What Are Ash Wednesday and Lent? Does the Bible Tell Us to Celebrate These Days?

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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". (See the Bible commentary on Ezekiel 8 for details.)

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.


  • Yahushua

    Further more...
    We are to try and overcome the temporal/human condition through Jesus...our example of overcoming the human condition. And be more spiritual...in Spirit and Truth. None of the tangible, temporal so called answers/solutions feed the spiritual? When all these tangible, temporal answers are gone will one find or know the Spirit of God? If one seeks Him in a building, trinket, sacramental or physical attribute....will they/one find Him without those crutches, we know all of temporal physical things could be destroyed or burn and then will you find Him hear Him see Him...
    Should we seek spirit or physical answers? If one relies on knowing Him through human things ...will they recognize/know Him when they are gone?
    In Spirit and Truth...both of which cannot be made by human hands...

  • Yahushua

    Why must we have "seen" tangible, so called answers, to spiritual causes? It sounded reasonable to remind us (for our human condition) of His Crucifixion by the Crucifix, or He has risen by the empty Cross, remind/remember to reflect and fast by ashes to ashes dust to dust reflection and put ashes on our head, and fast 40 days, which in humility should not be "shown" . But they say it is shown as part of evangelising.,and could be seen as such. They say " we don't think of it as that" we have took those things not of God and made them Gods? Can they/we do that? Who told us to do any of these things? Oh..but we have an answer for all of it- all of God is not written, it never could be in His Infinite Being...so we "think" those things not written of we can make HIS because we think it's good. And are told by Him not to trust our own thinking but weigh things by His Word. Bottom line is on all these things is they what is the root and who/Who told us to do this or that???

  • Yahushua

    Peace to all!
    The thing is...so many times throughout time and history the "human" condition has come to tangible human answers to spiritual questions/wonderings/contemplation and so forth. Things albeit as well intentioned as they may be are human errors, "many times a man does what he "thinks" is right", having to, it seems to putting a tangible answer or thing to a spiritual cause. Seems harmless enough or sounds reasonable enough to "make things holy" by taking things done in vain or to honor another god and somehow turn/make it holy by adopting it for our God or putting it in the name of Jesus and make it for Him...kind of like putting a Cross of Jesus on an obelisk and somehow makes it alright. ( Which grosses me out knowing what an obelisk is/represents) and on a side note what is the cross, where did it come from, what did that "T" represent, why in that time did they use it? hmm ..in itself makes it even more horrific for our LORD GOD in one sense. But nothing He can't overcome.
    Seems harmless to make us as humans think of certain things or be reminded, but always seems to have to be tangible/seen..it is God Almighty that is Holy and makes "things" Holy...not

  • Reverend Jim

    Here we go with the "pagan roots" blame game. There is no connection with Tammuwz and lent. Why is it that so many Christians are bent on labeling so many GOOD things that some churches do as evil and even attributing them to pagan roots? Instead of listening to people who dislike Catholic's from the get go, maybe you should do a little research on the origins of lent. You can attribute every good thing to an evil origin, and you can dig dirt on every Church on the planet. Just ask the Atheist! Christians need to stop this kind of thing. It does no good for the Church or the cause of Christ. All it does is make the Church as a whole look divided and hypocritical.

    I'm going to give a few things up for lent and it's a good thing to do. If you want, I can show you how much dirt I can dig up on the origins of the UCG! But then, I would be falling into the same pit as you guys.

    It's no mystery to me why the Church is stagnant these days. People view us all as a bunch of hypocrites.

    My favorite tradition/ritual are the stations of the cross.

  • fezik82

    I agree! I believe that nobody could do more damage for Christ than a spiteful or ill-informed Christian. God, Himself, incorporated practices which were beforehand considered to be pagan into His law, regulations, and prophecies. Before He ever commanded Abraham to perform circumcision as a sign of the Covenant, it was a pagan Babylonian practice. The concept of reward and punishment was prevalent among the pagans. The most fascinating case to me was when He sent His prophet Malachi to the Persian worshipers of Mithra (the "sun god"). He told them to look toward Christ, "the sun of righteousness" who shall rise with healing in His wings. Why would He refer to Him as "sun" but to guide these pagans to allow their conscience to turn toward Him? And who were the first Gentiles to be led to Christ but Persian Magi! Apparently trivial resemblances to pagan practices do not upset God as they upset some others.

    With re: to the original article itself... have you ever heard that Jesus was celebrating Easter in the desert? I haven't. It's an absurd claim.

  • rbouch777.

    Well it is really quite simple.......what holy days did the apostles keep after Yahshua’s death on the stake. They kept the feasts commanded by almighty Yahweh. So, if you claim to be an apostolic church you too will follow the ONLY holy days commanded by Almighty Yahweh in his Word.....nothing else period.

  • fezik82

    It took me five months to notice your response! Every feast day was retained, but in the way that they were meant to be revealed through their foreshadowing in the Old Testament. It began at Christ's birth on the Feast of Tabernacles.. the time in which God would dwell among His people. It continues throughout, but to sum it up with the limited allowance... He was sacrificed on Passover as our Pascal lamb, He rose as "firstfruits from the dead" ON the Feast of Firstfruits, He ascended into heaven an only to fulfill Shabuoth (the day to commemorate the giving of the law to Moses) by sending the Holy Spirit to inscribe His commands into the hearts of believers, and He states that He will come again on a day and hour that "nobody knows" (which happens to be a description of Rosh Hashanah, or, "Judgement Day"), and He IS returning for Judgement of the good ance the bad. The Feasts have been retained because they were designed to lead to Christ.

  • Yahushua

    My question is...who/Who said it is/was GOOD? Whatever it may be... What is "good" to us many times has been shown not to be. Their was a time way way back and not so way back His people thought some of the same things/ways were good and got in big trouble for it. Who gets to define what is good and to what depth? What religion? When religion is but an outward expression of humans/ones belief/faith or a way/interpretation of such . It's not what we think but rather what He thinks of one thing or another. Oh..many like to point out the dirt on another's skirts so as not to look at their own...and all religions hold some truth, many are to busy pointing out errors in others and don't see their own...
    There is much hypocrisy...in fact, some things are directly opposite what He says in HIS Word.
    About this..."you can attribute every good thing to an evil origin"
    Not so...in Truth of what is Good and the true meaning of that word...if something is truly GOOD evil has no part of it. The Good Book...Scripture...what is the evil origin?
    Now maybe everything man decided or defines as good that could be said...

  • donhickey

    It's not for certain that Ishtar had any connection with the name Easter.
    The origins of Easter are rooted in European traditions. The name Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe.

  • dust_i_am

    After reviewing this in 2017, you've persuaded me that I should not join a UCG group in a Bible study on "Ash Wednesday." I was having doubts about it. So thank you.

  • Heidi Korthuis

    Who wrote this article? Thank you

  • dust_i_am

    Looks like people should give up Lent for, well... the weeks leading to the Lord's Supper.

  • EvanToledo
    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.
  • derrickrose73@gmail.com

    Thank you for your very good and accurate comment.

  • jgehrke
    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.
  • Karen Hietanen
    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?
  • dhenry

    Hi Karen, I would say this has to do with false religion. If you recall, in prophecy, there are two white horses - one an imposter. We are also told that in the end days, that even the elect could be deceived! The adversary wants nothing more than to confuse people and keep them from the truth, he is roaming to see whom he can devour. With that in mind, remember the Word of God tells us that God is not the Author of confusion.
    We are to study and learn to discern. In doing so, we know that people will be known by their fruits or actions. Prove all things for yourself and seek wise counsel. I hope this helps and that by now you have found some answers. All the best, Deb.

  • kentrob61
    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!
  • Barry_compton

    Why do certain religions not take in worldly celebrations ? I just got done studying with one one that would not even honor our flag . How do you tell which is the right religion?

  • Lena VanAusdle

    Hello Barry,
    Interesting question, for the first question and second statement, it comes down to definitions. What do you mean by worldly celebrations, and what do you mean to honor something? If, by worldly celebrations, you mean Independence Day celebrations, or thanksgiving, or Memorial Day, then there isn't anything necessarily wrong with observing them, but then it comes down to what do you mean to honor? It is fine to be patriotic, as long as our patriotism doesn't overshadow our loyalty to God. It is okay to observe celebrations that don't attempt to usurp the celebrations God gave us, and aren't specifically designed to circumvent His purpose/laws. For example, Thanksgiving in the us/canada is a national holiday to express our gratitude for our freedoms. It is not a religious celebration, it does not introduce pagan symbols, and does not try to take the place of the celebrations God has given us. Unlike holidays like Christmas, which poses as a religious observance not ordained by God, and introduces pagan traditions and customs under the guise of Christianity. That is NOT okay.

    So how do you tell if a religion is correct? study to see if what they teach is in the Bibl

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