Should Adventists celebrate the Resurrection with the rest of Christianity?

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The Sacrificial Lamb - Josefa de Ayala, ca 1670

The Sacrificial Lamb – Josefa de Ayala, ca 1670

In his latest Endtime Issues newsletter – number 169 – Samuele Bacchiocchi repeats several myths about Easter.

Bacchiocchi’s research fails to take into account the following:

  •  Easter is an English word, and the observance of Easter predated the times when English and pre-English were important enough to influence the Christian faith.  Had he taken this into account, he wouldn’t claim that Easter’s origins are linked to Eostre etc.  In fact the earliest evidence for such a linguistic link is unreliable, and comes centuries after the practice actually began.  At best his issue can be with the English word, not the practice itself.
  • Easter and its observance began outside of any culture that was influenced by the paganism he suggests it came from.  Had he taken this into account, he wouldn’t claim that Easter’s origins are linked to Eostre etc.
  •  There were two logical choices in the early Church – celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection according to the Jewish Passover dates, or celebrate them according to the week days on which they occurred.  Since those are quite obvious possibilities from the calendar, why go to extremes to link it to paganism?  The arguments used by those debating the two possibilities are biblical, not pagan.
  •  Like Easter, Lent originated with Christian piety, following the biblical events that count to 40.  40 years in the desert prior to the entry into the promised land.  40 days in the desert before Jesus started his ministry.  The history of Lent and how it developed into the form it has today – multiple forms, in fact – is well known, and has nothing to do with paganism.
  •  Lent developed in a culture where the specific pagan influence he blames it on was highly unlikely, and if it was present, highly unlikely to be incorporated into the Christian faith.  Not only that, but honest research into the “lents” of pagan culture show that they were often not 40 days long, and often at different times of the year.  That doesn’t help his case much.

Why does Bacchiocchi need to ascribe Easter and Lent to paganism, when the most obvious source is biblical piety being applied to their calendar by Christians?

He needs to attribute Catholic practice to paganism.  He needs to establish his sabbath.  He needs to find fault with Catholicism in order to promote his Adventism.

Were he to put his mind to it, he could just as easily claim that the divinity of Christ was a Catholic teaching that originated with the same paganism he links to Easter.  In fact, many Christian minorities do just that.  The same for baptism, communion of ANY sort, etc.  Why go along with one half of the theory?  Is it a bias, applying his logic only to teachings and practices he opposes, but ignoring its application to his own teachings and practices?

This is a flaw in many theological systems.  Attribute what you don’t like to paganism, and a) ignore the logical implications for your own beliefs, and b) ignore the evidence that paganism had nothing to do with what you don’t like.

The latest Adventist Review issue online, George Reid, former director of the Biblical Research Institute based at the General Conference, has some very insightful comments to make on the Easter debate.

To ask where and when practices originated is only partially valid, for most of our practices in everyday life have antecedents in the ancient world, often from nonbelievers. Over the centuries meanings change.

And also from Angel Rodriguez, current director:

We do no longer abide by the cultic Levitical regulations. … It could probably be argued that during the apostolic period some Christians may have observed the festivals but there is no biblical evidence to support the conclusion that this was a Christian requirement for membership in the church.

(A side note: the cultic Levitical regulations include the Sabbath and diet laws.  Rodriguez refers to Hebrews 7, but forgets that Hebrews shows a change in the law as well as a change in the entire covenant – the Sabbath commandment forming part of the wording of the Old Covenant itself.)

In his article objecting to Easter by George Reid:

For the Roman Catholic branch it was largely settled at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) with a rather artificial formula still followed to this day, which cannot possibly be commemoration of the actual resurrection.

Why not?  Jesus rose on the Sunday after Passover.  So the Sunday after Passover is surely a quite appropriate date.  As for the artificial formula, it’s no more artificial than the formulas used in the Jewish calendar, on which the formula is based.  It just doesn’t use the Jewish calendar directly, because changes were made and the Christians didn’t see fit to follow post-Christian Jewish alterations to the calendar.

The point is that the early Christians gave no attention to commemorating the resurrection day of Christ. If they had been serious they would be observing the 17th day of the Jewish month, Nisan, which begins with the first new moon following the spring solstice.

Huh?  Yes, that’s ONE way of interpreting the timing.  If we want to be controlled by the Jewish calendar, and if we do not see the biblical significance in the 8th day, the step beyond the 7 into the 8, the

Adventism doesn’t like those concepts, so it chooses not to see them in the Bible.

