Why We Should Not Passover Easter - Part 2
By Nick Sayers
Editorial Comment: Following part 1 on this thought provoking topic by Nick Sayers we received some interesting comments and questions which I decided to put on hold pending the publishing of No 2 in the series, which is now offered to our readership. Once more your interaction is invited on the CWM blog at http://www.christian-witness.org/blog/ In responding please keep clearly in mind that while speculation about the rationale of King Herod and of Luke the writer of the Gospel in the historic setting of the imprisonment and the proposed execution of Peter may be part of the issue, the principal argument of Nick Sayers' articles relates to a justifying of the KJV translators' selection of the word “Easter” rather than “Passover” in Acts 12: 4. As one who previously thought the KJV was mistaken I have found the two articles fascinating. I am sure the following will not put the matter to rest. None of us has all of the Truth. We must persist with an examination of Scripture in the spirit of those noble Bereans of whom we read in Acts 17:11 (NKJV). God bless you as we together “search the Scriptures” –
In Part 1, we traced the history of the English Bible and discovered that the etymology of Easter is not from pagan origins but is of an entirely Christian derivation.
Our word Easter is of Saxon origin and of precisely the same import with its German cognate Ostern. The latter is derived from the old Teutonic form of auferstehen / auferstehung, that is - resurrection. 1
Most claims that "Easter", in Acts 12:4 was a mistake or a mistranslation in the King James Bible, stem from the "pagan origins" myth. However there is also another reason why some reject Easter being inserted here. The phrase, "Everyone knows that Pascha means Passover and not Easter" is often claimed with pulpit thumping assertion in many anti Easter articles on the Internet. Yet, modern Greek dictionaries define 'Pascha' as 'Easter', and if you asked any modern Greek what Pascha means every one of them will say that Pascha means Easter, the very opposite to what some "Greek experts" within the assembly of textual critics will assert. Many of God's people repeat what these "experts" affirm, as I myself once did, either claiming Easter to be Pagan or citing the "inaccuracy" of Acts 12:4. But as we shall see, Easter in Acts 12:4 in the KJV was not a mistake, but merely a cue for readers to consider the timing of Herod's captivity of Peter and his desire to bring him before the people, just as what happened to Jesus not many years prior, also at Passover - though the use of Easter would make them consider Christ our Passover and the resurrection.
The Greek Pascha appears 29 times, 28 as Passover and once as Easter:
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 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)
Luke formulated Pashas' semantic domain
With our current western way of thinking, we sometimes separate Pascha into two distinct time periods, one being Passover and the other Easter. It helps to know that in NT times, Jews were celebrating the Passover and the Christians were celebrating the Resurrection (Easter) at the same period of time. It would appear that the rationale of the KJV translators in using the word "Easter" and not "Passover", was that Herod would have thought in terms of the Jewish designation, and was waiting until after the festival to bring Peter before the Jews, as his desire was to please the Jews, while Luke the writer of Acts, made it perfectly clear by stating "then were the days of unleavened bread" that he was speaking of the Christians' Pascha, and was making mention that the Passover feast day had already taken place and the feast of unleavened bread was taking place. Luke forced the semantic domain of Pascha by making this statement, and wasn't referring to the Passover feast day which was on the first day of the feast, but stated that Peter was taken during the days of unleavened bread which was the seven-day period after the feast.
Even the liberal Bible translator and scholar Philip Schaff said,
“Easter is the resurrection festival which follows the Passover proper, but is included in the same festive week”. 2
Luke didn't have separate words in Greek to specify the difference between the Passover proper and the Resurrection celebration (Easter), so he used "Pascha" and added "then were the days of unleavened bread" emphasizing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He followed this pattern throughout the book of Acts. Luke would not have added it for some trivial reason. Rather he was inserting information that would place the Greek "Pascha" into context. In Greek literature (and the Textus Receptus itself),
“The use of the word Pascha in early Christian writings dealt with the celebration of Easter, and not just the Jewish Passover.” 3
Luke rarely went out of his way to explain the OT practices of the Jews in Acts. For example in chapters 1 and 2 (and right through Acts) things like "a Sabbath day's journey" from Jerusalem "the day of Pentecost was come" are written without any explanation whatever. So the addition of the words; "then were the days of unleavened bread" indicate that there was something Luke wanted the readers to know about the particular chronology of the occurrences in the 12th Chapter of Acts. Had Luke not included these words, there would be no doubt as to it meaning the Jewish feast and the thought of a Christian feast would only come to mind in the knowledge that historically the early church did celebrate Easter more or less during the same festival week. Also it would not have been necessary to make any distinction at all, as the KJV translators did. But the fact remains that Luke did mention it and the very learned KJV translators did see that its insertion was vital to explain the context correctly.
