How Passover became Easter

In 2016, there was a clear distinction between Passover and Easter. As most Christians know, Passover was the crucifixion day of Yeshua (Jesus). Three days later was the resurrection day. Therefore, Easter should always be three days after Passover. But we find that in 2016, Easter was one month before Passover. Something is obviously wrong here.

Easter Passover

It’s quite easy to find the origin of the word Easter in a typical etymology dictionary, and it’s not exactly Christian in origin.

Easter etymology

So, why the discrepancy in dates? Why isn’t Easter, the supposed resurrection day of Yeshua (Jesus), three days after Passover, his crucifixion day? It’s because Easter has nothing at all to do with the resurrection day, and the Roman Catholic Church even uses the Gregorian solar calendar rather than the Biblical luni-solar calendar to calculate the date.

In the 1769 King James Version of the Bible, we see that Easter actually replaced the word Passover.  When the King James Version was translated from Greek to English, we can see that it used Easter to describe the time of Passover. In the Greek, however, it is clearly πάσχα (pascha), meaning Passover. Take the following random verse, for example:

  • And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. (Acts 12:4 KJV)
  • ὃν καὶ πιάσας ἔθετο εἰς φυλακὴν παραδοὺς τέσσαρσιν τετραδίοις στρατιωτῶν φυλάσσειν αὐτόν, βουλόμενος μετὰ τὸ πάσχα ἀναγαγεῖν αὐτὸν τῷ λαῷ. (Acts 12:4 BGT)

Why did the translators of the King James Version of the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church consider Easter a holy day in place of Passover? This tradition started much earlier than one might think. The date? Approximately 155CE, in the 2nd generation of the Christian Church, the Easter substitution began. The story begins with Polycarp.

You may be familiar with Polycarp’s life story from the 2016 movie titled Polycarp: Destroyer of Gods. While the movie embellishes details in order to have a full feature-length media presentation, the basic information in the movie is accurate. He was an ethnic Greek who learned under the Apostle John. He became a prominent figure of the Christian churches of Asia and was overseer of the church at the city of Smyrna. He was said to be the over-thrower of gods due to his disdain for idolatry of any kind, and he was called an atheist for his unbelief in all gods except for a certain invisible Creator. He wrote epistles of his own, one letter to the church at the city of Philippi even existing to this day.

Like his family and his teacher John, he kept the weekly Sabbath and also observed the Passover according to the Biblical calendar. The dispute over Passover began when Anicetus, overseer of the church of Rome, stopped Passover observance and began to celebrate Yeshua’s (Jesus’) resurrection day, typically on the following Sunday. There were perhaps three reasons for Anicetus’ change from the Biblical tradition: (1) The pressure from Rome to conform to the Roman religion; (2) the pressure from Roman persecution to disassociate from anything that looked Jewish; (3) the gradual change in importance from crucifixion day to resurrection day. Polycarp left Asia to travel to Rome and confront the heretics, including Anicetus, regarding un-biblical traditions, one of them being the changed date of Passover. While Passover always falls on the 14th evening of the first lunar month on the Biblical calendar, the Roman church had begun observing it on the Sunday that typically followed the 14th day. However, Polycarp was unable to persuade Anicetus to return to the Biblical date for the holy day. After returning to Smyrna, and late in his life, Polycarp was burned at the stake in Smyrna.

Martyrdom of Polycarp - Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Martyrdom of Polycarp – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Anicetus succeeded in helping to start what we now call Easter, though during his days, it was still known as Passover. The day of importance changed from the crucifixion day to the resurrection day. The calendar day also changed from the 14th evening of the first lunar month on the Biblical calendar to a set Sunday in early spring on the Roman Julian solar calendar. Using a different calendar to calculate Passover, and then moving to Sunday in remembrance of the resurrection day actually detached it from the true resurrection day and voided the three-day count between Yeshua’s (Jesus’) crucifixion and resurrection.

Passover 2016

Easter 2016

Anicetus kept the name Passover and used it to refer to the resurrection day as opposed to the crucifixion day. However, the mode of worship on resurrection day changed to such a degree that it no longer resembled anything like the Biblical Passover. More than 1,000 years later, the name of resurrection day changed to Easter in English and has Germanic origins. Additionally, the name Easter is also, coincidentally, the name of the Akkadian fertility goddess from Babylon. Whether this is the origin of the holiday’s name is uncertain, but another possible link is to the pre-German words meaning dawn or spring. Another coincidence would be that spring is the season of fertility. The name change from Passover to Easter was the final act of total separation and disconnection from Biblical Passover. By the mid-19th century, Christians began to observe pagan practices on Easter Sunday, involving rabbits, eating Easter Sunday ham, and coloring eggs.

The crucifixion day according to the Roman Julian-Gregorian solar calendar fell on the Friday before Easter Sunday and became known as Good Friday, though this is hardly ever the actual day of the crucifixion or the Passover, according to the Biblical calendar.

And this is why the name Easter remains in some English Bibles today.

For Polycarp’s complete life story, click here.

For the complete story on Easter, click here.

About Jonathan Lankford

Jonathan has a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) in Bible with a concentration in missions and intercultural communication. He also earned his Master's in Business Quality Management (MBQPM) and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Master's in Education (MEd) focusing on Administration. He has been an educator since 2007, teaching English and humanities in Vietnamese universities. He currently holds the position of Associate Registrar at Tan Tao University, Vietnam.
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2 Responses to How Passover became Easter

  1. Pingback: Are Christians Crucifying Christ Again? | firstfaith

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