What is the origin of the word “Easter” in Acts 12:4 of KJV?
In the Greek text the original word in Acts 12:4 is just πάσχα Pascha, Passover, so how did the KJV end up with the English word “Easter” in just one of 29 instances?
Passover had been marked by Jewish Christians as the time of when when Christ was raised since the the earliest days of Christianity, though the date later separated due to different calendars.
The conversion of the native British inhabitants of England was largely accomplished from 597-688 by missionaries among the Anglo-Saxons who had settled the East of England.
The Anglo-Saxons’ calendar months were named: Æfterra Gēola (January), Sol-mōnaþ (February), Hrēþ-mōnaþ (March), Easter-mōnaþ (April), Þrimilce-mōnaþ (May), Ærra Līþa (June) Æftera Līþa (July), Weod-mōnaþ (August), Hālig-mōnaþ (September), Winterfylleth (October), Blōt-mōnaþ (November), Ærra Gēola (December). These months – and a leap month – were gradually replaced by the Julian or Roman calendar months. The claim of the 8th Century Northumbrian monk Bede (672-735) that the the etymology of Easter, from Eostre, was related to a Germanic theonym – the name for a god – is true enough, as indeed the etymology of the seven English days of the week and most of the 12 Roman months we use today. But even when Bede wrote pagan customs were already being supressed into a distant memory. For Bede himself, and for the Christian kings of Northumbria whom Bede served, “Easter” was wholly a Christian celebration.
The Anglo-Saxon term “Easter-Month” had been in common use for the month of April including the Christian Passover-tide, in Latin and Greek “Pascha”, but with only Christian connotations for nearly 800 years from 7th Century to 1526 when it was first used in a Bible for Passover. The first widely distributed English Bible by Wycliffe had had “Pask” (from Greek and Latin Pascha) in Acts 12:4.
“Easter” was first introduced into English Bibles by William Tyndale following Luther’s “Ostern” in German:
The first widely distributed English Bible by Wycliffe had had “Pask” (from Greek and Latin Pascha) in Acts 12:4.
Acts 12:4 And when he had caught Peter, he sent him into prison; and betook him to four quaternions of knights, to keep him, and would after pask bring him forth to the people (Wycliffe Bible c.1385)
“Easter” was first introduced into English Bibles by William Tyndale following Luther’s “Ostern” in German.
Apg. 12:4 Da er ihn nun griff, legte er ihn ins Gefängnis und überantwortete ihn vier Rotten, je von vier Kriegsknechten, ihn zu bewahren, und gedachte, ihn nach Ostern dem Volk vorzustellen. (Luther 1522)
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 people. (Tyndale 1526)
Note that Luther used “Ostern” for Greek pascha in other instances in German such as John 13:1, and “Osterlamm” (Easter lamb) in 1 Corinthians 5:7. Tyndale followed these:
John 13:1 Before the feast of ester… (Tyndale)
1 Corinthians 5:7 Pourge therfore the olde leven that ye maye be newe dowe as ye are swete breed. For Christ oure esterlambe is offered vp for vs. (Tyndale)
Tyndale did this not because Easter was pagan, but because like Luther he was on a mission to de-latinize the Bible from what he and Luther considered Catholic terminology. The Latin “pascha” evidently sounded too churchy for Tyndale.
However Bibles based on Tyndale’s translation gradually removed “Easter” from subsequent versions, leaving only Acts 12:4 which was read as a season of the year given the context of Herod keeping Peter in prison.
Acts 12:4 And when he had caught hym, he put hym in pryson also, and delyuered hym to foure quaternions of souldiers to be kept, intendyng after Easter to bryng hym foorth to the people (Bishops’ Bible 1568)
The so-called “breeches Bible” used by Shakespeare and his generation removed “Easter” by the 1599 printing:
Acts 12:4 And when he had caught him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to be kept, intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people. (Geneva Bible 1599)
But the Authorized Version retained it:
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. (King James Version 1611)
Today most Bibles use the word “Passover” in Acts 12:4.