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sermonette: Easter: Origins and Implications

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 30-Mar-02; Sermon #550s; 27 minutes

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The only biblical reference to Easter (Acts 12:4) is spurious, a mistranslation of Passover. God's apostles and disciples faithfully kept the biblically defined and outlined Holy Days, including the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, but never incorporated the paraphernalia of rank Paganism. The name Easter was derived from the Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar commemorating the annual spring equinox, marking the rebirth of vegetation. The sermonette investigates the origins of hot-crossed buns, Easter eggs, the Easter bunny, Easter fire, and other bizarre customs.

Well, yesterday was Good Friday, if you did not notice. Tomorrow is Easter. But for us, tomorrow is nothing else. Nothing more than the middle day of this Feast of Unleavened Bread. Nevertheless, millions of people will wake up extra early tomorrow. They will don their finest clothing—probably new. I do not know if they wear Easter bonnets anymore, but probably some of the young girls will. And they will attend Easter sunrise services. Then if the weather clears (and that looked doubtful), the children will put participate in some sort of an Easter egg hunt or an Easter egg roll. And then everybody will congregate somewhere, maybe grandma's house, and have an Easter dinner with ham as the main course.

Have e mentioned Jesus yet? No. He might get some mention at the Easter sunrise service, but a great deal of the religion in Easter has been taken out of it, even though it itself is pagan. All the religious trappings of it, are fading for Easter, just about as it has with Christmas. I heard on the radio the other day that Easter is fast approaching Halloween and Christmas for merchandise sales, especially things like candy and costumes, even—clothing, of course; all the spring sales have happened. Easter has basically become another occasion to have a sale extravaganza. So everybody's attention tomorrow will be on Easter candy, Easter clothes. I don't know about hot cross buns. Kids will be looking for Easter eggs in their hunts and the adults will be happy to cut into that Easter ham.

So, today I would like to take a look at Easter and see how it fails as a true biblical holiday. Let's start in Acts 12. Acts 12 is the only place in the Bible where Easter supposedly is mentioned, but it's not. Martin went through this the other day when he was talking about the Quartodecimani Controversy that happened in the church. I would like to go through it just one more time to see the historical background of this one occasion where Easter supposedly is mentioned.

Acts 12:1-3 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

This is very interesting because here in verse 3 it shows that what we are talking about is the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Acts 12:4 So when he had apprehended him he put him in prison and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him. [This is very interesting, too. He put a lot of soldiers around Peter because he knew that these men had a way of doing miracles, and I am sure he was trying to keep him in and it did not work.], intending to bring him before the people after Easter.

It's not what it says. If you go back and look at the Greek, the word is pascha, and it simply means Passover. At the time, the whole eight days of Passover and Unleavened Bread were called Passover, and not as we call it—Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. So, the people who translated... we will give them the benefit of doubt. They wanted everybody to know exactly what time it was of the year, but really they were trying to pull Easter over everybody's eyes rather than the truth that the apostles were keeping Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

The practice of Easter really made no serious inroads into the church for about 75 years, and it was only after the apostle John died that Easter began to pick up some steam as a so-called "Christian" holiday. But it was only in Rome, basically, where this happened. It was Bishop Sixtus that was the one that began using his authority to allow Easter to be kept—that is, instead of Passover, they would keep a memorial of Christ on a Sunday. Most of the churches in the East—in what we call Asia Minor—retained the Passover on the 14th. As we heard in Martin's sermon, in the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the bishops unanimously decided to keep Easter on Sunday. That's because all the ones who wanted to keep Passover did not attend, and they just kind of let the Western Christians go about that time.

So, the Council of Nicea rejected the so-called "Jewish" Passover—that is what they called it—and instead put Easter as a church holiday instead of Passover. But we will see here, if we just flip forward a few chapters to Acts 20:6, that it was very plain that the apostles were keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread and the other holy days, and that they had really no biblical basis for doing this.

Acts 20:6 [This is Luke and the rest of Paul's entourage] But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

So, they were marking time by the true biblical holy days. They would plan their stops between the holy days—so that they would be at a certain place on the holy day—so that they could do their business, which was preaching. If we go down to verse 16, we see another one:

Acts 20:16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

There is not a word in here about making sure they were somewhere by Easter—because they were keeping the holy days that God commanded in Leviticus 23 and elsewhere. So, there was no biblical reason for the church—not the true church, but the false church—to make this change, but they did it anyway because they thought that they had the authority. Plainly, the apostles kept God's holy days and not Easter or Christmas or any of the other ones that were instituted later.

