Herbert W Armstrong Library
Sign In  |  MyHWA  |    
Plain Truth Magazine
March 1967
Volume: Vol XXXII, No.3
QR Code
Gerhard O Marx

Is Easter really Christian? Here are the surprising facts!

   CAN YOU believe it? The observance of Easter is never once commanded in the Bible!
   Don't take our word for it!
   Notice! "There is NO indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament!" So states the Encyclopedia Britannica, under article, "Easter."
   And, "The celebration of Easter does NOT appear in the New Testament" (A Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, Mathews and Smith, p. 140).
   Have you ever wondered what colored eggs have to do with Christ's death? And what Easter rabbits and "hot-cross" buns have to do with Christ's resurrection? What about the name "Easter" itself? Do you know its origin and meaning? And what about Easter Sunrise services.
   How did a "Christian" world come to accept and celebrate Easter? It's high time you knew the truth about Easter.

Easter Sunrise Services before Jesus' Birth!

   Turn back the pages of history for a moment. See how Easter came to be accepted by the professing Christian world. Take the year 8 B.C. 4 years before Christ's birth. Notice what was taking place in that particular year among the non-Christian population of Europe the Germanic people.
   As was customary with the spring of each year, a particular event was about to take place. General excitement permeated the towns and villages.
   It was a Saturday evening, called Sunnun-abend, when the event was to occur. On this particular evening in 8 B.C., everyone left his habitation and then gathered outside the village or town. All those capable would collect wood, place it around an oak tree, and set it alight.
   As the massive mountain of wood began to burn, everyone would gather around the fire, completely encircling it.
   Flames would light up the entire sky. This ceremony occurred throughout the land.
   Then followed the more solemn part of the evening. The populace would kneel and beseech Sunna, their goddess of dawn as she was then called, imploring her to bring back the long-awaited spring days. The date of this festival was a Saturday night about the 21st of March.
   This was the time of the vernal equinox, when the short winter days cease and the long, warm spring months begin. (As a matter of interest, the German word for Saturday Sonnabend traces itself back to the Saturday night on which the goddess Sunna was worshipped. The ancient Germans counted their days from evening to evening. Thus Saturday eve was actually the beginning of today's Sunday)
   After having offered sacrifices to the goddess of the spring on this evening, the people retired till early morning.
   On this morning, Sunday some time before dawn everyone would meet again outside with their faces to the East toward the rising sun praising their goddess Sunna for bringing them this long-awaited first day of spring.
   This day, the first Sunday after March 21st, was their annual holiday. It was a joyous day of various celebrations and games. One of the games was to find colored eggs which were hidden in the grass, around trees and in other hiding places. The children especially enjoyed these games. Although the coloring varied, the predominant colors of the eggs were red and gold symbolizing the bright rays of the sun. Some of the eggs were given as an offering to the spring goddess and the others were eaten. The egg was regarded as the emblem of germinating life of early spring. "Hot-cross" buns were also baked and offered to the goddess. See the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 2, p. 34 and The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, John D. Davis, p. 145.

Why Called Easter?

   Move forward in history to a time several centuries after the birth of Christ. We find the heathen populace of Europe still observing this annual spring festival to the goddess of dawn or spring. But now she was known by another, more general name EOSTRE.
   The name Sunna had merely been the localized German name, which was now changed to the more general name Eostre. Here is what happened.
   During the previous centuries, vast numbers of people from Persia and Assyria had settled on the European mainland. These Eastern peoples were also worshipping a spring goddess. Their celebration likewise coincided with the beginning of spring. In fact, even colored eggs were associated with their spring festival. Notice! "The ancient Persians, when they kept the festival of the solar new year in March, mutually presented each other with colored eggs" (Chamber's Encyclopedia, article, "Easter."
   The spring festival of these Eastern immigrants was identical to the festival the Germanic people celebrated. There was only one difference. The name of their goddess was ISHTAR. The Germans pronounced it slightly different, resulting in Eostre or as we today pronounce Easter.
   Thus the settlers from the East influenced the local population to alter the name of their goddess Sunna to that of Easter.
   But it was still the same goddess. It was still the same festival on which they worshipped the goddess Sunna several centuries before. They still gathered wood on Saturday eve. They still had their huge bonfire that night. They still arose early the next morning for the sunrise service. And they still played games and looked for colored eggs on that day. It was still a highly popular festival. With the influx of these Eastern tribes, it became more generally celebrated than ever before.
   Nothing had changed except the name of their goddess, now Eostre or in more modern terminology Easter.

