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Why the Word “Easter”?

By March 1, 2008July 19th, 2014No Comments

Q. How did the word “Easter” get into Scripture? Easter has pagan connotations.

A. Acts 12:4 is the single use of the word “Easter” in Scripture (KJV). The Greek pascha is our word “Passover,” found in some translations. The use of “Passover” parallels the belief that early believers didn’t formally observe the resurrection of Christ.

King Herod was persecuting believers and wouldn’t have been interested in their observances. He intended to bring an arrested Peter before the people after the Jewish Passover was out of the way. Herod did not want to be at odds with the Jews any more than he had to, and he had already pleased them by executing the apostle James. The Jews would have been pleased to have Peter out of the way too, but the public trial could wait until the Passover period had ended.

So why the word “Easter”? The word for the Passover had been used until reformist William Tyndale translated the New Testament from Greek into English. Tyndale did not care to use a foreign word, so he used the word “Easter,” since English people associated this word with the Passover season. The word had been around for several centuries prior to Tyndale. Even though it was the name for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and a springtime festival for the goddess, the Christians took the name for their own celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

Prior to Tyndale, the first translators of the Bible into Latin used the Greek word pascha. Reformist John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English from Latin and also kept the word (pask). However, when Tyndale translated the Pentateuch, he coined a new word, “Passover.” That word appeared in a number of passages. He did not get to revise the New Testament at the same time he worked on the Old Testament, and the word “Easter” (“Ester”) remained for a time in the latter. Matthew’s Bible (1537) later incorporated Tyndale’s work on the Pentateuch, which used “Passover,” but there were still some references to “Ester.” The Great Bible of 1539 also retained “Ester,” or “Easter,” in places. However, the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishops’ Bible (1568), and the Authorized Version (King James) (1611) continued the elimination of “Easter,’ replacing the word with “Passover” until the Authorized had the one remaining use of the word—in the Acts passage. This vestige likely was a translation oversight rather than an intentional inclusion.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

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