And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume X, Number 25 April 08, 2007
In this issue:
A number of years ago while I was taking care of some banking, one the tellers who knew me to be a preacher asked if I was “ready for the big day?” I paused a moment, trying to figure out what “big day” she meant. Then it hit me – she was talking about Easter. Like most people, she saw Easter Sunday as one of the “big” religious days of the year. When I told her that the church I work with did not do anything different on this “big day,” I’m sure she must have been surprised. She went on to observe that many people only “go to church” on Easter and Christmas. I certainly agreed with her on that one. I told her we try to help people to see the need to worship God every Sunday, not just on Easter and Christmas. Her reply: “Maybe you need to have more Easters and Christmases!”
That pretty well sums up the attitude of many toward religious worship and service. Only when a “big” day comes along is it important enough to them to participate in religious activities. This certainly is not worship in spirit and truth (Jno. 4:23-24; Heb. 10:25).
Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday. Lent. Palm Sunday. Good Friday. Easter Sunday. These are among the “holy days” celebrated by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches every year at this season.
You will not find these days regarded as high or holy by faithful churches of Christ. This is a mark of distinction which identifies and separates NT Christians from those have “a form of godliness” but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
New Testament Christians do not observe Easter as a religious holiday. This does not mean we do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; far from it. Without the resurrection of Christ there would be no salvation from sin and we would be without faith (1 Cor. 15:14-19). We will oppose and resist any man who attempts to persuade men that Christ Jesus was not raised from the dead!
To admit the feast of Easter is of human origin is not to put the resurrection of Jesus in doubt or force us to conclude it began in the fertile imaginations or deceptions of men. We vigorously affirm the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 2:24-31; Rom. 10:9). It as the very keystone of the gospel:
“And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up---- if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Cor. 15:14-20; cf. 15:1-4; Lk. 24:1-12; Rom. 4:25)
No one should conclude that since Easter is the result of human tradition, so is the resurrection of Jesus. It is not. The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of the Christian’s hope, faith and confidence in the truth of the apostolic message.
“Well then, if you believe in the resurrection of Christ, why don’t you celebrate Easter as the day of His resurrection,” we can hear someone ask. The answer is simply this: the New Testament of Jesus Christ does not direct us to have such a celebration. It does not name and ordain such a “holy day” for man’s remembrance.
Easter: An Historical Addition
Easter is a man-made religious holiday. It was not instituted by Christ. His apostles did not direct its observance. It was not celebrated by New Testament churches. Scholars, both religious and secular, acknowledge this fact. “There is no trace of Easter celebration in the NT.” (H. Porter, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, II:889) “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The sanctity of the special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians.” (The Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th ed., II:859) Historical references of a special feast to honor the death and resurrection of Christ are lacking until about 155 AD, far too late to be attributed to Christ or His apostles.
The religious observance of Easter was initiated by human tradition and not the word of God (Col. 2:8, 20-23, 2 Tim. 3:5). By the fourth century this human tradition was entrenched in the worship of churches. Although the Council of Nicea (325 AD) tried to bring unity and conformity to the many resurrection feasts then occurring, controversy over the exact date of observance continued for hundreds of years. It now falls between March 22 and April 25. (The Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after March 21. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday.)
When the Pharisees introduced and bound their traditions upon men, Jesus called their worship vain (Mk. 7:1-9). Today, when men establish their religious traditions of Easter in an effort to honor the resurrection of Jesus, many people call it a holy (or, as the teller called it, a “big”) day! However, Jesus called all such human innovations “vain,” having been sanctioned by men, not God.
If one may add to and thereby change the worship established by the apostles of Christ he may change anything he wants in the name of Christ. But, such is done without the authority of Christ, for Christ never teaches us to do such things (Matt. 28:18; Col. 3:17). We must follow the divinely-given pattern in all things, including how we honor Him in worship (Heb. 8:5; Col. 3:17; Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19; Jno. 4:23-24).
