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Easter
Acts 12:4 and the KJV

Is the King James Bible translation of "pascha" as "Easter" in Acts 12:4 a mistake?

If not, why was it done?

Acts 12:3-4

In the 1769 KJV - "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)  4. 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." kjv 1611 Act 12:3-4 in the 1611 KJV - "And because he saw it pleased the Iewes, hee proceeded further, to take Peter also. (Then were the dayes of vnleauened bread.)  4 And when hee had apprehended him, hee put him in prison, and deliuered him to foure quaternions of souldiers to keepe him, intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people."

Many have written and expressed opinions on this subject. Listed below are those of a few well-known Bible commentators.

  • Matthew Henry (1662-1714) - "... And very ambitious surely he was to please the people who was willing thus to please them! (2.) He would do this after Easter, --- meta to pascha --- after the passover, certainly so it ought to be read, for it is the same word that is always so rendered; and to insinuate the introducing of a gospel-feast, instead of the passover, when we have nothing in the New Testament of such a thing, is to mingle Judaism with our Christianity."
  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown (1871) - "...intending after Easter-rather, "after the Passover"; that is, after the whole festival was over. (The word in our King James Version is an ecclesiastical term of later date, and ought not to have been employed here)."
  • Nave's EASTER (KJV) - "(Should be translated "Passover," as in RV and most other translations)"

The last commentator is Adam Clarke, who gives a detailed explanation of his strong disagreement with the translation, touching on many of the subjects discussed in this article

  • Adam Clarke (1762–1832) - "... Intending after Easter to bring him forth] meta to tasca, After the passover. Perhaps there never was a more unhappy, not to say absurd, translation than that in our text. But, before I come to explain the word, it is necessary to observe that our term called Easter is not exactly the same with the Jewish passover." ...
    • "The term Easter, inserted here by our translators, they borrowed from the ancient Anglo-Saxon service-books, or from the version of the Gospels, which always translates the to pasca of the Greek by this term;
      • e. g., Matt. xxvi. 2: Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover. -- (Anglo-Saxon) Wite ye that aefter twam dagum beoth Eastro.
      • Matt. xvi. 19: And they made ready the passover. -- (Anglo- Saxon) And hig gegearwodon hym Easter thenunga (i.e. the paschal supper.)
      • Prefixed to Matt. xxviii. 1, are these words: -- (Anglo-Saxon) This part to be read on Easter even.
      • And, before Matt. xxviii. 8, these words: (Anglo-Saxon) Mark xiv. 12: And the first day of unleavened bread when they killed the passover. -- (Anglo-Saxon) And tham forman daegeazimorum, tha hi Eastron offrodon.
    • Other examples occur in this version. Wiclif used the word paske, i.e. passover; but Tindal, Coverdale, Becke, and Cardmarden, following the old Saxon mode of translation, insert Easter: the Geneva Bible very properly renders it the passover.
  • The Saxon (Anglo-Saxon) are different modes of spelling the name of the goddess Easter, whose festival was celebrated by our pagan forefathers on the month of April; hence that month, in the Saxon calendar, is called (Anglo-Saxon) Easter month. Every view we can take of this subject shows the gross impropriety of retaining a name every way exceptionable, and palpably absurd."

This discussion will be divided into the following sections. Remember to Allow the Pieces to Fit.


Index

  1. "Easter" in Different Cultures and Languages - GoTo
  2. Origins (Etymology) of the word "Easter" - GoTo
  3. The "Passover" in the Bible - GoTo
  4. History of "Easter" in the Church GoTo
  5. Pre-1611 English Bibles use of "Easter" and "Passover"- GoTo
  6. Summary Questions - GoTo


I. "Easter" in Different Cultures
and Languages

In English (and German), the word "Easter" ** Easter is translated "Ostern" in German, but both words have a common origin, as will be discussed. is used today to refer to the celebration of Christ's death, burial and resurrection. The word "Passover" is used today in English (in German its "Passah") to refer to the Jewish celebration, which originally occurred at the same time.
  • However, during the 1500s (and perhaps into the early 1600s), Easter was used in English to refer to both the Christian and Jewish celebrations[1a] (with "Passover" first being used in 1530).
  • Note: To understand this issue, one must understand how these words were commonly used at the time the early English Bibles were being translated, noting how the usage changed over time.[1b]

Other cultures use different words to refer to the celebration of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

  • Most derive the word by transliterating the OT Hebrew word "Pesach" ("Pecach") or its derivative, the NT Greek word "Pascha" ** paschal ... Passover, Easter — Gr. páskhā — Aram. pashā , rel. to Heb. pesah PASSOVER (from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology)
    • Examples: Spanish la Pascua, Italian Pasqua, Portuguese Páscoa, Romanian Paşti, French Pâques
    • Note: The words "pesach" and "pascha" were first translated as "Passover" ("passeouer") and "Easter" ("ester"), respectively, by William Tyndale in the early 1500s. According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, pesach and pascha are used exclusively to refer to the Jewish "Passover" (the feast, the sacrifice, or the meal)
    • Of course, the focus of this discussion is the use and translation of "pascha" in Acts 12:4
  • Others derive the word(s) by translating pesach or pascha to mean different things
    • Examples: In certain Slavic languages its translated to mean "Great Day" or "Great Night" (Wielkanoc, Velknoc and Velikonoce).
    • In Croatian and Serbian its translated to mean "Resurrection" (Uskrs) or "to take" (Vazam)[1g]

II. Origin (Etymology)
of the word "Easter"

Easter has been in use since, at least, the seventh century to refer to the celebration of Christ's resurrection (see Bede below) as well as to the Jewish passover.[1h] However, its use (origin) beyond that is not as clear.

