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Holman Bible Dictionary


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The special celebration of the resurrection at Easter is the oldest Christian festival, except for the weekly Sunday celebration. Although the exact date was in dispute and the specific observances of the festival developed over the centuries, it is clear that Easter had special significance to the early generations of Christians. Since Christ's passion and resurrection occurred at the time of the Jewish Passover, the first Jewish Christians probably transformed their Passover observance into a celebration of the central events of their new faith. In the early centuries, the annual observance was called the “pascha,” the Greek word for Passover, and focused on Christ as the paschal Lamb.

Although the New Testament does not give any account of a special observance of Easter and evidence from before A.D. 200 is scarce, the celebrations were probably well-established in most churches by A.D. 100. The earliest observance probably consisted of a vigil beginning on Saturday evening and ending on Sunday morning and included remembrance of Christ's crucifixion as well as the resurrection. Evidence from shortly after A.D. 200 shows that the climax of the vigil was the baptism of new Christians and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. By about A.D. 300 most churches divided the original observance, devoting Good Friday to the crucifixion and Easter Sunday to the resurrection.

The early centuries saw considerable controversy over the proper date for the Easter celebration. A minority, influenced by the Jewish origins of Christianity, insisted that the celebration should occur on 14Nisan of the Jewish calendar, the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John. Most Christians rejected this practice because it meant that the special yearly celebration of the resurrection would usually not occur on Sunday, the weekly day of the resurrection. Since about A.D. 300, the date of Easter has been determined by a complex calculation using the lunar calendar. In general, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.

Since Easter occurs in the spring, many of the traditional non-Christian springtime symbols of the renewal of nature became attached to the Christian celebration. In some cases an attempt has been made to Christianize the symbols. Thus, for centuries many Christians have regarded the egg as a symbol of the resurrection. The English word “Easter” comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn. See Church Year .

Fred A. Grissom

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Easter'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
There are 53 days til Easter!
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