Ash Wednesday is not in the Bible

Cross of Ashes


Tonight, some will observe Ash Wednesday and start Lent.  Lent is considered to be a time of self-imposed abstinence by millions.  Time reported the following:

February 18, 2015

What’s the purpose of Ash Wednesday?

It marks first day of the 40 days of Lent, a roughly six-week period (not including Sundays) dedicated to reflection, prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. …

Where do the ashes some people put on their face come from?

They’re obtained from the burning of the palms of the previous Palm Sunday, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter, and applied during services. …

What do the ashes mean?

The ashes, applied in the shape of a cross, are a symbol of penance, mourning and mortality… There aren’t any particular rules about how long the ashes should be worn, but most people wear them throughout the day as a public expression of their faith and penance.

So, the ashes are a public symbol?  This does not sound like repentance nor humility. Notice what a Catholic-approved translation of the Bible teaches:

16 ‘When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know they are fasting. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. (Matthew 6:16, NJB)

Thus, Jesus seems to denounce practices that resemble Ash Wednesday.  Also, it should be noted that cross was not a symbol early Christians used (see What is the Origin of the Cross as a ‘Christian’ Symbol?).

Furthermore, Ash Wednesday’s true origins are considered to be a mystery by those who observe it. It was not observed by Jesus, the original apostles, nor any in the early Church. Ash Wednesday is not mentioned in either the Hebrew or Greek scriptures,  commonly known as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Despite that, notice the following from the 1988 circular letter on Lent and Easter “Paschales Solemnitatis,” issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship of the Church of Rome:

“21. On the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent, the faithful receive the ashes, thus entering into the time established for the purification of their souls. This sign of penance, a traditionally biblical one, has been preserved among the Church’s customs until the present day. It signifies the human condition of the sinner, who seeks to express his guilt before the Lord in an exterior manner, and by so doing express his interior conversion, led on by the confident hope that the Lord will be merciful. This same sign marks the beginning of the way of conversion, which is developed through the celebration of the sacraments of penance during the days before Easter.” (As cited in McNamara E, Priest.  Ashes Earlier. Zenit, March 4, 2014.

No one in the Old or New Testaments was ever recorded as putting ashes on their foreheads in a shape of a cross.  Yet, also notice the following claims from the Shorter Book of Blessings by the Church of Rome:

1059. The season of Lent begins with the ancient practice of marking the baptized with ashes as a public and communal sign of penance. The blessing and distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday normally takes place during the celebration of Mass. (As cited in McNamara E, Priest.  Ashes Earlier. Zenit, March 4, 2014.

The Bible does not show that the baptized received ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.  Furthermore, this is not part of the early traditions of Christians.  It seems to have been a practice of pagans, however.

One who believes in Ash Wednesday once sent me the following two weeks ago:

Ash Wednesday is approaching and with it the rite of the imposition of ashes on the foreheads…

My question is, why does the gospel for Ash Wednesday include the reading of Jesus’s words forbidding the imposition of ashes?

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Isn’t this strange, that we should do something that Jesus has forbidden and at the same time read out ceremonially his words forbidding it?

I have asked Anglican and Catholic priests about this but they have offered no answers. Can you suggest any?

Here is another Catholic-approved translation of that verse he asked about:

16 ‘When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know they are fasting. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. (Matthew 6:16, NJB)

In addition to providing other information, I also responded to the emailer with the following:

While you are correct that people in the Old Testament used ashes as part of their sorrowing, there was no ceremony in the New Testament that encouraged this.  And as you pointed out, Ash Wednesday seems to be in opposition to the principle that Jesus espoused in Matthew 6:16…

As far as why Rome violates various passages of scripture, Rome and others have often changed doctrines from the Bible and the practices of the apostles.  An article that documents this, that probably contains a lot you would be surprised about, would be: Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God?

Ash Wednesday certainly is not from the Bible.

Yet, in the past, even Episcopalians have been advocating Ash Wednesday:

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church offers commuters ‘Ashes to Go’ at Beverly Depot station

“We think there is an unmet desire for people to get ashes on Ash Wednesday that cannot make it to a regular service because it’s a workday,” Perrott said in an interview yesterday. “We thought going to a train station and offering ‘Ashes to Go’ will meet that need.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia reports:

Ash Wednesday
The Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, which is the first day of the Lenten fast.