There are generally two explanations for the origin of the word "Easter"

  1. Pagan Origin - The word (and many of the practices surrounding its celebration) originates from the worship of a pagan goddess
  2. Non-Pagan Origin - The word originates from ancient words (e.g., Latin) relating to spring and things that happen during spring, such as "dawn", "sunrise", "rising", "white", and generally new life.

A. Pagan Origin

Some argue that Easter (the word, customs and celebrations) has its origins in pagan worship:

  • The Venerable Bede, (672-735 AD) a Christian scholar and historian, recorded that Easter was named after Eostre (Eastre) who was an Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess.** In Chapter 15 of his work De temporum ratione, Bede writes:
    ----------------
    “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.” - Article Eostre - it's Etymology from Wikipedia
    Accordingly, her symbol was the rabbit (thus Easter rabbits and eggs are a remnant of her pagan worship)[3] and she was worshiped and celebrated primarily in the spring.
    • Her German counterpart was known as Ostare (Eostra)
    • Note: Bede's is the only account documenting the existence of a goddess Eostre/Ostare. Thus all claims linking the word Easter to pagan worship stand upon Bede's sole account.
  • Alexander Hislop, in his controversial book The Two Babylons, claims Easter (Eostre, Eastre) is the Phoenician goddess Astarte (from Assyrian/Babylonian goddess Ishtar), the queen of heaven mentioned in Jer 7:18; 44:17-19, 25, whose worship was brought to Britain by Phoenician traders centuries before Christianity [5]
    • Astarte (Ashtoreth,1 Kings 11:5) may have her origins in the Babylonian fertility goddess Semiramis, Nimrod's wife and mother of Tammuz, Ezek 8:14
    • According to Babylonian mythology, Tammuz died annually and was reborn (as well as worshiped and celebrated) in the spring
    • The Canaanite sun and fertility god Baal (Molech), who was worshiped by the Israelites at times, may have his origins in Nimrod and Tammuz
  • Many, on both sides of this issue, cite Hislop as the modern source of the claim that Easter has a pagan origin.
    • But note that The Two Babylons was first published (as a pamphlet) in 1853; Adam Clarke finished his commentary 21+ years earlier, in which he also discusses a pagan origin of Easter.
  • Interestingly, Hislop states that Easter in Acts 12:4 refers to the Jewish Passover - not a pagan celebration.** "Every one knows that the name "Easter," used in our translation of Acts 12:4, refers not to any Christian festival, but to the Jewish Passover."
    - from The Two Babylons - Easter
Bible Dictionaries - Easter
  • Easton's - "originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons,..."
  • Nelson's - "originally a pagan festival honoring Eostre, a Teutonic (Germanic) goddess of light and spring."
Encyclopedias - Easter
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)[5b] - "... (pascha, from Aramaic paccha' and Hebrew pecach, the Passover festival): The English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon Eastre or Estera, a Teutonic goddess to whom sacrifice was offered in April, so the name was transferred to the paschal feast ..."
  • Catholic Encyclopedia - "...according to the Ven. Bede ... relates to Estre, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring, which deity, however, is otherwise unknown, ...; Anglo-Saxon, eâster, eâstron; Old High German, ôstra, ôstrara, ôstrarûn; German, Ostern. April was called easter-monadh."
  • Oxford English Dictionary - "Etymologically, 'Easter' is derived from Old English. Germanic in origin, it is related to the German Ostern and the English east. Bede describes the word as being derived from Eastre, the name of a goddess associated with spring."
  • Scholars who have researched this issue disagree on whether Bede's account is correct[6]

B. Non-Pagan Origin

Some of the sources which doubt Bede's account as to the pagan origins of Easter include:

  • The Encyclopedia Britannica, which states: "This view presumes ... that Christians appropriated pagan names and holidays for their highest festivals. Given the determination with which Christians combated all forms of paganism, this appears a rather dubious presumption."
    • However, the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Easter acknowledges that at least one pagan practice concerning the "Easter Fire" was adopted into their (and well as some Lutheran and Anglican church) ceremonies.** In reference to adopting pagan customs, the Catholic Encyclopedia (article Easter) states the following:

