Is the Date of Easter of Pagan Origin?

You may have heard the claim that Christians should not celebrate Easter because of its origins. Many believe that what we call Easter today was developed as Roman Catholicism co-opted pagan festivals celebrated in different regions in honor of various false gods and goddesses. The claims are laced with names of scholars who have made connections between the names of the festivals and goddesses, the timing of the celebration, and the symbols used. To take these scholars at their word seems charitable, but I question the wisdom of such wholesale abandonment of a celebration that is at the very heart of the Christian community and faith. Three separate issues need to be identified and evaluated: the date of the celebration, the name of the celebration, and the symbols employed in the celebration. My goal is to examine each of these ideas separately so we might understand the issue more fully, repenting of what is erroneous and embracing what is true.

This chapter will examine the date of the celebration held in the spring to mark the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The next two articles in this series will cover the name and symbols of the celebration.

The Centrality of the Crucifixion and Resurrection

There is no contention that within the orthodox Christian faith the doctrines surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection are fundamentals. Without Christ's substitutionary atoning death, taking the wrath of God against sinners upon Himself, we could not be forgiven of our sins. Without His renewal to life after lying dead in the tomb, it could not be said Christ has conquered death. These ideas are confirmed by the writings of the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Corinthian church:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.... For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, 16–17)

Christ's death and Resurrection are absolutely necessary elements of the faith. These truths should bring joy to the heart of everyone who has received God’s forgiveness through Christ, giving great cause to celebrate. Throughout Scripture, God directs His children to mark His accomplishments on their behalf with feasts and celebrations. The most prominent Old Testament festival related to the celebration of Easter is the Passover.1 This term was used to refer to the Christian feasts and commemoration of the Resurrection in the early church and continues today. There is no record of disputes about whether the festival was appropriate — the disagreements about the date and method of celebration were around as early as AD 120.

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