A Question I Was Asked:

'Isn't Easter Pagan in Origin?'

Here is the question:

"I believe you are right to reject the writings and claims of Alexander Hislop, ....but isn't Easter a pagan rather than a Christian holiday, and isn't this proven by the very meaning of its name? Also, doesn't the fact that its date is determined by the full moon after the Spring equinox clearly show a pagan origin?"

My Reply:

Okay, now we must be very careful here, especially in how we use terms like "proven." In fact, as others have pointed out, only a person speaking English or German could even possibly make this association. But more on that later.

First of all, let's deal with the date. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following March 21 (historically, the Spring equinox). The reason, however, has nothing to do with paganism. But it has everything to do with Judaism and with Christ's Resurrection.

Christ was resurrected on Sunday - the First Day of the week (Matthew 28:1) - thus, since the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, all Christians have celebrated his Resurrection on Sunday. Prior to that, most celebrated it on Sunday, but some, known as Quartodecimians, insisted on celebrating it on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, when Passover occurred. At Nicaea all of the Christian world - effectively - agreed to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on the first Sunday after 14 Nisan because that was the day that Christ was Resurrected back in the first century - the Sunday after Passover. Some insist on seeing this decision as some kind of satanic plot when the true intention was to make one agreed time for celebrating the resurrection of Christ normative in the Christian world.

Because first century Jews used a lunar calendar, every month was twenty-eight days long, beginning with the new moon and having the full moon on the 14th of the month. Nisan, being the month in which the Spring equinox occurred, always had Passover -- the 14th of Nisan -- falling on the first full moon on or after the Spring equinox. Thus since Passover was always on or after the first full moon after the Spring equinox, and since the Resurrection was the first Sunday after Passover, Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21 (historically, the Spring equinox). There is nothing about a pagan lunar celebration in here. Contrary to what some will tell you, it has nothing to do with paganism, but everything to do with the Resurrection of Christ in its Jewish-Passover context.

Okay. Now let us deal with the name of Easter. The fact is that there are only about two languages in which the name has any pagan associations whatsoever - English and German. This, of course, might be a problem for King James Onlyists, since the term "Easter" actually appears in the King James Version in Acts 12:4 as a translation for Passover.

In English, of course, that name is "Easter" and in German "Ostern." These are related in name to a pagan spring festival, the name of which, if you check a good reference book of religious names, was derived from an ancient Germanic word similar to the Old English term east, which means, simply enough, "east," the direction of the rising sun. Again, contrary to what some will tell you, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the goddess Ishtar. A few have suggested that 'Ishtar' was pronounced the same way as we now pronounce 'Easter' but this is a highly dubious claim for the truth is that not a single anthropologist or expert in ancient dialects has any idea how those ancient pagans pronounced that word and they will freely admit this. Even Common Greek (the language of the New Testament), which is comparatively recent, contains several words which even modern Greeks are not certain how to pronounce!

But the truth is that in virtually every language except English and German, the name of Easter is derived from the Jewish word Pesach or "Passover." Thus in Greek the term for Easter is Pascha, in Latin the term is also Pascha. From there it passed into the Romance languages, and so in Spanish it is Pascua, in Italian it is Pasqua, in French it is Paques, and in Portugese it is Pascoa. It also passed into the non-Romance languages, such as the Germanic languages Dutch, where it is Pasen, and Danish, where it is Paaske.

Thus only in Germany and England does the term "Easter" really have any pagan associations at all, but that link is very tenuous. Maybe in these two Protestant countries paganism was not sufficiently stamped out to use the Judeo-Christian term for the celebration of Christ's Resurrection that was soon being used everywhere else in Europe. We must understand that the early Christians knew that they had to use a replacement approach in fighting former pagan practises. In other words, it is far better to say 'Here is something new and far better' than to say 'Just don't do that anymore.' However, one should reiterate that the association is only associated with an old pagan festival. Before one might be tempted to throw ones arms up in horror at this, we should just stop and think that Moses had to describe God in terms borrowed from the pagans - otherwise how else could God have been described? And the New Testament writers used 'Theos' freely as a name for God when other Greeks used it differently, including using it to describe pagan deities. 'Logos' too was used by John to describe the work of Christ, even though Greek philosophy already used the term, often in ways which Christians would reject.

So, strictly speaking, 'Easter' - just as it sounds - refers to the east and to the direction of the rising sun, and, yes, there appears to be an obscure connection to an early pagan festival too, but to state that "Easter is a pagan rather than a Christian holiday" cannot be justified: Easter is a Christian holiday which represents the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The reader of this article should be seriously warned that certain of the cults and sects joyously, repeatedly, but fully misguidedly spread misinformation on this topic as a tactic for gaining followers from a former Christian background. The Jehovah's Witnesses in particular are carefully coached in how to employ this devious tactic.

Robin A. Brace. 2007.