Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?

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Every Easter I have to brace myself for the onslaught of ridiculous meme’s and factually baseless blog articles claiming that Christianity stole Easter from the Pagans.

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A friend of mine contributed a post for my blog on this topic a few years ago which you can find HERE.  With this post I am going to aim for a more detailed analysis on a more narrow approach than he did.  There is evidence and good arguments out there with original sources for defending the Christian origins of the Bunnies and Eggs which you can find HERE.  With this post though I’m focusing on the origins of the holiday itself.    To do that I intend to ask and answer the following questions and go from there.

 

Did the early Christians believe the holy week to have occurred over the Passover?

Did the Early Christians desire to celebrate the resurrection?

Did first century Jews observe the Passover on or around the spring equinox?

 

To address the first two questions I am going to quote some church fathers. What I found was that they didn’t use the word Easter. The word Easter is the English word for Pascha which has its roots in Passover. Kinda boring to find the answer in the word itself but lets continue anyways for science.

I found the below quotes from David W. Bercot’s A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. I selected the quotes below because you can see an evolving dialogue on the dispute in the early church regarding what day Pascha [Easter] should be observed. In this book the word Easter is used to prevent confusion on the part of the reader but it should be known that this is an anachronism, the writers would have used the term “Pascha”.

The thing they seem to dispute the most is whether or not the Church should observe Nisan 14 every year, the Sunday following Nisan 14 to keep the holy week cycle, or if each church should do as they were taught and just be at peace about it.

“When Servilius Paulus was procounsul of Asia, at the time that Sagaris suffered martyrdom, there arose a great controversy at Laodicea concerning the date of Easter [Pascha] , which had fallen due at that time.” Melito, 170 AD Pg 223

“When the blessed Polycarp was visiting in Rome in the time of Anicetus [c. 155 A.D.], . . . they were at once well inclined towards each other, not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this matter [the observance of Easter]. For Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [of his Easter customs] inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant. Nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [Easter in his way], for Anicetus maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other.” Irenaeus, c. 180, Pg 500 

“There are some diversities among the churches. Anyone may know this from the facts concerning the celebration of Easter [Pascha]. . . . He may see that here are some diversities among them. All things are not observed alike among the churches, such as are observed at Jerusalem. Similarly, in very many other provinces, many things are varied because of the places and names. Nevertheless, there is no departure at all from the peace and unity of the [universal] church on this account.” Firmilian, AD 256 Pg 500

“As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest, who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord. . . . These all kept Easter [Pascha] on the fourteenth day, in accordance with the Gospel. . . . Seven of my relatives were bishops, and I am the eighth, and my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.” Polycrates AD 190 Pg 500

“You have sent to me, most faithful and accomplished son, in order to inquire what is the proper hour for bringing the fast to a close on the day of Easter [Pascha].  You say that there are some of the brethren who hold that it should be done at cockcrow.  However, others say that it should end at nightfall…. It will be cordially acknowledge by all that those who have been humbling their souls with fasting should immediately begin their festal joy and gladness at the same hour as the resurrection…. However, no precise account seems to be offered in [Scripture] as to the hour at which he rose.” – Dionysius of Alexandria 262 AD Pg 223

“We make the following statement and explanation to those who seek an exact account of the specific hour, half-hour, or quarter of an hour at which it is proper to begin their rejoicing over our Lord’s rising from the dead: Those who are too hasty and give up even before midnight, we reprove as irresponsible and intemperate.”  – Dionysius of Alexandra 262 AD Pg 223

“Our predecessors, men most learned in the books of the Hebrews and Greeks (I refer to Isidore, Jerome, and Clement) . . . come harmoniously to one and the same most exact determining of Easter [Pascha] —the day, month, and season meeting in accord with the highest honor for the Lord’s resurrection. But Origen also, the most learned of all, and the most discerning in making calculations, . . . has published in a very elegant manner a little book on Easter [Pascha]. . . . For this reason, also, we maintain that those who . . . determine the fourteenth day of the Paschal season by it make no trivial or common blunder. . . . Therefore, in this concurrence of the sun and moon, the Paschal festival is not to be celebrated. For as long as the [sun and moon] are found in this course, the power of darkness is not overcome. And as long as equality between light and darkness endures, and is not diminished by the light, it is shown that the Paschal festival is not to be celebrated. Accordingly, it is directed that the festival be kept after the equinox.” Anatolius AD 270 Pg 500 

