Easter: Pagan Customs

The Church of God (Seventh Day) does not participate in pagan customs like Easter. While the Church affirms the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection from the dead, it distances itself from this holiday. Why?

Easter: There’s More to Be Said
We affirm our belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is central to the message of the apostles and the first century church. Today it remains the central theme of Christianity. Our plan is to review some of the many ways the resurrection of Christ is treated by New Testament writers, in which we are made to rejoice.

Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the miraculous sign He gave to the detractors of His Messiahship:

Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).

Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are cited by Paul as a summary of the gospel of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:2, 3). Unless Christ had resurrected from the dead, all believers would still be in their sins (vv. 15, 16).

Christ’s resurrection is authentication that He is the Son of God: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of this fact. . . . Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ’” (Acts 2:32, 36).

Paul wrote that Jesus “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead . . . “ (Romans 1:4).

Christians affirm their belief in the resurrection through Christian baptism. Paul wrote that baptism, signifying spiritual renewal, is a symbolic participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3, 4).

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus sustains our Christian hope for a bodily resurrection at His second coming:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22, 23).

We believe in Christ’s resurrection. We preach it, we rejoice in it, we are renewed through it, and our hope of eternity is secured by it! But as glorious as the Resurrection is, there are reasons we do not participate in the Easter celebration. While most Christians observe Easter as a celebration of the Resurrection, we believe there are good reasons to question such an observance. As timeless as the Easter festival seems to be, as widely as it is celebrated, certain factors regarding it deserve examination.

Why Not Observe Easter?

If the Church of God (Seventh Day) believes in the Resurrection, why doesn’t it observe Easter as a Resurrection celebration? Our most serious reasons for not observing Easter are presented as follows.

First Reason: Syncretism

Our first objection to the celebration of Easter as a Christian festival is that it is syncretistic. The Easter festival mixes Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ with practices originating in paganism. Syncretism, the intermixing of Christianity with practices of heathen religions, is strictly forbidden in the Scriptures.

Reference materials such as an encyclopedia or Bible dictionary provide ample evidence that the Easter festival and its customs were borrowed from pagan practices pre-dating the birth of Christ.

The following references are samples of the evidence showing the syncretism of the Easter festival:

The name Easter derived from the pagan goddess of dawn and spring, Eostra or Eostre, and the Easter rituals pertained to the rising sun and to the triumph of the ascending spring over winter. Christian sermons and liturgies easily adapted these earlier sun sanctifications to lauding the Son’s ascent to heaven. (Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 1985 ed., Vol. 5, page 36, Feast and Festivals, European).

Easter, the annual festival observed throughout Christendom in commemoration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word Easter-Anglo-Saxon, Eastre, Eoster; German, Ostern — like the names of the days of the week, is a survival from Teutonic mythology. According to Bede, it is derived from “the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the fourth month, answering to April was dedicated.”

There is no trace of the celebration of Easter as a Christian festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. . . . The ecclesiastical historian Socrates . . . states with perfect truth that neither Christ nor His apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. “The apostles,” he writes, “had no thought of appointing festival days, but of promoting a life of blamelessness and piety.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1898 ed., Vol. VII, pages 613, 614).

Popular Easter customs have pagan origins. Consider the tradition of the Easter egg and Easter rabbits.

Easter eggs: The Easter egg has a varied history and has become one of Easter’s most popular customs. Virtually every culture of the ancient world revered the egg. It symbolized creation and fertility. The egg was credited with hatching, or giving birth to many of the deities of ancient myths. It was used as a charm to avert evil spirits and to bring good fortune. As the influence of the Roman Church spread throughout the world, people accepted a form of Christianity, but they held on to many of their superstitions. Since the egg could no longer symbolize their pagan beliefs, they assigned new legends with a Christian theme to the egg. (See Venetia Newall, An Egg at Easter, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1971.)

By the fourth century, we find accounts of eggs being blessed in the Roman Church. Today many people view the Easter egg as a symbol of the tomb from which Christ arose and as a sign of new life. The custom of rolling Easter eggs symbolizes rolling the stone away from the tomb where Christ was buried. (Ibid.)

