Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The (Abundant) Biblical Evidence for Lent



By Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong

Someone asked me on my Facebook page: "How come we celebrate Lent...and the word is not in Scripture?"

"Lent" simply comes from Old English for "spring" (I learned that just now). "Trinity" (the word) is not in Scripture, either. Christian church buildings are not in Scripture. "Original sin" (the term) is not in Scripture (the concept is). The biblical books are not listed in Scripture itself. Nothing new here.

The practices and beliefs regarding Lent are all eminently biblical. For example, see this paper of mine:
Biblical Evidence for Penitential Mortification of the Flesh (Sackcloth / Hair Shirts) . In my book, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths I include a chapter, "Fasting, abstinence, and Lent" (seven pages). It contains 50 biblical passages. I used KJV in that book for copyright reasons, but here are the same passages in RSV:

Exodus 24:18 And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.


Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Leviticus 10:9 Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.

Numbers 6:1-4 And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink, and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.”

Deuteronomy 9:9 When I went up the mountain to receive the tables of stone, the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water.


Deuteronomy 9:25 So I lay prostrate before the LORD for these forty days and forty nights, because the LORD had said he would destroy you.


Deuteronomy 29:5-6 I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out upon you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet; you have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink; that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

Judges 13:3-5 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son [Samson]. Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (cf. 13:14)


1 Samuel 1:15 But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman sorely troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.


1 Samuel 31:13 And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.


2 Samuel 1:12 and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.


2 Samuel 12:16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground. (cf. 12:21-23)


1 Kings 19:8 And he [Elijah] arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.


1 Chronicles 10:12 And they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.


2 Chronicles 20:3 Then Jehosh'aphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.


Ezra 8:21, 23 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Aha'va, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a straight way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. . . . So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. (cf. 9:5)

Nehemiah 1:4 When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days; and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.


Nehemiah 9:1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads.


Esther 4:3 And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.


Esther 4:16 Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.


Esther 9:31 that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mor'decai the Jew and Queen Esther enjoined upon the Jews, and as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting.


Psalm 35:13 But I, when they were sick -- I wore sackcloth, I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,


Psalm 69:10 . . . I humbled my soul with fasting, . . .


Psalm 109:24 My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt.


Jeremiah 36:9 In the fifth year of Jehoi'akim the son of Josi'ah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the LORD.


Ezekiel 4:4-12 Then lie upon your left side, and I will lay the punishment of the house of Israel upon you; for the number of the days that you lie upon it, you shall bear their punishment. For I assign to you a number of days, three hundred and ninety days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment; so long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah; forty days I assign you, a day for each year. And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared; and you shall prophesy against the city. And, behold, I will put cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege. And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt, and put them into a single vessel, and make bread of them. During the number of days that you lie upon your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it. And the food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; once a day you shall eat it. And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; once a day you shall drink. And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.


Daniel 6:18 Then the king went to his palace, and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.


Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.


Joel 1:14 Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. . . . (cf. 2:15)


Joel 2:12 “Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;”


Jonah 3:5 And the people of Nin'eveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.


Zechariah 8:19 Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace. (cf. 7:3,5)


Tobit 12:8 Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold.


Judith 4:9, 13 And every man of Israel cried out to God with great fervor, and they humbled themselves with much fasting. . . . So the Lord heard their prayers and looked upon their affliction; for the people fasted many days throughout Judea and in Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty.


Judith 8:6 She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the sabbath and the sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the feasts and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel.


Sirach 34:26 So if a man fasts for his sins, and goes again and does the same things, who will listen to his prayer? And what has he gained by humbling himself?


2 Maccabees 13:12 . . . they . . . besought the merciful Lord with weeping and fasting and lying prostrate for three days without ceasing,. . . (cf, 1 Macc 3:47; Baruch 1:5)


Matthew 4:2 And he [Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.


Matthew 6:16-18 And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


Matthew 9:14-15 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (cf. Mk 2:18-20; Lk 5:33-35; 18:12)


Luke 2:37 . . . She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.


Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, “He has a demon.” (cf. Mt 11:18; Lk 1:15)


Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.


Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.


Acts 15:20 . . . abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.


Acts 15:29 . . . abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. . . . (cf. 21:25)


Romans 14:3 Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.


Romans 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.


Romans 14:15, 21 If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. . . . it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.


