Isn't Easter in Acts 12:4 a mistranslation?
By Dr. Samuel C. Gipp, Th.D.
Pastors Note: This is the first article in this section not written by a member of our assembly. This article deals with Bible translation issues. While we may not agree with everything that is contained in this article, what we do agree on is that the Word of God is found for English speaking individuals in the King James Version. This is a section from the book "The Answer Book: A Handbook for Christians" by Dr. Sam Gipp
QUESTION: Isn't "Easter" in Acts 12:4 a mistranslation of the word "pascha" and should it be translated as "passover"?
ANSWER: No, "pascha" is properly translated "Easter" in Acts 12:4 as the following explanation will show.
EXPLANATION: The Greek word which is translated "Easter" in Acts 12:4 is the word "pascha". This word appears twenty-nine times in the New Testament. Twenty-eight of those times the word is rendered "Passover" in reference to the night when the Lord passed over Egypt and killed all the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), thus setting Israel free from four hundred years of bondage.
The many opponents to the concept of having a perfect Bible have made much of this translation of "pascha".
Coming to the word "Easter" in God's Authorized Bible, they seize upon it imagining that they have found proof that the Bible is not perfect. Fortunately for lovers of the word of God, they are wrong. Easter, as we know it, comes from the ancient pagan festival of Astarte. Also known as Ishtar (pronounced "Easter"). This festival has always been held late in the month of April. It was, in its original form, a celebration of the earth "regenerating" itself after the winter season. The festival involved a celebration of reproduction. For this reason the common symbols of Easter festivities were the rabbit (the same symbol as "Playboy" magazine), and the egg. Both are known for their reproductive abilities. At the center of attention was Astarte, the female deity. She is known in the Bible as the "queen of heaven" (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-25). She is the mother of Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14) who was also her husband! These perverted rituals would take place at sunrise on Easter morning (Ezekiel 8:13-16). From the references in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we can see that the true Easter has never had any association with Jesus Christ.
Problem: Even though the Jewish passover was held in mid April (the fourteenth) and the pagan festival Easter was held later the same month, how do we know that Herod was referring to Easter in Acts 12:4 and not the Jewish passover? If he was referring to the passover, the translation of "pascha" as "Easter" is incorrect. If he was indeed referring to the pagan holyday (holiday) Easter, then the King James Bible (1611) must truly be the very word and words of God for it is the only Bible in print today which has the correct reading.
To unravel the confusion concerning "Easter" in verse 4, we must consult our FINAL authority, THE BIBLE. The key which unlocks the puzzle is found not in verse 4, but in verse 3. (Then were the days of unleavened bread... ") To secure the answer that we seek, we must find the relationship of the passover to the days of unleavened bread. We must keep in mind that Peter was arrested during the "days of unleavened bread" (Acts 12:3).
Our investigation will need to start at the first Passover. This was the night in which the LORD smote all the firstborn in Egypt. The Israelites were instructed to kill a lamb and strike its blood on the two side posts and the upper door post (Exodus 12:4, 5). Let us now see what the Bible says concerning the first passover, and the days of unleavened bread.
Exodus 12:13-18: "And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
14 And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
15 Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
16 And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.
17 And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even."
Here in Exodus 12:13 we see how the passover got its name. The LORD said that He would "pass over" all of the houses which had the blood of the lamb marking the door.
After the passover (Exodus 12:13, 14), we find that seven days shall be fulfilled in which the Jews were to eat unleavened bread. These are the days of unleavened bread!
In verse 18 we see that dates for the observance were April 14th through the 21st. This religious observance is stated more clearly in Numbers 28:16-18:
"And in the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the LORD.
17 And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten.
18 In the first day shall be an holy convocation;ye shall do no manner of servile work therein:"
In verse 16 we see that the passover is only considered to be the 14th of the month. On the next morning, the 15th begins the "days of unleavened bread."
Deuteronomy 16:1-8: "Observe the month of Abib (April), and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
2 Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there.
3 Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction: for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.
4 And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning.
5 Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee:
6 But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.
7 And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents.
8 Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread: and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD thy God: thou shalt do no work therein."
Here in Deuteronomy we see again that the passover is sacrificed on the first night (Deuteronomy 16:1). It is worth noting that the passover was to be celebrated in the evening (vs.6) not at sunrise (Ezekiel 8:13-16).
In II Chronicles 8:13 we see that the feast of unleavened bread was one of the three Jewish feasts to be kept during the year.
II Chronicles 8:13: "Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles."
Whenever the passover was kept, it always preceded the feast of unleavened bread. In II Chronicles 30 some Jews who were unable to keep the passover in the first month were allowed to keep it in the second. But the dates remained the same.
II Chronicles 30:l5,21: "Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month: and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the LORD. And the children of lsrael that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the LORD."
Ezra 6:19,22: "And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month. And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel."
We see then, from studying what the BIBLE has to say concerning the subject that the order of events went as follows:
- On the 14th of April the lamb was killed. This is the passover. No event following the 14th is ever referred to as the passover.
- On the morning of the 15th begins the days of unleavened bread, also known as the feast of unleavened bread.
It must also be noted that whenever the passover is mentioned in the New Testament, the reference is always to the meal, to be eaten on the night of April 14th not the entire week. The days of unleavened bread are NEVER referred to as the Passover. (It must be remembered that the angel of the Lord passed over Egypt on one night, not seven nights in a row.
Now let us look at Acts 12:3, 4:
"And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 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."
Verse 3 shows that Peter was arrested during the days of unleavened bread (April 15-21). The Bible says: "Then were the days of unleavened bread." The passover (April 14th) had already come and gone. Herod could not possibly have been referring to the passover in his statement concerning Easter. The next Passover was a year away! But the pagan holiday of Easter was just a few days away. Remember! Herod was a pagan Roman who worshipped the "queen of heaven". He was NOT a Jew. He had no reason to keep the Jewish passover. Some might argue that he wanted to wait until after the passover for fear of upsetting the Jews. There are two grievous faults in this line of thinking.
First, Peter was no longer considered a Jew. He had repudiated Judaism. The Jews would have no reason to be upset by Herod's actions.
Second, he could not have been waiting until after the passover because he thought the Jews would not kill a man during a religious holiday. They had killed Jesus during passover (Matthew 26:17-19, 47). They were also excited about Herod's murder of James. Anyone knows that a mob possesses the courage to do violent acts during religious festivities, not after.
In further considering Herod's position as a Roman, we must remember that the Herods were well known for celebrating (Matthew 14:6-11). In fact, in Matthew chapter 14 we see that a Herod was even willing to kill a man of God during one of his celebrations.
It is elementary to see that Herod, in Acts 12, had arrested Peter during the days of unleavened bread, after the passover. The days of unleavened bread would end on the 21st of April. Shortly after that would come Herod's celebration of pagan Easter. Herod had not killed Peter during the days of unleavened bread simply because he wanted to wait until Easter. Since it is plain that both the Jews (Matthew 26:17-47) and the Romans (Matthew 14:6-11) would kill during a religious celebration, Herod's opinion seemed that he was not going to let the Jews "have all the fun." He would wait until his own pagan festival and see to it that Peter died in the excitement.
Thus we see that it was God's providence which had the Spirit-filled translators of our Bible (King James) to CORRECTLY translate "pascha" as "Easter". It most certainly did not refer to the Jewish passover. In fact, to change it to "passover" would confuse the reader and make the truth of the situation unclear.