The Name “Easter”
The term “Easter” traces its origin through a pagan ancestry to “a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honour of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover. Hence the name came to be given to the festival of the Resurrection of Christ, which occurred at the time of the Passover.” (Easton’s Revised Bible Dictionary) Other variations of the root word from which “Easter” is derived have been offered, including “Estera,” “Eastre” and “Ostern.” The I.S. B. E. agrees with this etymology when it states, “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.” (Ibid.)
Philip Schaff refers to Easter as the “feast of the resurrection” and designates it as a part of the “Christian Passover” (History of the Christian Church, II:206-208). That Jesus was crucified during the Jewish Passover makes this terminology understandable, although it is not scriptural. The scriptures are completely silent in establishing a resurrection feast for Christians to observe. In fact, just the opposite: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). The binding of days upon Christians is the tempter’s seduction to draw saints away from the gospel of Christ (Gal. 4:9-11; cf. 1 Ths. 3:5).
The King James Version translators squeezed the word “Easter” into Acts 12:4 when they chose to translate pascha with the English term, “Easter.” The other twenty-eight (28) times pascha occurs in the New Testament they uniformly translated it “Passover,” the correct translation. Acts 12:4 makes no reference at all to the celebration of Easter we see every year in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches around the world. Albert Barnes further explains,
“In the old Anglo-Saxon service-books the term Easter is used frequently to translate the word Passover. In the translation by Wicliffe, the word paske, i.e., passover, is used. But Tindal and Coverdale used the word Easter, and hence it has very improperly crept into our translation. (Clark.)” (Barnes New Testament Notes, Acts)
Even those who religiously keep Easter must admit the word itself cannot be properly found in the text of the NT.
History teaches us the traditional, secular festivals of men were often merged with the religious observances of men (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Col. 2:8, 20-23). The intent was to help new converts more easily adapt to their new faith in the face of pressures from their old religious practices, as well as offer a corresponding incentive for people to convert. So it was with the pagan influences of the goddess Eastre and the apostate observance of the Easter festival.
“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 on or after the Spring Equinox for millennia. Most religious historians believe that many elements of the Christian observance of Easter were derived from earlier Pagan celebrations.” (Easter: Its Origins, Meanings and Current Practices, religioustolerance.org/easter.htm)
Eastre was the Saxon goddess of spring and fertility. Her festival was celebrated by her worshippers on the vernal equinox. As the pagans watched springtime break forth and overtake the frozen death of winter, they would make sacrifices to Eastre in honor of the life she brought to the earth and its people.
Eventually, missionaries encountered the ritualistic milieu of paganism which included worship to Eastre. Mani Niall observed,
“How this pagan festival came to be supplanted by a solemn Christian holiday attests to the ingenuity of second century Christian missionaries.
“These missionaries traveled among the Teutonic tribes north of Rome. Whenever possible, they transformed local pagan customs to harmonize with Christian doctrine. On a practical basis, this prevented local converts from being persecuted by the pagan traditionalists. Since the Eastre festival to celebrate spring coincided with the time of the Christian observance of the resurrection of Christ, this crossover was achieved smoothly. Some doubt remained as to the exact day of the celebration.” (“The History of Easter & Its Custom”)
What we have in the modern-day observance of Easter is the blending of man’s religious traditions with pagan rituals.
The history of a “feast of the resurrection” or Easter is simply not found in the Bible. It is extra-biblical in its origin, development and observance. The scriptures teach us of, and persuade us to believe it, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-8). But, nowhere in the pages of the inspired text are we taught to celebrate an annual holy day in celebration of Christ’s resurrection. While the New Testament records the events of the last week of Christ’s life, nowhere does it instruct us to observe them as holy days of the Easter season (Lent, Palm Sunday, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday).
Easter and its associated “holy days” are human additions to the word of God. As such, the religious observance of these days does not have God’s approval, and those who seek His approval and blessings will not engage in such rituals (Matt. 7:21-23; Col. 3:17; 2 Jno. 9; Gal. 1:6-10).
(Watchman Magazine, Dec., 2001, watchmanmag.com)
Created by Chuck Sibbing. 04/07/2007
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA