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How This Messianic Learned to Stop Hating Easter

When I was younger, I berated other Christians for celebrating Easter.

I had heard the English word "Easter" comes from the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. And what do bunnies and eggs have to do with the Jewish Messiah anyways? Besides, the Gospels record Messiah and the 12 disciples celebrating the Biblical Passover. His resurrection occurred right after Passover, on the Biblical holy day First Fruits.

 (You can probably find old posts on this very blog of me saying stuff like that!)

Well, I've grown a bit since then and changed my mind about Easter. It's a good and holy thing that God's people celebrate Jesus' resurrection, even if they call it "Easter." 

I explain why below.

Is the name "Easter" really pagan? Yes.

The main (and only?) source for the "Easter = Ishtar" claims was 19th century Scottish Presbyterian Alexander Hislop in his anti-Catholic work The Two Babylons.

Hislop connected the etymology of the two because they sound alike: "Easter" sounds like "Ishtar." But there is no solid evidence the English word "Easter" derives from the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. 

Linking two words from different languages that sound alike does not a real connection make. The English evil and the Hebrew עיבל may sound similar, but the latter is merely a mountain in Samaria.

The "Easter is pagan" folks aren't entirely wrong, however.

The English word Easter probably does have pagan origins. It likely comes from the Germanic goddess Eostre. The evidence we have for this is The Reckoning of Time, a 1,300 year old book by the English Catholic monk Bede. In his book, Bede wrote that Eosturmonath was the month name when they celebrated Jesus' resurrection, a month "called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre."

For some people, the reality that the word "Easter" has pagan etymology -- whether Ishtar or Eostre -- is enough to discard modern Easter celebrations. 

But there's just one problem with that kind of thinking.

Also pagan: everything else

Many of the "Easter is pagan" folks have no issue with other words pagan in origin. One can go out on Wednesday in January, driving their Toyota Atlas while wearing Nike shoes, headed to watch the appearance of Saturn in the night sky. These are words like Easter: tainted etymology, but no longer connoting paganism.

My assumption was that paganism irredeemably corrupted things. My old thinking was, "Yes, we should get rid of Easter, and January, and Toyota Atlas, and Nike shoes, and Saturn, and..." 

After all, God warned Israel in the Torah, "Do not even mention the names of false gods."

However, I later discovered something that disturbed this naive belief. If pagan names irredeemably corrupted things, then we not only must throw out cars and shoes and planets and weekdays, we must also throw out some books of the Bible. More on that in a moment.

I came to understand that pagan names do not irredeemably corrupt things. God is bigger than that.

Glorifying pagan gods is no longer the purpose of these words. And purpose matters.

Purpose matters more than etymology

Given the name Easter is pagan in origin, should God's people discard modern Easter celebrations?

Here's a thought experiment to illuminate an answer.

Suppose a man goes to a congregation on Shabbat and light candles to the goddess Athena.

I hope you'll agree the issue is with the weird false-god-candle-lighting thing. That the man did it on Shabbat is completely irrelevant. Shabbat has good and holy origins, but if one's purpose is to light candles to a foreign god, then the etymology and symbolism of Shabbat matters little. A bad purpose on a day with good etymology is morally wrong. The purpose overrides etymology.

Now put the shoe on the other foot.

A good purpose on a day with bad etymology follows the same rule. The purpose remains the most important, overriding aspect.

And what is Easter's purpose? 

To celebrate Jesus' resurrection. 

Isn't that a worthy thing to celebrate?

The word Easter wasn't chosen to celebrate a pagan god. Its name was chosen because it happened to fall during a month of that name. And by that time, the old pagan names of the months probably sounded as innocuous to them as August sounds to us. (August, by the way, is named after the Roman god emperor Caesar Augustus, worshiped by the Roman Imperial Cult, you heathen! 😅) 

Just as the name "Wednesday" no longer implies pagan connections to the Norse god Wodin ("Odin"), neither did "Easter" imply paganism for the ancient Christians who adopted the name.

Illumination from the Bible

In the Bible, there are pagan names that sneak in. No one cares, and God uses those people and times and places. 

For example, the famous Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego from the book of Daniel? Well, their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria. The Babylonian court gave these men pagan names: Shadrach meaning "Command of [moon god] Aku", Mishach meaning "who is like Aku", and Abed-nego meaning "servant of [arts god] Nebo".

Yet God worked through these people, even with pagan names.

Or consider Esther and Mordechai. We think of these names as almost stereotypical Jewish names, but they are more likely Persian pagan names, honoring the gods Ishtar and Marduk. (Mordechai may have been a variation of "Marduk lives.") 

And yet, not only do we celebrate Queen Esther (named after Ishtar - gasp!), but we even have a book of the Bible named after her. God didn't find it problematic that their names had pagan etymology. Instead, God honored their names and preserved them in the Bible.

Or consider the Jewish calendar. When the Jews returned to Israel from Babylon, they brought with them the names of Babylonian months, including the month of Tammuz. It persists today as a month in the Jewish calendar, even though Tammuz was a pagan god mentioned as an abomination in the book of Ezekiel. 

And yet there is no condemnation of Israel using these names. The names no longer implied paganism. No, when God called Israel to repent, it was not for the etymology of the names of their months. It was because of their purpose: the active worship of foreign gods by burning incense to idols, passing children through the fire to false gods, engaging with temple prostitution.

Easter, Pascha, Passover

Protestants and Catholics celebrate Easter as Jesus' resurrection. But in the Eastern Church, the holiday is known as Pascha. That name should sound familiar to Messianic folks. It's an Aramaic variant of the Hebrew פסח pesach, or in English, Passover.

The Orthodox Christian church celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus through Pascha. Ultimately, both Easter and Pascha are new innovations spun off from the genuine article of Passover. 

God has brought billions of non-Jews to faith in the God of Israel. He did it through the Messiah, Yeshua. We shouldn't be angered that many of these non-Jews innovate their own celebrations of what He did. 

God has been at work despite the gray vagaries and muddiness of humanity over the ages, and it's a sight to behold! This outlook is better, healthier, and more in alignment with God's character than standing off in the corner while shouting, "That's pagan!"

Is there anything objectionable in Easter?


It remains true that bunnies and chocolate eggs have no authentic connection with the Jewish Messiah. For many people, sadly, egg hunts and chocolate baskets and frivolity have replaced the celebration of the greatest event in history: the resurrection of the Jewish Messiah, God's only Son, the eternal King of Israel, Yeshua.

Names still matter. I hope you'll agree the name Hananiah ("Yah has been gracious") is a much better name than Shadrach ("Command of moon god Aku"). 🙂 

While God can and has used people and events with pagan names, "Resurrection Day" would be a vast improvement over "Easter." Or, given the early Christians observed Passover, maybe just Passover or Resurrection Passover would be a better fit yet.

There's also the ugly reality of replacing God's holy days with man-made, poor replicas. 

The early Christians, notably Polycarp (AD 69-155), held to celebrating Passover. Polycarp refused to recant this belief despite growing pressure to do so, appealing to the fact that he had received this from his mentor, John the Apostle, who had walked with Jesus.

But by the 4th century, the Quartodeciman Controversy (a.k.a, "Should we keep celebrating Jesus' death and resurrection on Passover, or should we stop doing Jewish stuff?") reached a boiling point when the Roman Emperor Constantine ruled,

It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul ... Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.
That's Christian antisemitism. (And self-defeating, given Constantine's Saviour was part of the Jewish people he so detested.)

Perhaps a good first step towards repenting of Christian antisemitism is Christians returning to the original faith of Jesus. Jesus celebrated Passover and imbued it with new meaning when He said of the Passover matzah, "This is my body, do this in remembrance of Me."

Even if Christianity adds new meaning and new remembrances, Christians would do well to honor God's redemptive work at Passover. God redeemed His people out of Egypt and commanded us to celebrate in remembrance of that every year forever. Christians have a unique opportunity to celebrate at Passover God's redemptive work through both the Exodus and the Passion.


I no longer hate Easter. God is not so small that He cannot redeem things tainted with pagan names. If it weren't so, we'd have to rip out from the Bible numerous heroes of the faith and even whole books.

Two thousand years ago, the apostle Peter stood in front of the early Jewish leaders of this new sect of Judaism, called the Way, and he said something powerful. What he said applies today to this Easter question. He said,

Brothers, you know that in the early days God chose that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the message of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit—just as He also did for us. He made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts through faith.

God knows the heart and has purified the Gentiles through faith. That's how I look at Easter. 

While the name is tainted by paganism, God has purified it.

While the Gentiles used to be pagans, God made them new creations through the work of Messiah.

Because of this, billions of people now follow the God of Israel and called the Hebrew Bible their Scriptures. This is a work of God, and I stand in awe.

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