Q: #353. Where does the word Easter come from?
By: Steve Shirley
A: The word "Easter" is used only in the KJV Bible, and it is used just one time in (Acts 12:4). All other versions of the Bible use the word "Passover" instead of Easter in this verse. The Greek word used is "pascha," which is derived from the Hebrew word "pecach." These Hebrew and Greek words are both translated over and over in the Bible as "Passover," and this is the proper translation.
Sooo, since Easter is not mentioned in the Bible, who came up with this word that we use to celebrate the day that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead? There are two different theories on this. A majority believe that the word "Easter" has pagan roots. These roots are traced back to a time period that would be near the beginning of the Bible (some say around Gen 11). Around this time, the Babylonians began to worship a goddess, who they named "Ishtar." Other names used for this goddess are: Eastre, Ostara, Ostera, Eostre, Estara, and Astarte. As you can see, all bear a resemblance to our word "Easter."
"Ishtar" was worshipped by pagans as the "goddess of spring." From what I have read, each spring there would be a festival for Ishtar, and certain rituals were a part of this celebration. Eggs, connected with "new life" (i.e. the return of Spring),were colored and decorated. Cakes were baked and eaten (some believe this is alluded to, and condemned by God in Jer 7:18, Jer 44:17-19,25: Queen of Heaven = Ishtar). These "cakes" are correlated with the "hot cross buns" some make today. Rabbits, associated with fertility, were held as sacred. Even "Lent," which comes from the Old English word "lencten" meaning "Spring," appears to have come from a pagan ritual practiced during this time. This ritual involved mourning for 40 days over the death of Ishtar's husband Tammuz (another false god: mentioned in Ezek 8:14). (They believed he was later resurrected).
Having said this, some dispute the above theory, and propose another which says that our word "Easter" comes from the German language. There is good evidence for this. The German word for "Easter" is "oster" (or "ostern"). The word "Passover" is used 28 times in 26 verses in our New Testament. In app. 1522, when Martin Luther published the first German language New Testament (translated from Greek), he used the words "oster" and "ostern" for "Passover." However, in his Old Testament (translated from Hebrew), which was published about 1834, he used the German word "passah" for "Passover."
Very shortly after this, William Tyndale made the first English translation of the Bible. In his New Testament, he used the word "Ester" instead of "Passover." However, just as Luther did, He used the word "passeouer/passeover" when describing the "Passover" in the Old Testament. (He only got part of the Old Testament translated before he was martyred.) Following is a list showing these.
Verses: (Mt 26:2,18)(Mk 14:1)(Lk 22:1)(Jn 2:13)(Jn 6:4)(Jn 11:55 = 2)(Jn 12:1)(Jn 18:28,39)(Jn 19:14)(Heb 11:28)
Luther Translation: ostern
Tyndale Translation: ester (Jn 18:28 uses "paschall" instead of ester)
Verses: (Lk 2:41)(Jn 2:23)(Jn 13:1)
Luther Translation: osterfest/Fest aber der Ostern
Tyndale Translation: ester in the feaste feeste/feast of ester
Verses: (Mt 26:17,19)(Mk 14:12 = 2)(Mk 14:14,16)(Lk 22:7,8,11,13,15)(1 Cor 5:7)
Luther Translation: osterlamm
Tyndale Translation: ester lambe (Mt 26:17, Mk 14:12 use "paschall" instead of ester)
*** You can read these for yourself if you put: "Luther Bible" or "Tyndale Bible" in a search engine.
One could make the claim that Luther and Tyndale erred in using these words, and perhaps they did, but nonetheless, this does not take away from the point that the word "Easter" we use today could have come from this.
Ultimately, the important thing to keep in mind is WHY we celebrate this day, not whether or not the word "Easter" has its roots in Paganism. The Resurrection of Christ is the key to the whole Christian faith (1 Cor 15:14,17)(Rom 10:9-10). I explain this in more detail here. The ways we celebrate should ALWAYS have this as the focus. If the Resurrection is not the focus, I strongly suggest setting aside that way of celebrating this day. Using a phrase some prefer to Happy Easter, "Happy Resurrection Day!"