Questioning Sam Gipp’s Answers: “Easter” and “Pascha”
The second question on Sam Gipp’s agenda is the following:
Isn’t “Easter” in Acts 12:4 a mistranslation?
You may read Sam Gipp’s answer here while my response to his answer is below.
Sam Gipp next addresses the issue of whether the KJV translators erred in rendering the Greek word “πασχα” (Pascha) as “Easter” in Acts 12:4 rather than “Passover” as appears in modern versions. As one might expect, he defends the use of “Easter” and supplies an elaborate defense of the KJV reading that implodes once even the slightest bit of scrutiny is applied. Ironically, the KJV translation can be defended as legitimate for its own time period but not with the absurd scenario Gipp advocates.
The Greek word “Pascha” appears twenty-nine times in the Greek and in all but one occurrence was translated as “Passover” in the KJV. The question remains whether this was an error on the part of the KJV translators or there was some other factor in their translation not accounted for in the standard explanation of this single case.
Gipp opts for the latter and insists this one case of “Pascha” referred to a pagan celebration of the goddess Astarte. He argues it could not refer to Jewish Passover since the Passover is referred to in various places of the Old Testament as the day of preparation prior to the feast of unleavened bread. Since Acts 12:3 refers to it being the “days of unleavened bread” and Acts 12:4 states Herod’s intention was to release Peter after “Pascha”, then this could not be Passover since the day of preparation had already occurred. Gipp then goes on to state Herod was a pagan Roman and the KJV translators correctly rendered the occurrence of “Pascha” in this verse as “Easter” to indicate it was a pagan holiday.
There are numerous problems with this scenario but the first and most important one is that the KJV is a translation and the word being translated is “Pascha.” This term is a transliteration of the Hebrew “Pesach” – what we would call “Passover.” I would challenge anyone supporting Gipp’s scenario to provide evidence that “Pascha” was ever used to indicate the celebration of a feast day for Astarte. The feasts for holidays celebrating pagan deities all had their own names and did not need to borrow a transliteration from Hebrew of the name of a Jewish feast.
The next problem is the implication that the KJV translators would deliberately choose “Easter” to refer to a pagan celebration. Such a claim assumes the word “Easter” had a negative meaning among them and this is rooted in fundamentalists such as Gipp projecting their views upon the scholars who labored upon the KJV. Yet this is absurd given the KJV translators predominantly consisted of Anglicans who routinely celebrated “Easter” as the feast of Jesus’ Resurrection. Not only do the sermons of prominent KJV translators contain references to Easter but the original 1611 KJV included a calendar for calculating feasts of the liturgical year that included Easter as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
The idea that the name “Easter” derived from ancient pagan feasts celebrating Astarte or Ishtar has long been popular in fundamentalist circles.1 This usually goes in tandem with claims that Constantine and/or the Catholic Church had dressed up this pagan celebration in Christian dress to create the celebration of Easter. These displays a profound historical ignorance as neither the Greek or Latin Churches referred to the yearly celebration of the resurrection as “Easter” but rather as “Pascha” as it was linked to the Jewish celebration and was considered its fulfillment. Both the Greek and Latin Churches have continued to refer to this day as “Pascha” and the use of “Easter” does not arise until the medieval period in the vernacular of some groups of Germanic descent.
An example is with the Anglo-Saxons who would celebrate Pascha during the period in their calendar known as Eostremanuth which was named for the goddess Eostre.2 The term “Eostremanuth” eventually became “Easter month” and the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus took on the term “Easter” in the vernacular as a translation of “Pascha.” Thus far from “Pascha” being a Greek word for “Easter,” it was “Easter” that was an English word for “Pascha.” In the Romance languages descended from Latin, there is no such connection.3
So what of the “Passover” referring only to the day of preparation? While this is certainly the case in the some parts of the Old Testament4, in other places it is far more muddled.5 Moreover, by the first century A.D., the term “Pesach” (in Greek “Pascha”) had commonly come to signify the entire period and not just the day of preparation. This change is reflected in Luke 22:1 where it reads in the KJV:
Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.