Let's see another proof of this in I Corinthians 11. We went over this in the Passover service the other day:

I Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

I do not know what else you would need. Here is a very clear, very plain, command. Paul said he got it from Jesus Christ, and that he was faithful and giving it to the church. To say that you should keep the Passover in remembrance of Christ every year on the same night in which He was betrayed— which is Nisan the 14th—what more do you need? I guess they need more proof than that, because they took it on their own to change it. If you go back to Luke 22, you find these were the very words from Jesus Christ Himself:

Luke 22:19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

That is all we really need, because it's basically the same thing that is said there in I Corinthians 11. Here we have it in two places in Scripture, that this is what we are supposed to do on the night of the Passover. There is no mention anywhere in the Bible of observing the resurrection. There is nothing in the Bible—no command regarding the resurrection, but instead there is there are plenty of commands to commemorate His death and not his resurrection.

So, where in the world does Easter come from then? Well, frankly, it is rank paganism and it was incorporated into the church to please the pagans and to please people in the church who were pleased to be pagans themselves. There is not a shred of Christianity in Easter. They have only attached Christ and the resurrection to it to give it some semblance of credibility, but it is just the old pagan Easter celebration that has gone on for millennia.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia just of the word Easter says:

The English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon Eastre or Estera, a Teutonic goddess to whom sacrifice was offered in April, so the name was transferred to the paschal feast.

Right in its name is paganism. The Teutonic people are the Germanic people. They received the name from their ancestors, whom we know in the Bible as the Assyrians, who named their chief female goddess Ishtar. The name Ishtar and Easter are basically the same thing. In fact, it's probably not pronounced Ishtar but eeshtar the "I" being pronounced like a long "e." Just a matter of a slight change in pronunciation.

I told Ryan that I had about a book of quotes here and he was dismayed, but I'd like to read some of this. I got this off the internet from a website called It is actually a pretty good site because it takes a very objective look at religion in general. It does not seem to have an axe to grind one way or the other. So, it tends to be objective and therefore fairly reliable in its reporting.

I would just like to read some of this from their article "Easter: Origins, Meanings and Current Practice." Beginning here in their overview:

Modern day Easter is derived from two ancient traditions, one Judeo-Christian and the other pagan. Both Christians and pagans have celebrated death and resurrection themes following the spring equinox for millennia. Most religious historians believe that many elements of the Christian observance of Easter were derived from earlier pagan celebrations.

Origins of the name Easter: [They go into a little bit more depth than I went into just a moment ago.] The name Easter originated with the names of an ancient goddess and god. The Venerable Bede, a Christian scholar [who lived in the seventh century, roughly], first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the "Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos." Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre." Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were: Aphrodite [from Cyprus]; Astarte from ancient Greece; Demeter from Mycenae; Hathor from ancient Egypt; Ishtar from Assyria; Kali, from India; and Ostara, a Norse Goddess of fertility.

Here are the pagan origins of Easter:

Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at or following the Spring Equinox. Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a [fictional] consort, Attis, who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. Attis was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the period from March 22 to March 25.

About 200 BC mystery cults began to appear in Rome just as they had earlier in Greece. Most notable was the Cybele cult centered on Vatican hill ...Associated with the Cybele cult was that of her lover, Attis (the older Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name). He was a god of ever-reviving vegetation. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection.

Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians: "... used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date; and pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation."

Many religious historians and liberal theologians believe that the death and resurrection legends were first associated with Attis, many centuries before the birth of Jesus. They were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus' life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to pagans. . . . Ancient Christians had an alternative explanation; they claimed that Satan had created counterfeit deities in advance of the coming of Christ in order to confuse humanity.

That is all I want from from this. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia says that Easter is an English term, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day in spring way.

I'm going to go into just a few of the Easter traditions that I mentioned before, like hot cross buns and that sort of thing. Let's start with that one—hot cross buns:

At the feast of Eostre, the Saxon fertility Goddess, an ox was sacrificed. The ox's horns became a symbol for the feast. They were carved into the ritual bread. Thus originated "hot cross buns". The word "buns" is derived from the Saxon word "boun" which means "sacred ox." Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the buns; the cross represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the Goddess, and its four quarters.

I know you all want to know about the Easter eggs. The Catholic Encyclopedia says,

The custom may have its origin in paganism, for a great many pagan customs celebrating the return of spring gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. says of the Easter rabbit and Easter eggs:

The symbols of the Norse Goddess Ostara were the hare and the egg. Both represented fertility. From these, we have inherited the customs and symbols of the Easter egg and Easter rabbit.

Dyed eggs also formed part of the rituals of the ancient, pre-Christian Babylonian mystery religions. Eggs were sacred to many ancient civilizations, and formed an integral part of religious ceremonies in Egypt in the orient. Dyed eggs were hung in Egyptian temples and the egg was regarded as the emblem of regenerative life proceeding from the mouth of the great Egyptian god.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says about the Easter bunny, "The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility."

