Many think this popular festival is connected to Christ’s Resurrection, but do passages within God’s Word prove otherwise?
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A boy leaps out of bed, filled with excitement. Today will be a special day for him and his family. He bounds down the stairs and discovers a reed basket filled with beautifully painted eggs and chocolate rabbits. He cannot wait to dive into the goodies!
His anticipation grows as he thinks of the fun he will have. Lent, a 40-day period during which worshippers try to emulate Christ’s suffering by fasting and abstaining from certain pleasures, is finally over—and Easter Sunday is here!
As he tears the wrapper off an egg-shaped chocolate treat, his mother explains to him the significance of the day: “Son, on Friday we commemorated the crucifixion and death of our Savior, so today—Easter Sunday—we celebrate His Resurrection.”
For millions around the globe, this narrative is typical of their own Easter celebrations.
Jerusalem, where the most well-known Easter celebrations take place, is jam-packed with worshippers from all over the world. Along the famous cobbled Via Dolorosa—“Way of Suffering”—thousands of parishioners walk the path Christ is believed to have taken on His way to Golgotha. To them, and millions of like-minded professing Christians, Easter is the principal feast of the liturgical year.
Elsewhere, United States troops in Iraq gather for an Easter sunrise service. In Peshawar, Pakistan, a group of devout women gathers around a picture of “Jesus” to reflect on the significance of the day and give prayers of thanksgiving. Farther east, thousands of South Korean Catholics attend services.
Later that evening, several German Christians in Europe light a customary bonfire to protect them against the cold. Meanwhile, during a traditional ceremony in Bulgaria, priests bless painted red eggs, which symbolize spring. And several time zones away, an Armenian priest in New York City releases doves to illustrate how the original 12 apostles were commissioned to “spread the gospel.”
Certainly, long-held traditions such as Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday, sunrise services, hot-cross buns, Easter eggs and rabbits—which form the building blocks upon which Easter is established—must have deep ancient roots. If Easter traditions are all about the Christ of the Bible, then they should be found within the pages of God’s Word.
But are they?
While Acts 12:4 is the only time the word “Easter” is mentioned in the King James translation of the Bible, the customs of this holiday appeared much earlier than the event of Christ’s Resurrection.
American novelist Henry James once wrote the following about traditions: “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.”
Throughout the centuries, millions of people have been persuaded into believing that Easter’s purpose is to honor Christ’s death and Resurrection. Yet this age-old global tradition can be traced back to thousands of years before Jesus was born.
“That God sacrificed his only Son for the salvation of the world…is so mystical, so remote…yet the extraordinary fact is that a similar belief ranges all through the ancient religions, and can be traced back to the earliest times,” Edward Carpenter wrote in Pagan and Christian Creeds.
Easter customs involving the celebration of death and resurrection originate from pagan rites. In his book The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop explained, “Among the Pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensable preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz, which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing.”
The Bible records in Genesis that Nimrod, also known as Tammuz or Baal, was the founding father and builder of Babylon. His mother-wife, Semiramis, also called Ishtar, was Babylon’s first queen. She was worshipped as a goddess.
Ashtoreth (Easter), Baal’s mother and wife according to historians, was considered the “Great Goddess” throughout the ancient world, in Greece, Germany, Babylon and Phoenicia. This generally occurred in conjunction with the worship of Baal (El or Tammuz).
This is made evident in the book Did God Have a Wife? by William G. Dever. He wrote, “In earlier Canaan, the Great Goddess may be a cosmic deity who could be known by several names: Asherah; ‘Anat; Astarte; or Ba‘alat or Elath (the feminine forms of ‘Ba‘al’ and ‘El’).”
“Her role in the cult is as the consort of El, the principal male deity of the pantheon, as ‘Mother of the Gods,’” Dever further wrote.
Alexander Hislop elaborated on the origin of Easter (or Astarte) in his book The Two Babylons: “It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven…That name, as found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar.”
In nearly all Semitic dialects, “Ishtar” is pronounced “Easter.” Easter festivities extensively refer to celebrating the personage Ishtar, Ashtoreth and the “queen of heaven,” who has many interchangeable names. Each year citizens in pagan nations celebrated her son’s death and resurrection during spring.
Plainly, this festival was initiated long before Christ walked the earth.
Ancient Israel incorporated some of the practices of surrounding nations, and Easter was no exception. It is in this regard that the holiday is mentioned in the Bible.
After the house of Israel was divided into the northern 10 tribes and Judah in the south, King Manasseh of Judah “set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house [the Temple of God]” (II Kings 21:7).
But to what is “the grove” referring?
The Hebrew word asherah, with two exceptions, is always translated as “grove” in the King James Version of the Bible. Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines asherah in the following way: “The name of a Phoenician goddess, or rather of the idol itself (Authorized Version, ‘grove’).
