I’ve recently browsed the interwebs and seen many posts on how Easter is pagan and we need to be keeping Passover and many other things. Mainly I have seen well meaning people blaming Constantine for what they deem as pagan or at the very least the wrong date for celebration. So I thought I would write an entry on this issue and hopefully produce more light than heat.
I specifically read an article by the ministry One for Israel titled “Why are Passover and Easter Celebrated at Different Times?” Here, check it out.
For the most part the article seems to stick to standard historical reporting. The Christians were looking to the Jews to calculate when to celebrate the resurrection and then decided that they should do the calculations themselves instead of relying on a religion that was at odds with Christians. Also, there is early evidence that Christians were calculating their feast at an early date in the west as Polycarp came to the west with a question concerning Pascha and there was no agreement, but no schism either. See Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 5.24.
The problem I have with the article is that it states, “If these words are not shocking to you, they should be! The Nicean Council decided that they would celebrate a separate festival on the first new moon after the Spring Equinox, (which is always March 21st in the Gregorian Calendar) to make a deliberate break with the people of Israel. Easter doesn’t feature even once in the Bible…The English word “Easter” comes from “Eostre” – a goddess associated with Spring, and was co-opted for the name of the new festival to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, which was decidedly NOT Passover.”
The documents from the council were written in Greek, not English (if English even existed at this early date). When they mention “Easter” as translated into English, the Greek word is Pascha, which is a loan word from Aramaic, meaning Passover. In fact, English is the only language that calls it anything else. Greek is Pascha, Latin, Pasca, Spanish, Pascua etc. To claim that Constantine supplanted Passover with a new holiday called Easter is not only false and unsupportable given the evidence, but it betrays an ignorance of language, history and just plain reason (sorry, this gets my blood boiling).
We cannot say that this holiday is pagan based on a name some obscure barbarians (who were, by the way, pagan in the fourth century) in a far flung corner of the empire decided to call the holiday at a later date. From what the experts think, Easter was a month name, much like Thursday is Thor’s day and that the feast fell in this month and so that is what it came to be called. Do I like it? Not particularly. Perhaps we should call it what the rest of the churches in the rest of the world call it, Pascha. But to say, based on this English word, that all of Christian historical practice is wrong goes beyond the evidence… and is just plain silly.
The letter of Constantine encourages Christians to calculate the feast on their own. Also, there was no set date agreed upon and the east and the west still disagree. The eastern churches were a month after the west last year. But in general, it will be the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. That is the Sunday after Passover, just like this year. So I think this is perfectly acceptable. The feast of first fruits according to the Torah is the day after the Sabbath of Passover week and the day that Yeshua rose from the dead. So modern (and ancient) Christian practice is keeping the feast of first fruits as the resurrection, since Yeshua is our first fruits of the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:23.
So have Christians forgotten where there customs come from? In general yes. We could all do better on that. Have we supplanted God’s holy days with our own? I don’t think so. This still seems to me to be at the very least permissible. We are celebrating the ultimate moment in the history of the universe. If the Jews in the book of Esther can celebrate Purim because of God’s handy work (God is actually never mentioned in Esther) then I think we can celebrate the most important things for our faith.
Not to mention that there were several calendars current in the first century, and after, that Jews used. So why should we stick to the rabbinic calendar? The Bible unfortunately does not tell us enough to calculate it on our own. The Dead Sea sect had a calendar that kept the holy days falling on the same day each year, which kind of sounds like what Christians do with Pascha/Easter. We just don’t seem to be in a position to know for certain what calculations are absolutely correct, and it would seem to me that the church for both practical and theological purposes had the right to calculate the feast on their own.
I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with this. In fact, I looked back at my comments online and I’m being attacked personally instead of refuting the facts. So, ask yourself what the evidence demonstrates. I’m not talking about videos on Youtube, but the primary sources from the time period and what actual experts say.