Shouldn’t Acts 12:4 Say “Passover” Instead Of “Easter”?
by Pastor Brian Evans
The appearance of the word “Easter” in Acts 12:4 has long been considered a translation error by critics of the KJV. Commentators who disagree with the use of Easter believe that the underlying Greek word “pascha” should be translated as “passover” as it is in every other place in the New Testament.Other good men have written on this verse, but there are two major weaknesses in their arguments which leave them open to correction by enemies of our beloved KJV. I do not consider myself one to teach these men, but I do differ with them slightly on how to properly defend this verse. Before I present my argument I feel I should explain why I feel as I do about what these good men have said.
The traditional argument supporting the KJV on this verse is that since the Bible says Peter was taken during the days of unleavened bread the Passover had already gone by. Thus it is said that the KJV translators got it right by not creating a contradiction by using the word Passover. I certainly agree that the KJV translators got it right, but it seems that the word Passover was also used to refer to the entire week, not just the day of Passover. We see this in Luke 22:1 where it says, “Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.” This indicates that the term Passover was used by the Jews to refer to the entire week and not just the actual day of the Passover. Thus enemies of the KJV can easily poke a hole in the traditional argument using Luke 22:1 as support. They say that since the word Passover can apply to the entire week, the word “pascha” in Acts 12:4 should be translated as Passover, not Easter.The second hole in the traditional argument is more problematic and concerns the connection with the goddess Ishtar. It is said that Herod celebrated a festival to this heathen goddess at the same exact time as the Passover and wanted to wait to execute Peter until this festival was over. It is concluded that this is why the word Easter was used and an explanation is given as to how Ishtar is connected with Easter, etc. There are many problems with this argument. First, many who connect Ishtar with Easter do so based upon information given in the book, “The Two Babylon’s”, by Alexander Hyslop. In my opinion, Mr. Hyslop connects many dots in his book which cannot be connected and makes many conclusions which are easily debunked by enemies of the KJV. Secondly, and more importantly, there is absolutely no credible way to connect the Greek word “pascha” with any heathen goddess. Herod may have worshipped Ishtar, but that does not connect “pascha” with Ishtar or any other goddess. If this connection can be made in a credible way, I have never read it. These two holes in the traditional defense of Acts 12:4 compel us to keep looking for a better defense for the choice of the word Easter. It is the goal of this booklet to make such a defense.
In this article you will read solid evidence that the KJV translators were correct in using Easter instead of Passover in Acts 12:4. My defense will be threefold in nature: First, I will present a brief history of how other English versions translated “pascha”. Secondly, I will reveal the link between the Greek word “pascha” and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ (Easter), and lastly I will present the Biblical context of Acts 12:4. Before we go any further we should carefully read the verse in question.Acts 12:1-4 “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”
1. A Brief History of how “pascha” was translated in various English versions of the Bible.
The KJV was not the first version of the Bible to translate the Greek word
“pascha” as Easter. Below I have listed how Acts 12:4 appears in most of the
early English translations and a few more recent versions. I have highlighted
the word Easter or its equivalent in bold print.
The 1382 Wycliffe Bible
Acts 12:4 And whanne he hadde cauyte Petre, he sente hym in to prisoun; and
bitook to foure quaternyouns of knyytis, to kepe hym, and wolde aftir pask
bringe hym forth to the puple.
The 1525 Tyndale New Testament
Acts 12:4 And when he had caught him he put him in preson and delyvered him to .iiii.
quaternios of soudiers to be kepte entendynge after ester to brynge him forth to
The 1535 Miles Coverdale Bible
At the same tyme layed kynge Herode handes vpon certayne of the congregacion, to
2 As for Iames the brother of Ihon, him he slewe with the swerde.
And whan he sawe that it pleased the Iewes, he proceaded farther to take Peter
also. But it was Easter.
4 Now whan he had taken him, he put him in preson, and
delyuered him vnto foure quaternions of soudyers, to kepe him: and thought after
Easter to bringe him forth to the people.
The 1539 Great Bible
(Reading supplied by the American Bible Society www.americanbible.org)
And when he had caught him, he put him in preson also and delyuered him to .iii.
quaternions of soudiers to be kepte, entendynge after Ester to brynge hym forth
to the people.
