Appendix C: Easter Error
Jesus' Command Of A Passover Remembrance
The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach. The King James Bible translates the word for Passover in Greek (Pascha) with the word Easter in Acts 12:4. The King James translators thus believed Easter was synonymous with Passover. Why was this? To find the answer, we need to go back to what early Christians understood (and everyone but English-speaking Christians still understand) was the context in which Jesus intended the communion command to be fulfilled.
We English-speaking Protestants are generally ignorant of Jesus' intention behind the "remembrance of me" command at the Passover dinner before He was crucified. (Luke 22:19.)
As explained below, the command from Jesus was supposed to be part of the Passover service that his Jewish apostles were to keep and celebrate annually. When Jesus said "do this in remembrance of me," He did not envision a new ceremony called Communion. When He did likewise with the cup of wine, Jesus was not envisioning a new second step to what we call Communion. Rather, Jesus was saying when you "do this," that is, recite remembrances as the head of the table shares the unleavened bread and as each table-participant drinks from the Cup of Redemption in the Passover Dinner, the participants were henceforth to now do this in remembrance of Jesus. The story of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins would now be added as a remembrance at these two junctures of the Passover Dinner.
This explains why the early church practiced Passover. The Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp (died 155 A.D.), asserted Passover observance was directly handed to him by the apostles. Polycarp also said he was taught by them to keep it on 14 Nissan, exactly as prescribed as the day for Passover in the Law given Moses.
It may surprise an English-speaking evangelical to learn this, but it was this apostolic practice which explains why the Catholics and Orthodox still keep Passover each year. We find the Catholics in Italy call it Pasqua. In the Orthodox church, Pascha. Among Catholics it is an eight day period.
In fact, even in the evangelical Protestant church outside English-speaking lands, the celebration week ending with Resurrection Sunday still retains its correct name of Passover, e.g., Pascua in Spanish; Paschen in Dutch, Pâques in French, etc. I first learned this by living abroad in Costa Rica. I was puzzled why Protestant Christians there called Easter Pascua. That's how I stumbled across this issue.
The Law of Passover
The Passover Season was comprised of two parts: a Passover dinner and a week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover dinner was celebrated at a dining-room table in a house (Exodus 12:46) besides at the Temple (Deut. 16:2). The home-observance was typically led by the head of a family. The house had to be cleaned of all scraps of unleavened bread in preparation for passover and the feast of unleavened bread. The sojourner (Gentile sharing community with the Jews) was enjoined only not to eat unleavened bread in this season. Exodus 12:19. Otherwise, the sojourner did not have to keep the Passover dinner or celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yet, if the sojourner chose to keep the Passover dinner, he had to be circumcised first. Exodus 12:49. Thus, it was an honor that a sojourner /non-Jew could share in, but it was not a requirement to do so.
How the Timing Was Changed From 14 Nissan
Why does Passover in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestant communities no longer coincide with the Jewish day of observance of Passover? Why in particular is this true even if they retain the name Passover as the festival-season they celebrate?
At the Council of Nicea in 325, Passover's day of celebration was changed at the urging of the Emperor of Rome. He specifically demanded it be a different day other than 14 Nissan so as to spite the Jews. Emperor Constantine's ostensible reasons were all blatantly grounded on a virulent anti-semitical tirade!
However, there were actually some other competing considerations not specifically mentioned in the records from the Council of Nicea. The true Passover could fall in March. However, the new chronology guaranteed Passover would land in April. Why was this important? Because in that era, the English and Germanic name for April was Eostremonat or Ostaramonath respectively.
What did this name mean? In April, the pagans celebrated the festival of Osiris. It was her month. In Britain, her name was Eastre. There is no dispute this is the origin of the name for Easter. In the Eighth century, a Christian monk and historian, Bede, explained why English-speaking lands persisted in calling the Passover by the name Easter. He explained:
"Eosturmonath, which is now interpreted as the paschal month, was formerly named after the goddess Eostre, and has given its name to the festival [Passover in Britain]."
