Christians and Easter
Many claim that Easter, or the paschal festival, is really a pagan holiday. If true, then is observing it offering devotion to pagan gods? But if this is false, then are Christians being robbed of the joy of worshipping God on this day?
Actually, Christians celebrated the paschal festival to worship of God from earliest times. While there is no support for Easter eggs or bunnies, the annual special celebration of Christ's passion and resurrection unites in worship Christians from today back early Christians.
What Some Web Sites Claim
Looking at various web sites (Wikipedia excepted), many of them state matter-of-factly that Easter is originally a pagan holiday, - at least according to atheists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. But even some Christians say the same. There seem to be three variations of views of when Easter started:
1. Nimrod after the flood, from the Sumerian goddess Ishtar/Istar/Ashtarte/Astarte [Actually Inanna]
2. At the same time as fertility festivals
3. Constantine's time (after 311 A.D.)
4. One atheist source says that Christians started Easter around 155 A.D. to worship Ashtarte.
However, these views all do not have sufficient supporting evidence; this church feast was celebrated by early Christians, and came from Christ's resurrection during the time of the Jewish Passover. Lets start by looking at the word Easter itself.
1. Easter has nothing to do with any goddess
The only languages I found where the name for this holiday sounds like "Easter" are English and German.
According to Wikipedia, the word for this holiday in most other languages comes from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning Passover. So the name "Easter" is a non-issue, except for English and German speakers.
Only in these languages did the name came from the German/Anglo-Saxon month, Eostre-monath. The name of the month came from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, according the Christian Anglo-Saxon historian Bede, (c.725 A.D.) This is like the months January, March, and June coming from Roman idols.
Critics have to take their pick between the much later Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre and the early Sumerian goddess. Anglo-Saxons had nothing geographically or linguistically to do with the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was only later known as Istar/Ishtar/Ashtarte in Babylonian, Phoenician, and Philistine times.
Pre-Nicene Christians knew nothing of Easter eggs or bunnies though. Though some people today try to say this came from Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, the sole source on her, the Christian Anglo-Saxon historian Bede, mentions nothing of eggs or rabbits. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg 24 Aug 2008)
However, Wikipedia also says Zoroastrians of Persia celebrated the spring equinox with eggs by 500 B.C.
2. Easter was not at the spring equinox
The vernal (or spring) equinox (March 21, 22, or 23) is the time when the day and night are the same length. Some claim that Jesus' resurrection was celebrated to coincide with fertility festivals which occurred then. The truth is, the resurrection coincided with the time of the Passover, which was set by God. They early church in the east celebrated it at the same time as Jewish Passover. The western church started celebrating it the Sunday of the first full moon after this, and so it would never be celebrated on the vernal equinox.
3. Easter Long Before Constantine
Twelve early Christians wrote about keeping the anniversary of Christ's birth long before Constantine. In fact, one of the first controversies of the church was around 190 A.D., about the date to celebrate Easter. Since eastern Christians, called Quartodecimians, celebrated it at the time of the Jewish Passover, and western Christians favored the first moon after the spring equinox, they obviously celebrated something, or they would have had nothing to disagree about! By the way, the dispute was settled by allowing each side to celebrate it when they wished. Not a single early Christian writer wrote against Easter.
Theophilus of Caesarea (180 A.D.) "We would have you know, too, that in Alexandria also they observe the festival on the same day as ourselves. For the Paschal letters are sent from us to them, and from them to us: so that we observe the holy day in unison and together." Epistle on the Question of the Passover Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.8 p.774
Melito of Sardis (died c.190 A.D.) (Quartodecimian) wrote an entire work on Easter called On Pascha.
Irenaeus (182-188 A.D.) wrote an entire treatise on Easter. " fragment 7 Questions and Responses of Orthodoxy.
Polycrates of Ephesus (196 A.D.) was for a time excommunicated by the bishop of Rome for being a Quartodecimian
Tertullian (200-240 A.D.) "We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday." The Chaplet ch.3 p.94
Hippolytus bishop of Portus (225-235/6 A D.) criticized Quartodecimians who observed Easter at the same time the Jews celebrate Passover. The Refutation of All Heresies book 8 ch.11 p.123
Origen (225-254 A.D.) "he who considers that 'Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,' and that it is his duty to keep the feast by eating of the flesh of the Word, never ceases to keep the paschal feast; for the pascha means a 'passover,' and he is ever striving in all his thoughts, words, and deeds, to pass over from the things of this life to God," Origen Against Celsus book 8 ch.22 p.647
Cyprian of Carthage (246-258 A.D.) in his Letters 29, 39, and 54 speaks of Easter-day.
Firmilian (246-258 A.D.) mentions "the celebration of Easter" Letter 74 ch.6 p.391
Anatolius of Alexandria (270-280 A.D.) discusses when Easter should be celebrated. Paschal Canon ch.10 p.146-147. Also ch.15 p.150-151.
Malchion (270 A.D.) (partial) says the evil Paul of Samosata did on the Paschal festival. Letter written by Malchion in the name of the Synod of Antioch against Paul of Samosata ch.2 p.170
Instructions of Commodianus ch.75 p.218 (240 A.D.) "They will assemble together at Easter, that day of ours most blessed; and let them rejoice,"
Methodius (270-311/312 A.D.) mentions "the fast which prepares for the Easter celebration" Banquet of the Ten Virgins book 3 ch.12 p.321
In Summary: Unless Constantine time-traveled, these early Christians give us proof they celebrated Easter long before Constantine was born.
4. Early Church Worshipping Ishtar???
This view recognizes that Easter was celebrated by Christians from early times but says that the early Christians did it to worship Ishtar!
It is estimated that prior to Nicea, 30,000 to 40,000 Christians were martyred for their faith. The write might not know why these Christians gave their lives, but I hope we as Christians have not forgotten.
They were NOT killed for believing Jesus was a nice guy, worthy of worship. They were cruelly tortured, burned, slowly roasted, sliced, impaled, and thrown to wild animals, in public often while fellow Christians were watching, because they would worship none else except the Triune God. To say these early Christians, who often died for what they believed in, wanted to worship a Chaldean/Sumerian idol shows almost total ignorance of early Christian faith.
Of the almost 4,200 pages of pre-Nicene Christian writings, while they only show support for Easter, they only show criticism. of the Chaldean religion.
Apology of Aristides (125 or 138-161 A.D.) ch.3 p.265
Theophilus to Autolycus (168-181/188 A.D.) book 2 ch.33 p.107
The Octavius of Minucius Felix (210 A.D.) ch.6 p.176
Tertullian (200-240 A.D.) On Idolatry ch.9 p.66
Bardaisan/Bardesan (154-224-232 A.D.) The Book of the Laws of Diverse Countries p.729
Hippolytus (225-235/6 A.D.) Refutation of All Heresies book 4 ch.7-8 p.27-28
Origen (225-254 A.D.) Origen Against Celsus book 6 ch.80 p.609. Also de Principiis book 3 ch.3.2 p.335
Julius Africanus (235-245 A.D.) Five Books of the Chronology of Julius Africanus ch.1 p.131.
On one hand, don't let atheists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, or even fellow mistaken Christians rob you of the joy of Easter. But on the other hand, celebrating what Christians have celebrated together for almost two millennia, does not necessarily guarantee that you are devotedly worshipping God. Check your heart. Make it your intention, this coming Easter, this Paschal feast, to deliberately choose a time of worshipping God.
For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org
by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.