Hence, the KJV itself shows the term was used for the feast of unleavened bread and not just the day of preparation. Considering Luke was also the author of Acts, this makes clear that the term “Pascha” refers to the whole period and not just the day of preparation. Thus, once more we find that Gipp’s claims do not stand up to serious scrutiny.
Finally, there is the claim Herod was not a Jew. This is simply not the case. Perhaps Gipp has him confused with his grandfather Herod the Great who was not considered Jewish by many in Israel. However this was not the case with Herod Agrippa. His zealous adherence to Judaism, at least outwardly, was noted by both Josephus and the rabbis. In fact, the entire context of the passage has him acting in order to please the Jews and there is not a single hint that Herod Agrippa was celebrating anything but the Jewish feast we know as Passover.
As mentioned earlier, there is a legitimate explanation of the KJV reading but KJV Onlyists rarely if ever employ it. It relates to the fact that the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 by King Edward I and they would not return until the Protectorate of Cromwell decades after the publication of the KJV. Thus there was no major interaction with a Jewish community and no need to develop independent words for Jewish practices in English. Because of this, the term “Easter” was adopted as the vernacular translation for the word “Pascha” in general and applied both to the Christian and the Jewish feasts.
Eventually as English translations began to be made, some sought to distinguish the two with terms for each. This is how “Passover” entered the vocabulary and, although it was not used consistently, it began to gain favor as the word for the Jewish feast. There seemed to be a definite preference for the term in the KJV and this has made the occurrence of “Easter” stand out as an anomaly. However, it should be pointed out that this is more the anomaly because the KJV succeeded in establishing the use of this term. At the time, “Easter” was perfectly acceptable as a translation of “Pascha” it was only the KJV’s pervasive influence upon our language that has made it seem so odd.
Thus we have a case where the KJV reading has been criticized and a little bit of research would demonstrate there was nothing wrong with their translation at the time it was made. Yet, instead we find KJV Onlyists appealing to bizarre conspiracy theories to vindicate the KJV reading by supporting a position that would have been viewed as abhorrent by the KJV translators.
There are reasons KJV Onlyists will not accept what is a very clear defense of the KJV reading. The first is that, despite the obvious preference for the term “Passover” by the translators, this one slipped by as “Easter.” Hence, the process of how the KJV was made appears all the more human and fallible. Secondly, the fact that “Easter” may have been an acceptable question then draws attention to how the KJV reading is not the best possible translation into English for today. That is, the KJV could be improved upon and this is something a KJV Onlyist such as Sam Gipp could never accept. Hence, it is necessary to cling to an obviously ridiculous scenario merely because it avoids these rather uncomfortable facts.
The simple truth is that the KJV was a translation of the Bible by godly men who, to the best of their abilities, sought to bring the people the Word of God in their common tongue. Their work is properly revered and the Church of Christ owes them a debt of gratitude for their efforts. Yet their translation is still a human effort and their translation may be evaluated to see if there are places where it could be rendered better or places where their choices of variants were not the best. It is this concession to the fallibility of their efforts, a point they certainly conceded, that Gipp and his cohorts in KJV Onlyism simply cannot accept.
1. This canard likely began with Alexander Hislop’s nineteenth century crackpot classic The Two Babylons and later picked up by others such as Ralph Woodrow in Babylon Mystery Religions. Challenged to check his sources, Woodrow found Hislop’s had distorted his cited sources and made up other claims, He withdrew his book and published another book, The Babylon Connection?, that refuted Hislop and his own earlier book.
2. Bede, The Reckoning of Time, Book II, Chapter 15.
3. The feast is named Paques in French, Pasqua in Italian, Pascua in Spanish, Paste in Romanian – all derived from Pascha.
4. See Lev 23:5-6, Num 28:16-17, II Chron 35:17.
5. See Deut 16:6-7, Ezek 45:2.