Thus, there was a more compromising rationale and purpose to Constantine's change. He desired to appease pagan citizens. This is why Constantine would not tolerate those who wanted to retain the apostolic practice of keeping Passover on 14 Nissan. These were known as Quatordecimans, i.e., 14-ers in Latin. Like we call the gold-rush enthusiasts 49ers, these adherents were called the 14ers. Because Constantine was able to heavily influence doctrine, the Roman Catholic church now inflicted excommunication on all Quatordecimans. This resulted in all kinds of civil penalties, e.g., inability to inherit, etc. This is how the true apostolic practice of observing 14 Nissan as the true day for Passover was wiped out in the Roman territories. Yet, the name Passover continued to be used. This is why the feast is still called Passover in all of Christendom except in English-speaking lands.
Thus, it was the British who solely refused to observe Passover under any name other than that of their goddess Eastre. She would have a priority over Passover. The Catholic church tolerated this in Britain. This was simply inherited by the Protestant English Church without any re-examination. As a result, Protestants in English-speaking lands came to completely forget the very context in which the drama of the Resurrection was to be recreated each year: it was the PASSOVER week, which starts with the Passover Dinner and continues in what is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus' Intention to Transform Passover Dinner
But why did the early apostolic church follow Passover? Because Jesus commanded a change within the Passover Dinner. (Luke 22:19.) It was not something new called Communion. Jesus instead was adding a memorial to step four of the traditional Passover Seder where the unleavened bread is broken. He added another memorial at a later juncture where the Cup of Redemption was drunk. At each point, the bread and wine are shared by the head of the table with a recitation of certain traditional remembrances. Thus, the early church had to know this was the true nature of Jesus' command regarding Communion. This is why the apostles kept Passover, as Polycarp affirmed.
How do we know this was Jesus' meaning? First, the Passover ceremony had been standardized for millennia prior to Jesus Christ. It had fifteen clearly defined steps. We have Gospel-confirmation there had been no significant change in the fifteen steps by Jesus' day. The record in the Gospels shows Jesus followed six of the fifteen steps in exactly identical order. The only thing not mentioned are the steps involving the meal itself in the middle. While those steps are not mentioned, the six steps mentioned in the Gospels do not vary in the slightest from the traditional Passover seder even as it is kept to this very day by Jews. The dinner's outline was never enacted as a law in the Bible or otherwise, yet one can see Jesus went through it step-by-step in the First Century A.D.
Therefore, we know that Jesus was first saying at step four, we need to change something. This is when we eat the unleavened bread. It was at that point that Jesus commanded we were to "do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19.) Next, Jesus clearly henceforth was associating the Passover Cup of Redemption with Himself: "this is the cup of the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20.) Our Redemption was now from His blood, symbolized by that cup.
What else confirms Jesus' intent to modify the Passover Seder? His remembrance terminology in Luke 22:19 also fits in with the nature of the Passover Seder. The head of the table leads the participants in a series of remembrances of the work of God with the people of Israel. It includes not only the Passover but the bitter herbs the people of Israel ate in the desert. There is a remembrance too that Elijah will come back before Messiah, and so on. All Jesus was saying was He wanted to add one more work of God to the list of remembrances which were already being recounted at every Passover.
Now hopefully you can understand why it was so imperative to retain Passover within the early church. This is why Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church continued the observance of Passover all these centuries. To rid ourselves of Passover's observance completely would be to rid ourselves of the very context in which at least a Jewish Christian was to obey the commandment of Jesus to "do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19.) If our intent is to enjoy the privilege of Passover, then our persistent use of the word Easter for Passover has a negative effect. It has led to ignorance. What else explains an otherwise brilliant and famous commentator like Gill actually saying: "the passover was... abolished, and not to be observed by Christians." (Commentary on Acts 20:6.) Due to the Easter moniker for Passover, no one within English-speaking Christianity has any footing to even begin to suspect Gill is wrong. At least for the Jewish-Christian, Jesus intended they "do this in remembrance of me," i.e., share the bread and wine at Passover with a remembrance of Jesus' work on the cross. For the Gentile Christian who exercises the privilege to keep Passover, then he must follow Jesus' revision to that dinner celebration.