The name dies cinerum (day of ashes) which it bears in the Roman Missal is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary and probably dates from at least the eighth century. On this day all the faithful according to ancient custom are exhorted to approach the altar before the beginning of Mass, and there the priest, dipping his thumb into ashes previously blessed, marks the forehead…There can be no doubt that the custom of distributing the ashes to all the faithful arose from a devotional imitation of the practice observed in the case of public penitents. (Ash Wednesday. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

Thus, Ash Wednesday is believed by the Church of Rome to be related to following some type of public penance, though precisely from where is not clear. Ash Wednesday now marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

Notice also something from the Protestant publication calling itself Christianity Today:

The Beginning of Lent
Until the 600s, Lent began on Quadragesima (Fortieth) Sunday, but Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to secure the exact number of 40 days in Lent—not counting Sundays, which were feast days. Gregory, who is regarded as the father of the medieval papacy, is also credited with the ceremony that gives the day its name. (

So, “Ash Wednesday” apparently did not originate on a Wednesday. Of course, the entire lenten period is not from the Bible, hence it should be of no surprise that it has had various changes in its observation.

While it is true that there were some 40 day fasts in the Bible, they did not resemble Lent, they were not any type of annual practice, and the apostles never observed one as far as can be determined. The Catholic Saint Abbot John Cassian (also known as Cassianus, monk of Marseilles) in the fifth century admitted:

Howbeit you should know that as long as the primitive church retained its perfection unbroken, this observance of Lent did not exist (Cassian John. Conference 21, THE FIRST CONFERENCE OF ABBOT THEONAS. ON THE RELAXATION DURING THE FIFTY DAYS. Chapter 30).

The historian A. Hislop wrote:

Among the Pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensable preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz, which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing (Hislop A. Two Babylons. pp. 104-106).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia states:

Ash Wednesday, in the Western Church, the first day of Lent, being the seventh Wednesday before Easter. On this day ashes are placed on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them of death, of the sorrow they should feel for their sins, and of the necessity of changing their lives. The practice, which dates from the early Middle Ages, is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, and many Lutherans; it was also adopted by some Methodists and Presbyterians in the 1990s (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press).

Notice that Ash Wednesday was not an original observance of even the Church of Rome. Perhaps I should also mention that the Eastern Orthodox Church does not celebrate Ash Wednesday.

Yet, oddly, Protestant groups, like the improperly named Christianity Today seem to have endorsed it. Notice comments from three more articles at its website:

Let’s Lengthen Lent
pre-Lenten festivals such as the Mardi Gras have turned into bacchanals that have become a reproach to civilization.So what do we do? Observe Lent or ignore it?…I hope to be in my church on Ash Wednesday as a worshiper. (

He Is Risen so I Am Shriven

Can eating pancakes enrich Christian piety? As a part of the traditional celebration of Shrove Tuesday, I believe flapjacks can build our faith. … the understated British gather calmly in their homes on the day before Lent to fill themselves with pancakes. Why pancakes? In medieval Europe, Christians often gave up eating rich foods like meat, eggs, and milk for the 40-day period of penance, prayer, and preparation leading to Easter. The practice and duration of the ritual corresponded to Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert. …

During the Reformation, many Protestants, especially my English Puritan ancestors, dismissed Lent and Shrove Tuesday as superstitious Catholic observances aimed at earning God’s favor through human works. Thus, strict Lenten observance declined among English-speaking people.

But the palate proved mightier than the Puritans. Most Britons didn’t want to give up pancakes—even if, without an austere Lent… Lent is to Easter what Advent is to Christmas. Lent gets us in the “Easter spirit,” and helps us appreciate that Easter is theologically more significant than Christmas—even if contemporary Western culture gets it backward.


Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years…(

Despite claiming that it is part of the “Christian calendar,” the fact is that neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent can be found to be endorsed in the Bible nor in the writings of the early followers of Jesus. Obviously, many of those at the falsely named Christianity Today do not believe in sola Scriptura.  Consistent with the current ecumenical movement, more and more Protestants are observing practices that they once realized were improper.

