If you were taught Latin or attended a church that referenced Latin liturgy, you might have heard the word “Pascha” around Easter time. You may have wondered, "what is pascha?" This word has a particularly potent meaning in the Bible, a meaning that cuts to the heart of Passover and Easter.
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What Does Pascha Mean?
According to the King James New Testament Greek Lexicon, pascha is an Aramaic word used multiple times in the New Testament to describe items involved in the Passover. First, pascha referred to the paschal lamb or paschal sacrifice, the lamb that Israelites killed to spread its blood over their doors while living in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-27). That night, the Lord came over Egypt to kill every firstborn son but did not enter any house with the blood over the door. (Exodus 12:28-30) As a result of this act, Pharoah finally agreed to Moses’ demand that the Israelites be freed from slavery (Exodus 12:31-42).
Second, pascha referred to the Passover feast, where the Israelites commemorated their release from slavery. Exodus 12:43-13:16 describes the instructions that God gave Moses about how the Israelites should perform this feast, passing it on to their children as “a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:16). This feast always took place on the first month of the Hebrew new year, when God gave Moses and Aaron instructions to perform the first Passover (Exodus 12:2).
The four gospels use the word pascha various times to refer to the Passover, such as Matthew 26:18 when Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”
Where Does Pascha Come From?
As mentioned above, pascha is an Aramaic word, and scholars list it as connected to Pecach or Pacach, the Hebrew words for Passover. The Israelites would have referred to the feast and lamb as pecach or pacach since they spoke Hebrew, the language that most of the Old Testament is written in. A few passages were written in Aramaic, and the Hebrew alphabet system developed from the Imperial Aramaic alphabet system. Many Hebrew-speaking people who observe Passover today still call it Pecach (although the feast is usually called seder).
The New Testament uses pascha to talk about the Passover because most of the New Testament is written in Aramaic or Koine Greek. In Jesus’ time, some Jews still spoke Hebrew and knew at least a little of it from religious education classes, but mostly they spoke Aramaic. Aramaic was a widely used international trade language, with different dialects depending on where people were from – Peter’s way of speaking Aramaic singled him out as a Galilean (). Other sections of the New Testament are written in Koine Greek, another internationally-used language. So, the New Testament uses pascha instead of pecach because of the subjects and writers’ language.
Is Pascha the Same Thing as Easter?
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the term pascha took on a new meaning. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains that early Christians kept celebrating Passover, since they saw Jesus as “the true paschal lamb” and didn’t need to invent a new feast or holiday to celebrate his resurrection. However, many early Christians did add a fast to their Passover ceremony, usually “ending at the hour of the crucifixion, i.e., at 3 o’clock on Friday… [or] continuing until the hour of the resurrection before dawn on Easter morning.”
Over time, Christians began moving away from the Passover calendar and celebrating Pascha as a separate event that we now call Easter. The entry on Easter in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia also mentions that the term Easter comes from “the Anglo-Saxon Eastre or Estera, a Teutonic goddess to whom sacrifice was offered in April, so the name was transferred to the paschal feast.” Some denominations, particularly ones that still use Latin or Greek in their liturgies, still refer to Easter as Pascha.
The Council of Nicaea decreed Christians would celebrate Easter on a Sunday, although this didn’t settle the debate for all churches. Ultimately, the Julian and Gregorian church calendars have different dates for Easter, with the two Easter dates shifting each year depending on the spring equinox.
Was Jesus the Paschal Lamb?
Pascha as Passover, and Passover as Easter, aren’t just connected because Jesus died during Passover. While God required the Israelites to kill animals as sacrifices of various kinds, Hebrews 10:3-4 affirms that these sacrifices couldn’t truly take away sins. Something greater than killing lambs and bulls was necessary to pay for people’s sins, especially since God rejected the sacrifices as empty worship in times when the Israelites were rebelling (Isaiah 1:11).
Robert E. Coleman writes in Written In Blood: A Devotional Study of the Blood of Jesus, about how these sacrifices pointed to something greater:
The Old Testament sacrifices were a foreshadowing of the perfect one to come – a setting forth in advance of “heavenly things” (Hebrews 9:11, 23-25; 8:5; 10:1; Colossians 2:16-17). In symbol and prophecy they spoke of that day when Christ Himself would offer His blood on the cross.
The New Testament shows in several places that Jesus fulfilled what God hintied at in his instructions to kill the paschal lamb so that death would pass over them. When Jesus went to John for baptism, John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
While Jesus was doing his ministry, he told a crowd, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:54–55). The Jews were used to killing the paschal lamb (or Passover lamb) and eating it. They did not drink lamb’s blood, but since blood represented life, they were in a sense taking the paschal lamb’s blood. Jesus knew that by believing in him, people were taking of his life that would soon be given for them.
When Jesus and his disciples met in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal, he introduced new actions to the feast. He held up the bread and said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matthew 26:26). He held up the cup and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Charles Stanley explains how these actions brought new meaning to the Passover supper in more detail. The key point is that by saying these words during the Passover meal, the paschal feast, Jesus told his disciples that he was the paschal lamb.
What Bible Passages Talk About Jesus Being the Passover Lamb?
After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, the apostles wrote about him being the paschal lamb in more overt terms. 1 Peter 1:19 establishes we are saved by “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” This reference to “without spot or blemish” matches God’s instructions to Moses and Aaron that the paschal lamb had to be perfect (Exodus 12:5).
In 1 Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to repent of sexual immorality and behave like new creations. He tells the Corinthian Christians, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
Revelation refers multiple times to a Lamb who is worthy, who was slain (Revelation 5:12), and whose blood was ransomed for humanity (Revelation 5:9). This lamb of God is Jesus, who gave himself as a sacrifice for humanity’s sins (Ephesians 5:2).
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G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,200 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
Learn more about the meaning and significance behind the Easter holiday and Holy Week celebrations:
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What is Maundy Thursday?
What is Good Friday?
What is Holy Saturday?
What is Easter?
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