Easter as We Know It - The Passover Controversy

An excerpt from "The Church and the Jews" by Daniel Gruber

At first the Christian Passover was celebrated at the same time as the Jewish; this simultaneous observance was preserving the Jewish ritual in the Christian festival, and strengthening the bonds between Christianity and Judaism. Until the date was changed.

At the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. it was decided that all the churches should celebrate the Passover, or actually Easter, on the ecclesiastically chosen Sunday rather than the Biblical date. All the churches were thus informed. The Emperor Constantine sent his personal exhortation to all the churches concerning the decision of the Council.

What the Emperor said had great weight. After all, Constantine was the one who had ended the persecution of the churches. He was the founder of the Holy Roman Empire. He openly, personally professed the Christian faith. He had convened the council. The churches, therefore, were more than willing to hear whatever he had to say to them.

What he had to say to them is a clear presentation of the sentiment and theology that ruled in the Council of Nicea. It expresses what then became the nearly universal sentiment and theology of the Church.

In Emperor Constantine’s letter to all the churches he declared the following:

“When the question arose concerning the most holy day of Easter, it was decreed by common consent to be expedient, that this festival should be celebrated on the same day by all, in every place. For what can be more beautiful, what more venerable and becoming, than that this festival, from which we receive the hope of immortality, should be suitably observed by all in one and the same order, and by a certain rule. And truly, in the first place, it seemed to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches, having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds.

“It is fit, therefore, that, rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order, which we have kept from the first day of our Lord’s passion even to the present times. Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews. We have received another method from the Savior. A more lawful and proper course is open to our most holy religion. In pursuing this course with a unanimous consent, let us withdraw ourselves, my much honored brethren, from that most odious fellowship.”

In this letter, Constantine officially establishes an anti-Judaic foundation for the doctrine and practice of the Church, and declares that contempt for the Jews, and separation from them, is the only proper Christian attitude.

Constantine attributed this anti-Judaic foundation to Jesus and commands, with all the authority of the Emperor, that the entire Church accept and promote such attitudes, doctrine, and practice, since whatever the bishops decide in council is the will of God. He threatens that any dissent from these views must be considered highly criminal.

The relationship of Church and State which began under Constantine was seen as the greatest blessing of God. There was an end to what had seemed like endless persecution. But with that end of persecution and the beginning of a new alliance came great compromises which have distorted the nature of the Church to this day.

The Church ceased to be the Church of Jesus, and became the Church of Constantine. It was no longer the bride of Messiah. It had become the bride of Caesar.

Under Constantine, Eusebius wrote a history of the Church that pointedly eliminated any positive reference to the restoration of Israel and the earthly reign of Jesus. The only place that remained for the Jews in the plan and purpose of God was to serve as the earthly, temporal representation of the eternal misery and condemnation that awaited all who were outside the Church.

The Church was now officially set against and set in opposition to the Jews. Thus was established the anti-Judaic foundation on which both doctrine and practice were then built. The historical and theological eradication of the Jews prepared the way for the “lawful” attempts to physically eradicate them.

Paul had warned the Gentile believers in Rome, “Don’t be arrogant towards the natural branches. Don’t be ignorant of God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people.” There were three things that especially characterize the theology and practice of the Constantinian church, the church built on an anti-Judaic foundation: 1. Arrogance towards the Jews; 2. Ignorance of God’s plan for Israel and the transformation of the world; and 3. A leadership that has acted as lord and not as servant.

Daniel Gruber is a Jewish Messianic scholar and long-term mentor of John W. Mauck. He has written numerous books that focus on the intersection of government and faith--including Judaism, Christianity, and law. Visit his website for more information.