I love the truth. I am a philosopher and a theologian at heart, which means I love to ask questions, I love to learn about the history of things, and I love to know why we do the things we do. What that often means is that I have to reshape my way of thinking in order to accommodate the truth. In other words, what I want to be true; what I am most comfortable believing, is not often the whole, true story.
So the truth is what I write about here, in my blog. Not “my” truth (whatever that is), but the actual, factual, historical truth about things – and usually those are things related to the Christian faith. Because, unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and falsehoods concerning Christianity – and many of them are repeated by and even originated with Christians themselves. So I like to shed light on the darkness of myth, especially if it dispels fear – because we have freedom in Jesus Christ, and “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).”
With that in mind, as I have done previously with Halloween and Christmas, I want to dispel some of the mythology around Easter – yet another Christian holy day that is thought by many to have been co-opted from paganism.
But before we begin, it cannot be overstated that that much of what the modern world believes about paganism is based entirely on Neopagan fakelore. Fakelore is an actual term coined in the 1950’s for stories that are 100% made up in order to justify a new tradition, which then became accepted as real. Neopagans are people who claim to embrace ancient Celtic and druid beliefs and practices. However, there is actually zero historical evidence to back up their claims.
But here is the truth: Easter, more even than Christmas, stands at the heart of Christianity: that God loved the world enough to send His Son to become human in order to save humans; to live among them and die for them as an all-atoning sacrifice for their sins of rebellion against Him; and finally to rise again from the dead to promise life everlasting to all who believe in Him. And because Easter stands at the very center of Christianity, it comes under attack from all those seeking to discredit the Christian faith. And at the heart of their attacks are lies falling into three basic categories:
- The date of Easter
- The name of Easter
- The symbolism of Easter
First, let’s look at the date:
Those who claim Easter was chosen because of pagan festivals of Spring are, as always, hoping you will accept their claims without thought, let alone investigation. The historical truth is that the three high holy days of Christianity: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, were all established in the early church on the basis of the biblical dating of Passover, which goes back to Moses at Mt. Sinai, some 1500 years B.C. This is a historically demonstrable fact based on writings of the church fathers in the 2nd century (100’s A.D.).
Clement, Hippolytes and Julius Africanus all wrote that the most widely accepted belief (as explained in my post about Christmas, linked above) was that March 25th stood as the date of the creation of the world, as well as Christ’s conception (the reason Christ’s birth is celebrated 12/25, nine months later) and His death. March 25th was also the date of the equinox, which made it easy to calculate. Whether the date of March 25th is actually the date of all those things is irrelevant – the historical truth is that it was widely accepted and established from the earliest days of Christianity – and it corresponds to the date of Passover.
The only so-called “controversy” in selecting the date for Easter came in the argument of whether Easter should be celebrated on the Passover, or on the Sunday following. Since the Passover is celebrated on a lunar cycle (which is shorter than our solar calendar), it moves. This is why Easter moves today, as it continues to be celebrated on the Sunday following the Passover. This is all based on the biblical account of Christ’s passion and resurrection, as the Bible clearly states that Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples prior to His crucifixion, and also that He was raised from the dead on the first day of the week, being of course a Sunday. This is a primary reason why Christians were gathering in worship on Sundays as early as the time of the Apostles, as seen in Acts 20:7.
Second, the name “Easter”:
Much extensive work has been done to debunk claims about the name “Easter,” and to try and repeat their work here would be tedious and uninteresting. I say that because I have read it – and it is tedious and uninteresting… I have, as always, linked to sources below which you can visit for yourself if you would like more information.
At any rate, the commonly accepted claim is that the name “Easter” is based on a pagan goddess named “Eostre” or “Ostara.”
But first, consider that the name “Easter” is only the English/Germanic name for the festival of Christ’s resurrection, and the only language in which it sounds like Eostre or Ostara. Second, consider that the Christian church used almost exclusively Latin for most of its 2000 years, and even today English is not the universal Christian language. Easter is the English translation of the Latin Pascha, related to the Hebrew Pesach, from which we get our word Passover. And Pascha was celebrated even before the word “Easter” was in use. So, to claim that the holy day of Easter is somehow stolen from paganism because of its title in one language is absolutely ludicrous, and should be enough to end this ridiculous argument. But I’ll play along: from where does that English word Easter come?
Well, of significant importance is that there is no mention of any goddess named Eostre or Ostara in any pagan records (of which there are many), anywhere. That name first appears in the writings of an 8th century Christian author (The Venerable Bede), who speculates that the word Easter may have come from the name of the month in which the festival of Pascha falls, and that that name may have been derived from a similarly named pagan deity – without asserting that there was such a deity, because he was only speculating. But then nothing more about Eostre or Ostara appears in any writing until 1,000 years later (!) in the writings of Jacob Grimm in 1835, who (again) speculates that Easter may have derived its name from the month in which it falls, which may have derived its name from a pagan goddess with a similar name. This is critically important: literally everything we “know” about Eostre/Ostara has been made up in the last 150 years!
In truth, the English word Easter comes either from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to shine” or “to baptize.” And either of these makes more sense in relation to the resurrection of the Son of God than does a made up connection to a fictional deity.
Third, the Symbolism:
This post is already far too long, so let me try and keep this brief. Eggs have been associated with Jewish temple sacrifices and the Passover meal since ancient times. Easter follows Lent, which involves fasting, traditionally from meat. Eggs were then held and decorated for Easter to symbolize the beauty of Christ’s resurrection. They were cracked and opened on Easter morning to symbolize the rending of the tomb. In fact, the decorating of eggs has been so widely and for so long associated with the celebration of the resurrection, there can be little doubt that it is a uniquely Christian tradition, in spite of myths and lies that say otherwise.
Claims that Easter is now or ever was about fertility, reproduction or the worship of nature are misguided, at best. One can, however, easily see how these claims are retroactively tied to Easter. After all, the resurrection of Jesus symbolizes new life for all who believe. It is God’s perfect timing then, that the resurrection be celebrated in the Spring, as new life breaks forth from the dead of winter.
Just remember this: nature, new life and reproduction are all parts of God’s creation. We celebrate them because they are wonderful blessings of a good and gracious God, and signs which point to His great love for us. Celebrate the resurrection, and celebrate the beauty of Spring – not for Spring’s sake, but because it symbolizes God’s promise of new life to all who cast off the darkness of fear and lies to believe in His Truth. Hallelujah, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Hallelujah! Amen.
As always, I owe much of what I write to people who have done far more research than I, and I seek to take no credit for their work. Please visit their sites and examine the origins of what you believe for yourself. Start here, then here, then more here.