Introduced into Christianity

   But how and why did the Christian-professing world accept this festival, knowing its heathen origin? The first three centuries after Christ reveal what transpired.
   The true church, founded by Jesus Christ in 31 A.D., never kept Easter. Nor is such a festival kept by her today. Notice the words of a historian of the 3rd century, Socrates Scholasticus, "Neither the apostles, therefore, nor the Gospels have anywhere imposed... Easter" (Ecclesiastical History, v.22). And again, "The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals [that is, the festivals God gave to His people Israel], though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed" (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 8, p. 828).
   There was no holiday commemorating a resurrection, only a festival (the New Testament Passover) commemorating Christ's death. Notice what the historian Gieseler admits, "There is no trace of a yearly festival of a RESURRECTION among them" (Catholic Church, sect. 53, p. 178).
   Instead of celebrating a resurrection or Easter festival for which there was no Biblical injunction the early Christians kept God's annual festival, the Passover. This yearly event commemorated the death of Christ. "The Jewish Christians [those who were Jews before conversion and others who commemorated Christ's death] in the early church continued to celebrate the Passover" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, p. 889).
   This leaves no room for doubt. God's true Church never kept Easter, but instead commemorated Christ's death annually by observing the New Testament Passover. For full proof read our free booklet, How often should we partake of THE LORD'S SUPPER?
   As we come to the beginning of the second century, we find another church claiming to represent Christ's true church. It introduced a new festival in place of the Passover. It called the unauthorized festival, the "feast of the resurrection."
   But why was this new Sunday festival introduced on a day that doesn't even commemorate the resurrection? (If you want to know which day Jesus arose, write for our free booklet The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday, and also the companion article "The Crucifixion Was Not On Friday.")
   During the first and second centuries, Italy was infiltrated en masse by people from the East from Syria, Persia and Babylon. Often these Eastern people would come in the forms of slaves who would later gain their freedom and settle down in the West. At the same time large-scale immigrations took place. So great was the influx of these Eastern peoples that, by the time of Tacitus, famous first century Roman historian, many of Rome's military men and senators were actually of foreign, Oriental blood.
   There was also a tendency during these times for philosophers from the East to travel westward, bringing their philosophy with them. Their powerful influence actually changed the religion of the Roman populace. This is how it happened. "Some of the most powerful divine invaders who came from the East to conquer the West were SOLAR DIVINITIES...These immigrants from the East... brought the religion of the SUN with them" (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Hastings, vol. 8, p. 59).
   And one form of sun-worship they were very familiar with was a resurrection festival in the spring.
   Now these Eastern immigrants settling in the West with their appealing sun-worship made a profound impression on the minds of the average Roman. Because of this and the fact that a large percentage of the population was already Eastern in origin, the professing Christian world thought of a scheme to add immense numbers to membership rolls.
   Realizing that a vast portion of the population in the Roman Empire was familiar with sun-worship, it was decided to make use of the day these Easterners worshipped on Sunday. There was instituted a resurrection feast not to the literal sun, which the pagans worshipped, but supposedly in honor of the true Sun Christ.
   This Sunday festival was introduced in the mid second century. "Celebrated since the second century!" admits the King's English Encyclopedia, page 424, referring to this Sunday feast.
   Further: "There is also evidence in Irenaeus's language to Victor [Irenaeus was a second century writer and Victor became head of the church at Rome around 190 A.D.] that such an annual celebration [of the resurrection] was then general, and that it had been so AT LEAST FOR A GENERATION" (The Gospels as Historical Documents, Stanton, p. 192). This resurrection festival had not been kept from the beginning. It originated from men in the second century.
   If we go back a generation from Victor, we come to the time when the "Passover Controversy" arose. The very fact that this controversy arose in the second century and not before, shows the change took place at that time.
   And true enough, the "Passover Controversy" started after Rome had instituted this new "resurrection festival." The Christians in Asia Minor were alarmed at the institution of a resurrection feast (for which there was no Biblical injunction) in place of the New Testament Passover. Throughout Asia Minor, voices of protest arose.
   At the height of this controversy, leaders from both East and West met to settle the dispute, but without success. History has recorded for us the words of one church leader from Asia Minor. His name was Polycrates, living around the end of the second century. See Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, sect. 5, chapter 24.
   The Controversy soon abated, finally leaving the Western church victorious. (It was not until after Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. forced all within his Empire to keep a resurrection feast on Sundays, that the keeping of the New Testament Passover on Nisan 14 of God's sacred calendar gradually ceased in Asia Minor)