Eggs and rabbits are familiar symbols unrelated to the Easter story. Eggs, which represent new life, have been a symbol of spring since ancient times. Christians adopted the egg as an Easter symbol because of the relationship between Easter and the renewal of life. (The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, 2001 ed., pages 42, 43, Easter)

Easter rabbits: “The hare and the egg were also supposed to have been symbols of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. As such they were emblematic of fertility.” (Robert J. Meyers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays, Doubleday & Company Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972, page 109)

Rabbits are associated with the fertility of spring because of their ability to produce many young. Some parents tell their children that the Easter Rabbit, or Easter Bunny, brings Easter eggs. (The World Book Encyclopedia)

The Easter festival is full of syncretism. It has combined many customs of heathen origin with the Christian faith. Hear what Paul wrote about this practice:

The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20, 21).

This following observation is made about the people of Israel whom the king of Assyria resettled in Samaria:

They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought . . . . The Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the Lord is the one you must worship” (2 Kings 17:33, 35, 36).

Syncretism is forbidden by the Word of God. God has always held His people to the doctrine of monotheism. There is one God, and believers are not to worship other gods along with the God of heaven (Exodus 20:3).

God’s instructions to Moses, while the children of Israel were still on their way to the Promised Land, demonstrates how seriously He regards syncretism. The Israelites were instructed not to make treaties with the inhabitants of the land they were going to possess.

They were to break down their idolatrous altars, smash their sacred stones, and destroy the symbols of their goddess, Asherah (Exodus 34:12, 13). They were to take the initiative to eliminate all of these pagan religious objects from the land. The final injunction was “Do not worship any other god” (v. 14).

Through Jeremiah, Israel was told, “Do not learn the way of the nations” (Jeremiah 10:2). This was a warning against adopting the cultic customs of the pagan nations in worshipping their gods or in diluting the worship of their God with paganism.

Finally, in 2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1 Paul taught a general principle, that Christians are not to form relationships with unbelievers. Such relationships often compromise Christian standards or jeopardize a consistent Christian witness (v. 14a). The reason for this reminder is that unbelievers do not share the Christian’s moral values, sympathies, and goals.

The Christian life demands separation from the world (v. 17), a familial relationship with God (v. 18), and sanctification of body and spirit out of reverence for God (7:1).

Paul stressed the incompatibilities of Christianity and heathenism. He anticipated a negative answer to “What do these contrasts have in common?”

• righteousness and light — wickedness and darkness

• Christ and the believer — Belial (the Devil) and the unbeliever

• the temple of God — idols

These contrasts provide the principal reason that Christians are not to enter compromising (syncretistic) relationships with unbelievers (v. 14a). Corporately, Christians are the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). An individual Christian is a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). God promises to be a Father to us (v.18), but He demands separation from unclean things (1 Corinthians 3:17) and purity of life (7:1, 2).

Although the Resurrection is a glorious, biblical fact, the apostles and the first-century church did not celebrate it (see Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 230). When the Resurrection began to be celebrated, it was corrupted by being named after the goddess of spring and was associated with pagan symbols of fertility, which were all foreign to the Christian faith.

The present-day observance of Easter has not abandoned these elements. They are still very much alive and well as part of the festival. It is our belief that if they had a corrupting effect upon the early Easter celebration, they continue their corrupting influence on the modern celebration. If they were syncretistic at their inception, they remain syncretistic presently. We conclude that Christianity’s main contribution to the Easter celebration is honoring Christ’s resurrection.

We affirm that Christ arose from the dead, but we fail to understand how the risen Lord can be honored by the association of pagan religious rites, symbols, and customs with His glorious, victorious resurrection.

Second Reason: Truth and Accuracy

The second reason for not observing Easter is a matter of Bible truth and accuracy. The earliest report of the Resurrection indicates that it occurred late on Sabbath:

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 sepulchre. 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 upon it. . . . Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matthew 28:1, 2, 5b, 6, KJV)

None of the Gospels report the exact moment of Jesus’ resurrection. However, Matthew’s account is concise in announcing that the Resurrection had already taken place before the weekly Sabbath ended. This fact may be overlooked by the mistake of trying to harmonize Matthew’s account of the women’s late Sabbath visit to the tomb with their Sunday morning visits. In their anxious search for the missing body of Jesus, the women apparently made multiple visits to the tomb.

