Easter Is Correct: One Place Where Passover Does Not Apply
Scholars think Greek pascha in Acts 12:4 is incorrectly rendered Easter in the KJV, saying Passover is correct. They also note the term Easter wasn’t adopted until well after the New Testament was written. They consider it totally inapplicable, and White agrees with them (White, J.R. The King James Only Controversy. p233), but they are all totally wrong. The pertinent KJV verses are as follows:
12:2 And he (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword.
12:3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread).
12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison…intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
Scholars say the KJV follows Tyndale here in rendering Easter for pascha in the New Testament, but pascha is rendered passover everywhere else in the KJV, Acts 12:4 being the only case where it's rendered differently. We should ask if there is a unique sense of the term in Acts 12 calling for a different rendering.
English versions preceding the KJV were moving away from easter, and it appeared in the Bishops Bible in just two verses, and was dropped completely in the Geneva Bible. KJV translators were instructed to follow the Bishops Bible as closely as possible, yet retained Easter at Acts 12:4. Providential guidance is indicated by Tyndale's wide use of Easter, and by later movement away from the term until only one appropriate use remained. The KJV translators would not likely have considered Easter as the correct translation if Tyndale had not made it so prominent, and the fact that they retained the term in just one case indicates that their studies provided very good reasons to continue its use there, reasons that prove to be based on context and history.
All this suggests that providential intervention in translation work applies mainly to words that influence the sense of a passage, the scholarship of an ordained translation committee being sufficient to ensure accuracy of the bulk of a verse or passage. It also indicates that providential intervention in a translation tends to be subtle, perhaps to ensure that it's not confused with inspiration.
Note: We note that some uninformed commentators make the mistake of saying that the Greek for after (meta) Easter should read during Easter. Actually Greek meta is translated in different ways in different contexts, and after applies when it relates to the accusative case, including contexts where it applies to the time of an event. This is the relationship at Acts 12:4, as it is with after (meta) the Tribulation at Mt.24:29.
When we study the context of Acts 12 and related history, we find that Providence has preserved something uniquely important here through the KJV. The case parallels that of Isaiah 7:14 where virgin refers to Mary in regard to the Savior's Virgin Birth. The Hebrew for virgin has more than one possible meaning, and it can be rendered young woman or maiden in some contexts. But it can only be rendered virgin in Isaiah 7:14 since passage context and related word choice demand it. Pascha in Acts 12:4 has more than one possible meaning, and Resurrection Day or Easter is demanded by context & related history.
In verses 2,3 Herod killed James and imprisoned Peter during the days of unleavened bread. As others note,* this can refer to the feast of unleavened bread, the 6 days that follow an initial Jewish Passover feast day. Lev.23:5,6 and Ex.12:18 say passover is at evening on the 14th day of the appropriate month, and the feast of unleavened bread is 6 days from the 15th (at evening) until the 21st day (at evening) - Including Passover day gives the 7 days of unleavened bread of Lev.23:6. If this is the right interpretation, in saying Herod killed James and imprisoned Peter in the days of unleavened bread, the text would be saying he did this when Jewish Passover day was already over. Thus in verse 4, when Herod is said to put Peter in prison to keep him in bonds until after passover, this would be a passover day that comes after the usual Jewish one. Acts 12:4 can refer to something other than Jewish Passover day so that after Passover would be incorrect.
*See Moorman, J. A. Conies, Brass & Easter. The King James Bible Page, Articles.
Yet the term passover might include the feast day and 6 days of unleavened bread. Its use as a 7-day event appears in Ezekiel 45:21 that says…in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. Acts 12:4 might seem to mean Herod killed James and imprisoned Peter during a 7-day period that included Passover day and the 6 days of unleavened-bread, which had not yet ended, and that he meant to kill Peter after this 7-day Jewish Passover, but that interpretation proves to be wrong.
