtar, from which derives the names Astarte and Ashtoreth and very likely the Anglo-Saxon Eostre or Germanic Ostara, goddess of spring, the origin of the word Easter (this also giving us the word east, the direction of the sunrise).

Ishtar symbolized Mother Earth in the natural cycles of fertility on earth. Many myths grew up around this female deity. She was the goddess of love, and 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 Ezekiel 8:14Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.
American King James Version×
), 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). It was believed that Ishtar brought about the rebirth or resurrection of Tammuz in the spring, coinciding with the blossoming of nature. (For more details, see “The Resurrection Connection” on page 20).

Throughout the Old Testament, God expressed His anger with His people when they served these false gods (Judges 2:13-14 Judges 2:13-14 13 And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. 14 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.
American King James Version×
; Judges 10:6-7 Judges 10:6-7 6 And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him. 7 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon.
American King James Version×
; 1 Kings 11:5-11 1 Kings 11:5-11 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared to him twice, 10 And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded. 11 Why the LORD said to Solomon, For as much as this is done of you, and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely rend the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 8:14-18 Ezekiel 8:14-18 14 Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. 15 Then said he to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? turn you yet again, and you shall see greater abominations than these. 16 And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. 17 Then he said to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, see, they put the branch to their nose. 18 Therefore will I also deal in fury: my eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them.
American King James Version×
).

Easter was no part of early Church worship

The New Testament does not mention an Easter celebration. Early Christians had nothing to do with Easter. Instead, they kept the Passover, instituted by God centuries earlier at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12:13-14 Exodus 12:13-14 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. 14 And this day shall be to you for a memorial; and you shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
American King James Version×
; Leviticus 23:5 Leviticus 23:5In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’s passover.
American King James Version×
). Jesus Christ personally kept this festival (Matthew 26:17-18 Matthew 26:17-18 17 Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him, Where will you that we prepare for you to eat the passover? 18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say to him, The Master said, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.
American King James Version×
) and gave it a clearer meaning under the New Covenant with His institution of the symbols of bread and wine for His beaten body and shed blood, signifying His suffering and death on our behalf (Matthew 26:26-29 Matthew 26:26-29 26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink from now on of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.
American King James Version×
). He is the Lamb of God, offered as the true Passover sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 1:29 John 1:29The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
American King James Version×
).

Jesus told His followers to continue this observance in remembrance of Him and His death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come.
American King James Version×
). Soon, however, pressure to replace Passover with popular Easter customs began to build. This movement was the basis for much contention over the next three centuries.

Notice how The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes this period: “The earliest Christians celebrated the Lord’s Passover at the same time as the Jews, during the night of the first 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. But certain churches of Asia Minor clung to the older custom, for which they were denounced as ‘judaizing’ (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, chapters 23-25). The first ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 decreed that all churches should observe the feast together on a Sunday” (15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, pp. 604-605, “Church Year”).

“After long and fierce controversies over its date (which is governed by the lunar calendar), the date for Easter set by the Council of Nicaea in 325 is the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the spring equinox. Easter became the centre of a fixed liturgical structure of times and festivals in the church year” (ibid., p. 499, “Christianity”).

Pressure against the biblical Passover

Why did Easter replace the Passover?

Though Easter was clearly pagan in origin, Christian leaders of the first two centuries after Christ’s crucifixion employed the same philosophy in establishing the new holiday that they later applied to Christmas. Believing that people are free to select their own times and customs of worship, they went about gradually replacing the biblically commanded Passover with their humanly devised celebration of Easter.

It was easier to draw pagan worshippers into Christianity and maintain their devotion by identifying the time-honored spring resurrection feast of the pagan mystery religions with the resurrection of Christ.

Anti-Jewish prejudice also seems to have been a major factor in the church leaders’ decision to make such changes. According to R.K. Bishop: “The early development of the celebration of Easter and the attendant calendar disputes were largely a result of Christianity’s attempt to emancipate itself from Judaism. Sunday had already replaced the Jewish sabbath early in the second century, and despite efforts in Asia Minor to maintain the Jewish passover date of 14 Nisan for Easter [or, rather, the true Passover] (hence the name Quartodecimans [meaning ‘Fourteeners’]), the Council of Nicaea adopted the annual Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21)” (Walter Elwell, editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, “Easter”).

Before A.D. 70, Christianity was “regarded by the Roman government and by the people at large as a branch of the Jewish religion” (Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, The Story of the Christian Church, 1954, p. 34). Christianity and Judaism shared the biblical feast days, although Christians observed them with added meanings introduced by Jesus and the apostles.

