Passover vs. Easter: Does it really matter?
By Richard Shaules
As a follower of Jesus, where are we to turn to when trying to explain Easter? Do we find passages in the Bible that give us solid grounds for defending this holiday or must we look elsewhere? Let’s take a closer look at one of the most widely celebrated Christian festivals, and discover how it relates to Jesus.
Does “Easter” appear in the Bible?
No. “The word “Easter” does not appear in the Bible and an Easter celebration is not mentioned, though in Acts 12:4 KJV it is used in place of “Passover.” Some also suggest there are remnants of the concept of Easter in 1 Cor 5:7. Easter is a later development of church tradition.”
“Easter: an unusual translation of “Passover” in the KJV (Acts 12:4)”
Where does the word “Easter” come from?
“Originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honour of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover.”
“When the Authorized Version (1611) was formed, the word “passover” was used in all passages in which this word pascha occurred, except in Act 12:4. In the Revised Version the proper word, “passover,” is always used.”
Did the early church celebrate Easter?
No. The early Christians celebrated Pascha or Passover, and understood Passover to represent Jesus’ death and resurrection:
“Christians of the first three centuries also knew an annual feast called Pascha as the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Recent scholarship has argued that the most primitive celebration of Pascha (possibly reflected already in the New Testament itself) was an all-night vigil held by Christians in Asia Minor on 14 Nisan, the day of Passover in the Jewish calendar and the day of Jesus’ death according to the New Testament…”
“There seems no difficulty in supposing that the Gentile Christians joined with the Jewish Christians in celebrating the Paschal feast after the Jewish manner, at least to the extent of abstaining from leaven in the love-feasts.”
“Since Christ’s passion and resurrection occurred at the time of the Jewish Passover, the first Jewish Christians probably transformed their Passover observance into a celebration of the central events of their new faith. In the early centuries the annual observance was called the pascha, the Greek word for Passover, and focused on Christ as the paschal Lamb.”
What does the New Testament tell us about Pascha (Passover)?
Let’s see how Mark presents the story of Pascha (πάσχα, Strong’s G3957), as found in chapter 14:
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover (πάσχα) lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover (πάσχα)?” (Mark 14:12)
Notice what Christ and His disciples are going to be eating: “the Passover”. Verses 13-15 highlights where the Passover is to be celebrated:
And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “ Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover (πάσχα) with My disciples?” ’ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
The following verse tells us what the disciples did next:
“So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover (πάσχα).” (Mark 14:16)
Now that the disciples have 1) located the large upper room, furnished and prepared, and 2) prepared the Passover, what happens next?
“In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, “ Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.” And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “ Is it I?” And another said, “ Is it I?”
He answered and said to them, “ It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.”” (Verses 17-21)
When we see that “they sat and ate”, what are they eating? The Passover meal or something else? Verse 12 provides the answer: the Passover meal. What happens next is familiar to many:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “ Take, eat; this is My body.”
Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “ This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)
Luke’s account of this Passover meal provides an additional command:
“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “ This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)
Interestingly, many Christians exclude, ignore or reject the Feast of Passover when taking part of the unleavened bread and wine (sometimes called communion or The Lord’s Supper). How can we partake of the bread and wine while ignoring the fact that these symbols were introduced during Passover?
Paul’s command to “keep the feast”
The first letter to the Corinthians provides one of the clearest ties between Jesus and the Feast of Passover:
“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)
In addition, we find Paul commanding the Corinthian church, mostly Gentile in nature, to keep “the Festival” long after Jesus died:
“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:8)
“But that’s not what it means to me!”
So far we’ve explored a few key points:
- “Easter” doesn’t appear in the Bible
- The Feast of Passover does appear in the Bible
- Christ kept the Passover with His disciples
- Christ’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) took place in the greater context of the Feast of Passover
- Paul commands Jewish and Gentile believers to “keep the Feast”
- The Early Church kept Passover and Unleavened Bread
While these points may be valid, the Christian may still choose to celebrate Easter instead of the Feast of Passover. Does it really matter? Who cares if Easter originated with the worship of the Saxon goddess Eostre? After all, shouldn’t we be more concerned with what Easter means to us?
“You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them.” (Leviticus 20:22-23)
Rather than choosing to adopt a man-made festival and redefine it according to our terms, let’s worship God on His terms, by celebrating His Feast Days:
“These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.” (Leviticus 23:4)
 Major Contributors and Editors. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Easter. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Swanson, J., & Nave, O. (1994). New Nave’s Topical Bible. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
 Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.
 Early Christian World, Volume 1-2. (2000). London, GBR: Routledge.
 Conybeare, W.J. & Howson, J.S. (1851). The life and epistles of st. Paul. Available for download at https://archive.org/details/lifeandepistles00howsgoog
 Grissom, F. A. (2003). Easter. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 451). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
 “Mark places us directly into the beautiful and secluded upper room with the Passover meal in full progress, Jesus and the Twelve participating in it.” Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (p. 613). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
 France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 567). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
 An investigation into the composition of the Corinthian church will reveal it was mostly comprised of Gentile believers. An example of this can be seen at http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentbooks/a/1-Corinthians.htm