Is the Word “Easter” in the Bible?

easter in the bible

Why is the most important Christian holiday nowhere mentioned by name in the Bible?

Actually, the word “Easter” does appear in the Bible, but only once—and only in one translation. Among all major English translations of the Scripture, only the King James Version uses the word “Easter.” I won’t go into the history of that particular translation choice, but I will go into how to use Logos to puzzle out what’s going on—even if you don’t know Greek. And if you don’t have Logos, stick around: I’ll explain why this important word doesn’t show up in other English translations.

If you search your Top Bibles in Logos for “Easter,” you get just one hit: KJV, Acts 12:4. But you, diligent student that you are, are probably wondering, “Did they really call it ‘Easter’ that early? Acts 12 is very early on in church history. What Greek word is this translating? Esteros or something?”

If you right click on the word “Easter” in your KJV 1900 (the standard KJV edition in Logos packages), you’d get . . . nothing. There isn’t a Strong’s number attached to this word, like there is for pretty much all the other words you’ve ever looked up.

Hmm . . . That’s odd. What is going on here?

So you try another method of figuring this out: you call up your reverse interlinear. Still nothing. Sort of:

easter in the bible

Do you see that little dot in the highlighted column? That’s called a “null.” It means that “Easter” isn’t marked as a translation of anything in the Greek. It’s a bullet: •.

Did the KJV translators just stick “Easter” there randomly?

No: note that there’s another null—another “•” symbol—in the “Surface” (English text) row. That means there was a Greek word that the KJV translators left untranslated: pascha.

Aha . . . Now we’re getting somewhere. In fact, “Easter” is a translation, but the taggers here indicate that pascha in this context simply couldn’t mean “Easter,” so they were unwilling to tie the two together!

What you really want, if you want to get to the bottom of this, is to right click on pascha in the interlinear ribbon and dig in a little further. Choose “Lemma” on the right, and then “Bible Word Study” on the left. You get links to dictionary definitions, a list of all the times the word gets used in the New Testament, and something really helpful within that list: the senses from the Bible Sense Lexicon.

Notice that the list of uses is divided into three at the bottom:

  1. Passover (which is the sense 16 of the 29 times this word appears in the NT)
  2. Passover meal (which is the sense 11 of 29 times)
  3. Passover lamb (2 of 29)

2

Click the arrows next to any of these senses, and you’ll see the places they appear in the NT. Whatever the reason the KJV translators chose “Easter,” the Bible Sense Lexicon is implying that it really isn’t one of the genuine senses of the word in the New Testament. The word means “passover” (or “passover meal,” or, twice, “passover lamb”).

The question, then, is whether or not the word in Acts 12 refers to a Christian celebration or a Jewish one. “Easter” is a Christian word, “Passover” a Jewish one. The text of Acts 12 makes it sound like it’s Herod “talking” when the word pascha is used:

When [Herod] had seized [Peter], he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the [pascha] to bring him out to the people.

What does Easter mean?

If you use the Bible Word Study by clicking on the drop-down arrows, you’ll see that among the 29 uses of pascha in the New Testament, not one of them can clearly be used to speak of the Christian holiday of Easter. All but three of them are from the Gospels, anyway, before the Resurrection even occurred. The standard Greek-English lexicon says that “the Easter festival” is a sense of the word pascha that developed only “in later Christian usage.” It’s very unlikely that “Easter” was a thing when Luke wrote Acts. That’s why no translations but one use the word.

(Interestingly—language is so cool—the word “Easter,” like the word “east,” comes from a word that meant “dawn,” which always shows up in the east. The Resurrection is associated with a new dawning. Greek’s pascha is directly related to the Hebrew word for “pass over,” the word used to refer to what the angel of death did in Exodus 12 when he saw doorposts with lamb’s blood. He “passed over” those homes. Most languages derive their word for Easter from their word for Passover; English and German are the big exceptions.)

The Bible Sense Lexicon is a user-friendly way to dig into Greek terms even if you don’t know Greek. Handle with care, of course. But do handle. You could get yourself in an awkward situation if you adopt only one translation (be it the KJV or the NASB or the NIV) and 1) never check others or 2) never try to access the Greek and Hebrew through Logos. Does inspired Scripture say “Easter” or not? It’s an important question.

Prepare your heart for Easter

Now that we cleared that up, here’s an even bigger question: how are you preparing your heart for Easter? We’ve put together 10 free videos from top scholars like David deSilva, Tremper Longman III, and Peter Leithart. Each reflection takes you on a Journey to the Resurrection, from the Incarnation to Easter. Sign up for these free videos, and don’t miss our hand-picked selection of Easter resources.

 

Comments

  1. Johnnie R. Bailey says:

    (Act 12:4 KJV) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

    Strongs number for Easter G3957

    • Johnnie R. Bailey says:

      EASTER (פֶּסַח, pesach; פַּסְחָא, pascha’; πάσχα, pascha). The word “Easter” does not appear in the Bible and an Easter celebration is not mentioned, though in Acts 12:4 KJV it is used in place of “Passover.” Some also suggest there are remnants of the concept of Easter in 1 Cor 5:7. Easter is a later development of church tradition.

    • Right!

    • Woody Jordan says:

      Easter is a bad translation of a word that does not appear in the original language. It was translated into an inferior word for no syntactical reason. Easter is a carryover from the Greco-Roman World; which was engulfed in sun- worship. Romans inherited their military science and pagan practices from the many cultures they conquered. The holiday and the word should be changed back to Passover. The date is out of order and the continued use of the word Easter to commemorate the death , burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is out of order. The merging of the holy and profane started off as a political experiment by Constantine and should not be honored in todays Protestant Church(churches separate from catholic control).