      "The Easter Fire is lit on the top of mountains (Easter mountain, Osterberg) ... this is a custom of pagan origin in vogue all over Europe, signifying the victory of spring over winter. The bishops issued severe edicts against the sacrilegious Easter fires ... but did not succeed in abolishing them everywhere. The Church adopted the observance into the Easter ceremonies, referring it to the fiery column in the desert and to the Resurrection of Christ;.."
  • And it adds "There is now widespread consensus that the word derives from the Christian designation of Easter week as in albis, a Latin phrase that was understood as the plural of alba (dawn) and became eostarum in Old High German, the precursor of the modern German and English term."
  • Prof. Ronald Hutton, in his book The Stations of the Sun (1996), draws doubt on Bede's account and states the following:[8]
    • "It falls into a category of interpretations which Bede admitted to be his own, rather than generally agreed or proven fact."
    • There is no equivalent goddess in the Norse Eddas or in ancient Germanic paganism
    • "the Anglo-Saxon Estor-monath simply meant 'the month of opening' or 'the month of beginnings,'"
    • and concludes that there is no evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles in March or April.
  • According to this community question and answer website,[9] there are other reasons to doubt Bede's account
    • While days were often named after pagan gods, months generally were not[10], and
    • One of the Frankish King Charlemagne's (747-814) reforms was to rename the months and April was renamed Ostarmanoth (Aprilem ostarmanoth[11]). He was the scourge of Germanic paganism and most certainly would not have named a month after a pagan goddess.
    • Note: April was already known by the Anglo-Saxon version of this name, since Bede, some 50 years before Charlemagne, referred to April as "Eosturmonath".
  • As such, we have this from a Lutheran question and answer website:[12]
    • In the Frankish church the name of the festival of the resurrection included the Latin word alba, "white," ... When this was translated into German, alba was mistaken for a Latin word for "sunrise" which also was alba. For this reason alba was translated with the old German word for "sunrise," which has come to us in the form "Easter" (German, Ostern). In many languages the word for east means "rising." ... it appears that the festival of the resurrection already has the name "Rising" since this seems to be the original meaning of Easter.

III. The Passover in the Bible

The "passover" ("pecach" in Hebrew) refers to God passing over the Hebrews when they were held captive in Egypt as described in Exodus Chapter 12 and Leviticus Chapter 23.

  • Note: The word "passover" was first used by William Tyndale in his English translation of the OT (which was never completed)
  • Note: The Jewish day ends (the next day begins) at sunset

Exodus
Chapter 12

Listed below are the sequence of the “passover” events in Egypt contained in Exodus Chapter 12 and the relevant verses

The 10th Day

  1. On the 10th day of the first Jewish (lunar) month of the year (Nisan) a lamb is taken, Ex 12:3, Matt 21:8-9

The 14th Day
The Preparation Day

  1. On the 14th day at evening the lamb (the Lord’s passover, Ex 12:11), is killed, Ex 12:6.
    • The 14th day is the "preparation" day, 2 Chr 35:6, 16; Mark 15:42-43; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42 ninth Since the next day (the 15th) is a sabbath day, the sacrifice took place around 3:00 (the ninth hour, Matt 27:45-46, Mark 15:34) so that it could be cooked prior to sunset.
  2. The blood of the passover lamb is spread on the door posts, Ex 12:7
  3. Prior to sunset, the lamb is cooked, Ex 12:9

The 15th Day
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Passover

  1. On the 15th day, between sunset and sunrise, the lamb is eaten, Ex 12:8, 10
    • The lamb that is eaten is "the LORD'S passover", Ex 12:11
    • This day is "a memorial" and "a feast", Ex 12:14
      • According to John, a sabbath, "an high day", John 19:31
    • This day is "the feast of unleavened bread", Ex 12:17, Lev 23:6
      • According to Luke, this day is the "Passover", Luke 22:1) definition In Luke 22:1, the author of Acts gives us a near dictionary definition of the word "Passover" (i.e., "pascha" - the same Greek word that is translated "Easter" in Acts 12:4) 
    • This day is the first day of the seven "days of unleavened bread", Acts 12:3; 20:6, Ex 12:15
      • These seven days began at evening on the 14th day and ended at evening on the 21st day, Ex 12:18-19
        • Thus they encompassed the 24 hours of the 15th through 21st days.
  2. At midnight the Lord strikes the Egyptian firstborn and passes over the Hebrews, Ex 12:12-13

Leviticus
Chapter 23

Listed below is the sequence of events regarding the first of "the feasts of the Lord" contained in Leviticus Chapter 23 (which builds on Exodus Chapter 12) and the relevant verses.

  1. On the 14th day of the first month (Nisan) at even the Lord’s passover is sacrificed, Lev 23:5, Ex 12:6, 11
  2. On the 15th day, i.e.,
    • "the feast of unleavened bread", Lev 23:6, Luke 22:1,
    • "an holy convocation", Lev 23:7,
    the passover is eaten (before sunrise),
  3. Offerings are made and unleavened bread eaten for seven days, from the 15th to the 21st, Lev 23:6, 8,
    • i.e., "the days of unleavened bread", Acts 12:3,
    with the 21st day also being "an holy convocation"

There is also Ezek 45:21-24 which gives more detail as to the type of offering.