It should be noted that the Bible never uses the term ‘Easter,’ the name of a pagan deity, in conjunction with Jesus’ resurrection.

The Bible also never uses the terms Lent or Ash Wednesday. Nor does it seem to positively describe the marking of anyone’s head with ashes. But the Bible does condemn practices associated with Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:13-14) which may be related to the origins of Lent and/or Ash Wednesday. Here is one commentary on that:

Ezekiel 8:14-15

Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.

Tammuz. This god can be traced back to the Sumerian Dumuzi, the god of the subterranean ocean and a shepherd deity, whose sister-consort, Inanna-Ishtar, descended into the lower world to bring him back to life. In his worship are similarities to that of Egyptian Osiris, the Canaanite Baal, and the Syrian Adonis. Gebal or Byblos, twenty-one miles north of Beirut, was the great seat of Adonis worship. The nightly death of the god, the god’s dying before the touch of winter, or the vernal god’s dying with the parched summer are variations on the theme of death and resurrection. Mourning for the god was followed by a celebration of resurrection (from The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1962 by Moody Press).

Notice that the mourning ended with the resurrection for Tammuz. This is essentially the same as fasting for forty days which ends with the Easter.  The adoption of crosses seems also to be related to Tammuz (see What is the Origin of the Cross as a ‘Christian’ Symbol?  and/or watch ).

Since Ash Wednesday involves receiving ashes on one’s forehead to begin the forty-day period of Lent, this may be related to the beginning of the mourning for the death of Tammuz. It may or not be relevant to note that Ishtar is also spelled as Ash-tar. An interesting coincidence.

Speaking of coincidences, some have wondered if Ash Wednesday had any relationship to the ancient Sun-god Mithras.

Here is what Tertullian of Carthage (in eastern Egypt) noted near the beginning of the third century:

Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan,) sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers (Tertullian. The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 40. Translated by Peter Holmes, D.D., F.R.A.S.)

Payam Nabarz wrote in the 21st century:

Tertullian certainly writes that Mithras marks (signat) his soldiers on the forehead, but what ‘sign’? Some writers have even speculated that this mark was the mark of the “Beast of Revelations,” as the numerological value of the Sun is 666!…

Mithratic…initiates…would henceforth have the Sun Cross on their foreheads. The similarity to the cross of ashes made on the forehead on the Christian Ash Wednesday is striking. Some have suggested this to be an example of the early Christians borrowing from the Mithratic cult; others suggest that both cults were drawing upon the same prototype (Nabarz P. The mysteries of Mithras: the pagan belief that shaped the Christian world. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company, 2005, p. 36).

The 20th century writer Manly Hall wrote:

Candidates who successfully passed the Mithraic initiations were called Lions and were marked upon their foreheads with the Egyptian cross. (Manly P. Hall Manly P. Hall (Author), J. Augustus Knapp (Illustrator) The Secret Teachings of all Ages. Originally published 1926, reprint Wilder Publications, 2009, p. 45)

It appears that the idea of a cross on the forehead probably came from Egypt initially. Mithraism probably picked it up (there is some question about the exact mark on the forehead, but a type of cross seems to be the most likely). And sometime after the Church of Rome absorbed some aspects of Mithraism, Ash Wednesday appeared–but not officially for some time. Mithraism itself was a major force in the Roman world until at least the fourth century A.D., but it seemed to die out by the end of that century. On the other hand, the Egyptian cults seemed to exist until a later time. Many Mithratic practices have been adopted by many who profess Christ. For details, please see the article Do You Practice Mithraism?

Others have felt, however, that Ash Wednesday was adopted from India, and then made it to Rome. Notice what Barbara Walker reported:

Ash Wednesday This allegedly Christian festival came from Roman paganism, which in turn took it from Vedic India. Ashes were considered the seed of the fire god Agni, with the power to absolve all sins…

At Rome’s New Year Feast of Atonement in March, people wore sackcloth and bathed in ashes to atone for their sins. Then as now, New Year’s Eve was a festival for eating, drinking, and sinning, on the theory that all sins would be wiped out the following day. As the dying god of March, Mars took his worshippers’ sins in with him into death. Therefore the carnival fell on dies martis, the Day of Mars. In English, this was Tuesday, because Mars was associated with the Saxon god Tiw. In French the carnival day was called Mardis Gras, “Fat Tuesday,” the merrymaking day before Ash Wednesday. (Walker B. The woman’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets. HarperCollins, 1983, pp. 66-67).