The 1557 Geneva New Testament
And when he had caught him, he put him in prison, and deliuered him to foure
quaternions of souldiers to be kept: entending after Easter to bringe him forth
to the people.”
The 1560 Geneva Bible
Acts 12:4 And when he had caught him, he put him in prison, and deliuered him to
foure quaternions of souldiers to be kept, intending after the Passeouer to
bring him foorth to the people.
The 1568 Bishops Bible
Acts 12:4 And when he had caught hym, he put hym in pryson also, delyuered hym
to foure quaternions of souldiers to be kept, intending after Easter to bring
hym foorth to the people.
The 1611 King James Version
Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered
him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring
him forth to the people.
The 1729 Daniel Mace New Testament
About that time, king Herod Agrippa began to persecute some of the church.
caus'd James the brother of John to be beheaded.
3 and perceiving that the Jews
were pleas'd with this, he proceeded to secure Peter during the feast of
4 having apprehended Peter, he put him into prison, appointing
a detachment of sixteen soldiers to guard him, intending to have him brought to publick execution, after Easter.
As you can see the KJV is not alone in translating the Greek word pascha as Easter in Acts 12:4. The fact is that with the exception of Wycliffe all English Bibles translated prior to 1560 contained the word Easter in Acts 12:4 (various spellings notwithstanding). Early English versions used the word Easter when referring to the Jewish Passover. This is because the word Passover did not exist until it appeared in Tyndale’s Old Testament. Tyndale used the word “ester” in the NT and “passouer” in the Old. After the word Passover was introduced by Tyndale, English versions began to use the word Passover more and more in place of the word Easter. The trend to replace Easter with Passover culminated with the 1560 Geneva Bible which removes the word Easter entirely and replaces it with Passover every time “pascha” appears in Greek.
However, a few English versions retained Easter in Acts 12:4 while using the word Passover elsewhere. For example, the 1568 Bishops Bible retains Easter in Acts 12:4 and John 11:55 while using Passover elsewhere. The 1611 KJV retains Easter in Acts 12:4, but uses Passover in every other place the Greek word pascha appears. Also, the 1729 Mace New Testament retains Easter only in Acts 12:4 as do two recent translations, the KJV 21st Century Version and the 3rd Millennium Bible. Opponents of the KJVO movement present the use of Easter in the KJV as if it stands alone in this regard. It is a fact that every early English version translated from Greek used Easter in Acts 12:4 until the 1560 Geneva Bible was published.
The question is why do the Bishops Bible, the Mace New Testament, and the 1611
KJV all retain Easter in Acts 12:4? Those who brought us these three versions
were aware of how the Geneva Bible used passover instead of Easter in Acts 12:4
and yet they all chose to retain the word Easter instead of passover. The unity
of these three versions in choosing Easter suggests that the translators
believed that the “pascha” mentioned in Acts 12:4 referred to something other
than the Jewish Passover. I suggest that these translators believed that the
“pascha” in Acts 12:4 referred to the Christian celebration instead of the
Jewish celebration. If this is correct, there must be a scriptural link between
the word “pascha” and the Christian celebration of the resurrection. In fact, we
find such a link in the story of the last supper where Jesus partakes of His
final Passover meal with the disciples. The words Jesus speaks at the Passover
meal plainly establish the needed link between “pascha” and the Easter
2. The Link Between Pascha and the Easter celebration.Before revealing the link between “pascha” and the Easter celebration it is helpful to make the following point. Words sometime gain additional meanings through time. Some words have a variety of meanings which have been added after certain events have taken place. The word “charge” is a good example of how a word which originally may have had only one meaning has gained additional meanings through time. One can charge a battery, open a charge account, get a charge out of a funny story, or sound a charge towards the enemy. Likewise, certain words found in the Bible have gained additional meanings through time. For example, the Greek word, “ekklesia” is the Greek word which originally meant any gathering of people. However, after Jesus started the NT church “ekklesia” began to also be used to describe a called out assembly of born again believers. Thus, when translating “ekklesia” the context must be properly discerned in order to know whether it refers to a secular assembly or to an assembly of believers. For this reason translators usually choose different words in the new language to reflect the context of the original word. For example, in the NT the word “ekklesia” is translated as both assembly and as church depending on whether the context describes a secular gathering or a gathering of believers. With this point in mind, Easter can be the correct translation in Acts 12 only if “pascha” has gained an additional meaning which links it to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The additional meaning needed to link “pascha” with the Easter celebration is revealed in Luke 22:19-20.