VI. History of "Easter"
in the Church

Which day to celebrate Christ's death, burial, and resurrection has been the subject of much controversy over the centuries. The controversies have ranged from whether to celebrate on the crucifixion or resurrection day, to the methods and which calendar to use in determining the day.[13]

And, underlying it all, was the issue of who was going to make the decision.

A. First and Early Second Century

The controversy surrounding observance and celebration of Christ's death, burial and resurrection dates back to the early Church, 1 Cor 11:23-34, and may have occurred more frequently than once a year.

B. Late Second Century
Celebrated Once a Year

By the late second century, the observance had moved to a single day. With this, however, the first controversy arose over which day it should be celebrated.

  • The Asian churches (Syrian area), lead by Polycarp and claiming their authority from the Apostle John, celebrated on the 14th day of the first Jewish month (Nisan) regardless of the day of the week (this practice was called "Quartodeciman"). This placed the celebration on the day of the crucifixion.
    • These churches relied on the Jews to calculate when the month of Nisan, and thus the celebration, occurred.
  • While churches elsewhere (primarily Rome and Alexandria) celebrated on Sunday (generally recognized as the day of the resurrection).
    • Within this second group, the issue arose as to which Sunday, some celebrated on the Sunday following the 14th day (according to the Jews calculation) and others on the first Sunday following the vernal (spring) equinox (according to the Church's calculation).

C. Early Third Century
First Controversy

Sunday or the 14th Day?

The resurrection or crucifixion day? This part of the controversy was generally settled around the beginning of the third century in favor of the Rome and Alexandrian churches that the celebration occur on a Sunday (not the 14th day).

  • As a part of this controversy, bishops in Asia (Syrian) were excommunicated by Roman bishop Victor toward the end of the second century for celebrating on the 14th day.

D. Early Fourth Century
Second Controversy

Which Sunday
Jewish or Church calculation?

Going into the third century, the Asian (Syrian) churches, having been "persuaded" to switch their celebration from the 14th day to a Sunday, were celebrating it on the first Sunday after the 14th day (according to the Jewish calculation)

However, the Roman and Alexandrian churches were celebrating it on the first Sunday following the vernal (spring) equinox (according to the Church's calculation)

  • Some Christians complained the Jewish calculation was now wrong, that Nisan (and the Passover) always came after the spring equinox - and the Jews (and thus Christians) were now celebrating it before the equinox, see the Letter of the Emperor

Once again, this controversy was settled in favor of the Roman and Alexandrian churches at the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.).

  • The decision was to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection on the first Sunday following the vernal (spring) equinox based on the church's calculation
  • However, a method of calculating the vernal equinox was not specified
  • The apparent purpose of this decision was to standardize and to give the church hierarchy control over the day of the celebration

E. Sixth through Ninth Centuries
Third Controversy

Which Sunday
Which Calculation Cycle?

Using the Julian calendar, the Alexandrian church adopted a computation based on a 532 year cycle while the Roman church adopted a computation based on an 84 year cycle (which created a divergence in the calculation)

  • The Alexandrian method was adopted by the Roman church in the sixth century
  • Churches in northern and western Europe (who were using the Roman calculation) adopted the Alexandrian calculation in the seventh through ninth centuries

F. Sixteenth Century
Fourth Controversy

Which Calendar?

Despite all the above, there was still a problem. The Julian calendar was off about one day every 100 years.** For example, during Christ's earthly ministry, the vernal equinox occurred March 25, during the fourth century it occurred March 21, and by the sixteenth century it occurred March 11.  The result constituted, what Rome considered, a violation of the intent of Rome as expressed at the Council of Nicaea regarding the day of the celebration of Christ's resurrection.[13d]

  • In response, Pope Gregory XIII decreed a switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which included moving the calendar up 10 days (moving the vernal equinox to March 21, to match when it occurred in 325, the date of the Nicaea council).
  • While most Catholic states switched soon after the decree, many European Protestant states, as well as Eastern and Oriental states, did not until many years later (e.g., England in 1752).
    • During this time, Irish Catholics rebelled and celebrated "Easter" based on the Gregorian calendar (in defiance of English authorities) until their defeat in the Nine Years War (1594-1603)
      • The Nine Years War resulted in the death of more than 100,000 people and nearly bankrupted England. The war ended under King James I, shortly before the work on the KJV began.[13f]

G. Seventeenth Century
Controversy in England

To Celebrate or Not?

In 1611, the celebration of Christ's resurrection was becoming controversial in England. Just 36 years later, the Puritans had taken control of the British Parliament and the result was legislation that abolished the celebration of "Easter" and other "Holy-Dayes".[13g]

  • Note: In this 1647 legislation, Christmas (Christ's mass) is called "the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ"; while the resurrection celebration is called "Easter"

The Day of the Celebration (Easter)

The day of the celebration today is calculated to be the first Sunday following the "paschal" full moon. Or, in biblical terms, its calculated to be a Sunday that approximates the first Sunday after the 14th day of the first lunar month (beginning with a new moon) such that the day always falls after the vernal equinox.[14]

  • Its calculated to fall after the vernal equinox because, according to church officials, the "passover" in biblical times always fell after the vernal equinox.
  1. The "ecclesiastical" vernal equinox is always March 21 (although the actual vernal equinox can fall on March 19, 20, or 21)
  2. The "ecclesiastical" or "paschal" full moon is calculated and always falls on or between March 21 and April 18
    • This "paschal" full moon can differ from the actual full moon by as many as two days

Therefore, the celebration always falls on or between March 22 and April 25.


