The official website for the Monroe Bible Quiz Team from Beacon Hill Evangelical Free Church.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

HOLY WEEK LEFTOVERS: Why do we call Resurrection Sunday by the name "Easter"?

Holy Week raises lots of questions worth answering, which we don't always get around to discussing during Holy Week.  We'll take a few days this week to look at those questions.

QUESTION 3:  Where does the name "Easter" come from?

This is a big question and hard to answer, because language changes so much over time.  There are two primary theories for the origin of the word "Easter".

Pagan Origins:  Eastre (or Eostre) was a goddess of the Saxon peoples of Northern Europe, associated with Springtime and especially rabbits.  (It is believed this is where the idea of the Easter Bunny may have come from, although the fact that rabbits emerge from a hole in the ground also makes them a natural symbol for Jesus emerging from the tomb.)  This theory is that a feast to Eastre was held in the Springtime. Christian missionaries did not want to deny their converts a chance to celebrate, so instead of banning the old celebration they replaced the former significance with a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The practice of "redeeming" pagan holidays with new Christian significance was quite common in the old Roman Empire.

German Origins:  The german word for "resurrection" is "auferstehung"(say it fast, you can get a sense of how it could have morphed into "easter" over centuries of time).  Under this theory, the word was first used by early German Christians to refer to the time of Passover, reflecting the fact that Resurrection Sunday would historically be the Sunday after Passover.  Over time, the word's use was expanded and expanded as people began to not only note the day on their calendars, but make a celebration out of it.  Finally, the word "Easter" eclipsed Passover in the mind of Christian Europe (much of which had never known a Jewish person or read a Bible, so the significance of the old Hebrew holiday was lost).  This theory is supported by the fact that Easter first appears as a word in German writings, rather than Saxon ones.