Where is Lent in the Bible?

🌺 Published by Brittany Ann

 Where is Lent in the Bible?Pin

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 17, 2021 (Ash Wednesday) and ends on Thursday, April 1, 2021 (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?

 

What to Give Up for Lent PinWhile 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.

Joel 2:12-13

 

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: 

 

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 2021

 

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

 

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’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!

 

*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!

 

 

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Brittany Ann

Brittany Ann is an author, speaker, and founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping women be “all in” in faith and family.

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  1. My family follows an old Protestant tradition of taking on something extra for Lent, rather than giving something up. This year, one of the things we plan to do is a special Lenten class at our church.

  2. You have to be careful with participating in extra-Biblical rituals, because that’s what they are: rituals. Lent isn’t in the Bible because it isn’t commanded by God. If it’s something you want to do because you feel closer to God, okay. But just realize that it is a man-made ritual made up of arbitrary rules to follow. Jesus talks about fasting in Matthew 6:16-18 telling us to not make it obvious to others. Paul’s point is that we don’t have to abstain if we believe & know the truth. No, this doesn’t mean we can’t abstain, but why would you? The Bible is full of things we should do, which basically just boils down to love God & love others as yourself. How would Lent align with the greatest commandments? It seems like Lent is more of a “me” thing than a God thing. I’m not saying Lent is harmful in & of itself, but we are not to add or take away from the Bible, so be just careful with what you allow in your life that isn’t Biblical.

    1. You’re right. It is an extra man-made tradition that’s not in the Bible. But so are church potlucks, baby showers, Easter egg hunts, Bible reading plans, New Year’s Resolutions, altar calls, “turn and greet your neighbor,” and a TON of other traditions every single church has — even yours! 🙂

      1. Well, the Bible does say that we are to gather together to break bread (potlucks would fall under this), to be of one mind/unified…how can we if we don’t know one another, etc. But none of these things are ever considered mandatory. Like I said, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just unnecessary. If you choose to do it, fine; if not, also fine. I was reading in Colossians today & felt chapter 2:20-23 could be applied in this situation. Interesting how the Word is revealed to us as we need it!

      2. I, also, agree that Lent, along with so many other Catholic traditions seem to be directly addressed in the Bible as things that do not truly serve the Lord or further His kingdom (praying to a man made statue of Mary is probably the biggest of all) Lent, to 99% of the people I’ve ever seen practice it, seems more like a self improvement attempt and not a spiritual growth journey. I appreciate your interest in understanding two different denominations of Christianity, but it is worrisome that some may be taking spiritual advice from your posts if you are still questioning parts of the Bible. I encourage you to continue pursuing God, where’ve He leads you, but I caution you to attempt teaching or guiding others on their journey if you are still questioning God’s word. Blessings!

    2. I have never though of Lent in this way before. My grandmother was Catholic but we were raised Protestant. I like the idea of using the time as self reflection and being able to just draw closer to God during this time. I also like the discipline that it can bring to me as a believer to really get into God’s word and let Him feed me spiritually. I have never participated in Lent but I may have a discussion with my husband and see if this is something we can do to go even deeper in our relationship with God as we have struggled for a long time.

  3. Thank you for this email/ post, I found it really helpful. I was confirmed into Church of England but converted to Catholicism just over 4 years ago. But have in the last few weeks, gone back to the Anglican Church as just feel more at home there.
    ( But I have absolutely NO criticisms of the Catholic Church at all) So as a fellow in the middle of the road Christian! will be following Lent this year just to make myself be a bit more reflective over next few weeks.

  4. I have wanted to do Lent, but still am not sure how to go about it. I grew up Catholic but didn’t agree on a few things when I was a teenager, so went more protestant, though I feel in each there were some things that were nice and other things that I didn’t feel as necessary. So I remember Ash Wednesday and giving up chocolate a few years. I have a lot of neat memories, and not so nice ones. I do believe it is an individual walk and I like how you did this article. Thank you for sharing.:)

  5. Brittany, I would like to strongly encourage you to study this more deeply.

    Your statements of “I want to research what Catholics believe and why because I want my beliefs to be based on solid, Biblical truth, not just the myths and misconceptions I’ve unknowingly picked up over the years.”

    and

    “This isn’t necessarily a problem, however. Many traditions Christians love today weren’t around in Biblical times, including opening Christmas presents, hanging Christmas stockings, or sharing the holiday Ham at Easter.

    In fact, did you know that the Bible never mentions the Trinity or the sinner’s prayer either??”

    are directly opposed to one another.

    It is not solid Biblical truth to justify anything of men by the thinkings of men.

    Nadab and Abihu chose to use a fire God had neither commanded nor authorized – He was silent about it specifically. But Leviticus 10:1-3 shows God striking them dead for using it. God called the fire they used profane because it wasn’t the fire He had commanded. It was different. It was “strange fire”.

    (Please forgive my all caps – they are not yelling, just emphasis).