V. Pre-1611 English Bibles
Use of "Easter" and "Passover"

While the word "Easter" had been used since the seventh century to refer to the celebration of Christ's resurrection, William Tyndale, in his 1525 translation of the NT (which was the first English translation from the Greek) was the first to translate the Greek word "pascha" as "ester".

In addition, Tyndale was the first person to use the word "Passover", which he did in his 1530 translation of the OT Pentateuch by translating "pecach" as "Passover".

  • Martin Luther translated "pascha" as "ostern" (Osterlamm, Osterfest, Fest) in his 1522 German NT, but transliterated "pecach" in the OT as "Passah" (using ostern etc. just three times).[14a]

Prior to Tyndale, Bible translators had generally transliterated "pecach" and "pascha" (with the Greek "pascha" itself being a transliteration of the Hebrew "pecach")

Tyndale translated pascha as ester (or ester lambe, ester fest) 26 of the 29 times it appears in the NT.[14b] Later English translations also used ester (Easter), but reduced its use (substituting "passover").

  • The 1539 Great Bible (Cranmer) used passover (passe-ouer) 14 times and Easter or Ester 15 times[14c] (see below)
  • The 1557 Geneva Bible used Easter several times, but
    • the 1560 eliminated its use and used passover ("Paffeouer") all 29 times.
  • The 1568 Bishops' Bible (the base text for the KJV) used Easter only three times (twice in John 11:55 and in Acts 12:4)
  • The 1611 KJV used Easter only once, in Acts 12:4
    • The charge (translation rule) given to the KJV translators included this: "The ordinary Bible read in the church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit."[15]
    • As such, in Acts 12:4, it appears the KJV translators themselves did not translate pascha as Easter, they simply did not alter the Bishops' translation (which goes back to Tyndale/Luther) - in accordance with their charge.

Two questions then exits:

  1. Why was it translated as such originally, and
  2. Why did the KJV translators leave the Bishops' translation of Easter unaltered in Acts 12:4, but change it to "passover" in John 11:55?

Reason for the Original
Translation of Easter and Passover

Tyndale used "ester" in the NT, but not in the OT. Luther, likewise, did essentially the same with "ostern". During the early 1500s, the word Easter was used to refer to both the Christian and Jewish celebrations. So why didn't these men simply use ester/ostern for both NT and OT?

  • In many countries today, the same word is used to refer to both.** For example: In Russian both Easter and Passover are translated Пасха; in Italian its Pasqua; in Portuguese its Páscoa -- from Google WordMonkey translator

Some suggest they did this to distinguish between the Christian and Jewish celebrations and their meanings, yet both used ester/ostern in verses that explicitly refer to the Jewish celebration, like:

  • John 11:55 - "...the Iewes ester was nye at hand...", listed below, and
  • John 6:4 - "And ester a feast of ye Iewes was nye."
  • These verses sound like John was attempting to draw a distinction between the two celebrations or events.

There may have been another reason (similar to the above). Given the period in which they lived (both as hunted men), perhaps they used the words they did to, more generally, symbolize the differences between Law (Passover) and Grace (Easter), Rom 6:14. [16 distinctives]

  • As others have said, Passover represents the promise, Easter the fulfillment.[17]

And perhaps, more specifically, to highlight the differences between the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism and those of the Protestant Reformation.

  • The Reformation had just begun, and the most significant issue separating the Reformers and Roman Catholicism was that of salvation and works, the doctrines of "sola fide" and "sola gratia" (salvation by faith alone and grace alone).
  • Roman Catholicism, steeped in its legalistic, works based traditions was contrasted with the doctrine of the Reformers, proclaiming a gospel of grace, a belief that Christ had completed the work of salvation at the cross.
  • These two men were at the heart of the Reformation and knew the differences better than any, with Tyndale being martyred in 1536 for his faithful devotion to these beliefs.

Perhaps the times, combined with their strong beliefs and convictions, had as much to do with them using a very different word in each of the testaments to describe a single event that has the same basic meaning in both (with Acts 12:4 a possible exception).