The Orthodox Confront English-speaking "Easter" Terminology
This background now allows you to understand why the Orthodox Church in English countries cannot fathom the practice of calling this feast Easter. As Michael Harper, an Orthodox `father,' notes: "This is a much more important subject than a mere dispute about words." Harper acknowledges that virtually no one realizes the original pagan goddess worshipped in April was named Easter. Yet, it is this very meaninglessness of the name Easter which effectuated a loss of the real meaning of the season. This is how we lost the content of what we were trying to do -- amend the Passover service to remember Jesus while we simultaneously remembered all the other works of God which were part of the Passover dinner. Harper explains the Orthodox' Church's viewpoint on this phenomenon among English-speakers:
[There is a] constant temptation to drop the word Pascha and for clarity (and sometimes charity) use the western word Easter. But perhaps the time has come for us to make a stand against this. In our increasingly secular and pagan society the use of a pagan word, of which no one knows the meaning, is hardly suitable to describe the greatest day in the Christian year. When most people knew the Christian meaning of the word Easter [as Passover] one could perhaps make out a case for using the word. But not today!
In other words, if we did retain the substance of Passover practice within our Easter-observance, perhaps you could say using Easter as a name is harmless. But now the word Easter obscures rather than highlights what we are trying to celebrate to honor Jesus' command to revise the Passover ceremony.
Any Imperative To Reform?
There is absolutely no dispute factually that the early apostolic church kept Passover. There is no dispute that universal non-English speaking Christianity has always kept Passover, whether Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic. There is no dispute that it was only in 325 A.D. that this observance was moved from 14 Nissan to a date that coincides instead always with a date in April. (This is because the Christian Passover-Easter is measured in relation to the vernal equinox.) There is no dispute that the current date does not coincide with the Passover in God's Law. There is no dispute that the only reason English-speaking Christianity lost the memory of the Passover festival was due to the stubborness of Englishmen. By the time of the Eighth Century, as recorded by Bede, the British Christians preferred to worship under their pagan goddess' name of Eastre.
With these indisputable facts, what should a Christian do? First, assuming Passover is something still to be observed, it is impermissible to move the timing.
When King Jeroboam moved the feast of tabernacles by one month from the time specified in the Law, the way this is described shows God's displeasure. (1 Kings 12:33.) The Spanish Reina Valera is the closest to the correct translation. Jeroboam selected a "month he invented in his heart." (Reina Valera.) The Hebrew is bada, which means "to invent." (Strong's #908.) Cf. "devised in his own heart" (ASV KJV); "fixed by him at his pleasure" (BBE); "of his own choosing" (CEV).
What did Jesus likewise teach when we invent our own traditions in place of God's commands?
(6) And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition. (7) Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, (8) This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. (9) But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. (Matt. 15:6-9 ASV.)
Thus, moving Passover, if we observe it, to anything other than 14 Nissan is vain (empty) worship, so says the Lord Jesus Christ. It is moved solely by tradition. Jesus says God does not accept vain worship. Jesus was alluding to the second commandment which says "do not use the Lord's name in vain."
Nor can one ignore that Daniel says what will mark "another" who "puts down three rulers" (Dan. 7:24) is that he "shall wear out the saints of the Most High; and he shall think to change the times and the Law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time." Dan 7:25. Thus, God gives us an idea that this "other" acts wrongly by changing the "times and the Law." If this is so, then how can moving the date for Passover as provided in the Law given Moses be correct? As the Psalmist says, "Your royal laws cannot be changed." (Ps. 93:5.)
The remaining question, and the most important, is whether Jesus intended the apostles to keep Passover.
First, in broad terms, it is undisputed that the command to keep the Passover applied to Jews. It was optional for sojourners (Gentiles), but if they elected to keep it, they had to be circumcised. Thus, only if God abrogated the Law as to Jews can one say Jesus did not intend the apostles to keep Passover.
