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 26, 2020 (Ash Wednesday) and ends on Thursday, April 9, 2020 (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 2020
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“
As well as in the beginning of my article: What Should I Give Up for Lent? Here’s 50 New Ideas to Try
But I do follow this Catholic Lent eating guide every year.
And instead of giving something up, I’m choosing to add something in. For the past two years, I’ve read through a 1/4 of the Catholic Catechism each year during Lent, and this year I *hope* to just go ahead and finish the whole thing. (Three years to finish a book is kind of a long time. I’m ready to be done lol)
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!
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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!