Comparing Three Verses

John 11:55

  • Tyndale (1525) - And the Iewes ester was nye at hand and many went out of the countre vp to Ierusalem before the ester to purify themselves.
  • Cranmer (1539) - And the Iewes Easter was nye at hand ... Iuersulam before the Easter, to purity themselves.** English Hexapla (NT) (1841) containing Wycliffe (1380), Tyndale (1534), Cranmer's Great Bible (1539), Geneva (1557), Rheims-Roman Catholic (1582), and the KJV (1611)
  • Geneva (1557) - And the Iewes Easter was nye at hande,... Iuersalem before Easter, to purifie them selves.
  • Geneva (1560) - And the Iewes Paffeouer was at hand, and manie went out of the countrey vp to Ierufalem before the Paffeouer, to purifie themfelues.
  • Bishops' (1568) - And the Iewes Easter was nye at hande, and many went out of the countrey vp to Hierusale before the Easter, to purifie them selues.
  • KJV (1611) - And the Iewes Passeouer was nigh at hand, and many went out of the countrey vp to Hierusalem before the Passeouer to purifie themselues.
  • KJV (1769) - And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.

Acts 12:4

  • Tyndale (1525) - And when he had caught him he put him in preson and delyvered him to .iiii. quaternios of soudiers to be kepte entendynge after ester to brynge him forth to the people.
  • Cranmer (1539) - ... entendynge after Ester to brynge ...
  • Geneva (1557) - ... entending after Easter to bringe ...
  • Geneva (1560) - And whe he had caught him, he put him in prifon, and deliuered him to foure quarernions of fouldiers to be kept, intending after the Paffeouer to bring him forthe to the people.
  • Bishops' (1568) - ... intendyng after Easter to bryng ...
  • KJV (1611) - ... intending after Easter to bring ...
  • KJV (1769) - ... intending after Easter to bring ...

1 Cor 5:7

  • Tyndale (1525) - Pourge therfore the olde leven that ye maye be newe dowe as ye are swete breed. For Christ oure esterlambe is offered vp for vs.
  • Cranmer (1539) - ... For Christ oure passe-ouer is offered vp for vs.
  • Geneva (1557) - ... for Christ oure Easter lambe is offered vp for vs. **English Hexapla (1841) - Geneva (1557) 1 Cor 5:7
  • Geneva (1560) - Purge out therefore the olde leauen, that ye may be a newe lumpe, as ye are vnleauened:for Chrift our Paffeouer is facrificed for vs.
  • Bishops' (1568) - Purge out therfore the olde leauen, that ye maye be newe dowe, as ye are vnleauened bread: For Christe our Pasouer is offred vp for vs.
  • KJV (1611) - Purge out therefore the olde leauen, that ye may be a new lumpe, as ye are vnleauened. For [euen] Christ our Passeouer is sacrificed for vs.
  • KJV (1769) - Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

Why was "Easter"
left unchanged?

So, why did the KJV translators leave the Bishops' Bible translation of "Easter" unchanged in Acts 12:4, while changing it to "Passover" in John 11:55?

Theories
  1. That Easter in 12:4 represents a pagan celebration.

This is based on the view that:

  1. The phrase in parentheses in Acts 12:3 "(Then were the days of unleavened bread)" (the 15th-21st days) means that Peter was taken during this period, and
  2. The assumption that the Jewish "pascha" occurs on the 14th day.

Therefore, since 12:4 says that Herod intended to release him after "pascha", "pascha" here cannot be referring to the Jewish "passover", but to something that occurred after Peter was taken.

  • Since Herod was a pagan, "pascha" here must, therefore, be referring to an "Easter" pagan celebration.
    • Based on just two verses discussed above, Luke 22:1 and Lev 23:6, it seems likely "pascha" refers to the 15th day (not the 14th), but the point is well taken since the 15th is a Sabbath, and with Herod wanting to "please(d) the Jews", it seems unlikely he would have taken Peter on a Sabbath.
    • Some that disagree with this theory argue that "pascha" is referring to the 15th-21st days. This is possible, but the two verses cited above do not lend strong support to this rebuttal.
  1. That Easter in 12:4 represents the Christian celebration.
    • The same as above, except Luke (and the KJV translators) intended Easter to represent the Christian celebration that occurred after the days of unleavened bread.
  2. That Easter in 12:4 represents the Jewish passover (based on the assumption that, in the early 1600s, Easter was still commonly used to refer to the Jewish celebration).
    • The evidence indicates that by 1611, "Easter" was no longer being commonly used to refer to the Jewish celebration. In addition, if true, then why just in 12:4?
  3. And finally, some conclude that the KJV translators mistakenly overlooked Easter in 12:4 and forgot to change it.
    • This seems highly unlikely. The KJV translators had rules of translation, these rules were structured such that each part of the translation was scrutinized at least fourteen times by dozens of the foremost biblical language scholars of the day.[18]

Summary Questions

Why did Tyndale and Luther use "Easter/Ostern" originally and why did most of the post-Tyndale pre-1611 English Bible translators continue, but reduce, its use?

  • Some theories are expressed above as to the original use and meaning of those words.
  • Later translators may have perceived no difference in the meaning of the two words (pascha-NT, pesach-OT) and changed the translation in those places from "Easter" to "passover" (and vice-versa, in other places they may have perceived a difference and left the "Easter" translation in place).
  • Following this same logic, they may have thought Tyndale and Luther took too much liberty in their translation of those words (i.e., the later translations were more "literal", reducing the symbolism that may have been represented in the words "Easter" and "Ostern")
    • Note: Interestingly, Coverdale (1535) used Easter in his OT translation, translating "pesach" as "Easter" in Ezek 45:21.