Context study in relation to history denies rendering pascha as passover in Acts 12:4. That can only mean Hebrew Passover in this passage dealing with days of unleavened bread, and that doesn’t fit context and history. A lack of a fit relates to the friendship of Herod with Roman Caesar Caligula who was despised by the Jews, and also relates to the Edomite ancestry of Herod, Edomites being a people historically antagonistic to Israel. (see Broadman Commentary. Vol.10. 1970. Nashville. p75-76). Herod's rule was complicated, but he endured, ingratiating himself with the Jews by favoring their religion and culture.
Acts 12:3 says Herod took Peter prisoner since the Jews approved of his execution of James. They would see James as an enemy as fast-growing Christianity threatened their religion & culture. Herod would want to further ingratiate himself by executing Peter right after James, so he had no reason to wait until after Jewish Passover, the first Passover day or the entire 7-day feast. Executing Peter right after James was not a problem with the Jews. Yet he intended to wait, risking a problem with the Jews by a suggestion of changing his mind in acting against the foremost leader of the fast- growing church.
Now scholars are wrong in saying that Herod had to wait until after Jewish Passover to execute Peter since Jews objected to executions during their holy days. That usually was the case, but it wasn’t a concern at this time in history. By this time Christians were considered heretics by the Jews, so a public execution reinforced the Jewish position. As Acts 12:3 says, the Jews approved of executing James during their holy days of unleavened bread at that time. Thus context and history deny interpreting the Acts passage to mean Herod intended to wait until after Jewish Passover to kill Peter.
But pascha as Resurrection Day fits context and history. The initial Jewish 1st-century church knew that Hebrew passover was typological, and was fulfilled and superseded by Christ the ultimate Passover, so they would observe a pascha that was based on the Crucifixion/Resurrection. Timing of Pascha observance by this church would fit Acts 12 days-of-unleavened-bread context and history since the only initial basis for the timing was the Crucifixion and Resurrection timing relative to that of passover. The Crucifixion occurred on a passover preparation day just before passover began that evening (Mt.27:62, Jn.19:14), requiring a 3-day Crucifixion/Resurrection observance starting the same day as 7-day Passover, and at evening to keep them closely linked.* Herod could execute James and imprison Peter on an evening that began the Jewish Passover day, or on the following day, which would be during the days of unleavened bread, and he might wait to execute Peter until after the third day, which would be Resurrection Day. That this was the case is verified by Herod’s political situation.
*In the 1st-century church, pascha was a Crucifixion/Resurrection observance starting on the evening Jewish Passover began (other details, including number of days, are murky). In the 2nd-century eastern church, a 1-day pascha was observed starting the same time, likely reflecting 1st-century timing of a 3-day pascha starting at that time. By starting pascha observance on Crucifixion Day and making it 1-day long, Resurection-Day observance fell on the day signifying Crucifixion Day, an irregularity likely derived from an earlier 3-day event starting the same time, (Easter and Paschal Controversies. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” 1984. Baker).
Herod ever ingratiated himself with the Jews, being even devout in their religion, but he was despised by the Roman military and citizenry of Judea (see Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia Vol. 13. p81) that were crucial to his political control (see also Lk.23:12). Resultant political tension would control any significant political act that he indulged in. Pleasing Jewish leaders would always be a priority, but with his Roman situation, he couldn't afford to antagonize any large segment of the Judean population that could cause political unrest, and give local Roman leadership an excuse to depose him from office (they would need a good excuse since Caesar appointed Herod). He would worry about reaction of Christians to Peter's execution (The large Christian population still had political status since the governing Romans wouldn't persecute them for another 20 years). He killed James without repercussion, but would fear that killing famous Peter, right after killing James, might incite an uproar, especially if he did so at the time of Resurrection Day. To Christians the day of Christ's Resurrection is sacred, a time when public execution of Christ’s most famous disciple would be very politically antagonistic, mocking Christ's victory over death in the Resurrection. By such an act, Herod would make a political statement like the following: “Is this your day of victory of eternal life over death? I’ll kill Christ’s great disciples at this time and make it a day of death. I’ll show you what I think of your God.” Christians endured persecution, but killing Peter right after James and insulting Christ might incite an uproar, and Herod would see the possibility. Executing Peter a little after Resurrection Day would allow Herod to side with Jewish leaders, without unduly risking heated widespread protest by Christians that would add to his difficulties with the Romans. This would seem wise to Herod, and it is the reason he would wait until after Christian Passover, not Hebrew Passover.