Evidence of more than one visit is clearly observed in the identity of the different women who are accounted for in each visit:

• Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matthew 28:1)

• Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)

• Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them (Luke 24:10)

• Mary Magdalene (John 20:1,10-18)

Further evidence of more than one visit to the tomb is seen in the time their visits are reported to have occurred:

• in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1, KJV)

• when Sabbath was over (Mark 16:1)

• on the first day of the week, very early in the morning (Luke 24:1)

• early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark (John 20:1)

There are the accounts of the different combinations of angels/men whom the women saw on their visits:

• an angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:2)

• a young man (Mark 16:5)

• two men (Luke 24:4)

• two angels (John 20:12)

Then there are different places the angels/men were located:

• an angel sitting on the rolled away stone (Matthew 28:2)

• a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side (Mark 16:5)

• two men in bright clothing standing beside the women inside the tomb (Luke 24:4)

• two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot

Regardless of when they visited the tomb, Jesus had already risen. The place where He lay was empty. We have to allow that their anxiety caused them to return to the tomb more than once to determine where Jesus had been taken. Observe the anxiety in Mary Magdalene’s conversation regarding Jesus’ whereabouts:

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:11-16)

It is evident from the different times, the different numbers of women, the different numbers and locations of the angels attendant at the tomb, that it is unnecessary to reconcile the different accounts to make them agree as though there were only one visit on the first day of the week.

It is evident that it is unnecessary to harmonize Matthew 28:1 (KJV) with the other Gospel reports of the women’s visits on the first day of the week. Matthew reported the women’s visits with two references to time:

• first, “in the end of the Sabbath”

• second, “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week”

Matthew’s account is of the earliest visit of the women to see the tomb. It occurred at the end of the Sabbath day. The Bible Sabbath began at sunset and ended 24 hours later at the following sunset (Leviticus 23:32).

Matthew’s first reference to the time of a visit, “in the end of the Sabbath,” refers to the ending of a 24-hour period at sunset.

His second reference to the time of this visit, “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” must be understood (here as also in Luke 23:54) in the Jewish sense of the start of a new day, which began at sunset.

In both Matthew and Luke the word dawn (Greek, epiphosko) refers to the drawing on (start) of a new day. Thus, Matthew’s Jewish readers understood perfectly that he was describing the start of the first day of the week at sunset, not sunrise! So, Matthew reported the earthquake, the descending of the angel, the removal of the stone sealing the tomb, and the women’s visit as occurring before the Sabbath had ended.

On the other hand, Mark, Luke, and John all described visits of the women as occurring at the start of a 12-hour day, beginning at sunrise. They described the beginning of the daylight period of the first day of the week.

Therefore, we find no compelling reason to try to reconcile the time reference of Matthew 28:1 with the time references of the other Gospels, because they are not referring to the same period of time or occurrences.

It is not illogical for the women to return to the tomb the next morning after their first visit late on the Sabbath. They were concerned about the missing body of Jesus and were not going to be satisfied until they learned where it was. Their inability to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead does not seem strange when you consider the unbelief of all Jesus’ disciples. The risen Lord appeared to them more than once before they fully grasped the truth of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Apparently, doubts prompted the women to make multiple visits to the tomb.

It is appropriate to observe that in all of the visits made to the tomb, Jesus had already risen from the dead! None of those who followed Jesus were privileged to be an eyewitness of His resurrection.

The first day of the week is not an appropriate time to celebrate the Resurrection because it is a day late. If we were to celebrate it on a certain day of the week, we would take into account that He arose from the grave on Sabbath afternoon, not Sunday morning. And we would not call it “Easter Sabbath”!

(For more information about the Sabbath Resurrection, write to the Bible Advocate Press and request a copy of the booklet entitled The Duration of Jesus’ Entombment).

Third reason: No biblical observance

There is a third reason not to establish a yearly date to celebrate the Resurrection: Jesus did not command its observance. There is no record in Scripture of the apostles or the first-century church observing a festival in honor of the Resurrection. There is no question about the importance of the Resurrection to the Christian faith. It became central to what the church had to say about the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul resolved, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). He wrote to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8).