The event we call the “Last Supper” might more properly be called the “Last Passover.” The “Last Supper” was actually the Passover meal which Jesus enjoyed with His disciples. Jesus was about to be offered as the lamb of God and fulfill the symbolism of the Passover. During the course of the meal Jesus spoke the words recorded in Luke 22:19-20. Jesus took the unleavened bread and explained to the disciples that the unleavened bread symbolized His body, and then He took the fruit of the vine and said it symbolized His blood which would be shed for the remission of sins. Furthermore, notice the last six words of His instruction; “this do in remembrance of me.” In other words, Jesus told the disciples that the Passover elements which had previously symbolized the death angel passing over the homes of the Hebrews in Egypt was now to be observed as a symbol of His body and blood. He was telling them, “What you have observed as a Jew in remembrance of what happened in Egypt, you will henceforth observe as a Christian in remembrance of my body and blood. From that day forward “pascha” came to mean one thing to the Jew and another to the Christian. The Jewish “Pascha” was observed in remembrance of what happened in Egypt, but the Christian “Pascha” was to be observed by Christians in remembrance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus “pascha” now had two legitimate meanings; to the Jews it was a memorial of the Passover, and to Christians it was a memorial the body, blood, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From that day until this, Christians have used the word “pascha” to refer to the events associated with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or in other words, Easter. Easter and “pascha” both refer to the celebration by Christians of the body and blood of Christ and His resurrection.
Luke 22:19-20 “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Emphasis mine) Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary confirms this association between the word Easter and “pascha”. Webster’s defines Easter as:
“A festival of the Christian church observed in commemoration of our Savior's resurrection. It answers to the pascha or Passover of the Hebrews, and most nations still give it this name, pascha, pask, paque.”
A brief review of the words used in languages around the world to refer to the
resurrection celebration will confirm this. For example, Greek Christians today
still use the Greek word “pascha” when speaking of the Easter celebration. The
statements below from a Greek Orthodox website at Easter reveal the obvious link
between the Greek word “pascha” and the Easter celebration.
2008 Paschal Message from His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
In addition, in many other languages around the world a form of “pascha” is used to refer to the Easter celebration. Below is a list of all the languages I could find which use some form of pascha to say Easter.
"Christos Anesti! Christ Is Risen! With these great and beautiful words, I greet you with love on this great day of Holy Pascha. These words announce the triumphant Resurrection of Jesus Christ and they fill all of our hearts with joy..."
- Latin: Pascha
- French: Pâques
- Italian: Pasqua
- Dutch: Pasen
- Portuguese: Páscoa
- Spanish: Pascua
- Danish: Påske
- Norwegian: påske
- Romanian: Paşti
The evidence establishing the link between “pascha” and Easter is overwhelming.
Jesus established the Christian Pascha during the Last Supper, and the use of
“pascha” in association with Easter spread in one form or another to many
languages around the world. It should be clear to any reasonable person that if
languages of ancient origin such as Greek, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese,
Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, and Romanian use a form of “pascha” in association
with Easter, the link between “pascha” and the Easter celebration is an ancient
3. The Biblical Context of Acts 12:4
When one considers the process used by the translators of the KJV which required multiple layers of checks and re-checks of their work, it is clear that the translation of Easter in Acts 12:4 was a thoughtful choice agreed upon by the whole body of translators. It is important to remember that no passage in the KJV is the work a single translator, but is the product of the whole body of 47 scholars who each had influence on the entire work. Therefore, the Easter translation cannot be a mistake made by one of the translators or something which was overlooked by one man. The translation of Easter in Acts 12:4 is the result of the studied opinion of the whole body of 47 translators. It is my contention that the translators of the KJV rightly discerned the context of Acts 12 and chose the word Easter to reflect that context.In a previous section I established the link between the words “pascha” and Easter. However, I must now establish that the “pascha” found in Acts 12:4 refers to the Christian Pascha and not the Jewish Passover or my defense still falls short. Demonstrating that the context in Acts 12 concerns the Christian “pascha” will settle once and for all that Easter is the correct translation in this passage.
Let us once again remind ourselves of the passage in question and state the obvious things we see in these verses. I want to make six simple statements about this passage to remind us of the context.