Here's another one, from the Christian site called, in their article about Easter. I pulled out the part about Easter eggs:

Over the years, the egg has represented mystery, magic, medicine, food and omen. It is the universal symbol of Easter throughout the world and has been dyed—painted, adorned and embellished—in the celebration of its special symbolism. Before the egg became closely associated with the Christian Easter, it was honored during many rite of spring festivals. The Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Egyptians, and Persians all cherish the egg as a symbol of the universe. From ancient times, eggs were dyed, exchanged and shown reverence. In pagan times, the eggs represented the rebirth of the earth. The long hard winter was over; the earth bursthfourth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life.

The egg therefore was believed to have special powers. It was buried under the foundations of buildings to ward off evil. Pregnant young Roman women carried an egg on their persons to foretell the sex of their unborn children. French brides stepped upon an egg before crossing the threshold of their new homes [and I guess he had to clean up the mess]. Dyed eggs also figured in the rites of the ancient Babylonian mystery religions. Eggs were sacred to many ancient civilizations.

I read this—they must have copied it direct from the other one. I did notice that before.

Babylonian legends tell of an egg which fell from heaven to the Euphrates and hatched the Venus goddess Ishtar. Old Polish legends blended folklore and Christian beliefs and firmly attached the egg to the Easter celebration. One legend concerns the Virgin Mary. It tells of the time Mary gave eggs to the soldiers of the cross [try finding that in the Bible]. She entreated them to be less cruel. When she wept, the tears of Mary fell upon the eggs, spotting them with dots of brilliant color. Another Polish legend tells of when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, she had with her a basket of eggs to serve as a repast. When she arrived at the tomb and uncovered the eggs, lo, the pure white cells had miraculously taken on a rainbow of colors.

I do not know how many of you are aware of it, but the Faberge eggs that tour the world in museums are also Easter eggs that a Czar of Russia had asked one of his artists to do for the Czarina. She was so delighted with them that this craftsman was told to do them every year at Easter. One of these that I have here says how many were made—57 eggs were made in all.

Some of the customs here are just ridiculous. Here's from the Catholic Encyclopedia. This is the custom of risus paschalis:

This strange custom originated in Bavaria in the 15th century. The priest inserted into his sermon funny stories, which would cause his hearers to laugh. That is, the laugh was a description of how the devil tries to keep the doors of hell locked against the descending Christ. Then the speaker would draw a moral from the story. This Easter laughter, giving rise to grave abuses of the word of God, was prohibited by Clement X [because, I guess, eventually the stories began to get risque, and they started taking stories out of the Bible and changing them to the point where they were funny—they were comedies instead of what the Bible actually said].

In some places in France, they played handball on this day. Here's another good one: on Easter Monday—bet you did not know it went till Monday—the women had a right to strike their husbands, and on Tuesday the men struck them back. I have no idea where that came from.

In the northern parts of England, the men parade the streets on Easter Sunday and claim the privilege of lifting every woman three times from the ground, receiving in payment a kiss or a silver sixpence. The same was done by the women to the men on the next day.

In Germany on Easter day, the men servants whipped the maid servants with switches. On Monday the maids whipped the men. They secure their release with Easter eggs. The Catholic Encyclopedia is kind enough to say, "These customs are probably of pre-Christian origin."

There are other things like the Easter fire that they light. This is a custom of pagan origin, in vogue all over Europe, signifying the victory of spring over winter. The church adopted the observance into the Easter ceremonies, referring it to the fiery column in the desert and to the resurrection of Christ. The new fire on holy Saturday is drawn from flint, symbolizing the resurrection of the light of the world from a tomb, closed by a stone. In some places, a figure was thrown into the Easter fire, symbolizing winter, but to the Christians on the Rhine and Bohemia, it was Judas the traitor that was thrown on the fire.

And, of course, they have blessings on food and blessings on homes and processions. Even, in one place, they go and awaken somebody who has not gotten up for Easter sunrise service, and the penalty is that they have to feed the priests breakfast. Just weird little things that have been associated with this with this—what do you want to call it? I guess it is a holiday, but it has just gotten weird over the years.

Let's finish here in Mark 7:5. Think of this not as the Pharisees and scribes, but the nominal Christians of this world:

Mark 7:5-9 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups [and rolling of Easter eggs and coloring of Easter eggs], and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition."

We get questions like this occasionally: Why does the church of God not follow the practices of traditional Christianity? Simple—we choose to honor God, not with just our lips, but with our hearts and minds and our actions. We will not lay aside His commandments just to keep the traditions of men and to be thought of well by the world. Because we want to make sure that our worship of God is not vain, but in spirit and in truth.


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