The apostles were witnesses that Jesus rose (Acts 2:32), that they communed with their risen Lord (Acts 1:3-8), and that they beheld Him ascending into heaven (Acts 1:9). But in spite of these facts, they showed no inclination to celebrate any of these occurrences.
“There is no celebration of the Resurrection in the NT” (The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary).

“There is no trace of the celebration of Easter as a Christian festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The sanctity of special times and places was an idea quite alien from the early Christian mind” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1898 ed.).

It is not as though the early church overlooked appropriate memorial services. Jesus himself instituted the memorial service He felt was appropriate and instructed those who believed in Him to observe it. He instituted the Lord’s Supper, or communion service, in memory of His death. Luke recounted how on the night before Jesus was crucified He instituted the Lord’s Supper:

He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19, 20).

Paul confirmed the importance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper as a Christian observ­ance:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23b-25).

The Lord’s Supper was instituted and modeled by Christ for believers and was continued by the apostles, but celebrating the Resurrection was neither instituted nor modeled by Him or the apostles. Therefore, it is biblical to observe the Lord’s Supper service as a memorial to Jesus’ death, but it is extra-biblical to celebrate a festival honoring His resurrection. We believe it is more acceptable to follow the instructions of Christ and the example of the apostolic church than the traditions of men.

A Mistranslation

The word Easter appears in the King James Version of the Bible, in Acts 12:4, which reads: “And when he [Herod] had apprehended him [Peter], he put him in prison intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”

The word Easter is a mistranslation of the Greek word pascha, meaning passover. The word pascha is correctly translated passover more than 25 times elsewhere in the New Testament. Thus, it is obvious that the translation of pascha as Easter in this single instance is an improper translation. It offers no support for the observance of Easter.

Mark’s Declaration

Mark 16:9 begins with the clause “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. . . .” This introduction seems to support a Sunday morning resurrection, but it does not concur with the plain statements made in Matthew 28:1, that Jesus’ resurrection had occurred before the women arrived at the tomb late on Sabbath afternoon.

In addition, the passage turns out to be unreliable for establishing the time of the Resurrection. Verses 9-20 are considered by many Bible scholars to have been appended to the original Gospel. It is thought that Mark may have ended his Gospel with something more than the abrupt description of the frightened and bewildered women (v. 8) but that his ending got lost in the transmission of his Gospel. Hence, someone endeavored to give Mark a more suitable, but problematic, ending at a later date.

Most modern versions of the Bible recognize the problem with verses 9-20 by stating, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20” (NIV).

It is our position, therefore, that the authenticity of Mark 16:9 is too questionable to offer it as a proof text of the time of Jesus’ resurrection.

Summary

We do not observe Easter as a celebration of the resurrection of our risen Lord because

it is tainted with syncretism;
the name Easter and its customs (eggs, rabbits, sunrise services, etc.) have all been adapted from paganism and incorporated into what Christendom considers to be its most sacred festival of the year.
the testimonies of the Gospels do not support a Sunday Resurrection;
Matthew reported that Jesus had already risen from the dead when the women arrived at the tomb near sunset on Sabbath.
If the Resurrection were to be celebrated, it would seem more appropriate to do it on Sabbath (Saturday) rather than on Sunday;
observance of Sunday as the Resurrection day is an invention of the post-first-century church.
instructions to observe the resurrection of Christ are absent from the Scriptures.
there are no biblical references to its observance by the apostles or the first-century church.
However, we do have instructions from Jesus and Paul to observe the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to the death of our Savior. It is not as though we are overlooking important observ­ances!

We have endeavored to answer questionable texts found in the Bible about the word Easter and the time of Jesus’ resurrection. None of these references may be offered as legitimate support for the observance of Easter.

The death and resurrection of our Lord are both important to our faith in Christ. Both are central to the gospel and our salvation. We demonstrate our belief in the risen Lord when we take communion in memory of His sacrificial death, as instructed by Him. We believe it is appropriate to avoid man-devised celebrations that overshadow biblical instructions.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

For hard copies, send your address and quantities to bap.orders@cog7.org.