1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall. (cf. 2 Cor 6:4-5; 11:27)

I wrote at the end of the chapter (p. 322):


The forty days of Lenten observance have several forty day parallels in Scripture (all listed above): Moses’ fasts on the the holy mountain (Ex 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9) and his intercession for Israel (Deut 9:25), Elijah’s journey to Mt. Horeb (1 Ki 19:8), Ezekiel’s lying on one side (Ezek 4:6), and Christ’s fast in the wilderness (Mt 4:2).

The chapter following is entitled, "We use ashes to show our penitence" [Ash Wednesday] (three pages). Here are the 23 biblical passages I presented, again from the RSV:

Genesis 2:7 then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 18:27 Abraham answered, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.”

2 Samuel 13:19 And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent the long robe which she wore; and she laid her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went.

Nehemiah 9:1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth upon their heads.

Esther 4:1, 3 When Mor'decai learned all that had been done, Mor'decai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; . . . And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Job 2:8 And he took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Job 34:15 all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.

Job 42:6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Psalm 90:3 Thou turnest man back to the dust, . . .

Isaiah 58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Jeremiah 6:26 O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation; for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.

Jeremiah 25:34 Wail, you shepherds, and cry, and roll in ashes, . . .

Ezekiel 27:30 and wail aloud over you, and cry bitterly. They cast dust on their heads and wallow in ashes;

Daniel 9:3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.

Jonah 3:6 Then tidings reached the king of Nin'eveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

Judith 4:11, 15 And all the men and women of Israel, and their children, living at Jerusalem, prostrated themselves before the temple and put ashes on their heads and spread out their sackcloth before the Lord. . . . With ashes upon their turbans, they cried out to the Lord with all their might to look with favor upon the whole house of Israel.

Sirach 17:32 He marshals the host of the height of heaven; but all men are dust and ashes.

Sirach 40:3 from the man who sits on a splendid throne to the one who is humbled in dust and ashes,

1 Maccabees 3:47 They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and rent their clothes. (cf. 4:39)

Matthew 11:21 Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (cf. Lk 10:13)

1 Corinthians 15:47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. (cf. 15:48-49)

Revelation 18:19 And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, . . .

See also my online papers: 


Biblical (Pauline) Evidence For the Catholic Examination of Conscience

Lenten Meditation #1: NT on Suffering With Christ
Reasons for Suffering and Encouragement and Hope in the Midst of It: A Biblical Compendium


All perfectly biblical practices, with many examples (most explicit and immediately relevant to the topic) . . . There is nothing "unbiblical" at all in what Catholics observe during Lent. As usual, we Catholics are most in line with biblical teaching and practice. Those Christians who don't practice Lent (like myself in my first 32 years: though I would fast at times) miss out on these important penitential aspects of the faith.


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8 comments:

Ron Van Brenk said...

Hi Dave,

Wondering what you are thinking about the textual criticism that "fasting" is a textual addition in 1 Cor. 7:5.
And what you are thinking about fasting being a textual addition in Mark 9:29.

BTW, I borrowed a pic that you dedicated to me for my latest blog. Thanks.

Dave Armstrong said...

I added 73 biblical passages from two chapters of my book, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths (but in RSV rather than KJV: that was used in the book).

These were added at 11:47 AM ET, Thursday, 2-16-12.

S said...

This is a great list. I think I'll steal it!

Thank you.

Dave Armstrong said...

Feel free!

S said...

Well, receiving your permission kind of takes the excitement out of it, but okay. LOL

In all seriousness though, this is great. Thanks.

Dave Armstrong said...

You're welcome. Glad you like it. Please buy some of my books, too, since I give away almost all the information in them. LOL

Paul said...

I got a question from a protestant... why is fasting mandatory for catholics while the bible does not state it as mandatory?

Dave Armstrong said...

Where in the Bible does it say that we should only do things that the Bible says are mandatory, and can't be required by a church to do things, based on abundant biblical examples (as provided here)?

I'll save you the trouble: it doesn't. This is simply a tradition of men, without biblical basis.

But your premise (about fasting) is arguably false, anyway. Jesus presupposed that we would fast, by saying "when you fast . . . " (Matthew 6:16-17), rather than "if you fast . . ."

That being the case, the Catholic Church is only requiring what Jesus assumed would be inevitable and normative in the Christian life.