Thus pascha in Acts 12 relates to Christ, the Passover of Christians (1 Cor.5:7). For Jews the passover-observance is 7 days, as Ezekiel 45:21 says. But the early Christian Passover observance would be 3 days from Good Friday to Easter. To avoid political antagonism, Herod meant to kill Peter after Christian Passover, or more specifically, after Resurrection Day, the day of greatest concern to Christians, and thus to Herod.
Herod was well-informed on matters of religion and would now focus on the Christian Passover, especially the third day signifying Resurrection Day, the day he had to get past to execute Peter and continue to satisfy the Jews, without unduly aggravating Christians. Herod's only reason for pleasing the Jews was to keep his throne, and to continue doing so, he would now be thinking of Passover in the Christian sense, and would wait until after the last day of Christian Passover, or after Resurrection Day, to execute Peter.
Actually, Acts 12:4 can only refer to Christian Passover. Christ’s Passover superseded the Jewish one in the Resurrection, so pascha can only be Christian Passover in the New Testament after the Resurrection, or after Acts 1 where it appears 3 times. One use in Hebrews 11:28 refers to Old Testament times, so it isn’t pertinent. Another use in 1 Cor. 5:7 is the very passage showing Christian Passover superseding the Jewish one, so it must be rendered passover, and it clearly denotes Christian Passover since Christ and the Cross are its basis. The third use in Acts 12:4 can only be the Christian Passover. Further, after Christian Passover is best replaced by after Easter that is far better understood by all readers. And Easter fits Acts 12 context, communicating the full sense of Resurrection Day, despite the fact that the 1st-century observance was uniquely different from that of later times.
The text must recognize that Herod's action would be governed by timing of Christian Passover, and by its superseding of the Hebrew Passover in the book of Acts to give pascha a new meaning, which brings Easter into the picture. Today pascha equates to Easter day, but the initial sense is uncertain, so KJV translators would use Hebrew passover in a Christian sense for the 44 A.D. scene of Acts 12:4. They would know that Hebrew passover signifies deliverance of God's people from slavery in Egypt and from God's judgment of Egypt, a nation signifying the world. They would see all this as paralleled & fulfilled by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus that delivers God’s people from slavery to sin in the world and from judgment of the world unto eternal death. Thus they would see the 1st-century Christian Passover as a 3-day Crucifixion/ Resurrection observance paralleling and fulfilling the 7-day event. And they would see this 3-day Passover ending after Resurrection Day, or Easter, as the one Herod had to wait out to execute Peter.
Now some object to rendering
Resurrection Day as Easter,
for the term is of pagan origin, and it didn’t have a Christian sense until well after the New
Testament was penned so that its use in Acts is also anachronistic. But
Resurrection Day by the 4th - 5th centuries, and Resurrection Day was
Easter by the 8th,
so ever since the 8th century, the KJV after
Easter for after
has been the proper current way to note the end of the 3-day Passover
Herod had to wait out to execute Peter. This changing status of Easter from a pagan festival to its blessed status today illustrates
the process by which God raises that which is unsanctified to the status of
the sanctified, as also seen in the case of His raising of wretched sinners to the status of sanctified saints. It seems to be God's plan to restore the world that He created to its original status as good in His sight, reclaiming it from the devil's grasp. Of course, there will always be those who observe Easter in pagan form with their egg- hunts and the like, and eradication of that kind of error will be part of finalization of God's restoration plan for the world in the Millennium and Eternal State.
