Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | April 8, 2020

When Is Easter?

(5 Minute Read plus video)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)

Easter celebrates Christ’s Resurrection, and this year Easter is Sunday, April 12. Last year we celebrated Easter on April 21 — a fairly late date.

Unlike Christmas, which is always celebrated on December 25, Easter varies from year to year. In the Western church, Easter ranges from March 22 through April 25 — never earlier, never later.

Why do the dates for Easter change every year? How is the date determined?

Easter Birthdays

I have occasionally enjoyed celebrating my birthday on Easter Sunday. It’s happened 3 times so far in my lifetime, but it won’t happen again until I’m 98. But then I won’t have to wait long for it to happen again — when I’m 104, and then 109. I may not last till the next few times when I’m 155 and 166 and 177.

If I were to live for hundreds of years as the Genesis patriarchs did, I would celebrate my birthday again on Easter Sunday when I’m 318, 324, and 329 years old.

Noah’s grandfather Methuselah enjoyed 969 birthdays (Genesis 5:27). But despite having so many birthdays, he never celebrated his birthday on Easter. Neither did any of the other Genesis patriarchs. Can you figure out why?

One of our children was born on Easter. Our children have had Easter birthdays at ages 3, 8, 8, 11, 22. They’ll have future Easter birthdays at ages 33, 44, 55, 70, 73, 81, 84, 87, 92, 92, 95, 98, 103, 106.

If your birthday is March 23, then 2008 is likely the only year you would ever celebrate your birthday on Easter. The last time Easter was on March 23 was 107 years ago in 1913. And the next time is 140 years from now in 2160 AD.

But it’s even worse if your birthday is March 22 — you will never see your birthday fall on Easter. The last Easter on March 22 was 202 years ago in 1818, and the next time will be 265 years from now in 2285.

This year’s April 12 date for Easter is fairly common. It last occurred in 1998 and 2009. The most frequent date for Easter is April 19.

Jesus was resurrected during Passover Week.
So why don’t Easter and Passover coincide?
Why do the dates change every year?

Passover and Easter

This year Passover begins on Wednesday, April 8, prior to Easter on Sunday, April 12. This is similar to the original Easter when Passover began the week before the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead.

But Passover and Easter are not always scheduled this way relative to each other. For example, in 2008 Easter was on March 23, well before Passover began on Saturday, April 19.

Why are Easter and Passover sometimes so different? Wasn’t Jesus crucified and raised during Passover Week? Shouldn’t Easter and Passover coincide? Why do the dates for Easter and Passover change every year? Why isn’t Easter always the Sunday following the beginning of Passover?

To add to the confusion, Easter is usually celebrated on different dates in the Eastern Orthodox and Western churches. In 2017 both East and West celebrated Easter the same day on April 16. But this happens only occasionally. The next time East and West celebrate Easter the same day will be April 20, 2025.

This year (2020) the East celebrates Easter on April 19 and the West celebrates on April 12. But next year (2021) the East celebrates on May 2 and the West celebrates on April 4. In 2024 they will be separated by more than a month with the West celebrating on March 31 and the East on May 5.

What is the reason for the differences between Passover and the eastern and western Easter dates?

The reason is that different calendars and different rules are used to determine the dates. The Passover celebration begins the 15th of Nissan in the Hebrew calendar and lasts for eight days.

The confusion over Easter goes all the way back to the early centuries of the Christian church. In 325 AD the Council of Nicea (present-day Iznik in northwestern Turkey) tried to resolve the issue. The Eastern bishops from eastern Europe and western Asia supported scheduling Easter at Passover. Their primary reason was that this agreed with the Gospels. Moreover, most Eastern Christians had Jewish roots, so this fit well with their established tradition.

But Western bishops, with few Jews in their areas, preferred a date connected with the beginning of spring to coincide with pagan celebrations.

The Council of Nicea could not agree on a dating schedule for Easter except that Easter would be celebrated on Sunday. Previously it had been celebrated on any day of the week.

Emperor Constantine, who had convened the Council, distributed a post-council letter. He urged a uniform observance of Easter that did not use the Jewish calendar because he reasoned that Jews had crucified Jesus.

Empty Tomb

Easter Rules

No standard formula for determining the date for Easter was used throughout the west till about 600-700 AD. Then Easter was scheduled as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, thereby tying Easter to the start of spring. Some technical adjustments involve definitions of “full moon” and “vernal equinox,” but this is approximately correct.

The “Paschal full moon” used for determining Easter is an ecclesiastical date read from tables, not an astronomical full moon date. These tables were constructed in 325 AD so that the date for Easter could be calculated in advance rather than basing it on astronomical observations which were less predictable back then.

The Paschal full moon is the first ecclesiastical full moon after March 20 which was the vernal equinox in 325 AD. Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon.

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar (instituted by Julius Caesar) and published new dates for Easter. By the 1700’s most of the West used the Gregorian calendar.

The Eastern church, however, still used the Julian calendar with different Easter dates. In 1923 the Eastern Orthodox church shifted to a modified Gregorian calendar and set the date by the astronomical full moon at Jerusalem and the true vernal equinox at Jerusalem.

The Eastern church also requires Easter to occur after the Jewish Passover, since it originally occurred this way. In the Eastern Orthodox church, Easter always falls between April 4 and May 8.

Over the years some have proposed standardizing Easter. Early in the 1900’s a fixed date was proposed. This was approved by the Second Vatican Council in 1963, provided Christian churches reached consensus. The second Sunday in April is the usual suggestion, but no agreement has been reached.

In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a method for both East and West to use. The Gregorian calendar would be used and both vernal equinox and the Paschal full moon would be determined through astronomical calculations based at Jerusalem’s meridian. No action has been taken.

Easter remains variable and there is no consistency among Passover, Western Easter, and Eastern Easter.


Dates may vary, but the essential unifying factor is that Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Two thousand years ago Jesus of Nazareth was savagely beaten, tortured, nailed to a cross, killed, and buried. After three days and three nights He rose from the dead. His tomb is empty!
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
(Ephesians 1:18-21)

Death is humanity’s common fate. Everyone eventually faces death. To live at peace in life, one needs to be prepared for death. Since Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20), we know death has been conquered. Faith in Christ and His resurrection is the only sufficient preparation for death.

Here is a 4-minute YouTube video of a new Easter hymn Christ Our Hope in Life and Death that was just released in March. The song provides the answer to the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism’s question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”


Questions to Ponder

1. What ray of hope can shine into your heart today because of Christ’s resurrection?
2. How can you prepare your mind and heart today to make celebrating Easter more meaningful?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

For Christ and His Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria. Alere Flammam Veritatis.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday April 8, 2020 A.D.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

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  1. Thank you for this very insightful and thought provoking article.
    Praise God for Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and forgiveness through Him.
    Blessings to you for keeping on.


    • Thanks for reading and commenting and for your encouraging words.


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