From Passover to Easter
When should we celebrate the Resurrection of our Saviour? Answer: Every day! Why is that controversial?
The major institutional churches in their various denominations are focusing on a project to “harmonise” the date of “Easter”. Some Christians were surprised to discover that there is no agreement on when “Easter” should be marked and celebrated. Others will be surprised, if not shocked, to discover that “Easter” emerges directly from pagan fertility rites that have nothing to do with the Resurrection! (A simple internet search will shed light on this question). Despite this, in recent years, there have been moves in the major institutional churches to ‘fix’ the date of “Easter.”
Vatican City, Jun 19, 2015: Speaking to a global gathering of priests, Pope Francis signalled an openness to changing the date of Easter in the West so that all Christians around the world could celebrate the feast on the same day.1
16 Jan 2016: Easter should fall on the same Sunday every year, the Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested. The Most Rev. Justin Welby said that Anglican leaders would join discussions with other church leaders about the move to fix the date for the first time and put an end to almost 2,000 years of controversy.2
This move will take at least 5 years according to the Archbishop – with his background in business, he realises that many diary and calendar producers will have prepared their calendars up to 5 years in advance! In a classic understatement, the Telegraph article goes on to state: The plan, which would schedule the Christian festival on the same Sunday each year, is expected to be welcomed by parents and schools but may anger traditionalists.
Why the controversy?
‘Easter’ has been embedded in Christian thinking for nigh-on 1700 years, yet with no Biblical authority or license. The only reference to Easter in the Bible (in the King James Version) is a mistranslation of the word for Passover. (The translators were under injunction from King James himself not to translate anything in a way that would undermine the established church practices! Hence, they transliterated the word ‘baptizo’ rather than translate it as ‘immerse’).
What does history reveal about how and when the pagan festival of Easter replaced the Biblical Passover remembrance? A series of extensive quotes in the book “3 Days and 3 Nights – that changed the world”3 reveal the story — commonly referred to as the ‘Quartodeciman Controversy.’ This controversy — Passover versus Easter — became a pivotal one and marked the final break of what today we might call the institutional church from its Hebraic root. Arguably, from this point onwards, the church was completely severed from its true root and began to absorb its spiritual ‘nutrients’ through other, pagan, roots.4
In the first two centuries of the church’s existence, Passover was observed to remember the Saviour’s death, burial and resurrection, which meant that the date changed every year to coincide with the phases of the moon and the Jewish New Year. The Eastern churches continued that practice, when the Western churches (led from Rome) adopted the more practical idea of fixing the date on the same Sunday every year. From that, and a misunderstanding of the Sabbath before which the bodies had to be buried, arose the tradition of ‘Good Friday’ that we looked at in a previous article.5
Eusebius (a well-known historian of the early Church) speaks about this in his work, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, chapters XXIII and XXIV: A question of no small importance arose at that time [late 2nd century –Ed.]. For the parishes 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 be observed as the feast of the Saviour’s Passover…the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor [then bishop of Rome, an early ‘pope’ – Ed.] and the church of Rome, set forth …the tradition which had come down to him. The point that Eusebius was making above is that in the early church most Christians were continuing to mark Passover as the festival on which they remembered the crucifixion of the Lord. They did so for two wise reasons: (1) it is the actual day on which Jesus was crucified (14 Nisan) and (2) there are compelling theological reasons why this should be the case. Ultimately, Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) and there is no getting away from that fact. The so-called Quartodeciman Controversy would become a clear stage in the future break between Western and Eastern Christianity. Note that most ‘Orthodox’ Christians today also mark Passover as an annual act of remembrance.
From certainty to compromise
The Catholic Encyclopaedia goes on to explain that the Council of Nicaea [AD 325] ‘decided’, once and for all, the matter of Easter versus Passover: As for Easter, the Fathers decreed (1) that all Christians should observe it on the same day, (2) that Jewish customs should not be followed, and (3) that the practice of the West, of Egypt, and of other Churches should remain in force, namely, of celebrating Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (Vol. 5, p. 433).
This Council confirmed that the ‘Easter’ festival would always be held on a Sunday and was never to coincide with a particular phase of the moon, which could of course occur on any day of the week (Vol. 5, p. 228). It is interesting to speculate to what extent this was merely administratively convenient to Rome — if a festival must be observed then associate it with a weekend, to cause the least social disruption, in much the same way that here in the UK, our early Spring Bank Holiday is always made adjacent to a weekend! Biblically, of course, the Passover was always linked directly to the moon,6 regardless of the day of the week on which it fell. The 14th day of Nisan was God’s appointed day for the Passover (Exodus 12:1–6) —not the nearest Sunday to this, or any other date.
Emperor Constantine’s anti-Semitism was a factor in the institutional church’s ‘re-engineering’ of its worshipful year. Where the sometimes-strained relations between Jewish and Gentile Believers had in the past been ‘problematic’, now institutionalised anti-Semitism became increasingly the norm across the early churches, as the reality of ‘Replacement Theology’7 began to take hold. The institutional churches also, largely, chose to ignore the theological and historical truth that Jesus was raised at First Fruits – the ‘first day of the week’ following the Sabbath after Passover (Lev.23:11) – Christ … the firstfruits of them that slept (1 Cor.15:20,23).
Rediscovering First Fruits?
Sadly, these prejudices against the Jewish calendar were inherited by the Reformers, as Protestantism (at least in its institutional forms) absorbed without question the fundamental tenet that ‘Christians’ had ‘replaced’ the Hebrew people as God’s elect. The Protestant churches adopted Roman norms, it would appear, with no critical thought or evaluation.
Relatively few Christians remained faithful to the truth, and by this we mean in recognising the Moedim8 collectively, and Passover/First Fruits in particular, as God’s clear and unmistakable signposts to His salvation purposes. With this early recognition by the proto-Church went joyful and ongoing observance of God’s appointed times as commanded by God.
It is notable that today, in this twentyfirst century, increasing numbers of Christians are wonderfully rediscovering that we are not ‘Easter People’ as some have claimed. Rather, and more fundamentally, we are First Fruits People, who seek to follow our Lord who is the first fruit of the eternal harvest. These Christians recognise the awesome truth that today we live in the Latter First Fruits period, that period when the workers in the field are busy harvesting — souls! Not for nothing did Jesus say,‘… you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’(John 4:35).
2 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/121022 78/Easter-date-to-be-fixed-within-next-five-to-10- years.html
3 Available from Christian Publications International (http://www.christian-publications-int.com/)
4 Steve Maltz’s books How The Church Lost the Way and How The Church Lost the Truth (available from http://www.sppublishing.com/) explore this subject in depth
5 Also covered in detail in “3 Days and 3 Nights – that changed the world” op.cit.
6 The English word month, is derived from moon.
7 The view, whether conscious or sub-conscious, that ‘the church’ has ‘replaced’ the Hebrew people as God’s chosen nation and that all the blessings given by God to the Hebrew people are now transferred to the Church. n.b. such a theology is nowhere even hinted at in the New Testament.
8 Appointed Times, set out in Leviticus chapter 23, yet each pointing towards Jesus.