What are Ash Wednesday and Lent? Does the Bible tell us to celebrate these days?

After Mardi Gras comes Ash Wednesday and 40 days of Lent. Did the early New Testament Church observe these days?

What are Ash Wednesday and Lent? Does the Bible tell us to celebrate these days?
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The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or Lent, and the early New Testament Church did not observe these days. Here is how the BBC Religion page describes Ash Wednesday and Lent:

"Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent for Western Christian churches. It's a day of penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast.

"Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other churches hold special services at which worshippers are marked with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sin…

"The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century (and not all do significantly) use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is more common these days for believers to surrender a particular vice such as favourite foods or smoking" (BBC ).

Lent is counted differently by those of the Western Catholic tradition and those of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. "The western church excludes Sundays (which is celebrated as the day of Christ's resurrection) whereas the eastern church includes them. The churches also start Lent on different days. Western churches start Lent on the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day (called Ash Wednesday). Eastern churches start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter. Eastern churches call this period the 'Great Lent'" (BBC ).

Various biblical events and customs are referred to by those who celebrate these days. The Bible mentions people mourning in sackcloth and ashes. The Bible also talks about repentance and fasting, and the number 40 is prominent in various biblical events.

"The justification for the Lenten 40-day preparation for Easter is traditionally based on Jesus' 40-day wilderness fast before His temptation by Satan ( Harper's Bible Dictionary, 'Lent'; Matthew:4:1-2; Mark:1:13). The problem with this explanation is that this incident is not connected in any way with Jesus' supposed observance of Easter. The 40-day pre-Easter practice of fasting and penance did not originate in the Bible" ("The Good Friday—Easter Sunday Question).

Some have suggested that Lent may be connected to earlier, pagan holidays. In Ezekiel:8:14, the prophet in vision saw women weeping for the pagan god Tammuz. "It has been suggested by some scholars that the practice of 'weeping for Tammuz' was the actual origin of Lent, the Roman Catholic 40-day period of abstinence prior to Easter (starting after Mardi Gras, 'Fat Tuesday,' on Ash Wednesday). Consider that the name Easter itself is derived from Ishtar, the ancient Babylonian fertility goddess and Tammuz's mother".

The Bible does teach the importance of fasting and self-examination, but it does not teach a 40-day period called Lent or an Ash Wednesday of putting ashes on the forehead. These customs appear to have pagan origins, and are not practiced by the United Church of God. We seek to follow the customs and practices of the early New Testament Church as described in the Bible. For more on the biblical religious festivals, such as the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the spring, see God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind .


kentrob61's picture

I was raised in a religion that did not partake in unbiblical and pagan practices. This is a great article explanation as to the reasons why Biblical-based Christians do not take part of worldly celebrations. Thanks!

Karen Hietanen

Karen Hietanen's picture

So why do some churches that are Bible based/Bible teaching still offer Lent/Ash Wednesday? I do not get it!?!? I definitely agree with and do "cleanse my soul" with confessing to God and self examinations to better myself and live a life closer to the way Jesus did. I am a faithful, dedicated Christian but I admit I have not gone to Ash Wednesday for some time. I try to learn,study--do what the Bible says and if it does not say anything about Ash Wed/Lent, again, why do churches offer it? Is it other motives or what?


jgehrke's picture

The Catholic church is still pretty large in numbers as far as I know, and some of their traditions probably still 'rub off' on families even generations removed, and 'rub off' in a society. I agree with this article as I have read entire Bibles and have learned much of what they say. One 'positive' for this issue is a call to repentance, and a renewed focus of our Savior for some, although we can reflect on the truth from Scripture as this article does.


EvanToledo's picture

In response to Karen's post above:

One of the common "selling points" of traditional Evangelical Christianity today is the claim they only teach what the Bible says.
What they actually do is sincerely teach through the lens of man's false doctrines and traditions which began after Jesus Christ established His Church--the false traditions became practice in Emporer Constantine's Roman Empire and have survived in one form or another to this day. This is easily learned by any online search or encyclopedia research as to the origins of Easter, Sunday worship, Christmas, etc.

This is why it is so important for those who want to live by every word of God (Matthew:4:4) to dig into the origins of religious customs and make sure they are indeed taught in the Bible as God's commands.

Jesus Christ made a very serious statement that people are wasting their worship and He does not accept it IF MAN'S FALSE TRADITIONS ARE OBSERVED. (Matthew:15:9)

He went on to say the ONLY worship God accepts is "worship in Spirit and TRUTH.."(John:4:24)

May God lead you to worship Him in Spirit and Truth.

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