What was the common meaning of the word Easter during this period (especially early 17th century England) - did it mean the Jewish celebration, the Christian, a Pagan, both Jewish and Christian, etc.?

  • While Bede refers to "Easter" as having a pagan origin in the eighth century and Adam Clarke discusses "Easter" as a pagan celebration in the early nineteenth century, it does not appear to have had this common meaning in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
  • In the sixteenth century its common meaning seems to have included both the Christian and Jewish celebrations while by the early-seventeenth century its meaning seems to have included only the Christian celebration[19] (with Passover now referring to the Jewish)

Did events occurring at the time of these translations (as well as the background and theological and political views of the translators) have any impact on the words (specifically Easter) used by the translators?[19a]

  • Some of the events occurring during this time are discussed above. With regard to the KJV translators, they were Anglican and their theological views were different than those of their Protestant “Geneva Bible” Puritan brothers.[20]
    • The KJV translation rules provided that where a word (Greek, Hebrew, etc.) had different meanings, the meaning which had the general sanction of the most ancient Fathers, considering "the propriety of the place, and the analogy of faith" would be preferred.

In 1560, the Geneva Bible translators dropped Easter completely (why?), but in 1568 the Bishops' Bible translators picked it back up, using it three times (why?)

  • Apparently, the Geneva translators did not see a significant difference in the meanings of pesach (OT) and pascha (NT), at least not enough to justify the use of different words to describe them.
  • They probably chose “passover” because it was more representative of the Jewish celebration, which they determined to be the meaning of pesach and pascha
    • By doing this, they probably sealed “passover” as the common English meaning of the Jewish celebration, leaving Easter to represent the Christian.
  • The Bishops’ Bible was prepared by the Anglican Church as an update to the Great Bible (which also had Easter in John 11:55 and 12:4) and in response to the Puritan's Geneva Bible, which was not permitted in England due to its anti-episcopal notes.
  • Possible reasons the Bishops picked Easter back up (in reference to the Geneva dropping the use of Easter):
    • They perceived a difference in the meaning of pascha in John 11:55 and Acts 12:4 and/or
    • For the same or similar reasons that Tyndale used Easter originally, and/or
    • The Puritan's Geneva dropped it completely, and the Anglican Bishops simply did not want to follow their lead.
  • Note: The KJV itself was prepared as an update to the Bishops', and also as a response to the Geneva, which was the most popular English Bible in 1611.

Did the KJV translators view the word "Easter" as having a different meaning than previous translators?

  • During the early 1500s, Easter was used in reference to both the Jewish and Christian celebrations. Its clear that previous translators did not intend a pagan meaning for Easter (Christ is our “pagan” lamb?) nor do the facts support the idea that Easter, during the early 1600s, was used to refer to a pagan celebration.
    • Regardless, the use of Easter in the KJV to represent a pagan celebration would have been a radical break from its previous use in earlier English Bibles.
  • It appears that by 1611 (given the Geneva’s use of “passover” to represent the Jewish celebration), Easter was beginning to be commonly used to represent only the Christian celebration.

Did the KJV translators view the word "pascha" in 12:4 as having a different meaning than previous translators?

  • Most of the pre-1611 post-Tyndale English translations translated “pascha” in 12:4 as "Easter". Of course, the KJV was the only translation to use Easter just once. This would indicate they viewed pascha here as distinct from its 28 other occurrences.

If the KJV translators viewed the parenthetical phrase in 12:3 as preventing pascha from having its common “passover” meaning, then what meaning did they intend?

  • A Christian celebration? - as many commentators have stated, there is no indication of such a celebration during the Acts period.
  • A Jewish celebration? - then why not use “Passover”
  • A pagan celebration? - this would be a radical departure from its previous use and the common use of the word in 1611
  • Perhaps they used Easter here to simply retain a part of the symbolism represented by the word, started by Tyndale, ended by the Puritan’s Geneva, but kept alive by the Anglican’s KJV?

This discussion has finally come to an end. This subject is one where some of the key pieces seem to be missing. Hopefully, though, enough pieces have been provided to enable you to better evaluate the opinions of others and to more intelligently form your own.

Keep studying to show yourself approved
Rightly Dividing ... Allowing the Pieces to Fit


Feel free to use any of this material, all we ask is please
cite the source:  MidActs.net  - Thanks

First Published: January 2011
Last Updated: January 2014

Footnotes


  1. 1a↑ Easter in Acts 12:4 by T.L. Hubeart Jr. citing examples of Easter being used in reference to the Jewish celebration as late at 1595.