However, two Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire, in 64-70 and 132-135, led to widespread persecution of Jews and suppression of Jewish religious practices. Jews were even driven from Jerusalem and forbidden to return on pain of death. As pressure mounted, some Christians began to abandon beliefs and practices perceived as being too Jewish. Over time many abandoned their weekly Sabbath day of rest and worship in favor of worship on Sunday, the pagan day of the sun, and abandoned the Passover in favor of Easter to distance themselves from Jews.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “Originally both observances [Passover and Easter] were allowed, but gradually it was felt incongruous that Christians should celebrate Easter on a Jewish feast, and unity in celebrating the principal Christian feast was called for” (1967, Vol. 5, p. 8, “Easter Controversy”).

Passover-Easter debate

Acceptance of Easter over Passover did not come without resistance. Two religious leaders of the mid-second century—Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, and Anicetus, bishop of Rome—debated this very point.

Anicetus argued for Easter while Polycarp, a student of the apostle John, defended observing “the Christian Passover, on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar, regardless of the day of the week” ( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 8, p. 94, “Polycarp”).

Polycarp taught observance of the Passover as the early Church had observed it. Eusebius said Polycarp did so because this was the way “he had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated” ( Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, 1995, pp. 210-211). These Christians of the second century were still following the example of Jesus Christ in observing the Passover (compare 1 Corinthians 11:1 1 Corinthians 11:1Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
American King James Version×
; 1 Peter 2:21 1 Peter 2:21For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:
American King James Version×
; 1 John 2:6 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
American King James Version×
).

Several decades later another church leader in Asia Minor, Polycrates, argued with a new bishop of Rome, Victor, over the same issue. Eusebius wrote of the continuing debate:

“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 which day the Jews were commanded to kill the paschal lamb …

“The bishops … of Asia, persevering in observing the custom handed down to them from their fathers, were headed by Polycrates. He, indeed, had also set forth the tradition handed down to them, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome. ‘We,’ said he, ‘therefore, observe the genuine day; neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom. For in Asia great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again the day of the Lord’s appearing, in which he will come with glory from heaven, and will raise up all the saints …

“Moreover, John, who rested upon the bosom of our Lord;… also Polycarp of Smyrna, both bishop and martyr. Thraseas,… Sagaris,… Papirius; and Melito … All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. Moreover, I, Polycrates, who am the least of all of you, according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have followed. For there were seven, my relatives [who were] bishops, and I am the eighth; and my relatives always observed the day when the people (i.e., the Jews) threw away the leaven.

“I, therefore, brethren, am now sixty-five years in the Lord, who having conferred with the brethren throughout the world, and having studied the whole of the sacred Scriptures, am not at all alarmed at those things with which I am threatened, to intimidate me. For they who are greater than I, have said, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men’ ” (pp. 207-209).

Regrettably, people’s reasoning won out over the directions of God and the example of Jesus Christ and His original disciples.

A new worship theme

As Easter replaced Passover, not only was a new date selected (the Sunday after the spring equinox rather than the biblically directed Nisan 14), but a new theme was introduced. Rather than commemorating Christ’s death as directed by the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 11:26 1 Corinthians 11:26For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come.
American King James Version×
), the new holiday was designed to celebrate His resurrection. This new theme easily accommodated the pagan fertility symbols. It also helped distinguish the Christian community from the Jews, a major goal of church leaders of the time.

Although Christ’s resurrection is an important basis of our hope that we, too, can be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:17 1 Corinthians 15:17And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.
American King James Version×
; Romans 5:10 Romans 5:10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×
), and it was critical for God’s plan of salvation to continue, neither God the Father, Christ nor Scripture has ever explicitly directed us to celebrate this event.

Indeed, the love of God is primarily expressed to all humanity through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 9:28 Hebrews 9:28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin to salvation.
American King James Version×
). His death, through which our sins may be forgiven, is the primary focus of the Passover, not His resurrection. Many precise details of His death and events leading up to and encompassing it were prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures hundreds of years in advance.

The decision of God the Father to willingly give His only begotten Son—and of Jesus Christ to surrender His life to torture and execution as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity—were far more demanding than the demonstration of God’s power over death through the resurrection.

Mankind’s need for a Savior

There is more to consider. The Bible discusses sin and our need for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (the theme of the biblically commanded Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread) far more often than the subject of the resurrection. Within the King James Version of the Bible, the word sin is used 447 times compared with the word resurrection being used only 41 times. Don’t forget that sin was the cause of Christ’s death. Only by repenting of our sins and being reconciled to God by the death of Christ can we be assured of being resurrected (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
; John 5:29 John 5:29And shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation.
American King James Version×
; John 11:25 John 11:25Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
American King James Version×
).