And although Ash Wednesday is now most often in February (though it was in March in 2011), the aspect of penance from sins is still tied in with Ash Wednesday. And the merrymaking still exists in places that observe Mardi Gras or “Carnaval.”

Whether from Egypt, Mithratic Roman paganism, or India, the one place it did not come from was the Bible. Nor did it come from early traditions of the first followers of Jesus.

Thus Ash Wednesday does not seem to have a strictly biblical origin. Because of the relatively late acceptance of it by the Church of Rome (about 600 or 700 years after Christ), it appears that it may have entered Rome as a remnant of the Sun-cult Mithras or possibly was absorbed through the introduction of some others who had practices once associated with parts of ancient Egypt or India.

Pope Francis has spoken about Lent:

March 5, 2014

Concluding his address, Pope Francis reminded the faithful of several essential elements to live the Lenten season: to give thanks to God for the mystery of his crucified love, authentic faith, conversion and openness of heart to all.

“On this path,” he concluded, “let us invoke with particular faithfulness, the protection and help of the Virgin Mary. May She, the first believer in Christ, accompany us in the days of intense prayer and penance, to be able to celebrate, purified and renewed in the Spirit, the great mystery of the Passover of her Son.”

Turning to Jesus, not Mary for help and protection, is what real Christians are supposed to do.  Ash Wednesday and Lent are not Christians holidays.

Some items of possible interest may include:

Is Lent a Christian Holiday? When did it originate? What about Ash Wednesday? If you observe them, do you know why?
What is the Origin of the Cross as a ‘Christian’ Symbol? Was the cross used as a venerated symbol by the early Church? A related YouTube video would be Origin of the Cross.
Mardi Gras: The Devil’s Carnival? Do you know that in Bolivia the carnival/Mardi Gras time is part of a celebration known as the Devil’s Carnival? Did Jesus celebrate Carnaval? Where did it come from?  There is also a related YouTube video Mardi Gras & Carnaval: Are they for Christians?
Beware: Protestants Going Towards Ecumenical Destruction! What is going on in the Protestant world? Are Protestants turning back to their ‘mother church’ in Rome? Does the Bible warn about this? What are Catholic plans and prophecies related to this? Is Protestantism doomed? See also World Council of Churches Peace Plan.
What Happened in the ‘Crucifixion Week’? How long are three days and three nights? Was Palm Sunday on a Saturday? Did Jesus die on “Good Friday”? Was the resurrection on Sunday? Do you really know? Who determined the date of Easter? (Here is a related link in Spanish/español: ¿Murió Jesús un día miércoles o un viernes?)
Did Early Christians Celebrate Easter? If not, when did this happen? Where did Easter come from? What do scholars and the Bible reveal? Here is a link to a video titled Why Easter?
Marcus, the Marcosians, & Mithraism: Developers of the Eucharist? Marcus was a second century heretic condemned for having a ceremony similar to one still practiced by many who profess Christ. Might he also be in the apostolic succession list of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria?  Where did the eucharistic host and IHS come from?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. December 25th was celebrated as his birthday. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?  A sermon video from Vatican City is titled Church of Rome, Mithras, and Isis?
Pope Francis: Could this Marian Focused Pontiff be Fulfilling Prophecy? Pope Francis has taken many steps to turn people more towards his version of ‘Mary.’ Could this be consistent with biblical and Catholic prophecies? This article documents what has been happening. There is also a video version titled Pope Francis: Could this Marian Focused Pontiff be Fulfilling Prophecy?
Holy Day Calendar This is a listing of the biblical holy days through 2024, with their Roman calendar dates. They are really hard to observe if you do not know when they occur :) In the Spanish/Español/Castellano language: Calendario de los Días Santos. In Mandarin Chinese: 何日是神的圣日? 这里是一份神的圣日日历从2013年至2024年。.

Get news like the above sent to you on a daily basis

Your email will not be shared. You may unsubscribe at anytime.