“It is your duty, brethren . . . to observe the days of Easter [Pascha] exactly. . . . No longer be concerned about keeping the feast with the Jews, for we now have no communion with them. In fact, they have been led astray in regard to the calculation itself. . . . You should not, through ignorance, celebrate Easter [Pascha] twice in the same year, or celebrate this day of the resurrection of our Lord on any day other than a Sunday.” Apostolic Constitutions, AD 390 Pg 223

 

There was obviously dispute on the date they all felt Easter should be observed. However, I don’t see any plot detailing how they seek to rob a pagan religion of their Ishtar day or anything like that (by the way ishtar only rhymes with easter in english!). Clearly they all believed that the biblical narrative happened on Nisan 14 and they wanted the Christian tradition to be in keeping with that history however the details worked out.

I think that satisfies the first two questions. We have evidence that the Early Christians observed Easter in one form or another. We also see that they were quite passionate about doing it right. So I don’t think there is any basis to say they got it from Pagans. Why the association with the Equinox though?

The first month of the Jewish Lunar calendar happens to be in the spring. Though the specific means have changed over time, a lot of care has been given to ensure that it remains in the spring by adding leap years to the Jewish Calendar. When Leviticus was written the name of the month was different, but today it is called the month of Nisan.

 

“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord , the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord ‘s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord ; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. But you shall present a food offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.” ‘ Leviticus 23:4-8 ESV

The only reason then that Passover happens around the equinox in my estimation is because Nisan does. When did Nisan 14 land when Jesus would have been crucified? We don’t know for sure which year he was crucified. According to tradition it was 33 AD, but there are other historic possibilities.

This article gives details on making the best guess that we can though. There is a give and take of a few days on each as the determination of the beginning of a new month at the time was visibility of the moon. Such a thing is highly subjective as we don’t know today which nights were cloudy and which were not in the first century.

Nissan 14

Image Source

Jesus crucifixion would have been in March or April. Also, since it’s impossible to nail it down to the precise date then that means arguing over exactly which one of these we should observe it on is a waste of time. We don’t know. The point is though that Easter is a christian tradition not a pagan one. The date for the Passover is rooted in scripture, which means the date for the resurrection is too. The source of the tradition itself is completely biblical in it’s origins.

Okay but why the Equinox?

The truth is this isn’t a question one has to answer. There are many reasons one may establish a holiday based on the equinox that do not require appropriating pagan traditions. For example, they didn’t have digital calendars back then and people wanted to share the same dates for things. I can see how using the equinox or the solstice as a starting point for framing a calculation on a holiday would be pretty handy.

Even if that isn’t the reason though you don’t need one to object to the pagan origins assertion. Just because two things are similar doesn’t mean one was caused by the other. If someone is throwing this at you then you should actually just point out the underlying flaw in their logic. You don’t need to even go any further than that.

Origin of the Modern Dates

I found a good article on this which you can read yourself HERE. The two paragraphs most pertinent though are quoted below for your convenience.

“Easter is the day members of the Christian faith recognize the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a celebration of life and new beginnings. In 325 AD the church held the First Ecumenical Council known as the Council of Nicea. Prior to the council meeting, churches around the world celebrated Easter at various times. In order to bring unity among the churches, council members created a formula that would calculate the date for Easter celebration around the world. They established Easter to be held on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon, which follows the vernal equinox, but always after Jewish Passover. To avoid any confusion in the date, it was also determined that the vernal equinox would fall on March 21. This system would guarantee that all churches would celebrate Easter together on the same day.”……

“Although the churches were split among several doctrinal views, they both still believed Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon to follow the vernal equinox. The Catholic Church, however, no longer found that it had to fall after Passover. Added to this was the Catholic Church’s switch over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which was presented in 1582. The Orthodox Church still held to the original Nicean Council’s formula for Easter as well as following the original calendar system of the Julian calendar. By using two different calendar systems, the vernal equinox now fell on March 21 under the Gregorian calendar and April 3 on the Julian calendar. The two churches now celebrated the same Easter holiday on two different days.”