Heathen Become "Christians" Overnight

   Introducing this new festival on the pagan day of Sunday paid dividends. The heathen populace of Rome quickly noticed the similarity of the newly introduced festival with their own spring festival in honor of their goddess.
   As a result, they became Christians in droves. The church grew in number speedily outgrowing all other rivals.
   Since the goal during the time of her ascendancy and growth was to quickly attract new members, church leaders would often meet the heathen half-way. This lenient policy made it easier for the unconverted to become members.
   In soliciting new members, the church would allow the unconverted populace to retain many of their heathen practices and beliefs in a watered-down version.
   For example, the church knew that many of the immigrants from the East were used to celebrating a heathen spring festival. So these heathen practices and festivals were given a Christian dressing. The newly converted were asked not to worship their pagan gods or goddesses on certain days, but rather to worship the true God and Savior on these days. And the days chosen for these "Christianized" celebrations were usually the identical days on which the pagans worshipped their false gods on not the days God ordained.
   This compromise is admitted by the scholar, Aringhus. He mentions that the church "found it necessary, in the conversion of the Gentiles, to dissemble and WINK AT many things, and yield to the times" (See Taylor's Diegesis, p. 237).
   Such compromise with the pagans gained "Christianity" vast numbers of converts. By the time of Constantine in 325 A.D., church leaders were able to influence the emperor to pass a decree forcing all within the Empire to keep this Sunday resurrection. Notice! "The Roman practice gained ground everywhere... and was established by the Council of Nicaea in 325 as the law of the whole church" (History of the Church, Schaff, vol. II., p. 218).
   Simultaneously, it was strictly forbidden for any Christian to continue keeping the New Testament Passover. It was considered "Jewish." The pagans, now professing to be Christians, were left "free to develop a Christian philosophy of their own, better suited to the Gentile temperament" (History of Jewish Christianity, Schonfield, p. 54).