We should ask why 17th-century KJV translators are scorned for proper use of current terminology. Modern translators do this often and are praised for communicating with modern readers. For example, the NIV gallons (Lk.16:6, Jn.2:6) is fine for today, but it's an anachronistic term, and it never applied to Hebrew, Roman or Greek culture, so it's less aligned with a 1st-century setting than Easter is. So where is all the criticism of NIV translators for doing in greater degree what KJV translators did in this matter?
Only the KJV reinforces the 1 Cor.5:7 teaching on Christian Passover superseding the old one, an indication that the KJV alone is God’s Word in the English language. The KJV precisely reflects the Greek text to us today, use of Easter signifying the last day of Pascha in the first century to avoid uncertainty on the number of days that Pascha lasted, and to specify the day that Herod had to get past. Modern scholars represent translation precision as if it were error! KJV scholarship illustrates outstanding skill in scholarship that has never been even remotely approached by scholars today.
The Providential Significance of easter at Acts 12:4
new sense of pascha in Acts 12:4 seems intended to mark superseding
of Hebrew passover by the Christian Passover, which even seems to be
emphasized by the new passover ending at the 3rd day that ignores the
old continuance unto the 7th day, and in the process, culminates the
significance of old passover. Events surrounding use of Easter in Acts seem intended to introduce the Christian passover in scripture, like Herod's situations with the Jews & the Romans that forced Him to focus on Christian Passover,
and the death of James followed by a miraculous deliverance of Peter
from death, which reflects the pattern of Christian death followed by miraculous eternal life endowed by the death and Resurrection of the Savior that is the basis of Christian Passover.
Among active English versions, Easter still appears exclusively in the KJV, indicating God's ordination of this version alone to present that point in history when Christian passover effectively began to supersede the Hebrew passover. Evidently, He began the process of establishing the Easter rendering through its extensive use by the great martyr/translator William Tyndale, gradually reducing its occurrence in prior English versions until it stood alone as the singular use at its intended final destination in the KJV at Acts 12:4.
The trend in earlier English versions was to move away from Tyndale's frequent use of Easter, the Bishop’s Bible preceding the KJV retaining it in only two verses, so the Acts 12 Easter is likely a case of providential intervention in text history, accompanied by outstanding scholarship. KJV translators examined Tyndale’s work, and they would retain Easter in Acts 12:4 due to the support of it by context and history. They were very skilled at evaluating such matters, and the reasoning that they might follow is reiterated in the outline below.
1. Pascha usually means passover, as KJV translators usually rendered it, but its use in Acts 12:4 is denied by context/history and the likelihood that Herod wouldn't need to wait until after Hebrew Passover to execute Peter since the Jews that Herod sought to please would want Peter executed without delay.
2. At the historical time of events in Acts 12:4, Hebrew Passover would coincide with Christian Passover in part, the two starting on the same day, but the Christian one would end on the 3rd day (Resurrection Day), and the Hebrew one on the 7th day.
3. Herod was well-informed on matters of religion, and would temporarily focus on a potential for a Christian uproar and loss of his throne if he killed James, then killed famous Peter and also insulted Christ by killing Peter at the time of Resurrection Day. The cause of concern was his problem with the ruling Romans who despised him.
4. Herod would focus on Christian Passover, especially the third day, the one he had to get past in order to execute Peter and continue to satisfy the Jews, without unduly aggravating Christians.
5. Herod was an Edomite, who pleased the Jews to keep his throne, and to continue to keep it, he would now think of Passover in the Christian sense, and would wait until after the last day of Christian Passover, or after Resurrection Day, to execute Peter.
6. The text must recognize that Herod's action would be governed by the timing of Christian Passover, which brings Easter into the picture.
7. KJV use of Easter would be proper since Resurrection Day became Easter in the 8th century, and would be more easily understood than Christian Passover by all readers.