The Words Easter and Passover

The topic to which I speak is that of Easter; only a summary of considerations is provided here. The Holy Scriptures speak to this issue. However, some explanatory guidance is essential concerning the application of the scriptures in our modern day society.

Colossians 2:16-22 says “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come….”

Christian holidays are considered by Christians to be special holydays. So let no one judge you as to their validity if they are intended to honor and glorify God as long as you do not violate any biblical sound doctrinal principles.

Some claim is that the word translated Easter in Acts 12:4 in the KJV should have been translated Passover.

There are two Passovers defined in scriptures. The first is the Jewish Passover or Mosaic Passover celebration or holiday or holyday as instituted under the Old Covenant as described in scriptures like Exodus 12:13-14, 24 and Numbers 9:1-5. The second is the Christian Passover as instituted under the New Covenant as described in scriptures like 1 Cor 5:7-8 where Christ is described as the Passover (lamb, bread, blood) under the New Covenant.

Easter is really a dual celebration: (1) the killing of the lamb as payment for our sins as represented by Jesus crucifixion on the cross and (2) anticipated freedom from earthly bondage as represented by Jesus resurrection. This is one and perhaps the major reason some denominations refer to Easter as some period of time (e.g., seven days) leading up to and culminating on Easter Sunday and some even go beyond Easter Sunday. Thus, it would be only partially right to refer to Easter as Happy Resurrection Day. Biblically, Easter in terms of paralleling the Jewish Passover does not necessarily do so in terms of the number of days of the Jewish Passover since the time from Christ crucifixion to his resurrection is certainly not seven days according to the biblical record. So for me no matter the rightness or wrongness or ill-advisedness of the Acts 12:4 translation as Easter, in modern times usage of the word it is sufficient to say Easter Sunday (or shortened form Easter) is that day when we celebrate in a special way Christ as our Passover with respect to his crucifixion (Lamb slain) and resurrection (giving us hope for freedom from earthly bondage).

In most places in the KJV the Greek Word Pascha (G3957) is translated Passover in reference to the Mosaic Passover; the exception is in Acts 12:4 where the Greek Word Pascha (G3957) is translated Easter. The New King James Version (NKJV) does use the word Passover instead of Easter.

The etymology of the word Easter is uncertain.

Some say it has its origin is the German word oster meaning east which some say has its roots in the Latin word aurora meaning dawn per the reference entitled Etymology of the Words Easter and Passover. The east and dawn rationale are reasonable separate and together. The reason is that the sun rises in the east at dawn; the resurrection account speaks of dawn (Matthew 28:1) In any case the origin of the word is insignificant; what we mean by it today is what is important. We use the word Easter in honor of the discovery of Christ resurrection in the early sunrise dawn the third day. Hence, the association of Easter with the resurrection.

Some say The English word Easter, which parallels the German word Ostern, is derived from Eostre, or Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility per the Britannica reference.

Some say the word Easter derives from the Christian designation of Easter week as in albis, a Latin phrase that was understood as the plural of alba (“dawn”) and became eostarum in Old High German per the Britannica reference.

It is unclear why the KJV translator(s) chose to translate the word as Easter in Acts 12:4. If they did so to represent the Acts 12:4 Passover celebration as the Christian Passover only then that in my view would have been an erroneous translation as Acts 12:3 clearly indicates the original writer, Luke, was referring to the Jewish Passover in his use of the phrase unleavened bread. So it is doubtful the translator used the word Easter in that way. This verse is the only place where the Greek word for Passover occurs in the book of Acts. So perhaps the translator of Acts considered the words Easter and Passover to be synonymous at the time of translation. In any case I think it would have been better and certainly consistent with the rest of translation to have translated the word as Passover even in Acts 12:4 instead of as Easter.

The translation using the word Easter is likely done as a merger of the Mosaic Passover and the Christian Passover such that Christ as the Christian Passover being superior to the Mosaic Passover. In fact, Paul in 1 Cor 5:7-8 perhaps indicates such a merger and certainly the superiority of Christ as our Passover in contrast to the Mosaic Passover.

The Mosaic Passover was perhaps included as a part of the Acts 12:4 celebration as it is still good even for Gentiles to remember the Israelites deliverance from Egypt. Indeed, one would expect the Jewish apostles and other Jewish disciples to celebrate the Mosaic Passover as it was part of their heritage much like Americans celebrate Independence Day and American Blacks celebrate abolishment of slavery in America.

One would expect the Jewish and Gentile disciples including the apostles like Peter and Paul to have remembered, honored, and celebrated Christ as the Christian Passover superior to the Mosaic Passover. Yet, since they were Jews they most likely also celebrated the Jewish Passover. Hence once again, translating the word as Passover instead of Easer would have been okay to do and consistent with the rest of translation.

So then even if the Acts 12:4 celebration was in fact the Jewish Passover celebration not intended to also honor Christ, it may be a historical error to translate using the word Easter. Yet, it is not a spiritual or doctrinal error since the celebrating Christians would certainly also be remembering Christ as their Passover also.

Moreover, we should observe that the book of Acts is primarily about the Christian Church not the Jews as the nation of Israel. So then even if the Acts 12:4 celebration was in fact the Mosaic Passover and Christian Passover celebration, it is not a spiritual or historical error to use the word Easter to mark this celebration as more than just a Jewish Passover celebration. Again, this is because the celebrating Christians would certainly also be remembering Christ as their Passover in addition to the Mosaic Passover.

Perhaps it would have been better to simply translate/transliterate the Greek word in Acts 12:4 as in other places instead of being one of those rare places where the translators interpret.

Nevertheless, it is likely that the disciples celebrated both the Mosaic Passover and Christian Passover during the time frame mentioned in Acts 12:4. Indeed, even now the Mosaic Passover and the Easter celebration approximate each other in time frame and often overlap to some degree. So then the use of the word Easter was a translator’s preference to distinguish the celebration from a Mosaic Passover celebration only and does not introduce any spiritual/doctrinal or historical error into the translation text.

Words have meaning only to the extent we commonly agree they mean. Moreover, their meaning is dependent on the context in which they are used. Furthermore, words change in common meaning over time. So no matter what the word Easter meant in ancient times and no matter from where it is derived, the key is what we mean by it now. For example, it is said that the word Jupiter comes from the chief of the Roman gods whose name was Jupiter or Jove. Now the word Jupiter is commonly understood to refer to the planet Jupiter and not to the Roman god named Jupiter. In Dallas Texas there is a street named Jupiter. Does this mean the people that live on that street or the business that reside on that street worship the Roman god Jupiter? Of course, one could not rightly conclude such a thing just because such people/businesses reside on that street. So it is for the word Easter. It means what we mean by it now.

See “Easter” Is Not A Mistranslation or Isn’t “Easter” in Acts 12:4 a mistranslation? for justification for use of the word Easter in Acts 12:4.

The above documents note that the Jewish Passover is a single night meal that precedes the days of unleavened bread mentioned in Acts 12:4. So then the period of time referred to in Acts 12:4 as Easter
occurs after the Jewish Passover and is therefore not the same as the Jewish Passover.

See my article entitled Celebration of Easter for more information on the validity and meaning of the Christian Holiday Easter.


Etymology of the Words Easter and Passover

Britannica on Easter

Easter or Passover in Acts 12

Easter Meaning

Is Passover Pagan? – an interesting talk that says Passover incorporates practices and concepts that exisited prior to formation of Israel as a nation. The idea is that God used pagan practices to demonstrate he is the true God. So Passover is not Pagan because its focus is on the one true God but some of its elements has pagan roots.

Christian Sabbath/Holidays

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *