It’s been a few years now since I started researching Catholicism and sharing all the things I’ve been learning here on the site.
(For those of you who aren’t familiar with my backstory, I was raised Protestant, married into a Catholic family, and am now doing a ton of research on Catholic vs. Protestant beliefs to see what each side believes and why.
I’m neither Protestant nor Catholic. Just a devoted, Bible-believing Christian.)
Thankfully, as I’ve shared these posts, most people have been super supportive and genuinely interested in learning more about what everyone believes and why, and that’s great!
But occasionally I’ll get concerned email asking for further clarification…
I get emails asking questions like, “Where is Lent in the Bible?” “Is Lent Biblical?” or “What does the Bible say about Lent?”
And that’s great too!
Honestly, I think it’s wonderful when Christian women don’t just automatically shut out people who think differently than they do, but they ask real questions that foster real, open discussion among believers.
So today, I wanted to answer your questions: “Where is Lent in the Bible?” “Is Lent Biblical?” and “What does the Bible say about the Lent?”
I hope you find it interesting 🙂
What is Lent?
For those of you who aren’t super familiar with Lent, who may be wondering “Where is Lent in the Bible?” or “Is Lent Biblical…”
Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter in which many Christians reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection.
Not all Christian denominations celebrate Lent, but many do. Lent definitely isn’t just for Catholics!
Christians who do participate in Lent typically do so in a number of different ways. While Catholics will typically participate by getting ashes on their foreheads and following special Lenten fasting rules, everyone can participate by choosing something to give up for Lent, going to church, or by committing to praying Lenten prayers for spiritual renewal.
It’s kind of like Christmas… While there are several traditions most families have in common, everyone prepares for Jesus’s coming in their own special way. The only difference is: Advent helps Christians prepare their hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth. Lent helps Christians prepare their hearts to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.
When is Lent?
This year, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 22, 2023 (Ash Wednesday) and ends on Thursday, April 6, 2023 (Holy Thursday).
The exact dates of Lent vary every year, but the Lenten season always starts on a Wednesday and ends on the Thursday before Easter each year.
What is the History of Lent?
Unfortunately, the exact history of Lent is a bit unclear.
You see, Lent didn’t begin as a specific Biblical command or mandate, so if you’re looking for “Where is Lent in the Bible?” you’re not going to find it explicitly mentioned.
Instead, most sources agree that Lent began organically, on a much smaller scale, and then grew over time as people added to it.
According to “The Beginning of Lent” (from ChristianityToday.com): “Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.”
We do know that the history of Lent began soon after Jesus’s time, however.
According to the same article on ChristianityToday, “Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar.” In fact, Christians were participating in Lent before they even formally decided which books would make it into the Bible. That’s pretty early.
Though of course Lent didn’t look quite the same back then as it does today.
That’s because, since there was no official mandate on how Lent must be celebrated, various Christian denominations developed their own sets of rules and guidelines over time for how the Lenten season would be celebrated, if at all.
This is why Catholics celebrate a specific 40 day period with lots of precise guidelines (the Catholic church has been around for a long time), while Protestant churches vary widely in how they participate, if they participate at all.
Some Christians actually refuse to participate in Lent because they believe today’s Lenten ideas grew out of ancient pagan practices, or because they are wary of following man-made traditions. It is worth noting, however, that both Christmas and Easter also have roots in Paganism, and yet we still love to celebrate both holidays with all of our favorite man-made traditions (such as Christmas trees and gifts).
In fact, there are LOTS of traditions Christians follow that aren’t explicitly mentioned in Scripture, such as praying the sinner’s prayer, hosting Wednesday night potlucks, attending midnight Mass, or even reading daily devotionals.
Just because something isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong.
(For more on this, see Who Has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura)
Personally, I enjoy challenging myself to give something up for Lent, and we do follow the Lenten dietary rules in my house (because they’re all Catholic but me). I find both of these practices helpful for my faith, and I look forward to them each year.
But that’s what *I* choose to do. And you can decide how you’d like to participate as well, as long as it’s in keeping with the spirit of the holiday.
