So my studies took a different turn. I set out to discover whether “Easter” had its roots in paganism. There is so much to sift through, and so many varying opinions, with very few facts. I will be honest, I was getting discouraged. Is Easter from Ishtar? Is it a worship of a false goddess/messiah? I went down the rabbit hole of history. I went through the etymology of the name, from Roman/Greek to even German/Anglo Saxon. From there I discovered that most translations were attempts of naming PESACH, or Passover. From there I ended up at Constantine and the Council of Nicea.
This is where I switched gears. As of right now, I can not give a definitive yes or no as to the pagan origins of Easter. Maybe you will view it as a cop-out that I am not sharing all the facts that I sifted through and letting you decide. And you might be right. However, I am going to say one thing. It is a smoke screen. The debate between the church groups (Catholic, Protestant, whoever, etc) about whether the holiday Easter is pagan or not is hiding a deeper truth that has been hidden away in the recesses of history. And that my friends, is the division between Jews and Christians.
Here are a few links that dig into the history lesson side of things. I highly recommend reading them. I have also cited many other resources throughout this post.
I originally thought the Council of Nicea was where Christianity developed its creed and organized the canon of the Bible. However, study showed that the books of the Bible were not agreed upon until a later council. This council was formed by Constantine because of fighting between Christian groups regarding doctrine (sound familiar?). Basically, the “heretic” group was out voted by the 318 bishops (none of whom were of Jewish ancestry). But let’s back up even further. I am going to give a very brief overview.
The temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, removing the sacrificial system for Judaism that the religious leaders clung to. Instead, the Rabbis changed it, saying that by doing good deeds you “sacrificed” your life to G-d. This was in sharp contrast to the Christianity of the Apostles. They believed that the sacrifice of Yeshua, Jesus, was all that was needed. The Law and the Prophets all pointed to Him as the fulfillment of that debt. As more gentiles joined the ranks of Jewish believers, the Rabbis started to see them as a threat and started calling all “Messianic” believers to be heretical Jews, Jewish or Gentile descent. And then gentiles had troubles understanding what “laws” of Torah needed to be followed and still be considered Gentiles without converting to full Rabbinic Judaism. This schism soon became a huge gulf as each side tried to establish who they were, without becoming associated with the other.
Rabbinical Judaism The surviving Rabbis restructured Judaism to manage without the Temple, sacrifices, atonement and the priesthood. Good deeds replaced sacrifice while Jesus’ followers emphasized atonement by Jesus. There was a hardening of opposition to the Jewish believers. The Talmud, which encapsulates the rabbinic teaching, does not deny the existence of Yeshua from Natzeret but mostly seeks to avoid any discussion of him and his claims. In the growing polarization and competition between Christianity and Judaism, neither side wished to give the other any credit. The references that are made are disparaging, and the corruption of his name to Yeshu was introduced. Yeshu is an acronym for Yimach Shemo Uzzikhrono, which means, “May his name and memory be blotted out”. The drive to discourage belief in Yeshua was stepped up by the inclusion of an extra prayer in the Shemoneh Esrei ( Eighteen ) prayers in the synagogue service. An early version reads, “For the apostates let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdoms soon be rooted out in our days, and the Nazarenes and the sectarians perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the Book of Life. Blessed are you, O Lord, who humbles the arrogant.” This prayer would exclude Messianic believers, or identify them for exclusion from the community. (A fuller discussion can be found in “Jesus Ben Joseph” by Walter Riggans ( see Books ))
Gentile Christianity Jewish believers kept the faith in its original Jewish form, as taught by Yeshua who was a Jew and as preached by Paul who was also very much a Jew. Unfortunately the gentile church did not seek to understand the Jewish roots of the faith but applied Greek philosophy to it. Whereas God intended us to bless him for all the good things he gives and worship him with body, soul and spirit while we live in this world, Plato taught that the material world was bad and merely to be endured. The church adopted this and retreated into the monastery. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” but the church glorified celibacy. The church separated sacred and secular.
Under Roman law, the Rabbinic Jewish religion was tolerated. When Christians started separating from them, they were seen as trouble makers and that is when the persecution began. When Constantine became the emperor, he “converted” or had sympathies to the newly developing Christian religion. He gave them a protected status, the official religion, in the empire. And that is when Christians went from being persecuted to being the persecutors. This started a series of Anti-Semitic laws developed from church councils to further separate Gentile Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism.
One of Constantine”s first official acts had been to ban Jewish proselytism as dangerous competition to the Church. This was flagrant inequality. Christians were free to evangelise but Jews were forbidden to increase their membership. The context in which the prohibition appears is significant. It constitutes the second part of a law which aimed to protect Jews who converted to Christianity from reprisals inflicted by their coreligionists.
Not only that, but the Council of Nicea also set the official date to celebrate Gentile Passover, or Easter.