This is not to minimize the importance of Christ’s resurrection. It, too, is a crucial step in the salvation process (1 Corinthians 15). After being reconciled to God the Father by the death of His Son, ultimately we are saved by Christ’s life as He pleads for us in the role of our High Priest and lives in us through the Holy Spirit, helping us to overcome sin (Romans 5:10 Romans 5:10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 4:14-16 Hebrews 4:14-16 14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×
; 1 John 2:1 1 John 2:1My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
American King James Version×
; Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×
). The process of our coming out of sin is pictured in the biblical feast immediately following Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, during which Christ’s resurrection occurred.

Again, though, the Bible nowhere instructs Christians to keep a special celebration of Christ’s resurrection, nor is there a biblical record of early Christians doing so. But it is clear that both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul expected Christ’s followers to commemorate His sacrificial death on our behalf in a special ceremony (Matthew 26:26-28 Matthew 26:26-28 26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Why whoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
American King James Version×
).

Nonetheless, the celebration of Easter prevailed. Those who remained faithful to Christ’s example of keeping the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread decreased in number and were persecuted by those favoring Easter.

Although how God views humanly devised changes in the worship He commands will be considered in a later chapter, let’s now examine how the traditions of this holiday fail to match the biblical record.

Sunday morning resurrection?

The choice of a Sunday date for Easter is based on the assumption that Christ rose from the grave early on a Sunday morning. The popular belief is that Christ was crucified on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. But neither of these suppositions is supported by the biblical record.

Matthew 12:38 Matthew 12:38Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from you.
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shows some of the scribes and Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign to prove He was the Messiah. Jesus told them that the only sign He would give was that of the prophet Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 Matthew 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
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).

But how can we fit “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” between a Friday-afternoon crucifixion and a Sunday-morning resurrection? The traditional view of the crucifixion and resurrection allows for Jesus to have been entombed for only a day and a half.

Some try to reconcile Christ’s words with their belief in a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection by rationalizing that Christ’s “three days and three nights” statement does not require a literal span of 72 hours. They reason that a part of a day can be reckoned as a whole day. Hence, since Jesus died in the afternoon—around “the ninth hour” after daybreak, or about 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:46-50 Matthew 27:46-50 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calls for Elias. 48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. 49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. 50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
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)—they think the remainder of Friday constituted the first day, Saturday the second and part of Sunday the third.

However, they fail to take into consideration that only two nights—Friday night and Saturday night—are accounted for in this explanation. After all, the Bible is clear that Jesus had already risen before the daylight portion of Sunday (John 20:1 John 20:1The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.
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). Something is obviously incorrect in this common conclusion regarding when Christ was in the tomb.

Jonah 1:17 Jonah 1:17Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
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, to which Christ referred, states specifically that “Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” We have no reason to think these days and nights were fractional. Nor is there any basis for thinking that Jesus meant only two nights and one day, plus parts of two days, when He foretold the length of time He would be in the grave. Such rationalization undermines the integrity of Jesus’ words.

Was Christ’s sign fulfilled?

If Jesus were in the tomb only from late Friday afternoon to sometime early Sunday morning, then the sign He gave that He was the prophesied Messiah was not fulfilled. The claim of His Messiahship rests on the fulfillment of His words; it’s that serious a matter.

Let us carefully examine the details of those fateful days. Each of the Gospel writers gives an account of the events, but each presents different aspects that need to be correctly synchronized and harmonized to produce a clear sequence and understanding of what happened. We will see that, when each account is considered, the chronological details mesh perfectly.

For instance, John 19:31 John 19:31The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
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preserves a crucial point that provides insight into the other narratives. The preparation day on which Jesus was crucified is described as the day before the Sabbath. But John clarifies it by stating that this approaching Sabbath “was a high day.” This does not refer to the weekly Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) but to the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is one of God’s annual high, or Sabbath, days (Exodus 12:16-17 Exodus 12:16-17 16 And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. 17 And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall you observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
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; Leviticus 23:6-7 Leviticus 23:6-7 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD: seven days you must eat unleavened bread. 7 In the first day you shall have an holy convocation: you shall do no servile work therein.
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), which could—and usually did—fall on other days of the week.

Some believe that this high day fell that year on the seventh day of the week, making it coincide with the weekly Sabbath, with the preparation day being on Friday. But Luke’s account shows that this was not the case. Notice the sequence of events outlined in Luke 23. Jesus’ moment of death, as well as His hasty burial because of the oncoming Sabbath, is narrated in Luke 23:46-53 Luke 23:46-53 46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. 47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. 48 And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. 49 And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things. 50 And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counselor; and he was a good man, and a just: 51 (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. 53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
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. Luke 23:54 Luke 23:54And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
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then states, “That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.”

