Easter

EASTER. The word “Easter” occurs only once in the Bible (Acts.12.4), the only time the KJV translates pascha (usually “Passover”) in this way. It is the day on which most Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is no celebration of the Resurrection in the New Testament. The Jewish Christians linked it with the Passover, and so observed it on the fourteenth day of Nisan regardless of the day of the week. But Gentile believers celebrated the Resurrection on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. This difference was settled by the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which ruled that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. This is the system followed today, the date of Easter varying between March 22 and April 25.

Additional Material

Source 1

The celebration of Christ's resurrection. Although the Scriptures make no provision for the observance of Easter as the day of resurrection, all the evidence suggests that the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ began at a very early date in the history of the church, probably as early as the apostolic age. It would seem also that the Christians of the first century consciously sought to create a Christian parallel to the Jewish Passover, since the close relationship between the significance of that event in the OT and the crucifixion in the NT made a transformation of that Jewish feast into Easter both logical and easy.

After a.d. 100, Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany became the final parts of the church year. The time of the celebration in those early years is obscure, but during the second and third centuries serious controversies arose between some Catholic churches and the church in Rome concerning the proper time for the celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. This eastern group, known as the Quartodecimani,* insisted that Easter be celebrated on the fourteenth of Nisan. Basically the controversy was concerned with the question of whether the Jewish Paschal day or the Christian Sabbath should determine the time for the celebration, and whether the day of crucifixion or the day of resurrection should be the focal point of the celebration. It was a prolonged struggle, and toward the close of the second century it became so bitter that Bishop Victor of Rome denounced the Quartodecimans as heretics. The controversy was finally settled by the nodetitle in 325; it was decreed that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the vernal full moon and never on the fourteenth of Nisan. Because of different calculations, the time of the Eastern Orthodox Churches' celebration varies in relation to that of the Western Churches, and can be as much as five weeks later.

Source 2

EASTER (KJV rendering of τὸ πάσχα, in Acts 12:4; correctly tr. the Passover in the other Eng. VSS. KJV trs. all the other twenty-eight instances of tò páscha as the Passover). See Passover.

The derivation of the name “Easter” is uncertain, but according to Bede (De Ratione Temporum, XV) it is derived from Eastre, a Teutonic spring goddess, to whom sacrifices were offered in April. The pagan festival prob. gave way to the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

It is held by some that the annual celebration of the Lord’s resurrection was observed in apostolic times. They see an intimation of Easter in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8, which is very doubtful, however. The earliest written evidence for an Easter festival appears in the “paschal controversy” over the correct date for Easter, which began with the correspondence in a.d. 154 between Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and Anticetus, bishop of Rome (Euseb. Hist. V. 23-25). By this date, therefore, this festival must have been generally observed throughout the Christian Church.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(pascha, from Aramaic paccha’ and Hebrew pecach, the Passover festival):

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.

The word does not properly occur in Scripture, although the King James Version has it in Ac 12:4 where it stands for Passover, as it is rightly rendered in the Revised Version (British and American). There is no trace of Easter celebration in the New Testament, though some would see an intimation of it in 1Co 5:7. The Jewish Christians in the early church continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true paschal lamb, and this naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of our Lord, or an Easter feast. This was preceded by a fast, which was considered by one party as ending at the hour of the crucifixion, i.e. at 3 o’clock on Friday, by another as continuing until the hour of the resurrection before dawn on Easter morning. Differences arose as to the time of the Easter celebration, the Jewish Christians naturally fixing it at the time of the Passover feast which was regulated by the paschal moon. According to this reckoning it began on the evening of the 14th day of the moon of the month of Nican without regard to the day of the week, while the GentileChristians identified it with the first day of the week, i.e. the Sunday of the resurrection, irrespective of the day of the month. This latter practice finally prevailed in the church, and those who followed the other reckoning were stigmatized as heretics. But differences arose as to the proper Sunday for the Easter celebration which led to long and bitter controversies. The Council of Nice, 325 AD, decreed that it should be on Sunday, but did not fix the particular Sunday. It was left to the bishop of Alexandria to determine, since that city was regarded as the authority in astronomical matters and he was to communicate the result of his determination to the other bishops.

But this was not satisfactory, especially to the western churches, and a definite rule for the determination of Easter was needed. By some it was kept as early as March 21, and by others as late as April 25, and others followed dates between. The rule was finally adopted, in the 7th century, to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following the 14th day of the calendar moon which comes on, or after, the vernal equinox which was fixed for March 21. This is not always the astronomical moon, but near enough for practical purposes, and is determined without astronomical calculation by certain intricate rules adopted by ecclesiastical authority. These rules involve the Dominical Letters, or the first seven of the alphabet, representing the days of the week, A standing for the first day of the year and the one on which Sunday falls being called the Dominical for that year. There are also involved the Golden Numbers and the Epacts, the first being the numbers from 1 to 19, the cycle of the moon when its phases recur on the same days of the year, the first of the cycle being that in which the new moon falls on January 1. The Epacts indicate the moon’s age at the beginning of each year. Easter was thus fixed by these rules, but another difficulty arose when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582, the difference between it and the Julian being then 10 days. This of course affected the determination of Easter, and its celebration by the Greek church, which has never admitted the Gregorian calendar, occurs usually at a different time from that followed by the western churches. This difference may be as much as five weeks and it may occur as late as April 30, while in the West it cannot occur later than April 25 nor earlier than March 22. Occasionally the two come together but this is rare, since the difference between the two calendars is now 13 days.

The Easter feast has been and still is regarded as the greatest in the Christian church, since it commemorates the most important event in the life of its Founder.