EASTER VIEWS
The Church of God (Seventh Day) doesn’t celebrate a traditional Easter. While the Church affirms the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection from the dead, it distances itself from this holiday. Why?

Easter: There’s More to Be Said
We affirm our belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection is central to the message of the apostles and the first century church. Today it remains the central theme of Christianity. Our plan is to review some of the many ways the resurrection of Christ is treated by New Testament writers, in which we are made to rejoice.

Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the miraculous sign He gave to the detractors of His Messiahship:

Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).

Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are cited by Paul as a summary of the gospel of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:2, 3). Unless Christ had resurrected from the dead, all believers would still be in their sins (vv. 15, 16).

Christ’s resurrection is authentication that He is the Son of God: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of this fact. . . . Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ’” (Acts 2:32, 36).

Paul wrote that Jesus “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead . . . “ (Romans 1:4).

Christians affirm their belief in the resurrection through Christian baptism. Paul wrote that baptism, signifying spiritual renewal, is a symbolic participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3, 4).

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus sustains our Christian hope for a bodily resurrection at His second coming:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22, 23).

We believe in Christ’s resurrection. We preach it, we rejoice in it, we are renewed through it, and our hope of eternity is secured by it! But as glorious as the Resurrection is, there are reasons we do not participate in the Easter celebration. While most Christians observe Easter as a celebration of the Resurrection, we believe there are good reasons to question such an observance. As timeless as the Easter festival seems to be, as widely as it is celebrated, certain factors regarding it deserve examination.

Why Not Observe Easter?

If the Church of God (Seventh Day) believes in the Resurrection, why doesn’t it observe Easter as a Resurrection celebration? Our most serious reasons for not observing Easter are presented as follows.

First Reason: Syncretism

Our first objection to the celebration of Easter as a Christian festival is that it is syncretistic. The Easter festival mixes Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ with practices originating in paganism. Syncretism, the intermixing of Christianity with practices of heathen religions, is strictly forbidden in the Scriptures.

Reference materials such as an encyclopedia or Bible dictionary provide ample evidence that the Easter festival and its customs were borrowed from pagan practices pre-dating the birth of Christ.

The following references are samples of the evidence showing the syncretism of the Easter festival:

The name Easter derived from the pagan goddess of dawn and spring, Eostra or Eostre, and the Easter rituals pertained to the rising sun and to the triumph of the ascending spring over winter. Christian sermons and liturgies easily adapted these earlier sun sanctifications to lauding the Son’s ascent to heaven. (Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 1985 ed., Vol. 5, page 36, Feast and Festivals, European).

Easter, the annual festival observed throughout Christendom in commemoration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word Easter-Anglo-Saxon, Eastre, Eoster; German, Ostern — like the names of the days of the week, is a survival from Teutonic mythology. According to Bede, it is derived from “the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the fourth month, answering to April was dedicated.”

There is no trace of the celebration of Easter as a Christian festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. . . . The ecclesiastical historian Socrates . . . states with perfect truth that neither Christ nor His apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. “The apostles,” he writes, “had no thought of appointing festival days, but of promoting a life of blamelessness and piety.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1898 ed., Vol. VII, pages 613, 614).

Popular Easter customs have pagan origins. Consider the tradition of the Easter egg and Easter rabbits.

Easter eggs: The Easter egg has a varied history and has become one of Easter’s most popular customs. Virtually every culture of the ancient world revered the egg. It symbolized creation and fertility. The egg was credited with hatching, or giving birth to many of the deities of ancient myths. It was used as a charm to avert evil spirits and to bring good fortune. As the influence of the Roman Church spread throughout the world, people accepted a form of Christianity, but they held on to many of their superstitions. Since the egg could no longer symbolize their pagan beliefs, they assigned new legends with a Christian theme to the egg. (See Venetia Newall, An Egg at Easter, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1971.)

By the fourth century, we find accounts of eggs being blessed in the Roman Church. Today many people view the Easter egg as a symbol of the tomb from which Christ arose and as a sign of new life. The custom of rolling Easter eggs symbolizes rolling the stone away from the tomb where Christ was buried. (Ibid.)

