Where is Lent in the Bible? Is Lent even Biblical? Should Catholics and Protestants participate in Lent? Get answers to all your Lent questions here!
It’s been a few years now since I started researching Catholicism and sharing all the things I’ve been learning with you here on this 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.)
NOT because I’m *trying* to be Catholic or Protestant, or to convince anyone else to be either… (I’m really not)
But because, after learning that my religion got it wrong, this time, I want to make sure I get it RIGHT.
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.
So, with Lent 2019 right around the corner, and Catholics everywhere thinking about what to give up for Lent and trying to remember what Catholics can eat during Lent, I thought now might be a great time to ask: Where is Lent in the Bible?
But first… a little backstory…
What is Lent?
For those of you who aren’t super familiar with Lent, who may be wondering “Where is Lent in the Bible…”
Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter in which Christians reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. Not all Christian denominations celebrate Lent, but many do.
This year, Lent begins on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 (Ash Wednesday) and ends on Thursday, April 18, 2019 (Holy Thursday)
**Related Reading: 50+ Easy Lent Recipes You’ll Love to Make
What is the History of Lent?
The exact history of Lent is a bit unclear, but most sources agree that it began on a much smaller scale and then grew over time.
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.”
Over time, various Christian denominations developed their own sets of rules and guidelines for how the Lenten season would be celebrated, if at all.
According to the same article on ChristianityToday.com: “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.”
Some Christians refuse to participate in Lent because they believe it grew out of pagan traditions (and parts of it may have). It is worth noting, however, this same claim has been made of pretty much ALL Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter, both of which most Christians celebrate without worry.
Where is Lent in the Bible?
So to answer the question “Where is Lent in the Bible:” Because the practice of Lent grew gradually over time, Lent is not mentioned in the Bible and was not practiced by the original apostles.
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??
This just goes to show that just because something isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s incorrect, wrong or bad. It just means that the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about absolutely every single issue or application.
(The Bible doesn’t talk about mom’s groups or Angel Tree or Wednesday night potlucks either, and yet, no one makes a fuss over those…)
Many of the ways Christians celebrate Lent are in the Bible, though, even if the Bible doesn’t mention Lent itself.
For example, repentance, fasting, mourning with ashes, self-examination, and giving to the poor are all very Biblical concepts (as is the number “40,” which shows up time and time again).
Plus, if you consider that “Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar,” according to ChristianityToday, that’s still pretty convincing.
In fact, Christians were participating in Lent before they even formally decided which books would make it into the Bible. (That’s pretty early)
So, no, Lent isn’t in the Bible, and the apostles themselves didn’t participate in Lent, but it was still celebrated very early in Christian history.
“Where is Lent in the Bible” from a Catholic Perspective
For more information about why Catholics (in particular) participate in Lent and why, I love this video from Fr. Mike at Ascension Presents.
I feel like he always does such a great job of explaining what Catholics believe in a way that’s very fair, objective and kind. You can tell he loves being Catholic (which is great!), but he’s never preachy or rude or argumentative. I feel like he has a very similar tone to the one I try to take here on Equipping Godly Women, which many of you have told me you appreciate 🙂
Anyways, it has even more information from a specifically Catholic perspective, if you’re interested.
What About 1 Timothy 4:3-4?
So, as I was researching this question of “Where is Lent in the Bible” I came across one passage that really threw me for a loop.
“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 4:3-4
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 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, their relationship with God pretty much depending on their ability to follow ALLLL these Old Testament rules.
So, when Christ came and “changed the rules,” so to speak, the Christians in the first century were still having some difficulty knowing which Old Testament rules to keep and which to throw out.
You can see this elsewhere in the Bible, 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 teaching that Christians couldn’t marry or eat meat. (You can read more about the Encratites here)
So, when Paul was instructing Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:3-4, he wasn’t saying Christians couldn’t EVER abstain from meat or marriage. Rather, he was speaking out in opposition to the ideas of one specific group of people whose incorrect beliefs were confusing the Church.
Paul does a LOT of this throughout the entire New Testament (since Christianity is so new and people don’t have their own Bibles yet).
Should Catholics and Protestants Celebrate Lent?
So underneath the “Where is Lent in the Bible” question, the REAL question you’re probably wondering is: Should I participate in Lent at all?
And the answer is a firm: It depends.
For Catholics: Yes. As a part of the Catholic Church, you are expected to submit to what the Church thinks is best for your spiritual growth, which includes attending Mass on Ash Wednesday as a Holy Day of Obligation and following these Catholic Lent Fasting Rules.
Not because it has anything to do with your salvation (it doesn’t!), but because it’s good for you.
For Protestants: You can participate if and to the extent that you want to, but you don’t have to. Totally up to you!
What I’m Doing for Lent This Year
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’m personally not worried too much about Lent not being in the Bible. I think it’s a good spiritual discipline, and so I’m happy to do it. I’m actually looking forward to it.
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 probably won’t go to Ash Wednesday service and get ashes on my forehead, but I do plan on following Catholic dietary guidelines.
I read through the first 1/4 last Lent, and I hope to read through at least the next 1/4 this year, as I continue to research what Catholics believe and why.
I’m excited to dive in again and learn more!
Are you participating in Lent this year? Why or Why not? How will you participate if you are?