Forced Conversion

   In the following centuries, as the culture of the Roman Empire expanded into Central Europe, the religion of the Roman Empire also spread into these areas. The policy of "converting" pagans continued. Whole heathen tribes were forced into "accepting Christ" and into accepting what was claimed to be His religion.
   This policy was zealously carried out by the "Christian" emperors. Charlemagne (about 800 A.D.) was especially eager in bringing thousands of unconverted pagans into the fold of the church. Here is what he did.
   After being crowned "Emperor" in 800 A.D., Charlemagne set out to subdue the German tribes living in the East. The western part of Europe, France, the Rhineland, and Italy, was already under his sway.
   Defeating the unconverted Germans, he forced the German chiefs to be baptized with their entire people. At first king and subjects refused. But finally, seeing there was no choice, the defeated chiefs relented. Thus in one day, tens of thousands became "Christians."
   Although these "newly converted" Germans resented the method used in their conversion, they soon found themselves right at home. Noticing especially the resurrection festival that was being kept on their own day of worship Sunday the new converts needed little persuasion to celebrate this so-called "Christian" spring festival, which was similar to what they had been used to in the worship of their spring goddess Easter.
   As time passed, these former pagans now "converted" were not satisfied to merely observe a Sunday resurrection festival to Christ. They coveted and yearned for the beautiful but pagan embellishments which they were accustomed to observing.
   Thus, in the process of time, they were influential in changing the name from "resurrection festival" to Easter. But they didn't stop here. They further introduced into the Christian world more outright paganism. Soon, all of Western Europe was hunting for Easter eggs on this man-made, unbiblical festival. The Easter rabbit also became a symbol of fertility. Many even continued to rise early Sunday morning to face the sun in prayer. Campfires were lit each Saturday evening leading up to Easter. (And this is still done in parts of Germany. I have witnessed these fires on Saturday eve before Easter, myself) Many pagan converts would also bake cakes called "hot-cross" buns and eat them at Easter. In due time these and other pagan spring rites were celebrated on Easter Sunday. Thus the manmade festival supposed to commemorate Jesus' resurrection, came to be embellished with more and more paganism.

The 20th Century

   Now you might ask, "What difference does it make? Easter seems such an enjoyable festive occasion. Certainly no harm can come from its observance," you say?
   Of course, if there is no God, then it makes no difference at all. If Christ is not alive, ruling this entire universe, and concerned with mankind, then it doesn't matter whether you keep this unauthorized, paganised Easter celebration.
   But if you claim to be a Christian and believe religious beliefs and practices are to be founded on God's Word, then it does make a difference whether you keep Easter. Then it becomes a matter of obedience to Christ doing and believing what He commands, without adding or taking away. God does not take lightly any attempt by man to either add or take away from what He has commanded (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18).
   But you might reason, "Well, I know Easter is of pagan origin. But after all, we don't worship pagan gods. Certainly God would understand."
   If you really are a Christian and a believer in God, then notice God's instructions in regard to Easter. "When the Lord your God shall cut off the nations from before you, whither you go to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwelleth in their land [this parallels what happened when professing Christians went into Central Europe to convert the heathen]; take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them... and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying HOW DID THESE NATIONS SERVE THEIR GODS? EVEN SO WILL I DO LIKEWISE. THOU SHALT NOT DO SO UNTO THE LORD THY GOD!" (Deut. 12:29-31)
   Which course will you choose? Will you obey men? Or God?
   And if you haven't already read it read the astounding free booklet on Easter. It will make the truth plain!

Back To Top

Plain Truth MagazineMarch 1967Vol XXXII, No.3
|  Fundamental Doctrines of the Church of God  |  Comments or Suggestions?  |  FAQ  |   Holy Day Information   |   Site Map   |   Donations   |
|  Sabbath & Holy Day Services   |   Weekly Bible Study Services   |   Video Groups   |
Follow Us: HWALibrary - Mobile Site
Copyright © 2016 Herbert W Armstrong Library
Important Notice

Please Note:

The address and phone number for the Worldwide Church of God given for material are no longer valid for obtaining the material offered in booklets, magazines, telecast and radio broadcast.

HWALibrary.com has all material offered on this site 100% free. You do not need to call or mail your requests, simply do a search for the material offered on our site.

The Worldwide Church of God dissolved after Mr. Armstrong's death in January 1986.

Visit our FAQ page for instructions on downloading audio and video files.

Sabbath Services

Sabbath Services:

Hello, and welcome to our Sabbath and Holy Day service tab. The services provided are selected from the recorded library of this website HWALibrary.com.

Services are posted every Sabbath or Holy Day. Our service consists of 3 hymns, a Sermonette, a hymn, the Sermon and a final hymn.

Continue to the Sabbath Service page.

Bible Study Services

Bible Study:

Hello, and welcome to our Bible Study service tab. The services provided are selected from the recorded library of this website HWALibrary.com.

Bible Study services are posted each Wednesday. Our service consists of an opening hymn, a Bible Study and a final hymn.

Continue to the Bible Study Service page.