Eggs and rabbits are familiar symbols unrelated to the Easter story. Eggs, which represent new life, have been a symbol of spring since ancient times. Christians adopted the egg as an Easter symbol because of the relationship between Easter and the renewal of life. (The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, 2001 ed., pages 42, 43, Easter)

Easter rabbits: “The hare and the egg were also supposed to have been symbols of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. As such they were emblematic of fertility.” (Robert J. Meyers, Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays, Doubleday & Company Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972, page 109)

Rabbits are associated with the fertility of spring because of their ability to produce many young. Some parents tell their children that the Easter Rabbit, or Easter Bunny, brings Easter eggs. (The World Book Encyclopedia)

The Easter festival is full of syncretism. It has combined many customs of heathen origin with the Christian faith. Hear what Paul wrote about this practice:

The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20, 21).

This following observation is made about the people of Israel whom the king of Assyria resettled in Samaria:

They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought . . . . The Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the Lord is the one you must worship” (2 Kings 17:33, 35, 36).

Syncretism is forbidden by the Word of God. God has always held His people to the doctrine of monotheism. There is one God, and believers are not to worship other gods along with the God of heaven (Exodus 20:3).

God’s instructions to Moses, while the children of Israel were still on their way to the Promised Land, demonstrates how seriously He regards syncretism. The Israelites were instructed not to make treaties with the inhabitants of the land they were going to possess.

They were to break down their idolatrous altars, smash their sacred stones, and destroy the symbols of their goddess, Asherah (Exodus 34:12, 13). They were to take the initiative to eliminate all of these pagan religious objects from the land. The final injunction was “Do not worship any other god” (v. 14).

Through Jeremiah, Israel was told, “Do not learn the way of the nations” (Jeremiah 10:2). This was a warning against adopting the cultic customs of the pagan nations in worshipping their gods or in diluting the worship of their God with paganism.

Finally, in 2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1 Paul taught a general principle, that Christians are not to form relationships with unbelievers. Such relationships often compromise Christian standards or jeopardize a consistent Christian witness (v. 14a). The reason for this reminder is that unbelievers do not share the Christian’s moral values, sympathies, and goals.

The Christian life demands separation from the world (v. 17), a familial relationship with God (v. 18), and sanctification of body and spirit out of reverence for God (7:1).

Paul stressed the incompatibilities of Christianity and heathenism. He anticipated a negative answer to “What do these contrasts have in common?”

• righteousness and light — wickedness and darkness

• Christ and the believer — Belial (the Devil) and the unbeliever

• the temple of God — idols

These contrasts provide the principal reason that Christians are not to enter compromising (syncretistic) relationships with unbelievers (v. 14a). Corporately, Christians are the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). An individual Christian is a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). God promises to be a Father to us (v.18), but He demands separation from unclean things (1 Corinthians 3:17) and purity of life (7:1, 2).

Although the Resurrection is a glorious, biblical fact, the apostles and the first-century church did not celebrate it (see Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 230). When the Resurrection began to be celebrated, it was corrupted by being named after the goddess of spring and was associated with pagan symbols of fertility, which were all foreign to the Christian faith.

The present-day observance of Easter has not abandoned these elements. They are still very much alive and well as part of the festival. It is our belief that if they had a corrupting effect upon the early Easter celebration, they continue their corrupting influence on the modern celebration. If they were syncretistic at their inception, they remain syncretistic presently. We conclude that Christianity’s main contribution to the Easter celebration is honoring Christ’s resurrection.

We affirm that Christ arose from the dead, but we fail to understand how the risen Lord can be honored by the association of pagan religious rites, symbols, and customs with His glorious, victorious resurrection.

Second Reason: Truth and Accuracy

The second reason for not observing Easter is a matter of Bible truth and accuracy. The earliest report of the Resurrection indicates that it occurred late on Sabbath:

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 sepulchre. 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 upon it. . . . Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matthew 28:1, 2, 5b, 6, KJV)

None of the Gospels report the exact moment of Jesus’ resurrection. However, Matthew’s account is concise in announcing that the Resurrection had already taken place before the weekly Sabbath ended. This fact may be overlooked by the mistake of trying to harmonize Matthew’s account of the women’s late Sabbath visit to the tomb with their Sunday morning visits. In their anxious search for the missing body of Jesus, the women apparently made multiple visits to the tomb.

