From Passover to Easter, by Bill Watson
Unquestionably, Jesus Christ was a Jewish Passover observing individual. He never kept an Easter in His life! How then, did the day He both observed and instituted for the sacrificial emblems of His body and blood change from Passover to Easter? Who did it and how was it done?
Church history is a fascinating story. There are many angles and approaches one can take when exploring the nuances of the ecclesiastical record. However, the means by which Passover was abandoned and replaced with Easter is fairly straightforward and clearly documented as to who, and how, it was done. The real question underscoring this issue is: did they have the right to do it and more importantly, is that what Jesus wanted?
Before we answer those questions, let’s review the historical facts of how and who made this change so we can put this event into its proper context. Otherwise, we might marginalize the significance of the result and overlook the real tragedy of this unauthorized change.
How Passover Was Abandoned and Replaced
When reviewing the historical record of the “Passover/Easter” controversy, it is undeniable that the early New Testament Church did not observe Easter. They continued observing Passover, but with a new significance and understanding. Notice,
“There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers… The first Christians continued the observance of the Jewish [God’s] festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed,” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, p.828).
In addition, we are informed,
“Neither the apostles, therefore nor the Gospels, have anywhere imposed…Easter…The Savior and His apostles have enjoined us by no law to keep this feast [Easter]…And that the observance originated not by legislation [of the apostles], but as a custom the facts themselves indicate” (fourth century scholar, Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, chapter 22).
The Apostle Paul confirms he maintained the customary observance of Passover, as was given to him by Christ Himself, when he said, “For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed [not Easter Sunday] took bread” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Keep in mind Jesus Christ was betrayed during the night of Nisan 14 (Luke 22:15-22), which was the day of Passover (Exodus 12:6-13).
With this established fact and connection in mind, how was it changed from the 14th of Nisan (Passover) to the Sunday following the first full moon, after the vernal equinox, and assigned the name Easter? Unquestionably, this is no small change from the original observance that Jesus Christ exemplified. Furthermore, to supersede the authority of Jesus’ own example is obviously presumptuous at best; and at worst, it’s outright heretical! How could such a blatant act of contradiction and disregard be allowed to take place?
Assuredly, we must first understand the contention between the Western congregations lead by Rome and the Eastern Asiatic congregations. This debate intensified during the second century and is historically known as the Quartodeciman Controversy. Quartodeciman is simply a Latin term indicating fourteenth. What the historicity of the second century reveals is that there was a controversy over the fourteenth. Specifically, it concerned the change of the 14th of Nisan (Passover) to Easter with all of its pagan connections, associations, and typologies of fertility and fecundity. This was unequivocally contested and rejected by the congregations of the Asiatic East. It came to a head when Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, faced off with Anticetus, the pre-eminent bishop of Rome in about 150 A.D.
Notice what history tells us from the Catholic Church itself concerning this second century controversy:
“The dioceses of all Asia, as from the older tradition [Passover], held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should always be observed as the feast of the life-giving Pasch [Passover]…However, it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world [primarily the West, represented by Rome] to end it at this point [allegedly a non-biblical based fast ending on Easter Sunday], as they observed the practice, which from apostolic tradition has prevailed to the present time… Synods and assemblies of bishops [not Jesus Christ’s example] were held on this account and all with one consent through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree [superseding Christ’s personal example as recorded in the gospels] that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other day but, the Sunday [Easter] and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on that day only. A letter of Saint Irenaeus is among the extracts just referred to, and this shows that the diversity of practice regarding Easter had existed at least from the time of Pope Sixtus. Further, Irenaeus states that St. Polycarp [bishop of Smyrna], who like the other Asiatic, kept Easter on the fourteenth day of the moon [which is really Passover], whatever day of the week that might be, following therein the tradition which he [Polycarp] claimed to have derived from St. John the apostle, but could not be persuaded by Pope Anicetus to relinquish his Quartodecimen observance. The question thus debated was therefore primarily whether Easter was to be kept on a Sunday, or whether Christians should observe the holyday of the Jews… Those who kept Easter [Passover] with the Jews were called Quartodecimans” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, emphasis mine.)