- Herod persecuted the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.
Acts 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
- Herod had already killed James.
Acts 12:2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
- Herod’s action pleased the Jews so he sought to arrest Peter also, intending
to execute him as well.
Acts 12:3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.
- Herod arrested Peter after the day of Passover, during the days of unleavened
Acts 12:3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
- Herod placed a 24 hour guard around Peter and chained him to the prison wall.
Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
- Herod decided to wait until after Easter to bring Peter forth to the people.
Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
The second item for your consideration concerns why Herod wanted to wait until after the “pascha” to bring Peter forth to the people. Herod had executed James, and because it pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter also intending to execute him. He arrested Peter sometime after the day of Passover during the days of unleavened bread. It is important to remember that both the Jewish and Christian “Pascha” celebrations were going on in Jerusalem at the same time. Herod would have had no reason to wait until the Passover ended to bring Peter forth for fear of offending the Jews celebrating the Passover as some suggest. Jesus was brought forth to the people during the Passover and the Jews eagerly demanded Him to be crucified. The same thing can be said of the idea that Herod wanted to wait until after his pagan celebration was over. To bring Peter forth during this week would not have offended the Jews or the Pagans. There was another reason Herod wanted to wait.I contend that Herod decided to wait until after the Christian Pascha (Easter) because of the tradition of releasing one Jewish prisoner during the Passover week. Herod planned to bring Peter forth to the people after Easter (The Christian Pascha). According to Mark 15:6 the tradition was that the Roman governor always released one Jewish prisoner during the Passover week. Furthermore, the prisoner to be released would be chosen by the people. This custom is recorded in all four gospels.
Matthew 27:15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
Mark 15:6 Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.
Luke 23:17 (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)
John 18:39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?
This step by step process is recorded in Matthew 27:17 where it says:
“Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?”
The Jewish leaders had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, we are told in verse 20:
Herod gave the crowd the choice as was his custom and they chose Barabbas, verse 21 says:
“But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.”
“The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.”
The crowd is then asked what they would like to do with Jesus. Matthew 27:22 records their answer:
“Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.”
Pilate honored the request of the Jews and sent Jesus to be crucified.
Herod was obliged to release one condemned man from among those being brought
forth to be executed during the Passover week; the man the crowd demanded to be
released. Herod could not take the chance of bringing Peter out to be executed
during the Passover week because of the increased number of Jewish Christians in
Jerusalem celebrating Christian Pascha. Until the Christian Pascha ended
Jerusalem would be populated by an exaggerated number of Christian pilgrims who
had come to town to celebrate. Herod had to wait until after Easter so the great
crowds of Christians celebrating Easter would not be able to demand Peter’s
release. Thus it was the Christian pascha (Easter) which Herod was waiting to
pass, not the Passover. It is my contention that the translators of the KJV
rightly discerned this context and properly chose Easter,
the only English word
they could have used to distinguish between the Jewish and Christian Pascha’s.
The link between the Jewish Pascha and the Christian Pascha has been well documented in this article. Moreover, the context of Acts 12 has been shown to support the use of the word Easter in the KJV. I leave you with one following thought which is expressed below.
There are two mindsets one can have when considering difficult passages: One can try to find error or one can try to find truth. As Christians we are commanded to 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I believe the proper mindset for the Christian is to study with the goal of proving the Bible to be true. I do not support the idea of ignoring facts which make me uncomfortable, but when it comes to the Bible, I think it is sound logic to work with the utmost intensity to prove the Bible true. It took great determination in my study to arrive at the conclusions I have presented in this document, and even though the truths were lying on the surface ready to be found, it took much time, prayer, and work to find what was already there.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pastor Brian Evans is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Oakwood Baptist Church in Flowery Branch, Georgia which was started in a home on June 17th, 2001 with 32 people attending the first service. The church now owns land and facilities valued in excess of 2.5 million dollars and averages over 400 in attendance. Oakwood Baptist Church has a strong outreach ministry including a thriving Spanish ministry, a Rescue Mission, and a Bus ministry. Bro. Evans has been preaching since 1987, and has been serving the Lord full-time since 1994. He has been married to his wife Valerie for 23 years, and they have three children: Zachary, Rebecca, and Jacob. Pastor Evans is a graduate of Hyles-Anderson College.
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