Evidence of more than one visit is clearly observed in the identity of the different women who are accounted for in each visit:

• Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matthew 28:1)

• Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1)

• Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them (Luke 24:10)

• Mary Magdalene (John 20:1,10-18)

Further evidence of more than one visit to the tomb is seen in the time their visits are reported to have occurred:

• in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1, KJV)

• when Sabbath was over (Mark 16:1)

• on the first day of the week, very early in the morning (Luke 24:1)

• early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark (John 20:1)

There are the accounts of the different combinations of angels/men whom the women saw on their visits:

• an angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:2)

• a young man (Mark 16:5)

• two men (Luke 24:4)

• two angels (John 20:12)

Then there are different places the angels/men were located:

• an angel sitting on the rolled away stone (Matthew 28:2)

• a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side (Mark 16:5)

• two men in bright clothing standing beside the women inside the tomb (Luke 24:4)

• two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot

Regardless of when they visited the tomb, Jesus had already risen. The place where He lay was empty. We have to allow that their anxiety caused them to return to the tomb more than once to determine where Jesus had been taken. Observe the anxiety in Mary Magdalene’s conversation regarding Jesus’ whereabouts:

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:11-16)

It is evident from the different times, the different numbers of women, the different numbers and locations of the angels attendant at the tomb, that it is unnecessary to reconcile the different accounts to make them agree as though there were only one visit on the first day of the week.

It is evident that it is unnecessary to harmonize Matthew 28:1 (KJV) with the other Gospel reports of the women’s visits on the first day of the week. Matthew reported the women’s visits with two references to time:

• first, “in the end of the Sabbath”

• second, “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week”

Matthew’s account is of the earliest visit of the women to see the tomb. It occurred at the end of the Sabbath day. The Bible Sabbath began at sunset and ended 24 hours later at the following sunset (Leviticus 23:32).

Matthew’s first reference to the time of a visit, “in the end of the Sabbath,” refers to the ending of a 24-hour period at sunset.

His second reference to the time of this visit, “as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” must be understood (here as also in Luke 23:54) in the Jewish sense of the start of a new day, which began at sunset.

In both Matthew and Luke the word dawn (Greek, epiphosko) refers to the drawing on (start) of a new day. Thus, Matthew’s Jewish readers understood perfectly that he was describing the start of the first day of the week at sunset, not sunrise! So, Matthew reported the earthquake, the descending of the angel, the removal of the stone sealing the tomb, and the women’s visit as occurring before the Sabbath had ended.

On the other hand, Mark, Luke, and John all described visits of the women as occurring at the start of a 12-hour day, beginning at sunrise. They described the beginning of the daylight period of the first day of the week.

Therefore, we find no compelling reason to try to reconcile the time reference of Matthew 28:1 with the time references of the other Gospels, because they are not referring to the same period of time or occurrences.

It is not illogical for the women to return to the tomb the next morning after their first visit late on the Sabbath. They were concerned about the missing body of Jesus and were not going to be satisfied until they learned where it was. Their inability to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead does not seem strange when you consider the unbelief of all Jesus’ disciples. The risen Lord appeared to them more than once before they fully grasped the truth of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Apparently, doubts prompted the women to make multiple visits to the tomb.

It is appropriate to observe that in all of the visits made to the tomb, Jesus had already risen from the dead! None of those who followed Jesus were privileged to be an eyewitness of His resurrection.

The first day of the week is not an appropriate time to celebrate the Resurrection because it is a day late. If we were to celebrate it on a certain day of the week, we would take into account that He arose from the grave on Sabbath afternoon, not Sunday morning. And we would not call it “Easter Sabbath”!

(For more information about the Sabbath Resurrection, write to the Bible Advocate Press and request a copy of the booklet entitled The Duration of Jesus’ Entombment).

Third reason: No biblical observance

There is a third reason not to establish a yearly date to celebrate the Resurrection: Jesus did not command its observance. There is no record in Scripture of the apostles or the first-century church observing a festival in honor of the Resurrection. There is no question about the importance of the Resurrection to the Christian faith. It became central to what the church had to say about the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul resolved, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). He wrote to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8).