      • But who among all the countless English speakers who now use the word “Easter” has any idea that there is a pagan meaning to the word? The “authorial intention” of every single person who said or wrote that word today was to point to the Christian celebration, not the ancient pagan one. Why should one set of sounds (PA-so-vr) be superior to another one (EE-str) to name something, as long as everybody understands just what EE-str means? In other words, if “Easter” has shed all its pagan associations, can’t I still use it?

        • Lamar Claypool says:

          I have not used the word (Easter) much when it comes to this season of the resurrection. After rereading this portion of Scripture it does refer to the Passover which really takes away from it’s pagan identity. I appreciate the article and I am blessed by it.

        • Hello Mark, you have a good point, the same as the words “gosh, darn and golly” are replacement words for bad words, even though most people today are not aware of that. When I was a boy, Easter meant candy and bunny rabbits, but it also had something to do with the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection. As an adult believer for many years I did not think about the use of Easter for Passover and the two terms blended together in my mind. However, I wonder if going back to the use of the word Passover might make the day more special to us, especially as the world has made Easter into anything but Christian. Then of course we might be contending with Israelites who do not connect Passover with Jesus. It is a hard call to make. Sticking to the word Easter is a sure bet, though, and as you said, everyone knows what it means and its pagan roots have almost vanished.

  2. https://answersingenesis.org/holidays/easter/is-the-name-easter-of-pagan-origin/
    Hi Mark – hope all is well.
    I consult the above website fairly often as its writers always attempt to deal as thoroughly and impartially as possible with Biblical matters. This particular article is quite lengthy, but a very worthwhile read.
    I hope other commenters find it helpful, too.
    Barry

  3. So Easter is used in English and German, but virtually every other language uses some form of pascha. Chinese is exciting with fu hua jie (resurrection day). I prefer dropping Easter for pascha.

  4. It is kinda funny, as I think it is only the sola scripturite Christians (which is mainly evangelical Protestants), who worry about finding everything directly in scripture. No mention of Easter nor Christmas (nor any other Christian holy day), because the church had not yet given them to us. But there is a mention of Hanukkah in John 10. Fun things. :-)

    • What other authority do you propose which/who can tell us how to worship God?

      • Christopher says:

        Well, yes, that is the question that’s divided us for the last 500 years, isn’t it?

        Our Lord didn’t leave us a book, but he did leave His Church in the hands of the Apostles, who guided the “the Israel of God” (NSV2CE Gal 6:16) through the first century. Our Lord had told them “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20), so to perpetuate the Church and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), they designated successors (“his bishoprick (episkopē) let another take” – KJV Acts 1:20).

        I would respectfully suggest that finding the bishops (episcopos) spiritually descended from the Apostles by laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14), is to find that authority.

  5. That’s why we no longer use the term at the church where I am pastor. We use the phrase Resurrection Sunday.

    • That may be a wise way to avoid what Paul calls in 1 Tim 6:4, “λογομαχία”—fights about words. But that policy must not itself lead to more fights; this little issue calls for graciousness toward others.

    • That sounds good. As long as everyone is on board with it, knowing what it means, you have a good name for the day.

  6. …no ‘bible’ mentioned in the bible either…nor are we ever given a list of 73 books from the lips of Jesus as to what books should included in scripture. No Sunday worship commanded either…but Saturday is. And where did Jesus tell us to go when there was a question about the faith? Where did the missionaries at Antioch ten when they had questions? Interesting things to ponder.

  7. Christopher says:

    The official language of the Roman Catholic Church is still Latin – all official documents begin in Latin and are then translated into the other languages of the world. And in Latin, the word for the Christian and Jewish festivals is both “Pasca”. So if there is a problem here, it would seem to be with English and German translators regardless of faith tradition.

    • I think the KJV translators got this one wrong, but I don’t really see the theological problem some commenters are seeing with using the word “Easter.” As I said privately to someone recently, we all say “Thursday” despite its pagan origins. All the days of the week draw their names from paganism. “Resurrection Sunday,” then is just as guilty of pagan associations as “Easter” is, because “Sunday” derives from sun worship (s.v. Sunday, OED).

    • The early church celebrated the resurrection of Jesus once a year on a holiday they called Pascha. The celebration of Pascha has changed over the course of the centuries, lost old elements and added new elements, but when we celebrate Easter we are still celebrating Pascha. In English we have come up with a different name for Easter and Passover because we feel they are different enough. In Spanish they call them the same thing. Now did the early church celebrate Easter? Yes, they did! It looked more like a Jewish celebration of Passover today than a Christian celebration of Easter, but that does not mean that they did not celebrate Easter. The KJV translation will give the reader the wrong impression that the early church had a celebration similar to ours, but not translating it “Easter” may give the wrong impression (expressed in some of the comments here) that the holiday of Easter is an idea that emerges later. The church has always had an annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Call the early Christian practice “Passover” if you like (that is how I would translate it too), but be careful not to give the impression that they did not celebrate Easter in some fashion.

  8. Why not call it what it is. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • You are free to do so, but you will never succeed in turning a big ship such as THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (big letters represent big ship! =) on your own.

  9. I am glad to see humility and candor from the commenters in this post instead of angry arguing and defensiveness of positions held. Some contentious people like to argue and ignore the advice of Paul in I Timothy 1:4–“nor pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than the administration of God which is by faith.” As we love and seek to build each other up we will want to be kind, patient and hospitable. Thanks be to God for brothers like this.

  10. 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
    17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

    The Holy Bible: King James Version. (1995). (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version., Col 2:16–17). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

    I feel perfectly fine calling it Easter even though it may not be the correct term. Additionally, I have no issue with those who call it Pascha or Resurrection Day. Folks, it just doesn’t matter what you call it in letters, the important thing is knowing the far reaching affect of what it represents!