    God’s word IS TRUTH (Jn. 17:17).
    We care to study so that we can RIGHTLY divide the word of TRUTH (2 Tim. 2:15)
    ALL Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness that we may be perfect and THOROUGHLY furnished unto good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

    God has given us EVERYTHING that pertains to LIFE and GODLINESS (2 Peter 1:3)

    If anyone preaches anything different than that taught by the apostles it is to be rejected as being accursed (Gal. 1:7-9).

    The full context of 1 Timothy 4 begins with 1 Tim. 3:14. It includes 1 Timothy 4:1, which reads, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in LATER times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,” and the verses you noted fall into what will happen in the future – not what was happening with Timothy right then. And verse 6 says that Timothy is to point these things out to the brethren. 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy are Paul training Timothy how to teach each congregation what was necessary. And that teaching applies to us today because of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and Gal. 1:7-9.

    Matthew 15:9 – a warning is sounded to the hypocrisy of the Jews, “but in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” God warned about it in Isaiah and Jesus repeated in Matthew and Mark.

    Dig deeper. Accept nothing less than God’s truth. Therein lies the answer that can be given when you meet Him on judgment day. Pointing to what other men have done separately from God’s word is not a place of safety and hope.

    Keep studying and keep sharing. Truth is there.

    Just for your further study: The trinity is found in Matthew 28:19 – “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” 1 Cor. 12:4-6 refers to all three as does 2 Cor. 13:14, Eph. 2:17-18, and 1 Jn. 5:7.

    1. I totally get what you are saying, and am not offended by your comment at all 🙂

      My point is simply: Just because things aren’t mentioned in the Bible doesn’t make them automatically wrong. If you argue “Well, Lent isn’t in the Bible so we shouldn’t celebrate it…,” then you’d have to throw out a LOT of other practices that Christians everywhere do without question as well because they aren’t in the Bible either.

      And yet, you don’t see people getting all upset about the sinner’s prayer (for example) the way that people (in general) get upset about Lent.

      1. Your way of thinking makes accepting all of the man made false teachings of the Catholic Church more acceptable too, just as the leaders had planned. 🙁

      2. Beth is quite right. There is a difference between potlucks and church teaching. Based on what I read in this thread, there is a great deal more that everyone needs to understand about the Romanist/papal religion.

      3. Yes exactly! the false man-made practices need to be identified as such (and not necessarily thrown out but most certainly identified as non-biblical) – this is how people get so deceived into man-made law instead of Christ’s….especially those not reading their bible daily or in a daily personal relationship with God, Yeshua and the HS. It’s great to celebrate Lent – JC said imitate me, a lot of which Lent is – but let people know it’s of man not Christ – 200 years CE.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your research! I have family who are both Protestant and Catholic. I believe that as long as we follow Christ, we are part of God’s family and His church regardless of our denomination. I think any time we can prepare our hearts for the remembrance and celebration of what Christ has done and is doing in and through our lives is always good! Again, thank you!

  7. I was fascinated by this article and I felt it gave me a new way of seeing Lent.
    If you don’t mind, I’d like to share what I’ve been taught about Lent. Please note: I am no scholar nor do I believe my understanding is better than yours or anyone else’s. I mean no disrespect. This is just what I was taught.
    Along with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, we also observe his 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). When Jesus is led by the holy spirit and tempted by the devil. Jesus had fasted for those 40 days. During Lent we face temotaions, as Christ did in the wilderness and we follow the example he set by turning to God and His word in those difficult times. Relying on His promises and not the temporary satisfaction this world (or the devil) will offer.
    As we participate in Lent, we remember that we cannot grow closer in our relationship with God when we overindulge or become distracted by worldly comforts. I feel Lent reminds of me the joys which come from God and learning to replace bad habits with something that will help me grow closer to Him.
    Obviously I see Lent a little differently, but I hope this gives you a little more insight.
    Thank you and God bless!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Last year I had a burden to participate in the Lent season for the first time. I didn’t do so hot, but I got a lot out of it. I plan to observe it again this year. I was raised Baptist but later in life converted to Holiness, pray Catholic prayers and study why Jews do the things they do. I pretty much go where the Spirit leads me because I have been called to intercessory prayer and I’ve learned so much from various observances. Thank you again for helping me out and you’re doing an amazing job! God bless you, Kind Lady.

  9. In your search, don’t stop at Catholicism, continue back to the first Christian faith that still continues today: Eastern Orthodoxy, if you want to find the Truth. I was raised Methodist, then moved to Episcopalian, then Catholicism, and finally reached my destination: Antiochian Orthodox Church, here in the United States. It has so much depth, and truth, that now, after almost twenty years of being a practicing, faithful Orthodox Christian, I know that there is so much more to learn. May God bless you on your quest.

  10. Lent is so much more than mere self-denial. The best book I could suggest for reading about Lent is Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book, Great Lent. May you have a blessed journey.

    1. I second that recommendation. It is a fantastic book, very readable, and gives an excellent explanation of Great Lent from an Orthodox perspective. However, it is certainly beneficial for anyone who is interested in the beauty, depth, and meaning of Lent.

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