As a final order of business, the bishops decided upon a date for the holiest of Christian celebrations, Easter, which was being observed at different times around the empire. Previously linked with the timing of Passover, the council settled on a moveable day that would never coincide again with the Jewish holiday — the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. —http://www.livescience.com/2410-council-nicea-changed-world.html
“It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom [the calculation] of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded…We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Saviour has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course…and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast…” – From the Letter of the Emperor to all those not present at the Council. (Found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20.)
“There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now (homily 1)… Meanwhile, I ask you to rescue your brothers, to set them free from their error… I want them to learn these facts from you and to free themselves from their wicked association with the Jews. I want them then to show themselves sincere and genuine Christians. I want them to shun the evil gatherings of the Jews and their synagogues, both in the city and in the suburbs, because these are robbers’ dens and dwellings of demons…” (homily 5.) Chrysostom
No-one should celebrate the Passover. The Passover ought not to be celebrated except in one place, Jerusalem. Now that the city has been destroyed, the rite is no longer valid, and G-d, by authorising the destruction, intended to detach the Jews, in spite of themselves, from their ancestral usage. To persist in maintaining it is to violate the law. Chrysostom
Then came other councils:
Council of Elvira (Spain) in 306 – Marriage of Jew and Christian forbidden.
Council of Nicea in 325 and Council of Antioch in 341 – Christians forbidden to celebrate Passover with Jews.
Council of Laodicea 434 – 481 – Christians forbidden to worship on the sabbath.
(Although it is clear that the Jews started the antagonism, The Church took up hostility as soon as it had sufficient power (under Constantine). Christians were never given any mandate by Jesus to punish the Jews, but the Church was responsible for unleashing the most awful persecution ever to have occurred on this planet)
(David Pawson covered this most clearly in his tapes “Israel in Revelation” – IJEC)
Next came the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Holocaust, etc. All instances where the “Church” punished those who did not adhere to the agreed upon theology.
The Council of Nicea (the first genuinely Roman Catholic council) was very creedal oriented. This is still very true of most of Christianity today. Creeds (what you believe) is far more important than what you believe. In Judaism, observance of the mitzvot (6) is the litmus test of a good Jew. Little emphasis is placed upon creeds. The emphasis upon creeds in the Christian church has resulted in the deaths of millions of martyrs and “heretics.” Christian love and charity were sadly lacking, even to other Christians. In fact, a Jew often had much better chances of survival than a Christian who was deemed to be a heretic.
Not only creeds and theology, but the ideas of Deicide (the Jews killed God) and Replacement Theology (as such Jews are no longer in the covenant and the “church” has replaced them) started pervading the minds of Christians.
I could go on and on and on. There is so much history here. So much division. So much hatred on both sides. It’s time to go back. Back to the root of it all. The root is Jesus. Only He can heal these wounds. In the words of Paul:
I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion[a] mean!13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root[b] of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
The Vine – Our Lord and Savior, Yeshua. We would assume that the removal of the branches meant the removal of all Jews. But there were many Jews who believed. It was the religious leaders who fought so hard and didn’t believe. Which is why Paul said some branches. We are grafted into the vine: Yeshua. Not into Judaism. Not into Christianity. I find it frustrating when Christians say, “We are no longer under the law” as an excuse for not following the feasts or commandments of God, those are only for Jews. If we have the fruits of the Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh in our lives, we will automatically keep the law. The Law reveals to us who G-d is! The Law and the Prophets point to our Savior. We miss such depth when we ignore them. All scripture is given by inspiration. From “in the beginning” to “amen” the entire Bible reveals Jesus. We just have forgotten how to look for Him. We ignore the history of the Old Testament. We turn the characters into moral stories. We somehow feel that they no longer apply to us. The Torah is only really good for Jews. What a disservice we do to Yeshua.
Then beginning with Moses and [throughout] all the [writings of the] prophets, He explained and interpreted for them the things referring to Himself [found] in all the Scriptures. Luke 24:27 AMP
It is time. Time to move beyond creeds. Time to move beyond denominations. Beyond the traditions of men. Beyond the division between Jews and Gentiles. Beyond the Old and New Testament.
“We realize in their essences, of Judaism and Christianity are perfectly complementary and that one cannot exist without the other… In this context, Judaism essentially represents the Written and Oral Torah as well as their interpretation, the Law, the discernment, the frame, the vessels, the ‘Bread from the Ground”…Not by surprise, general Christianity as a complementary religions is “above the Torah”, represents the Light of the Messiah, of Yeshua, the infinite unconditional Love, it has to do with miracles and “Bread from Heaven”. We will notice that Judaism is mostly vessels but very little light, and the opposite, in Christianity there are mainly Lights, but very few vessels. The idea is to bring the heart into the body, in infinite love into the frame of the law, the lights into the vessels.” The Facing Each Other project – A call to Action.
Bring it back to Yeshua. Search for Him. You will find Him in Creation. In the Law. In the Feasts. In the Prophets. In the Temple. In the manger. In the grave, sacrificed as our Passover Lamb, but only for 3 days, till He triumphed and became our Firstfruits! Stop the division. Celebrate our Risen Savior and High Priest. Our Vine, through Whom we all have LIFE
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28