Two Sabbaths mentioned

Many have assumed that it is the weekly Sabbath mentioned here. But that’s incorrect. Instead, it was a Sabbath that occurred on a Thursday, since verse 56 shows that the women, after seeing Christ’s body being laid in the tomb, “returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils” for the final preparation of the body.

Such work would not have been done on a Sabbath day since it would have been considered a Sabbath violation. This is verified by Mark’s account, which states, “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices [which they would not have purchased on the high-day Sabbath], that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1 Mark 16:1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.
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).

The women had to wait until this Sabbath was over before they could buy and prepare the spices to be used for anointing Jesus’ body. Then, as Luke 23:56 Luke 23:56And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
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says, it was after purchasing and preparing the spices and oils on Friday that “they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” This second Sabbath mentioned in the Gospel accounts is the regular weekly Sabbath, observed from Friday sunset through Saturday sunset.

By comparing details in both Gospels—where Mark tells us the women bought spices after the Sabbath and Luke relates that they prepared the spices and then rested on the Sabbath— we can clearly see that two different Sabbaths are mentioned. The first was a “high day” (John 19:31 John 19:31The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) sought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
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)—the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—which in that year, A.D. 31, fell on a Thursday. The second was the weekly seventh-day Sabbath.

Sign of the Messiah

After the women rested on the regular weekly Sabbath, they went to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week (Sunday), “while it was still dark” (John 20:1 John 20:1The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.
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), and found that He had already been resurrected (Matthew 28:1-6 Matthew 28:1-6 1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. 2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 5 And the angel answered and said to the women, Fear not you: for I know that you seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
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; Mark 16:2-6 Mark 16:2-6 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he said to them, Be not affrighted: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.
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; Luke 24:1-3 Luke 24:1-3 1 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher. 3 And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
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). When we allow the Scriptures to interpret themselves, all four Gospel accounts accurately harmonize and attest to the validity of Jesus’ promise that He would be in the grave three days and three nights—not just part of that time.

Several Bible translations recognize that more than one Sabbath is discussed in these events. In Matthew 28:1 Matthew 28:1In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher.
American King James Version×
some Bible versions, including Alfred Marshall’s Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, Ferrar Fenton’s Translation and Green’s Literal Translation, properly translate this phrase as “after the sabbaths.” Young’s Literal Translation and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (1992, p. 1270) similarly acknowledge that multiple Sabbaths are intended here.

The wording of Mark 16:1-2 Mark 16:1-2 1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.
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is confusing to some because it seems to suggest that the spices were purchased after the weekly Sabbath rather than before it, on Friday. However, this is explained by Luke 23:56 Luke 23:56And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
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, which clearly shows that the women bought the spices before, and not after, the weekly Sabbath, “and they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” Mark did not mention this weekly Sabbath rest in his account, but Luke, who wrote his account of these events later, did.

Some also stumble over Mark 16:9 Mark 16:9Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
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, not taking into account that there is no punctuation indicated in the original Greek. Therefore, to be in harmony with the material presented in the other Gospels, a better translation would be: “Now having risen, early the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene … ” These verses are not saying that Jesus rose early on Sunday morning, but that He appeared early on Sunday morning to Mary Magdalene, having already risen some time earlier.

When we consider the details in all four Gospel accounts, the picture is clear. Jesus was crucified and entombed late on Wednesday afternoon, just before a Sabbath began at sunset. However, that was a high-day Sabbath, falling that year on the fifth day of the week, sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday, rather than the weekly Sabbath from Friday sunset through Saturday sunset. He remained entombed from Wednesday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, having risen from the dead. Thus, when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on Sunday morning before sunrise, “while it was still dark,” she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

We can be assured that the duration of Christ’s entombment before His resurrection, which He foretold as proof of His Messiahship, was precisely as long as He said it would be—equaling the “three days and three nights [Jonah was] in the belly of the great fish” (Matthew 12:40 Matthew 12:40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
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). Thus, Jesus rose late Saturday afternoon around sunset—not Sunday at sunrise—which was exactly three days and three nights after He was placed in the tomb just before sunset on Wednesday.

Christ’s prophecy of the time He would be in the tomb was fulfilled precisely. Because most people do not understand the biblical high days kept by Jesus Christ and His followers, they fail to understand the chronological details so accurately preserved for us in the Gospels.

A better way

As we have seen, Easter and its customs originated not from the Bible, but in pagan fertility rites. It is a curious mixture of ancient mythological practices and arbitrary dating that obscures and discredits the proof of Jesus Christ’s Messiahship and resurrection.

Having learned the sources and backgrounds of two major religious holidays, one might rightly wonder which days, if any, a Christian should observe. God in His Word shows a better way of life with better days of worship He has appointed for His people.