Clearly, the historical record from the Catholic Church proves that they themselves chose to exercise authority to change and sever the connection of Passover. Undoubtedly, there was a long-term agenda to shift and undermine any and all associations connecting Jewish-Israeli underpinnings that were foundational to the early Christian Church. Remember, Paul said, the household of God (the Church) is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets [not Synods, Councils, and bishops], Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone,” (Ephesians 2:20). There was absolutely no authorization to change the framework of worship outside of Jesus Christ’s own reflection of worship exemplified by His life, habits, and customs (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). It’s important we remember: Jesus Christ never kept an Easter in his life! It is undeniable that Easter has no biblical connection, foundation, or authority on the name of Jesus Christ to be observed by any who claim Christ as their Saviour.
Yet, this trend finally became law in the year 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea. Again, notice from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
“The emperor himself [Constantine] writing to the churches after the council of Nicaea, exhorts, ‘At this meeting the question concerning the most holy day of Easter was discussed, and it was resolved by the united judgment of all present [regardless of the example of Jesus Christ, Matthew 26:17-30] that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day [Easter Sunday]…And first of all 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… For we have received from our Savior a different way [Where then is the Biblical proof or Christological authorization?] …and I myself [Constantine] have undertaken that this decision should meet with the approval of your sagacity in the hope that your wisdoms will gladly admit that practice which is observed [Easter Sunday] at once in the city of Rome and in Africa, throughout Italy and Egypt… with entire unity of judgment.”
And finally, under the article Councils in the Catholic Encyclopedia, again we read about the purpose of the Council of Nicaea. “The first ecumenical, or council, of Nicaea (325 A.D.) lasted two months and twelve days. Three hundred and eighteen bishops were present. Hosius, bishop of Cordova, assisted as legate of Pope Sylvester. The Emperor Constantine was also present. To this council we owe the Creed of Nicaea, defining against Arius [which was a heresy challenging the divinity of Jesus Christ] the true divinity of the Son of God, and the fixing of the date for keeping Easter” [Which opposed the Quartodecimans who observed Passover].
After the Council of Nicaea, the Roman government became more entangled with the ecclesiastical matters of the Church, derailing it further from the original intent by multiple means. “Emperor Theodosius (378-398 A.D.), made Christianity the State Religion of the Roman Empire, and made church membership compulsory. This was the worst calamity that has ever befallen the church. The forced conversion filled the churches with unregenerate people… The church had changed its nature, had entered its great Apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), had become a political organization in the Spirit and pattern of Imperial Rome, and took its nose-dive into the millennium of Papal abominations. The Imperial church of the 4th and 5th centuries had become an entirely different institution from the persecuted church of the first three centuries. In its ambition to rule it lost and forgot the Spirit of Christ” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, Paganization of the Church, p. 760).
Identifying Specifically Who Made The Change
Sadly, the combination of Rome’s secular power and the integration of fertility observances (adopted from many of the existing pagan religions that saturated Rome) took its toll. By means of forced compliance and/or persecution, the Roman Church marginalized the true Church, reducing its influence. Throughout history, Christians who have remained faithful to the commandments and testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelations 12:17), have been comparably small when measured against the traditional Christian community that has emerged and been so heavily influenced by the Hellenistic teachings of Greco-Roman culture. The liberties taken by the Catholic Church and many of the Popes, bishops, councils, synods, and Emperor’s to rearrange the theology of Christ’s original teachings is unconscionable. Unfortunately, much of traditional Christianity, Protestant or Catholic, is not theologically correct.
Notice what Jesus says,
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye who work iniquity [lawlessness].” (Matthew 7:22-23, ASV)
It would do us well to consider this possibility very seriously. It is plausible to think you are pleasing God when in fact you’re not. It’s important to our Lord that we worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Love of the truth means living the truth. We must love in doing; the hearers are not justified (1 John 3:17-18). Acting on what we know, living our faith is key to justification and knowing the true God (James 2:15-26). Notice, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like.” Read the remaining versus located in Luke 6:46-49. They are revealing in light of the historical record you just read.
It is the height of arrogance, vanity, and ego to circumvent God in areas He reserves exclusive prerogative to define. The historical record of the Passover/Easter controversy is a prime illustration of how man endeavours to evade God—avoiding His authority. History reveals that the combination of the Greco-Roman government, implemented by the ecclesiastic authority of the Popes and Catholic Councils over the centuries, replaced Passover with Easter. There is no Biblical directive or Christ-like example throughout the whole Bible authorizing the institution of Easter as a Christian Holy Day!
Without a doubt, this being the case, why not consider following the example Jesus Christ left us and begin keeping the Passover instead of Easter, as was originally intended by Christ Himself?
Want to learn more about the day Christ Himself instituted and observed? Request your FREE copy of The Passover – Is It for Christians? today!