As the same article on the history of Lent on ChristianityToday.com also goes on to say: “Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter.”
Thinking of Giving Something Up for Lent This Year?
While giving something up for Lent is completely optional, many people find it to be a helpful Spiritual discipline.
So if you’re thinking about giving something up for Lent this year, you want to make sure you choose the perfect thing — and this free “What Should I Give Up for Lent” printable worksheet will help you find the perfect thing!
Plus, not only will it help you come up with the best things to give up for Lent for you personally, but it will help you identify how you’re doing spiritually, find YOUR biggest spiritual obstacles and identify the solutions that will work best for you!
And best of all — it’s free!
I’d be happy to send it to you. Just let me know where to send it!
Where is Lent in the Bible? Is Lent Biblical?
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
So to answer the question, “Where is Lent in the Bible?” Lent isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible at all.
Lent isn’t an explicit Biblical command. Jesus never instructed us how to follow Lent, and the original apostles did not observe Lent themselves. Instead, the practice of Lent grew over time because people wanted to observe it and they found the practice helpful.
(Similarly, to answer the question, “Is Ash Wednesday Biblical?” — Ash Wednesday is not explicitly named in the Bible either.)
The fact that Lent isn’t in the Bible does NOT mean that Lent is anti-Biblical, however. In fact, many of the elements of Lent and the ways people celebrate Lent are in the Bible.
For example, repentance, fasting, mourning with ashes, self-examination, self-sacrifice, attending church, and giving to the poor are all VERY Biblical concepts and commands, as is the number “40,” which shows up time and time again.
You can find these Lenten Themes in the Bible here:
- Bible Verses about Repentance: Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, 2 Peter 3:9
- Bible Verses about Fasting: Joel 2:12, Nehemiah 1:4, Matthew 6:16-18
- Bible Verses about Ashes: Job 42:6, Daniel 9:3, Esther 4:3
- Bible Verses about Self-Examination: Psalm 139:23-24, 1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5
- Bible Verses about Self-Sacrifice: Matthew 10:39, Romans 12:1, Hebrews 13:16
- Bible Verses about Attending Church: Psalm 150:1, Acts 2:42, Hebrews 10:24-25
- Bible Verses about Giving to the Poor: Proverbs 19:17, Luke 6:38, 2 Corinthians 9:7
- Bible Verses including the Number 40: Genesis 7:4, Exodus 24:18, Jonah 3:4, Matthew 4:1-2
Plus, many people voluntarily choose to give something up for Lent or to start a new spiritual discipline such as praying daily Lenten prayers or reading the Bible in order to grow spiritually during the Lenten season.
So while Lent itself isn’t in the Bible, most of the ways Catholics and Protestants celebrate Lent are in the Bible.
But What About Catholic Lent? Is Catholic Lent Biblical? Is Ash Wednesday Biblical?
Of course, while I personally view Lent as a “helpful but not obligatory” practice for me personally, Catholic Christians do have more specific rules and obligations they follow, so it’s worth talking about Catholic Lent practices as well.
For example, it’s important to note:
- Ash Wednesday is NOT a holy day of obligation, so Catholics do not have to go to church and get ashes on Ash Wednesday. (Many do, but it’s not a requirement.)
- Giving something up for Lent is also NOT a requirement for any Christian denomination.
- However, Catholics are expected to follow certain dietary guidelines throughout Lent. (You can get a whole breakdown of what Catholics can and cannot eat during Lent here)
For more information about why Catholics participate in Lent and why, I love the video “Where is Lent in the Bible” by Father Mike at Ascension Presents.
Father Mike is a Catholic priest (with an active Youtube presence) who always does such a great job of explaining what Catholics believe and why in a way that’s fair, welcoming, and kind. He doesn’t use a lot of Catholic jargon that’s hard to understand, and he’s never rude, annoying or preachy. You can tell he’s genuinely excited and passionate about being Catholic (which is great!), but his messages are still very accessible and approachable for curious non-Catholics (like me!) as well.
So if you’ve been wondering “Is Ash Wednesday Biblical?” or “Why do Catholics celebrate Lent?” this video will help.
What Does the Bible Say About Lent in 1 Timothy 4:3-4?
In the interest of full disclosure, as I was researching this question of “Where is Lent in the Bible?” I did come across one passage that initially threw me for a loop:
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” —1 Timothy 4:1-4
This passage really made me stop and think, because it seems very anti-Lent on the initial reading. But a little understanding into the history of what was going on in the Church at that time helps clear it up:
So first, it’s important to understand that when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, he was writing to a specific person in a specific situation at a specific time.
(In other words, while we can read and benefit greatly from Paul’s letter today, his words weren’t specifically written TO us in the exact situations we face today.)
In that time, many of the early Christians were Jewish people who were used to following a TON of Jewish law. In fact, pre-Christ, their entire salvation rested on their ability to follow ALLLL these Old Testament rules to the letter. If they messed up, it meant being cut off from God and their people.
As a result, the Jewish people of this time took the laws VERY seriously–and for good reason!
However, when Christ came and replaced the Old Testament legal system with the New Testament system of grace, many of the early Christians were still understandably very confused about which rules they still had to follow and which rules they could safely disregard.
You can see this elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Galatians 5:12 (Paul arguing that Christians don’t have to be circumcised to be saved) and 1 Corinthians 8 (Paul arguing that it’s okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols).
Well, in this 1 Timothy passage, apparently there was a minority group called the “Encratites” who were trying to forbid Christians from ever marrying or eating meat.
They thought meat and marriage were morally wrong for all Christians everywhere, and they were preaching this heresy widely enough that it was causing problems. (You can read more about the Encratites here)
So, when Paul wrote 1 Timothy 4:3-4, he wasn’t condemning the practice of temporarily fasting from certain foods as a helpful spiritual discipline (which is encouraged elsewhere in Scripture). He was speaking in opposition to the ideas of one specific group of people, whose incorrect teachings were confusing the beliefs of a young and impressionable church.
To be clear, Catholics today do not practice Lent or abstain from meat in order to earn salvation. They do it simply as a helpful spiritual discipline to focus their hearts and minds on Jesus in the 6 weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’s death and resurrection.
What I’m Doing for Lent 2023
Personally, as a very committed Christian who is neither Catholic nor Protestant, I will be participating in Lent this year, just like I do every year. I find it a helpful spiritual practice, and I’m happy to do it.
It doesn’t bother me at all that the answer to “Where is Lent in the Bible” is “It isn’t exactly, but parts of it are.”
I share why in this article I did for Busted Halo: “I’m Not Catholic, But Lent Is Just What My Busy Soul Needs“
As well as in the beginning of my article: What Should I Give Up for Lent? Here’s 50 New Ideas to Try
I’ve never gone to church on Ash Wednesday or gotten ashes on my forehead.
But I do follow this Catholic Lent eating guide every year.
And instead of giving something up, I typically choose to add something in.
For a few years, I read through the Catholic Catechism each year during Lent. I read through the remaining 7 books in the Catholic Bible (that I hadn’t read before). Then, this year and last year, I’ve been reading through a few books on church history and what the early church fathers believed centuries ago.
(I’m also planning on reading through the entire NLT Chronological Bible I received for Christmas last year as my New Year’s Resolution, but that isn’t necessarily for Lent.)
Then, depending on what I read, I may go ahead and make an appointment with a priest to ask for clarification on any questions I still have at that point. We’ll see.
But that’s what I’m planning for this year!
*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps cover the many costs of running this site and allows me to help provide for my growing family. Thank you!
Are you participating in Lent this year? Are there any other Scripture verses related to Lent in the Bible that I should know about? Feel free to share below!