Conclusion

It’s perfectly rational to assert from history that Easter is thoroughly Christian in it’s origins. Whether you observe on the Western date or the Eastern one is just as valid as it would seem that arguing about the date is part of our heritage too. What you don’t have to deal with is those silly meme’s telling you it’s a pagan day. Please feel free to drop a link to this blog post in any of those that you see.

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About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
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15 Responses to Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?

  1. jennacar says:

    It might be “Christian” but it’s not biblical. You can’t twist and take a tuck here or there to make it so. Constantine had to make it ILLEGAL to celebrate Passover–meaning that the other 75 percent of assemblies who didn’t get suckered into going to Nicea were still doing so–and the Sabbath–and that Easter was now the “accepted” celebration–coincidentally coming on the same calendar with their Oestre–a fertility celebration (to be kind).
    And Passover doesn’t “happen” either in your estimation or anyone else’s but that it was COMMANDED to be celebrated forever on the 14th day of the first month, that of the abib–or maturing of the barley harvest. Can you point to the Creator’s command to celebrate Easter?

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    • ACTheologian says:

      The passover was made obsolete along with the whole old covenant.

      When He said, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
      HEBREWS 8:13 NASB

      Easter is a tradition. We are allowed to keep traditions as long as they don’t violate scripture. Can you show me in the Bible where Easter is forbidden?

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      • jennacar says:

        You use that verse and it only solidifies MY position. “Is ready to disappear”–it hadn’t by the time the writer had written Hebrews around AD 64. What was about to disappear?
        The temple was about to be destroyed by Rome, though. Hmm……
        “New” has a very different meaning when you apply it Hebraically. Is a new moon a whole other moon than the one that went dark? No, it’s new in the sense of having been re-lit by the sun.
        It’s funny to me that certain parts of the Torah disappeared with your “new” covenant, but others didn’t–like tithing, for instance.

        And here’s where Easter is forbidden: Deut 12:4, 30. Deut 4:19. YHWH outlined already how he prefers to be worshiped. It’s only Christianity that says “Oh, but hath God said.”

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      • ACTheologian says:

        I hope you don’t mind that I combined your two comments, it appeared you were making a follow-up and I wanted to keep things organized. I did not change your words at all.

        To address your argument though, notice that the old covenant is already obsolete and becoming obsolete at the same time.

        When He said, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
        HEBREWS 8:13 NASB

        “made” is past tense and “becoming” is ongoing. I would agree with you that from where we are now it is only obsolete after 70 AD. I believe that the old covenant began it’s fade out at annunciation, peaked at the cross, and was fully gone at the fall of Jerusalem. Reasonable people can disagree on the specifics there. But what is not debatable is that the old covenant is fully obsolete at this time.

        The word for new in Hebrews 8:13 isn’t the Hebrew word it’s the Greek word. I realize that the Hebrew roots cult believes that the original version of the new testament was written in Aramaic. However this cannot be proven and only serves an excuse for making a new bible more expedient to their beliefs, much like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do.

        Besides that the word I was highlighting was obsolete. How are you pulling the concept of relevant out of the word obsolete?

        As for your old covenant citations, as I said above, I believe the old covenant is obsolete. I realize some folks are inconsistent with this and try to apply old covenant rules like tithing today. We would both agree that one is wrong to do this. You because they are not charging the full 30% that’s actually required and me because I see tithe as an old covenant tax in the context of a theocracy. I have a blog post on tithe detailing this and you’re free to look it up if you like in my search bar.

        One more point, a command to keep Passover in the old covenant (even if it isn’t obsolete) is not a law forbidding Easter. Even Jewish people today have many traditions not specifically commanded in the Torah. So even on this your logic presents a false dichotomy. When Jesus rebukes tradition in Mark 7 he only rebukes traditions that make void the word of God. He does not rebuke traditions that do not void the word of God. Jesus was very careful with his words.