And the early Christians?  Hmmm … the disciples of the Apostle John would disagree.  The secret here is to define “early” to predate the earliest evidence.  And it’s unlikely that, considering what John’s students did, the Apostles and their other contemporaries saw such importance in the resurrection, but failed to make the association with Passover each year.

Under such circumstances Easter and its surrounding events can lend themselves to evangelistic outreach without, however, assigning any special religious meaning to the day itself.

Take advantage Easter, but don’t associate it with the resurrection of Christ?  Use Easter for evangelisation purposes … but don’t assign any religious meaning to the day??  Is it too Catholic?  This is just a case of artificial exclusiveness.  A bit too reactionary still.

For this reason Seventh-day Adventists have never given the attention to Easter that other churches do. Our interest is to return to the practices and faith of the early Christian church.

Which is why celebrating the resurrection is so important for sharing our common faith.  Not because it’s a date about which we can’t differ, but because it’s a date on which we should be united as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Anyway, the decision to have Easter when it is, is not a doctrinal position of the Catholic Church.  The day is only important because of the event we use it to celebrate.  Those who turn the timing of that celebration into a doctrinal issue to divide Christians … in the words of Ebenezer Scrooge, “Bah, humbug” to them.

The Adventist Review articles cited are:
Should Christians Observe Israelite Festivals? [Angel Rodriguez]
A Note About Easter [George Reid] … Adventists and Easter [George Reid]

I applaud the Adventists, and others, who have seen the significance of Easter and Lent, and choose to celebrate Christ’s resurrection as the early Christians did, and set time aside in their calendar for preparation for that celebration, along with the rest of their brothers and sisters in Christ, throughout the centuries.

Comments imported from the old blog:

Posted by Jared Olar on April 4, 2007, 3:04 pm

“Had he taken this into account, he wouldn’t claim that Easter’s origins are linked to Eostre etc. In fact the earliest evidence for such a linguistic link is unreliable, and comes centuries after the practice actually began. At best his issue can be with the English word, not the practice itself.”

Exactly. St. Bede, an unimpeachable historical witness, tells us that the pagan Anglo-Saxons worshipped a goddess named Eostre, and that a spring-time month was named for that goddess. We cannot doubt that St. Bede was correct, since he wrote in the early 700s A.D., at a time when most Germanic tribes, including the pagan Angles, Saxons, and Frisians in Germany, would still have been worshipping Eostre. Therefore, in English-speaking countries and in Germany the Christian Paschal feast, “Easter” or “Ostern,” came to be known by the name of the month in which it usually fell, Eostremonath (Anglo-Saxon) or Ostaramanoth (Frankish). But that no more proves that Easter is of pagan origin than the fact that Adventists keep the Sabbath is proof that they worship the god Saturn.

Oh, I got a kick out of the reference to Roman Catholicism being a “branch.” Yeah, sure — that’s one funny-looking tree: no trunk at all, but it has a massive, collosal “branch” surrounded by a bunch of smaller branches. Most observers, however, would just call that massive branch “the trunk.”

Posted by stephen on April 5, 2007, 12:56 am
Yes. It’s that simple – the name of the month was used. No direct naming after the goddess. Which would cause problems for the pagan Easter theory.

And the use of the name of the month, considering the etymology of the name Eostre, is also appropriate – the word originates from the Old Teutonic for dawn, which is when the sun rises. Christ rose, so rising is an entirely appropriate link. The sun rises in the East, so that may have helped the use of the month’s name along – Christ rose in a month whose name ultimately derives from a word indicating rising.

(Although “yeast” and “east” sound similar, and both have to do with rising, “yeast” has a different root.)

The fact that the majority of languages do NOT use this at all, but base it on Pascha, indicates that the celebration was based on the Passover.

It’s highly unlikely that two identical Christian feasts developed separately, celebrating the same thing, but one was derived from paganism and the other from Judaism.

Posted by hoagy on April 24, 2007, 10:27 am
Steven – stop splitting hairs, if you love the Catholic doctrine to much (and Ratzinger’s writings if you’ve ever read them) – please become one!

Posted by stephen on April 24, 2007, 3:40 pm
I’m not splitting hairs – it is Adventists who split hairs over issues like this.

I am already Catholic ;-)

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