The following has been adapted from an article I wrote on the subject in 1986.
ORIGINS OF EASTER
Bunnies Do Lay Eggs! So I reasoned as a five year old. After all, the legendary rabbit had visited our home that night, depositing a pile of brightly colored eggs. Why he hid them, I did not know. Why some were plain, like ordinary chicken eggs, while others were delicious chocolate, was a mystery. And as to how all this tied in to Easter church services, I was clueless. But those eggs--where else could they have come from if the Easter Bunny hadn't laid them? I was totally confused! And today's religious world is in a most confused state, particularly the part professing to be Christian.
What about Easter -- with its colored eggs, sunrise services, pageants and parades, hot cross buns and invisible rabbits? Is this high holy day of Christianity Bible-based, or just a bit of fun on the level of Halloween? If Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday, as most scholars maintain, and rose on a Sunday (Easter Sunday), is there anything wrong with commemorating his resurrection from the dead? If you are like me, you have been confused over the true origins of Easter. Now, you may not have drawn the conclusion that bunnies lay eggs, but still you may have accepted on faith a number of things that are biblically groundless (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Christian Commemoration? The Christian church appears not to have regularly celebrated Easter until the second century, according to the witness of early tradition and church history. In fact, there is no biblical command to observe Easter. Acts 12:4 in the King James Version uses the word "Easter," but this mistranslation is corrected to Passover in every modern translation, including the New King James Version. Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddess, Eostre, who was worshipped at the vernal equinox; the term is derived from heathen religion.
Like Christmas, Easter is a blend of pagan superstitions and Christian concepts. Historically, the major problem with observing Easter has been the double standard in commitment that it reinforces. If some days are holy, or special, then others are not. And if observing one day as holy means we are giving God less than our best on the other days, we are violating Jesus' command for every disciple to take up his cross daily (Luke 9:23).
Paul too warned of the dangers of occasional commitment. Galatians 4:8-11 confronts the kind of thinking that reasons, "If I attend the special service, even though I often miss 'regular' Sundays, I will be acceptable to God--'since one Easter or Christmas is worth at least 25 regular Sundays!" This double standard leads to lukewarmness and hypocrisy. This is not to say it is a sin to treat some days as more special than others (Romans 14:5-6), yet we must beware of the pitfall of double-standard commitment so prevalent in our religious world.
Pagan playground It has been posited that Easter (Eostre) is the English spelling of the ancient Assyrian goddess Ishtar, the fertility goddess and consort of Baal, who repeatedly led ancient Israel into idolatry and immorality. In Babylon her worshippers observed a 40-day "Lent" before Easter, and numerous other pagan religions observed a similar "Lenten" period. Lent, in other words, is a pagan practice absorbed into Christianity. For example, dyed eggs were sacred Easter offerings in ancient Egyptian temples. Naturally, the egg is a symbol of birth, and ties in closely with sun worship, a practice condemned by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:15-18). Worshipers met the rising sun god at daybreak. And in the ancient Mediterranean world, the pagan cult of Cybele commemorated the death and resurrection of their god annually -- at Easter, of course. In short, the special features of the Easter season are nearly all borrowed from idolatrous religion.
Burn the Bunny? Should we burn the Easter Bunny, smash the colored eggs (disappointing our children by abandoning the Easter egg hunt), and pray for the parades to be rained into the ground? Some would say so. My position is that these practices are not necessarily harmful, and today do no more honor to the old pagan gods or religions than using pagan names for days of the week honors the sun, moon, Woden, Saturn, or Thor. Once again, the snare of the Easter mentality is the license for lukewarmness; for hundreds of millions of nominal Christians, Easter and other "special" days become the focus and excuse for worldly living the rest of the year. In short, they have been "taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
He is Risen, Anyway! As long as we are not taken captive by the worldly principles behind Easter so that we compromise our commitment, there is no harm in observing Easter. In fact, Easter can and should be a time of great celebration. Christ the Lord is risen indeed! Make the most of the holiday, honor the Lord, avoid the pitfalls.
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