Earnest, God-fearing Christians rightly wish to avoid being associated with pagan religious rites. They want their worship and lives to glorify God. One of the issues that comes around yearly is the question, “What about Easter? Doesn’t the name have pagan roots, and aren’t those eggs related to some fertility rites?” Setting aside that our culture tends to subsume Christian activity and words and Biblically or religiously significant dates (birth of Christ, resurrection of Christ), the question is, “What about the word Easter and what about the eggs? Pagan or not?”
The fact is that skeptics and pagans have a strong, sinful incentive and presuppositional bias to try to explain away God-originated anything!
Skeptics want to explain the development of Biblical claims and dates as socially and naturalistically evolved. Pagans want to claim that Christian words, holidays and ideas are of pagan origin. Both desperately wish to erase the Creator/creature distinction that is part of reality. Both are deeply, fundamentally committed to pulling the Creator down to be part of the creation.
Sincere but credulous and naive Christians often fall prey to this pseudo historical research. The moralistic impulse to separate from all things “pagan” begins to carry its own momentum in church circles. Soon the new, very wrong narrative becomes “the truth about Easter” (or fill in another holiday). Adherence to this “truth” becomes a test of greater maturity and purity. Sigh!
Some years ago we were hearing the common refrain about “Easter” deriving from the pagan Ishtar, Oester, etc, etc and decorated eggs being about the fertility goddess, etc. So we ran this issue down historically and linguistically. It can fairly be stated that claims circulating that “Easter” is of pagan origins has zero support in the historical and linguistic facts. It was conjured up in the mid 1800’s by the flawed “research” of Alexander Hislop, who was known for vigorously attacking anything he thought smacked of Roman Catholicism.
Hislop appears ignorant (or he deliberately ignored) that the original word that later became Easter, Ester, was brought out of the English of that day into the English Bible by none other than the very un-Catholic Bible translator, the genius and polyglot and eventual martyr for the Bible, William Tyndale. (Who also coined a brand new word for English: Passover… before that it was left in the Bible untranslated as Pascha or Pask [by Wycliffe]). “Passover” is a clever word, because the Hebrew is Pesach. So it sounds very like it, but indicates to us in English the passing-over of the angel of death.
In Tyndale’s Bible (the first English Bible translated from Hebrew and Greek instead of Latin) Tyndale deploys his delightful new word Passover for Hebrew pesach in the OT, to indicate it’s Jewish/Israelite significance, and Ester (later spelled Easter) in the NT where the underlying word in Greek is Pascha. He chose this in the NT because it best represented to English readers the connection between the fact of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ and the symbolic/prophetic nature of the Jewish passover feast itself. The reason for this choice of the word Ester/Easter follows:
Our English lingo arises primarily from the Anglo/Saxon language, which in turn finds its roots in the mother language German. Our word Easter (Ester) was ported very early on from the old German, Oster (Ostern… modern day form). Oster is related to Ost which means the rising of the sun (or the standing-up-again-of-the sun, or simply in English, “east” where the sun rises.) Oster comes from the even older Teutonic form of two words, Ester meaning first, and Stehen meaning to stand. These two words combine to form erstehen which in modern German became auferstehen, the modern day German word for resurrection. So: the linguistic history goes, EsterStehen (first standing)->Erstehen=Oster->modern Auferstehen=English Resurrection. In fact, Osterfest is the German word in the Lutherbibel 1545 for the larger Passover Feast and period that includes resurrection Sunday, while Tyndale’s word Passover was imported back into German by Luther as Passah in reference to the precise Passover event or day itself. (Tyndale published his Bible shortly before Luther did his, and it is thought that they interacted, Tyndale being so fluent in German that he spoke without accent).
Here’s Luke 2:41 in the various translations:
- Wycliffe—And his fadir and modir wenten ech yeer in to Jerusalem, in the solempne dai of pask.
- Luther—Und seine Eltern gingen alle Jahre gen Jerusalem auf das Osterfest.
- Tyndale—And his father and mother went to Hierusalem every yeare at the feeste of ester.
- KJV—Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
And 2 Cor 5:7:
- Wycliffe— . . . For Crist offrid is oure pask.
- Luther— . . . Denn wir haben auch ein Osterlamm, das ist Christus, für uns geopfert.
- Tyndale— . . . For Christ oure esterlambe is offered up for us.
- KJV— . . . For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.
In 1611 the KJV translation team narrowed and refined the use of the words Passover and Easter even further, but owed a great debt to Tyndale and his prior work. They chose to use the term Passover for both the Hebrew Pesach and the NT Pascha, up until Christ was actually sacrificed and resurrected. So to distinguish for the reader the actual day of the Passover event from the week-long feast of Passover – the week-long feast of Unleavened Bread that follows the day of Passover, and which includes the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:1-14) on Sunday which is the Christian Resurrection Sunday as seen from the post-cross, Christian perspective, the KJV translators deployed the word Easter just one time, In Acts 12:4. Here’s the context:
Acts 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread [which begins after the Passover evening]. 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover [week, not day] to bring him out before the people.
While modern translations offer many real benefits, it is really too bad that their translators have not kept the word Easter here in Acts 12:4, as it helps the reader understand that the term Passover here is not the day of the Passover, Nisan 14, but the week-long celebration called Passover week, the Feast of Unleavened Bread beginning on Nisan 15, which from the Christian perspective includes the day of the resurrection, as Christ is the fulfillment of the feast of First-Fruits, as Paul clearly refers to Him as such in 1 Cor 15:20-23.
Here are several excellent articles that overthrow the poorly researched claim that “Easter” is pagan and that the eggs are as well. Don’t let the current culture’s confusion about bunnies and baby chicks and lack of knowledge about the history/etymology of words and the use of eggs confuse you. The word Easter means Resurrection. To say, “Happy Easter” is to say, “Happy Resurrection Day”… and the eggs. The eggs are from the Passover/Seder.
- Heaven forbid we call it Easter, Randy White Ministries