Should Christians Use the Word Easter?
The subject of origin always seems to come up anytime there’s a holiday that Christians celebrate or take part in.
So what about Easter?
I’ve heard that the very word itself is of pagan origin.
Is it true? Does it even matter?
If it is true, should Christians use the word Easter when referring to the celebration of the Resurrection?
It’s possible that the word, Easter, originates from a Germanic goddess of the dawn named Eostre. Different sources include variations of the spelling such as Estre, Estara, Ester, Ostara, and more.
Alexander Hislop, a Free Church of Scotland minister, says that Eostre is derived from a Babylonian goddess, Astarte. Which may even be connected to other pagan goddesses such as Ishtar, the Mesopotamian East Semitic goddess; Ashtoreth, the Phoenician goddess; etc.
If these claims are true, does it even matter? Well, in this particular case, I don’t think it really does.
What Does Easter Mean Today?
I personally don’t think calling the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, Easter, is all that terrible because of what it means today. Dictionary.com defines Easter as:
Ever since I stopped believing in the Easter bunny, I’ve always associated the word Easter with Jesus and his triumph over death. I’ve never once thought about pagan goddesses and their unholy festivals. Have you?
Possible Misconception Anyway
Besides the fact that even the dictionary defines Easter as a Christian festival, it’s also possible that Easter has an entirely different origin than the pagan one. Our English word, Easter, may come from the German word, Oster. Oster can be broken down further:
- related to Ost, meaning rising of the sun, or east in English
- comes from old Teutonic form of auferstehen/auferstehung, meaning resurrection
- older Teutonic form comes from 2 words: ester, meaning first and stehen, meaning to stand
- 2 words above combine to make erstehen, meaning to arise and the modern-day German word for resurrection according to Nick Sayers
I also found a neat blog post by Kevin Haah concerning the German word, Oster. He says Martin Luther chose to use the word Oster to refer to the Passover (Pascha) when translating the New Testament into German in 1522. Haah also states that Oster is an old German word for resurrection.
There’s a whole lot more to all of these words (Oster, Pascha, etc.) and their derivations. I’m no scholar, and so many others have already tackled the subject quite sufficiently. Plus, all of these unfamiliar words start to rattle around like pebbles in my brain making me a tad bit crazy! My take is that it is totally and appropriately fine to refer to the resurrection celebration of the perfect Passover Lamb as Easter.
Other Words and Their Origins
Pondering the word, Easter, and its origin got me to thinking about other words we use that really can be traced back to pagan roots. When you thank God for a beautiful Sunday or wish it was Friday already, do you even think about the origin of these days of the week? All the days of the week originate from the names of pagan gods, but we don’t think twice about saying those.
What about the planets? All except Earth are named for Roman/Greek gods. I bet it’s safe to say that we just think of the names of days and planets as the names of days and planets. Maybe one day we’ll find out the real names God has given to the planets and stars and days and everything else that stems from pagan origin, but for now Mars is the 4th planet from the sun and Saturday is the 7th day of the week. Is it wrong for us to call these everyday words by their pagan names?
Words Change Over Time, Too
Meanings of words change over time. The important thing to ask is “What does a particular word mean today?” (And just to clarify: I’m talking about words we actually use today. Not written words that need to be studied in order to discover the original meaning and intent.)
It’s actually kind of fun to look up words that have changed over time from positive to negative or vice versa. Here are some examples:
If I told my son that he wrote a “terrific” paper, I’m sure he’d take it to mean that I thought it was great. And rightly so. But it originally meant terror-inducing.
If I referred to the kid down the street as a “bully”, you’d probably think he or she was someone who picked on other kids. But, in the old days it was used as a term of endearment to mean sweetheart or good friend.
And the list goes on and on. My point, here, is that even if Easter originated from the name of an ancient pagan goddess, it doesn’t have the same meaning today. Christians who use the word, Easter, aren’t’ associating it with paganism.
Links to words that have changed over time:
One in Christ
So, this Sunday whether you wish someone a “Happy Easter!” or a “Happy Resurrection Day!” let us be like-minded, having the same love and being one in spirit and of one mind all for the sake of Christ. Let us not get bogged down by origins and ancient meanings. Let us focus on the WHO not the whats. Let us rejoice! For Christ has conquered sin and death and has rescued us from the penalty of sin, is rescuing us from the power of sin, and will one day rescue us from the presence of sin. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
P.S. HAPPY EASTER!
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