There are some fundamentally difficult passages to overcome if we contend God intended to abrogate the Law (Torah) in the New Testament. The New Testament was prophesied to "inscribe the Law (Torah) on our hearts." (Jeremiah 31:31-33.) When a Redeemer is sent to Israel to create a new covenant, God promises that "these words that I have given you" (the Law) "will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children's children forever." (Isaiah 59:21 NLT.) When His Servant (Messiah) comes, God "will magnify the Law (Torah), and make it honorable." (Isaiah 42:21 ASV/KJV.) Jesus, for His part, did everything possible to put the Law given Moses on our lips and in our hearts forever. Jesus said immediately after just referring to the "Law (given Moses) and the Prophets" (Matt. 5:17):
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:19 KJV)
In an identical spirit, Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for a shallow teaching of the "less weighty matters of the Law," but leaving the "weightier matters of the Law undone." Matt. 23:23. Jesus attacked the Pharisees' oral traditions which made of none effect the written commandments of God given Moses. Matt. 15:6-9 (the Pharisees taught that a special korban payment which they invented would excuse later having to honor one's parents if they fell into poverty -- in violation of one of the Ten Commandments.) Jesus did everything He could to elevate obedience to the Law given Moses. Jesus' critiques all reveal the Pharisees had a shallow defective Law-negating doctrine. The people merely assumed the Pharisees were teaching the Law because the people were told by the Pharisees what the Law was. Bible-texts were not ubiquitous as they are now. But Jesus said this supposition about the Pharisees was untrue.
Moreover, if the New Testament somehow abrogates the Law, including the Law of Passover, this would contradict God's repeated emphasis that "these ordinances" of the Law shall be "everlasting for all generations." (Ex. 27:21; 30:21; Lev. 6:18; 7:36; 10:9; 17:7; 23:14, 21, 41; 24:3; Num. 10:8; 15:15.)
Luther reculctantly came to accept Jesus intended the Law given Moses remains the rule of life for the Christian. While Luther originally subscribed to an anti-Law position in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther eventually made an about face. He insisted the Law, in particular the Ten Commandments, applies to Christians. (Shorter/Longer Catechisms (1531-32); Antinomian Theses (1537); cfr. Commentary on Galatians (1531).)
Thus, it would appear that Jesus at least intended His Jewish apostles to keep Passover. It remained an honor for a Gentile to keep it.
What confirms this is that Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, said the apostles themselves personally taught him to keep Passover. If Polycarp were lying, it makes no sense that there is such a strong universal memory (other than in English-speaking lands) that the festival we call Easter is everywhere else called Passover, and is universally kept.
Finally, Jesus' command to "do this in remembrance of Me" during the Passover dinner has one obvious meaning. Jesus gave two remembrances that would be spoken of when the apostles "do this"-- distribute the unleavened bread and share the Cup of Redemption at Passover. The context defines what do this meant. The later tradition of what we do on Sunday in Communion does not define what Jesus meant by do this. To think Jesus meant "do this" in a vacuum of a Sunday church communion service which observance is itself nowhere commanded in Scripture is replacing tradition for what is the import of Jesus' command. He clearly assumed that the apostles would keep the Passover dinner, as the Law mandated upon a Jew. It is within this context the apostles would fulfill His remembrance-commands of the communion cup and wine. To use tradition to avoid the import of Jesus' command would be "empty" worship. Jesus specifically said worship is vain when tradition replaces commandments of God. (Matt. 15:6-9.) This includes commandments from Our Lord to remember Him when we `do this' (i.e., keep passover sharing of the bread and wine).
Thus, we should re-examine our own practice of Easter: do you know it is Passover that we are attempting to celebrate? If not, that is the first sign of an empty and vain worship. Do we know we are being told to exchange unleavened bread and a Cup of Redemption as remembrances at a Passover dinner at home if we are electing to keep the Passover season as a Christian? If not, that is a second sign of an empty and vain worship. Finally, are we troubled in the slightest that we are worshipping Christ under the name of a pagan goddess albeit a long forgotten association? If not, then that is a final sign that our worship has become so empty and so vain that even the clear historical taint of idol-worship does not concern us.