Hi! I really enjoyed your post! I am catholic and I was unsure about eggs, so this was informative for me. I just wanted to say, you should just come on and join us already! Nothing compares to receiving Jesus in the Eucharist (Communion)! The activities during Lent are also very helpful for repentance, like the stations of the Cross and the Living Stations (live reenactment of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday). I am very thankful to have married into a Catholic family and that I am raising my children catholic and they will able to receive the sacraments. My 4 year old already knows the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Guardian Angel. She knew the Our Father since she was 3. I grew up in the Methodist church and also knew the Our Father very well, but not until I was much older. I really like the fact that the catholic church is very structured in its class requirements for sacraments and I have learned so much since joining the Church 7 years ago. Also the sacrament of Penance (Confession) really helps you develop conscious awareness of sin and overcome sins with the help of Jesus. The way Catholics see salvation can be related to a marriage. If you say you love your husband, but you never spend time with him, never make any sacrifices for him, do you really love him? Catholics, like Protestants, believe that our works are not what saves us, but they are how we show we truly love the Lord. I do believe the salvation prayer begins to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life, but the sacraments are 100xs more powerful. Its like if you had been ignoring your husband and then you write him a letter apologizing and then think that is the last thing you have to do to have a happy marriage, it does not make sense. No you write the letter and then you start changing your behavior and seek counseling if needed and then your chances of a successful marriage increase. Their are so many verses in the bible that explain salvation not easy (Romans 3:8, 10:9, Matthew 7:13, 19:24-26, 25:41-42) Yes faith is by grace and a gift we could have never earned on our own (Ephesians 2:8), but how do we come to be in a state of grace? If I am living with a man and we are not married, if I say the salvation prayer, am I really going straight to heaven, although I refuse to turn from my sin? This seems to be a dangerous doctrine.
Lent is yet another man made fabrication (of which the Catholic church is master at and then defending its wrongness in direct opposition to JC’s words) and not of the bible or of the church of Jesus Christ.
Yes the individual aspects are biblical and admirable to follow but the combination is man made and not to be confused with Jesus’s teachings. It’s important to constantly read the bible to know and follow the true teachings of JC in your true, personal relationship with Yeshua. Otherwise we end up following the fabricated man made version – a slippery slope of misinformation and confusion, cemented as pseudo-truth over the centuries, as has happened here.
We are all Christians of the church of JC first – following only his word, not the religious diversions of it. We all have our place on the battlefield as fellow Christians of different denominations and must discern and respect God’s individual plan for each of us, for in turn, to come together in full support of each other and JC in victory as God plans it.
Here’s a very good source for the history of Lent: http://www.dailycatholic.org/hislengu.htm. May our Lord be with you in your journey towards salvation!
Thank you for this very interesting article and all the links that helped me look at specific areas I was curious about. Like many Christians, I have given up a variety of things during Lent and even knew the basic idea of what Lent was about. This year I would like to add praying specifically that all Christians unite in love , instead of the anger, and divisions I have seen so many do these past few years. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. As to giving up something. I have decided to do that this year, although I haven't for many years. I have developed the bad habit of staying in bed after waking, for long periods. I read devotionals. scroll through a little social media, text others, and pet the cats. A luxury since retiring. But it has gotten in the way of true Bible study time, time with my husband , and keeping the house more tidy. It is time to give that up. It will be hard, but isn't the point? sacrifice isn't about giving of our excess or out of guilt. It is about truly giving something personal, for the right reasons…to glorify God. Thank you Jesus as you bless each of reading and sharing from our hearts!
Thank you for sharing what you are doing for Lent. I love that you are adding prayer in addition to giving up something.
Matthew 6 verse 1 says “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
It goes on to list things you are to do in private and fasting is one of them (verses 16 &17)
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen;"
The very nature of Lent announces to the world that you are fasting – be it food or an activity or something else. Not only is Lent not commanded, it actually violates Jesus' command.
I do not celebrate Christmas (Jesus asked us to remember his death, burial, and resurrection) or Passover as I am not now nor would I have been then a Jew. Matthew 15:9 warns against man made restrictions. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Likewise the Bible set all the positions the church is authorized to have. Any position outside these are unscriptural. Matthew 7:21-23 tells us of the consequence of putting our spin on His word.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I participate in lent for greater spiritual focus. This year I give up more of my time to help others and I plan to have this behaviour firmly installed in my life so that it lasts permanently, not just for 40 days.
That is such a great idea! I love that your goal is take what you are doing for Lent and make it a permanent part of your life.