The KJV translators were well aware that Tyndale changed many of his references from Easter to Passover in his editions of the NT after he invented the word Passover, and also how Pascha was used for both Easter and Passover in early church literature, as the previous article2 uncovered. Yet they were also especially familiar with the disputations about Easter in the first few centuries of Christianity. Dr. G. W. H. Lampe has correctly stated, “Pascha came to mean Easter in the early church.” Dr. Lampe lists several rules and observances by Christians in celebration of their Pascha or Easter. He also points to various Greek words such as "paschazo" and "paschalua" that came to mean "celebrate Easter" and "Eastertide." 4
Likewise, Dr. Gerhard Kittel notes,
Pascha came to be called Easter in the celebration of the resurrection within the primitive Church. 5
It must be remembered that the Pascha was the most important feast of the Jews. The early Church, including Luke, would have initiated the trend of not celebrating the old shadow Pascha but celebrating the new Pascha. Alfred Edersheim, a Messianic Jew in the 19th century, said of the Last Supper:
It was to be the last of the old "Pascha's"; the first, or rather the symbol of promise, of the new. 6
He clearly knew that every Pascha from the time of the Cross was to be the new Pascha and not the old. John Owen wrote:
There was also a signal vindication of the truth pleaded for, in an instance of fact among the primitive churches. There was an opinion which prevailed very early among them about the necessary observation of Easter, in the room of the Jewish Passover, for the solemn commemoration of the death and resurrection of our Saviour. And it was taken for granted by most of them, that the observance hereof was countenanced, if not rendered necessary to them, by the example of the apostles; for they generally believed that by them it was observed, and that it was their duty to accommodate themselves to their practice... By the later second century, it was accepted that the celebration of Easter was a practice of the disciples and an undisputed tradition. That Easter was to be observed by virtue of Apostolical tradition was generally granted by all. 7
Again, Philip Schaff observed:
From some hints in the Epistles, viewed in the light of the universal and uncontradicted practice of the church in the second century it may be inferred that the annual celebration of the death and the resurrection of Christ, and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, originated in the apostolic age. In truth, Christ crucified, risen, and living in the church, was the one absorbing thought of the early Christians; and as this thought expressed itself in the weekly observance of Sunday, so it would also very naturally transform the two great typical feasts of the Old Testament into the Christian Easter and Whit-Sunday. The Paschal controversies of the second century related not to the fact, but to the time of the Easter festival, and Polycarp of Smyrna and Anicet of Rome traced their customs to a … difference in the practice of the apostles themselves. 8
Schaff indicates that historically there was never any debate within the early church over a pagan Easter, nor whether or not it should be celebrated, but primarily what day it should be celebrated on. In Bible times, the 14th of Nisan could fall on any day of the week, but some in the church felt that the 17th (also known as the feast of first fruits), the date Jesus arose from the dead, should be the proper day that Easter be celebrated and the Lord's Supper taken. But that could also fall on any day of the week. Finally it was concluded that the Sunday following the 14th should be the day. This practice was followed by most churches except for the Quartodecimans (derived from the Vulgate Latin: "quarta decimal", meaning fourteen) who kept Easter on the Passover day, the 14th. They were generally considered legalists by most of the church fathers.
Around 120 A.D., Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, went to see the Christian leader Anicetus to discuss the proper date for this celebration:
Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome to confer with him about the controversy over the date of Easter. 9
Those in Asia celebrated it on the moveable week-day of the 14th of Nisan (the Jewish Passover) while those in Rome did it on the first Sunday after Passover. They decided to let each group continue as they had been doing, rather than cause a split.