    See also the various sermons preached by Lancelot Andrews (one of the chief KJV translators) from 1606 to 1622 where he uses "Easter-day" in reference to the Sunday Christian celebration.
  2. 1b↑ Compare this commentary from John Calvin (1509-1564) on 12:4 and his use of "Easter" to those of the previous commentators
    "... He showeth the cause why he was not forthwith put to death, because it had been an heinous offense to put him to death in the Easter holidays; therefore, Herod doth not delay the time as doubtful what to do, but doth only wait for opportunity; ..."
    It appears that Calvin is using Easter here in reference to the Jewish, while Matthew Henry, some 150 years later, is using Easter exclusively in reference to the Christian, while Adam Clarke, some 100 years after Henry, is citing pagan origins and seems to imply that Easter should not be used to refer to either celebration.
  3. 1g↑ Articles on Easter from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. 1h↑ An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Bosworth and Toller (1898) word Easter
  5. 3↑ Origins of Easter
  6. 5↑ The Two Babylons (first published 1853)
  7. 5b↑ A definition and history of the word Easter and the celebration
  8. 6↑ Article Ēostre - It's Entomology from Wikipedia
  9. 8↑ Where did the word Easter come from? Answerbag
  10. 9↑ Answerbag
  11. 10↑ See also Days and Months and Origin of the names of days and months
  12. 11↑ See also The Baldwin Project and Latin Online Lesson 9
  13. 12↑ Lutheran Website
  14. 13↑ See generally Catholic Encyclopedia - Easter Controversy, Encyclopædia Britannica 2009- Easter and ReligionFacts
  15. 13d↑ Catholic Encyclopedia- The Gregorian Reform
    Encyclopædia Britannica 2009- Gregorian Calendar
    Wikipedia- Gregorian Calendar
  16. 13f↑ Wikipedia- Nine Years War
  17. 13g↑ All Festivals and Holy Days abolished; Time allotted for Recreation.

    "Forasmuch as the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ, Easter and Whitsuntide, and other Festivals commonly called Holy-Dayes, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed Be it Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That the said Feast of the Nativity of Christ, Easter and Whitsuntide, and all other Festival dayes, commonly called Holy-dayes, be no longer observed as Festivals or Holy-dayes within this Kingdome of England and Dominion of Wales, ... And to the end that there may be a convenient time allotted to Scholars, Apprentices, and other Servants for their Recreation: ... on every second Tuesday in the moneth throughout the year, as formerly they have used to have on such aforesaid Festivals, commonly called Holy-dayes. ... "[8 June, 1647.]
  18. 14↑ Calculation of the Ecclesiastical Calendar
  19. 14a↑ Easter in Acts 12:4 by T.H. Brown
    In a marginal note to Ex 12:11, Martin Luther wrote "... unser Osterlamm ist Christus der geopfert ist" ("... our Easter Lamb is Christ who is offered").
  20. 14b↑ Tyndale did not translate "pascha" as "ester" three times in the NT. In Matt 26:17 and John 18:28, he used "paschall lambe". In Mark 14:12 "pascha" occurs twice, he used "pascall lambe" first and "ester lambe" second.
  21. 14c↑ Easter in Acts 12:4 by T.H. Brown
  22. 15↑ The KJV translators were given several translation rules. Another gives the translators leave to use five other Bibles "when they agree better with the text than the Bishop's Bible." These were Tyndale's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, Cranmer's or the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. The Translators Revived by Alexander McClure, 1858 - see also The History of Your Bible, Terence McLean, p47
  23. 16↑ MidActs.net contends that, the dispensation of the grace of God, Eph 3:2, did not begin until the doctrine for this dispensation was revealed, Acts 9:3-6, 15-16; Acts 26:15-16 and began to be preached, Gal 2:2, Acts 26:20, by the apostle Paul.  Even Luther, fresh out of Roman Catholicism, recognized the problems and frustrations associated with trying to reconcile the Salvation doctrine taught in Paul's epistles with that taught in several of the Hebrew epistles, specifically James.
    ----------------
    Recognizing the dispensational distinctives between the Salvation Instructions of past dispensations and those of this dispensation is the first step in "Rightly Dividing ... Allowing the Pieces to Fit".compare Just a few examples, compare:

    Matt 5:20 -with- Phil 3:9, Titus 3:5, and
    Matt 19:16-21, 17 (Ezek 18:5-9, 9) or Luke 10:25-28 -with- Gal 5:4, Rom 3:20, 28, and
    Matt 6:12, 14-15 -with- Col 2:13; 3:13, Eph 4:32

    ----------------
    For more information about reconciling the perceived contradictions, please visit the MidActs.net Home Page
  24. 17↑ Why we should not passover Easter
  25. 18↑ The Translators Revived
  26. 19↑ For example, see the sermons by Lancelot Andrews (cited above) and his references to the resurrection celebration as "Easter-day"
  27. 19a↑ A translator's ability to incorporate his views into the words he uses will depend largely upon the "literalness" of the translation.
    • A more literal translation allows translators less freedom in their choice of words (since the translation is more "word for word").
    • A less literal (e.g., paraphrase, dynamic equivalent) allows translators more freedom (being more "phrase for phrase") to incorporate their own views directly into the text.
    According to several sources, the KJV is a more literal translation. e.g., see Comparing Translations
  28. 20↑ See The Translators Revived for background information on the major KJV translators