The apostles were witnesses that Jesus rose (Acts 2:32), that they communed with their risen Lord (Acts 1:3-8), and that they beheld Him ascending into heaven (Acts 1:9). But in spite of these facts, they showed no inclination to celebrate any of these occurrences.
“There is no celebration of the Resurrection in the NT” (The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary).

“There is no trace of the celebration of Easter as a Christian festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The sanctity of special times and places was an idea quite alien from the early Christian mind” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1898 ed.).

It is not as though the early church overlooked appropriate memorial services. Jesus himself instituted the memorial service He felt was appropriate and instructed those who believed in Him to observe it. He instituted the Lord’s Supper, or communion service, in memory of His death. Luke recounted how on the night before Jesus was crucified He instituted the Lord’s Supper:

He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19, 20).

Paul confirmed the importance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper as a Christian observ­ance:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23b-25).

The Lord’s Supper was instituted and modeled by Christ for believers and was continued by the apostles, but celebrating the Resurrection was neither instituted nor modeled by Him or the apostles. Therefore, it is biblical to observe the Lord’s Supper service as a memorial to Jesus’ death, but it is extra-biblical to celebrate a festival honoring His resurrection. We believe it is more acceptable to follow the instructions of Christ and the example of the apostolic church than the traditions of men.

A Mistranslation

The word Easter appears in the King James Version of the Bible, in Acts 12:4, which reads: “And when he [Herod] had apprehended him [Peter], he put him in prison intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”

The word Easter is a mistranslation of the Greek word pascha, meaning passover. The word pascha is correctly translated passover more than 25 times elsewhere in the New Testament. Thus, it is obvious that the translation of pascha as Easter in this single instance is an improper translation. It offers no support for the observance of Easter.

Mark’s Declaration

Mark 16:9 begins with the clause “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. . . .” This introduction seems to support a Sunday morning resurrection, but it does not concur with the plain statements made in Matthew 28:1, that Jesus’ resurrection had occurred before the women arrived at the tomb late on Sabbath afternoon.

In addition, the passage turns out to be unreliable for establishing the time of the Resurrection. Verses 9-20 are considered by many Bible scholars to have been appended to the original Gospel. It is thought that Mark may have ended his Gospel with something more than the abrupt description of the frightened and bewildered women (v. 8) but that his ending got lost in the transmission of his Gospel. Hence, someone endeavored to give Mark a more suitable, but problematic, ending at a later date.

Most modern versions of the Bible recognize the problem with verses 9-20 by stating, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20” (NIV).

It is our position, therefore, that the authenticity of Mark 16:9 is too questionable to offer it as a proof text of the time of Jesus’ resurrection.

Summary

We do not observe Easter as a celebration of the resurrection of our risen Lord because

it is tainted with syncretism;
the name Easter and its customs (eggs, rabbits, sunrise services, etc.) have all been adapted from paganism and incorporated into what Christendom considers to be its most sacred festival of the year.
the testimonies of the Gospels do not support a Sunday Resurrection;
Matthew reported that Jesus had already risen from the dead when the women arrived at the tomb near sunset on Sabbath.
If the Resurrection were to be celebrated, it would seem more appropriate to do it on Sabbath (Saturday) rather than on Sunday;
observance of Sunday as the Resurrection day is an invention of the post-first-century church.
instructions to observe the resurrection of Christ are absent from the Scriptures.
there are no biblical references to its observance by the apostles or the first-century church.
However, we do have instructions from Jesus and Paul to observe the Lord’s Supper as a memorial to the death of our Savior. It is not as though we are overlooking important observ­ances!

We have endeavored to answer questionable texts found in the Bible about the word Easter and the time of Jesus’ resurrection. None of these references may be offered as legitimate support for the observance of Easter.

The death and resurrection of our Lord are both important to our faith in Christ. Both are central to the gospel and our salvation. We demonstrate our belief in the risen Lord when we take communion in memory of His sacrificial death, as instructed by Him. We believe it is appropriate to avoid man-devised celebrations that overshadow biblical instructions.

Most certainly, if Jesus were physically in the flesh with us today He absolutely would NOT partake of ANY heathen customs nor would He be teaching such lies to children. So, if Jesus wouldn’t condone it, why would we?

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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