We read in Eusebius:
A question of no small importance arose at that time [i.e. about A.D. 190]. The dioceses of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should always be observed as the feast of the life-giving pasch, contending that the fast ought to end on that day, whatever day of the week it might happen to be. However it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this point, as they observed the practice, which from Apostolic tradition has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the Resurrection of our Saviour.... These words of the Father of Church History … tell us almost all that we know concerning the paschal controversy in its first stage. A letter of Irenaeus is among the extracts just referred to, and this shows that the diversity of practice regarding Easter had existed at least from the time of 120 A.D.. Further, Irenaeus states that Polycarp, who like the other Asiatics, kept Easter on the fourteenth day of the moon, whatever day of the week that might be, following therein the tradition which he claimed to have derived from St. John the Apostle, came to Rome circa 150 A.D. about this very question. 10
Paul had prophetically given good advice to the Roman church on these matters:
One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it to the Lord; and he that does not regard the day, to the Lord he does not regard it….But why do you judge your brother? or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14 5-6;10).
Interestingly Paul scolded the Galatian church in Asia for lapsing into ritualism saying:
“But now, after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you again desire to be in bondage? You observe days, months, seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have laboured for you in vain.” (Galatians 4:9-11)
Quartodecimans were looked upon by the early church much the same as Seventh Day Adventists are seen today, trying to impose concepts from the dispensation of the Law into the dispensation of grace. Unfortunately many Quartodecimans were persecuted and killed for this belief. 11
Quartodecimanism was almost thoroughly snuffed out at the Anti-Semitic ecumenical Council of Nicea:
When the question arose concerning the most holy day of Easter, it was decreed by common consent to be expedient, that this festival should be celebrated on the same day by all, in every place. …it seemed to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds. It is fit, therefore, that, rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order, which we have kept from the first day of our Lord's passion even to the present times. Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews. 12
Although sometimes incorrect, the Council of Nicea's final decision on Easter was in accord with the majority of the early church fathers, which is what really matters. Once the churches became unified about Easter in the fourth century, the date was more consistent until the West's adoption of the revised Gregorian calendar in the sixteenth century. Although Britain didn't accept the calendar until 1752, most of Europe had accepted a different calendar during the generation of the translators. This observance and its basic structure survives with us up to our time, with Easter Sunday being resurrection Sunday, representing the 17th of Nisan, and Good Friday being the date which is a representation of the 14th of Nisan, although in 32 AD the day Jesus died was a Thursday. 13
These calendar modifications in Europe would have also caused many of the world's finest mathematicians, theologians and scholars to be examining these trends, including the KJV translators.
The translator who kept Easter
King James Bible translator Sir Henry Savile was briefly mentioned in our last article. He was an expert on the Greek language, mathematics, and church history and had been personal tutor in Greek and mathematics to Queen Elizabeth. He also founded the first chairs of Geometry and Astronomy in Oxford. His greatest work, besides his work on the King James Bible, was translating the complete works of the most famous Greek Church father John Chrysostom from Greek into English. During his compilation of 15,800 manuscript sheets, he scoured all the great Libraries of Europe, buying the oldest and purest of the Chrysostom manuscripts. Savile's edition of Chrysostom has been called "the one great work of Renaissance scholarship carried out in England", and was the most considerable work of pure learning undertaken in England at that time. Power and Glory - Jacobean English and the making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson Page 167
Savile, who frequented Europe, was considered by some as the "greatest scholar of his age". Adam Nicolson, who wrote a book about the translators, dispelled the myth that the King James Bible emerged from an isolated and insular England, by saying,
“A river of European influences runs through it (the version), and through no more open conduit than Henry Savile.” 14
Savile translated Acts 12:4, as a member of the Oxford translation committee assigned to translate Acts, the Gospels and Revelation. Savile was often called in by King James to translate church books into Latin, Italian or French. 15 Chrysostom, whose works Savile translated from Greek into English, was staunchly opposed to Quartodecimanism, which occurred mainly in Asia. While Irenaeus claimed it had roots in apostolic tradition via John, the majority of the church practised Easter on the Sunday after the Passover feast. In his 1612 edition of Homilies 27 Volume 6, which is Discourse I in Patrologia Graeca's Adversus Iudaeos, Savile gives the title: Chrysostom's Discourse Against Those Who Are Judaizing and Observing Their Fasts, revealing Savile's depth of knowledge of the Easter controversies. Interestingly, the earliest book with mathematical content to be printed at Oxford was Compotus manualis ad usum Oxoniensum, printed by Charles Kyrforth in 1520. This book explained how to make calculations for the date of Easter. The second mathematical book to be published in Oxford was Sir Henry Savile's lectures on Euclid's Elements, printed in 1621. 16
If one were to search the biographies of Christian history to select a person equipped to translate Acts 12: 4 into English from Greek it would be hard to discover anyone more able than Savile. Obsessed with Chrysostom, an enemy of Quartodecimanism, Savile was intimately acquainted with the Easter controversies. He was a noted mathematician with a mind for detail and chronological events, and one of the greatest English Greek scholars who personally tutored the Queen of England. I doubt you would find anyone more appropriate than Savile.