        On Easter we proclaim a sinners need for the gospel. Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins so that we will have faith and believe. In this great exchange we are given faith to believe in Jesus and are covered by his blood just like the Israelites were covered by the blood of a lamb on their doorpost in the exodus. What happened to the Israelites was an image, a type and shadow of what Christ has done to save us. Now we have the substance that was casting the shadow. Unless you’re opposed to the Gospel I don’t see how you could be opposed to Easter.

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      • jennacar says:

        Do you see how anti-Semitic your doctrine is?

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      • ACTheologian says:

        I disagree, I’m taking the Bible at face value. The Bible isn’t antisemitic. Remember, Roman’s 14:5 goes both ways. If people want to keep old covenant holidays as a cultural tradition its absolutely welcome.

        Its proclaiming traditions as law that’s wrong or doing so as a way to deny Christ that is antichrist.

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      • jennacar says:

        Your rebellion against the Most High is just amazing. Do you even think for one minute that the early church preached the demolition of the Torah? Is that why the Pharisees had to pay people to LIE? Had the early brethren preached the Torah now gone, they would not have had to “set up” witnesses to lie–to say that that’s what they had said. (Ref stoning of Stephen.) It would have been common knowledge. How come 18 YEARS post resurrection James sad for gentiles to give up four abominations AND that they could hear Moses read each Sabbath? How come 10 years after the resurrection Peter had not had anything unclean? (And please don’t bore me by some pitiful twisting to say that that vision was about food. Peter twice says what it was about.). Why did Constantine have to issue an EDICT about the Sabbath and about Easter?
        (Because some shady church people wanted cushy government paychecks, is why.)

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      • ACTheologian says:

        What I’m seeing how is that since your other arguments failed you are shifting to new ones. Please clarify your intent. Are you conceding that you were wrong earlier by moving on now or are you just abandoning a failed argument and hoping a new one will work? In the spirit of human communication I’ll address your new points and await clarification at the moment.

        1. You said: “Your rebellion against the Most High is just amazing”

        As I articulated before, I believe that I am following the word at its plainest meaning. I was able to exegete every thesis point I utilized. How is it that you think that I see myself in rebellion? Please clarify.

        2. You said: “Do you even think for one minute that the early church preached the demolition of the Torah?”

        I never said the demolition of the Torah or any such thing. I think you’re talking to a figment of your imagination. Early church fathers and Christians today saw Christ as the fulfillment not the end of prophecy and old covenant ceremonial laws. I can give you quotes to support this if you’re interested but based on your comments after this one I don’t think you will care.

        3. You said: “Is that why the Pharisees had to pay people to LIE?” Had the early brethren preached the Torah now gone, they would not have had to ‘set up’ witnesses to lie-to say that’s what they had said. (Ref stoning of Stephen.) It would have been common knowledge.”

        I would like to give you a response to this but, with respect, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. Your thoughts in this sentence appear incomplete to me. To me it seems you have a really nice argument in your mind but you think I’m assuming your meaning and you can just reference and earlier conversation we had. But that’s not the case and I don’t know what you’re trying to say here.

        4. You said: “How come 18 YEARS post resurrection James sad for gentiles to give up four abominations AND that they could hear Moses read each Sabbath?”

        James never references the Sabbath at all actually. Can you show me where he speaks of it being kept by Christian churches? I would expect the old testament to be read during the liturgy just as it is today in churches that still use the liturgy. Liturgical churches still base their homilies on old testament passages too. A good preacher can proclaim law and gospel rightly from any passage of scripture, old or new testament. Also, I am not advocating an antinomian teaching. I believe law is a thing, so James rebuking sin is something I concur with. Moral law is a thing. How I advocate discerning moral law is by juxtaposing what the apostles taught after the cross with the 613 laws commanded in the Torah. Things that line up are moral law and those that don’t are ceremonial.

        5. You said: “How come 10 YEARS after the resurrection Peter had not had anything unclean? (And please don’t bore me by some pitiful twisting to say that vision was about food. Peter twice says what it was about.)”

