Easter weekend is around the corner. So let’s have some fun revisiting one of the more entertaining translational errors in the King James Bible, 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.
Acts 12:4 is Luke’s account of Peter’s arrest. If you remember the context, Luke describes how Herod begins to persecute the Christians, particularly some of the prominent leaders in the Jerusalem Church. He starts with killing James, the brother of John, and when Herod sees that his actions pleased the political Jewish leaders, he has Peter arrested and imprisoned. The King James Bible, however, seems to indicate that Herod intended to have Peter publicly executed after the Christian Easter celebration.
That raises a serious question. If the KJV is saying that Herod was waiting until after the Christians’ Easter Sunday passed: Why would Herod have Christian leaders killed, then turn around and show honor to Easter, the religious holiday celebrated by the very Christians he is persecuting?
It doesn’t make sense.
Any good study Bible, however, will point out in a footnote that Easter in Luke 12:4 is a mistranslation. The Greek word translating Easter is pascha and it is better translated as Passover, referencing the Jewish holy day. In fact, pascha is translated as Passover in the King James in every other place it is used by the biblical writers; and rightly so, because it is so clear from the context that it is the Jewish Passover.
The translation of Passover, then, would make Acts 12:4 read with a whole lot more sense. Herod, in order to show his friendly political side to the Jews, would wait until after they celebrated their holy day in order to deal with this Christian schismatic.
Now, how do the King James Only apologists deal with this obvious mistake?
I remember when I was a young enthusiastic KJV onlyist. I was learning about how great the KJV was compared to the modern Bible perversion stuff. When I read Acts 12:4, I was troubled by what I thought was a mistake in the KJV. Surely God’s divine providence working in the lives of the KJV translators would not direct them to make a horrible error like mistranslating pascha as Easter. Here I had my informed reason conflicting with my imaginative KJV onlysim. I was so trouble by the verse and what my Ryrie study Bible footnote told me, that I wrote to the one person I thought could help me with an answer: G.A. Riplinger.
That’s right. A kook conspiracy theorist with a degree in interior design was going to lend me some insight with biblical translation.
Keep in mind that at the time I wrote her, I believed she was a man. She initialized her name so as to hide from her readers the fact she was a woman. My letter began with “Dear Sir.” You can imagine my dismay when I found out much later that the G.A. was the name of a woman.
At any rate, Gail did in fact write me back, and sent two articles along with her letter. One was written by KJVO apologist, Sam Gipp, while the other was anonymous. Now, what exactly does the person do who believes God’s Word is only preserved and permanently fixed in one English translation so that any revision or correction is changing the very Word of God?
Why of course… make up some fanciful interpretation that exonerates the KJV’s clumsy translation, and that is exactly what those two articles did.
The KJV only rebuttal boils down to two key arguments:
1) King Herod was a pagan, not a Jewish believer, so he would be the last person celebrating the Passover. He was involved with the worship of Isthar or Astarte, the Chaldean name for the Queen of Heaven. Our English word Easter is derived from it, or so argues the KJVO apologist.
2) More importantly is Acts 12:3, a key verse in understanding why God had the KJV translators use Easter instead of Passover when they translated pascha. The last sentence reads, Then were the Days of Unleaven bread. The solution hinges on the word, Days. The Passover began the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar. The Days of Unleavened bread started after Passover. Peter was imprisoned during the Days of Unleavened bread, which means the actual Passover day had already come and gone. We create a contradiction if we change the KJV from Easter to Passover at Acts 12:4. So this is an instance of God maintaining the integrity of His revelation.
Let’s examine those clever solutions one at a time.
The “Herod is a pagan worshiper” argument
First, there is no historical evidence anywhere suggesting that Herod was a religiously practicing pagan. It would had been political suicide if he were. If anything, Herod was a secular pagan who recognized his need to retain a good working relationship with the Jewish leadership. He wanted to keep his post and the last thing he needed was problems with the Roman government because the Jews were complaining about his paganism.
Additionally, the claim Easter is a word derived from a Chaldean goddess, is even more problematic. That is entirely false as well. It is a concept originating from the fever swamps of a discredited pseudo-historian by the name of Alexander Hislop. He wrote a book entitled, The Two Babylons, in which he attempts to draw an abundance of imaginative parallels between the sacramental practices and iconography of the Roman Catholic Church with ancient Babylonian worship ceremonies. Again, no historical proof exists suggesting that anyone, especially a public political figure like Herod, practiced any form of Chaldean goddess worship in Israel at that time.
More significantly, however, is that Easter derives from Eostre, a Saxon goddess of the dawn (hence the word “east,” from where the sun rises), not from a Middle Eastern Chaldean goddess. Herod could not know about a goddess from a culture he never knew existed and that was thousands of miles away from where he lived.
The Days of Unleavened Bread argument
Then lastly, the actual Passover day is never separated from the Days of Unleavened bread in the Bible. The two descriptions are used interchangeably to describe the same holiday. Even the KJV itself affirms that in Exodus 12:15-18, 13:6-7, Leviticus 23:5-6, and Numbers 28:16-25. Luke 22:1 could not be clearer (c.f. Exodus 23:15) where it states, the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover.
On the surface, the KJV solution does sound credible. I can see how a person who is clueless about ancient pagan worship practices could possibly believe the KJV onlyst’s claim about Herod’s paganism.
The clincher, however, is the distinction KJV onlyists make between the Passover and the Days of Unleavened bread. One may know nothing about ancient paganism, but once he does any meaningful Bible study, it becomes painfully obvious the KJV only apologetic for Easter doesn’t hold any water. The argument is solely designed to protect the text of the KJV from any meaningful revision. The apologetic falls apart under any amount of serious scrutiny. It is time to kick this fat Easter rabbit and move on.