“Asherah is closely connected with Ashtoreth and her worship. Ashtoreth being, perhaps, the proper name of the goddess, while Asherah is the name of her image or symbol, which was of wood.”
“Thus it seems clear that originally in ancient Israel there was a Goddess named ‘Asherah,’ who was associated with living trees and hilltop forest sanctuaries, and who could sometimes be symbolized by a wooden pole or an image of a tree,” Dever wrote.
He added, “It is noteworthy that in at least a handful of cases, the term asherah must refer to the Goddess Asherah herself, not merely to a ‘symbol.’”
Thus, when Israel’s ruler erected a figure of “the grove,” he may have actually set up an image of Asherah in the most holy place!
Throughout Israel’s history, its people attempted to serve false gods alongside the God of the Bible. The book of Jeremiah makes clear that families in Israel also worshipped Easter—the “queen of heaven.”
Notice: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods” (Jer. 7:18).
Israel’s devotion to false deities is also engraved in the annals of secular sources. Archeological evidence indicates that the nation of Israel fell into keeping Easter, thinking they could worship Ishtar alongside the true God. Archaeologists have found tomb inscriptions in Israel that read, “Yahweh and his Asherah,” erroneously suggesting God had a goddess as wife!
Early on, when God started to work with Israel, His instructions through Moses were clear: “You shall not plant you a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make you” (Deut. 16:21).
Moreover, “you shall destroy their altars,” referring to the surrounding nations’ many idols, “and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire” (Deut. 7:5). These directions from God were unmistakably plain.
But, time and time again, “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgot the Lord their God, and served Baalim [plural of Baal] and the groves [Asherah]” (Judges. 3:7).
Israel’s behavior was clearly evil in God’s sight!
Even King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, rejected God’s council and was persuaded by his foreign wives to worship Ashtoreth. As a result, the house of Israel split into north and south—directly because “Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians” (I Kings 11:5).
In biblical times, without any exceptions, God’s true servants never celebrated Easter to honor Him, and Israel was directly forbidden to have any part in it.
How did Easter—clearly a festival not sanctioned by God—become “Christian”?
“The idea of Christ’s resurrection was injected into the old practice of Easter observance and not the other way around” (Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background).
The Greek word translated “Easter” in Acts 12:4 is pascha, and refers to Passover, which was always kept on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (Abib). It was Passover, not Easter, that God commanded His people to observe, and they did so throughout early New Testament time.
But slowly, Easter, with all its pagan customs, replaced Passover. Disagreement arose surrounding the correct observance of the feast, and led to the “Quartodeciman Controversy.”
The following quote from the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica shows how Easter was “Christianized:” “Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that see, on the subject; and urged the tradition, which he had received from the apostle, of observing the fourteenth day…A final settlement of the dispute was one among the other reasons which led Constantine to summon the council of Nicaea in 325…The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and ‘that none should hereafter follow the blindness of the Jews’…”
In his book, History of the Christian Church, Peter Schaff wrote, “At Nicaea, therefore, the Roman and Alexandrian usage with respect to Easter triumphed, and the Judaizing practice of the Quartodecimanians [those obeying God], who always celebrated Easter [actually Passover] on the fourteenth of Nisan, became thenceforth a heresy.”
“There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers…The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals [God’s festivals of Leviticus 23], though in a new spirit…Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb…continued to be observed” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition).
The apostle Paul exhorted New Testament brethren to continue to keep these Holy Days: “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Cor. 5:7-8). Matthew 26:19 states that the “disciples did as Jesus had appointed them” and commanded His disciples to make “ready the Passover.”
In Matthew 28:20, Christ also instructed His disciples “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”
Clearly, since Christ commanded the Passover, connected with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be kept as a “statute forever” (Lev. 23:31), Easter was a human tradition that was never commanded by the God of the Bible.
Every child loves to receive a gift, but does not know its contents until the gift paper is unwrapped. Professing Christians similarly hold fast the traditions of men in keeping Easter, but are blind to its real meaning or “content.”
Rejecting God’s instruction, men concealed a pagan festival in “Christian giftwrap” to make it acceptable to the masses. But when Easter is unwrapped, the true content is unmistakable. Suddenly, the parallel between the pagan feast kept in ancient times and the present-day Easter celebrations should become painfully obvious.
These festivals are one and the same. Easter has the power to convince people to believe that this day is all about Christ—but when exposed, it shows that it has everything to do with a pagan deity.
Today, the ancient unbiblical Easter tradition is still celebrated worldwide. Millions gather each year to celebrate the death of their “savior”—on Good Friday, and his resurrection—on Easter Sunday. They sincerely believe that they honor Christ, but little do they know that they are unwittingly serving “another Jesus”! (See II Corinthians 11:4.)
With the wrappings of Easter removed, it becomes plain that any attempt to Christianize the holiday is in vain.