        A more relevant question is why wasn’t the old covenant food laws included in the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15? Your citation of years after the resurrection is irrelevant. I already articulated to you that I believe it was a fade. It seems to me that you’re not listening and are just retreading lame arguments that someone else told you after the fact without reading my earlier replies. Who am I talking to anyways? As for Peter’s vision though, why do you believe God used a faslehood to teach a truth?

        6. You said: “Why did Constantine have to issue an EDICT about Sabbath and about Easter? Because some shady church people wanted cushy government paychecks, is why.)”

        He didn’t issue an edict about the sabbath actually, that had been obsolete for some time. He issued an edict making the observance of the Lord’s Day and Easter legal. The reason is before that edict it was against the law and Christians were being murdered for observing those days. Please substantiante your claim on “shady church people”. Which people? What made them shady exactly and what quotes do you have of them expecting cushy government paychecks? I’m pretty sure checks weren’t invented or adopted in the banking system until sometime after the printing press was invented at the very least. Do you mean that as a reference to some other form of payment though? To who exactly and by who? What’s your proof that this occurred and what’s your proof of motivation and how to you tie that to the edict without wild assumptions?

        Wrapping this up I feel like you basically said nothing to me. I suspect you have a very strong emotional attachment to your tradition that has no objective basis in scripture or history.

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      • jennacar says:

        “I feel like you basically said nothing to me. I suspect you have a very strong emotional attachment to your tradition that has no objective basis in scripture or history.”

        My thoughts exactly. You refuse to acknowledge anything I have said. Why would I write more? You can’t answer simple questions from your bible. You dance around the obvious. Shalom.

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      • ACTheologian says:

        I acknowledged every sentence you said in order.

        I would suspect you can’t write more. You’ve exhausted everything you can think of and don’t have any further response.

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      • jennacar says:

        I’m not going to give you more to hammer away with your vitriole. I suspect you refuse to even figure out how to get three days and three nights from Friday dusk to Sunday dawn. And since you evidently break at least one commandment a week, your problems are really bigger than responding to someone in a “cult.” Act 24:14  But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: ……….

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      • ACTheologian says:

        In Hebrew society a part of a day was considered a whole day. So I would argue you shouldn’t interpret the text in western enlightenment thinking.

        As I stated, the apostles don’t command sabbath keeping and in some places outright remove it as a law. (Col 2:16)(Rom 14:5).

        But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets;
        ACTS 24:14 NASB

        I believe it all too. I also believe the old covenant is obsolete (Heb 8:13). Believing its obsolete today doesn’t mean not believing in it. It just means some things that are true are also not relevant.

        For example, I believe that the monarch of England used to rule the America. She doesn’t today anymore, her authority here is obsolete. I don’t deny the throne of England once had that power or believe it has no historic meaning.

        One of the weaknesses of a cult friend is the inability to make distinctions between things on an intellectual level. It’s not your fault. Your teachers did that to you.

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      • jennacar says:

        Okay, spell out how many nights between Friday at sunset and Sunday morning. If you left work on Friday night and I told you to take 3 days off, when would you come back to work?
        I’m going to leave you with that because, if you’ll notice, the only person hurling personal insults is the CHRISTIAN HERE.

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      • ACTheologian says:

        With respect I think you misunderstood me. I did not mean to insult. I grew up in a cult too. The finger I point at you I also point at myself. One of the things I had to learn was how to make reasonable distinctions.

        As I said, Jews considered a part of a day a whole. So looking at days and nights in a literal western fashion is what’s called an anachronism.

        a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.
        “everything was as it would have appeared in centuries past apart from one anachronism, a bright yellow construction crane”

        an act of attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong.

        -Dictionary . com

        Here’s an article on the topic that goes into greater detail.

        https://answersingenesis.org/jesus-christ/resurrection/three-days-and-nights/

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  2. Salvageable says:

    Colossians 2:16-17 would seem to be relevant here: “Let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality is Christ.” We could celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord on the 14th of Nissan or on the first Sunday of April, or any other day we chose, and no one should be allowed to judge us by it. J.

    Liked by 1 person

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