Bancroft, one of the translators penned the Rules to be observed in translation. He lists some very interesting procedures that demolish myths about private interpretation, or a translator's oversight in regard to Easter.
Every particuler man of each company to take you same chapter or chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himselfe where he thinks good, all to meete together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
Thus the translators of Acts, for example, all personally translated the book by themselves, and then their particular group corporately amalgamated those personal translations into one copy which was wholeheartedly agreed to by the entire group.
As one company hath despatched any one book in this manner they shall send it to the rest to be considered of seriously and judiciously; for His Majestie is verie carefull of this point.
So once the group had reached a consensus, they then sent their manuscript of Acts off to the rest of the translators to be examined by each group.
If any Company, upon you review of you books so sent, really doubt, or differ upon any place, to send them word thereof, note the place, and withal send their reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at you generall meeting, which is to be of the chiefe persons of each company, at you end of your work.
In addition there was a chance to respond to reviewers in front of a committee.
When any place of speciall obscuritie is doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to send to any learned man in the land, for his judgment of such a place. So if agreement could not be reached, further authorities in the land were to be consulted on particular matters. This reveals that great lengths went into the translation's accuracy. 17
In relation to the previous article, there is also confirmation for the fact that the KJV translators defined Easter as the "Resurrection of Our Lord", in their frequent mention in their various lists and tables in the Preface of the KJV itself which show us that to the translators, Easter was the holiest day of the year, and they knew exactly what it was, the Resurrection Day.
In the preface, which is in the front of the original 1611 bible, Easter is referred to in "An Almanacke for xxxix yeeres"3 and a date provided for each of those years. This indicates that Easter, in this case, refers to the Easter celebration by Christians for Christ's resurrection and not to the Jewish Passover. Also the following page, which is a table "To finde Easter forever", refers to the Christian Easter. In addition, the table "Proper Lessons to be read for the first lessons, both at Morning and Evening prayer", refers to the Christian Easter and also includes other days such as 'Whitsunday' and 'Trinitie Sunday' which are Holy Days determined by the date of Christian Easter. This is also true in the table "Proper Psalmes on Certaine Dayes" and on the following page events before and after Easter are described. 18
Thus when Easter was referred to in any of the 1611 KJV prefaces or tables it was referring to what we know today to be Easter. It never refers to Easter as Passover and when Passover is referred to it is the Jewish Holiday. From the above, one must conclude that when Easter was inserted by the KJV translators, it was done so by design showing their trend of using Easter as a post-resurrection Pascha, and Passover as a pre-resurrection Pascha, also causing the definition of Easter as the Jewish Passover to become obsolete, as the Oxford Dictionary would later define Easter in the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary, and also showing a second meaning "2. The Jewish Passover (obsolete)" 19 thus agreeing with Savile, who was an Oxford man himself. The above also backs up our previous article about Easter that the KJV translation ended an 86-year trend that began with Tyndale.
Scott Jones wrote:
“It doesn't take a savant to figure it out: the death of Jesus Christ - "Christ our Passover" (1 Cor. 5:7) - occurred before the days of unleavened bread. The resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred during the days of unleavened bread, and Luke went out of his way to explain to his readers, "then were the days of unleavened bread.”20
As we enter the Easter season again, let us keep Easter "not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:8) (i.e. Easter without legalism, without pagan myths, without conspiracy theories, and without degrading the Authorized Version).
It would be so much more edifying for the church to learn of subjects such as the Passover Lamb fulfilled in Christ, or the fulfilment of the 69 weeks of Daniel's prophecy on the 10th of Nisan, the Lord's supper, the blood, the resurrection etc, which no doubt many have been doing, however should do so with even more boldness, proclaiming them without unnecessary doubting or confusion. History reveals that the majority of Christians worldwide have celebrated Easter, because
Jesus (not Pagans) said:
Do this in remembrance of Me cf. Luke 22:19 with 1 Corinthians 11:24.
Therefore whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).