Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Ash Wednesday & Lent: Are They in the Bible?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday & Lent: Are They in the Bible?

"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them” (Jeremiah 10:2).

It is that time of the year when begin to see people walking around with a little Cross smudged onto their foreheads in ashes. The paganized Christians are once again revealing their ignorance of the Word of God and their integration of paganism into their religious works.

There is little doubt about the origins of what we know as Ash Wednesday. This day was part of the ancient pagan celebration centering around Easter. The name Easter originated with the names of an ancient goddess and god. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 A.D.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility was known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos. Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: eastre. Similar goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:

Ø Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus

Ø Ashtoreth from ancient Israel

Ø Astart (?) from ancient Greece

Ø Demeter from Mycenae

Ø Hathor from ancient Egypt

Ø Ishtar from Assyria

Ø Kali, from India

Ø Ostara, a Norse Goddess of fertility

This all goes back to three generations after the Great Flood to Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod and his mother/wife. According to tradition Semeramis, the wife of Nimrod (also believed to be his mother; his name is probably Assyrian , meaning rebellion) the King of Babylon, claimed she had been supernaturally impregnated by the Sun god and gave birth to Tammuz. One day while hunting, Tamuz was killed by a wild boar. Semeramis mourned for 40 days, at the end of which Tammuz was supposedly brought back from the dead. She proclaimed herself Queen of Heaven, founded a celibate priesthood to worship her son, declared its chief priest infallible, and memorialized her mourning in an annual 40 day period of denial. It was the world’s first counterfeit of the Biblical story of the Redeemer and grew into a mother-child cult that was duplicated in almost every pagan mythology. This was the paganism of Baalism that Emperor Constantine integrated with Christianity forming early Roman Catholicism.

6 And the sons of Ham {Noah’s son}; Cush {Noah’s grandson}, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. 7 And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. 8 And Cush begat Nimrod {Noah’s great-grandson}: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, 12 And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city” (Genesis 10:6-12).

Nimrod most probably was historically transposed into this mythological figure that came to be known as Tammuz in the Babylonian and Phoenician cults. This was just one of the many names for the Sun god within these various cultures. By the time of the prophecies of Ezekiel, Israel had become so perverted in their religious practices, they were actually worshipping Tammuz in the Temple of God. Ezekiel’s prophecy was written in 592 B.C. just before the second deportation (8 years after Daniel’s) into Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar. In this prophecy, we see the horrible condition of apostasy into which the priesthood of Israel had fallen and what prompted God’s judgment.

1 And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD fell there upon me. 2 Then I beheld, and lo a likeness as the appearance of fire: from the appearance of his loins even downward, fire; and from his loins even upward, as the appearance of brightness, as the colour of amber. 3 And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy. 4 And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, according to the vision that I saw in the plain. 5 Then said he unto me, Son of man, lift up thine eyes now the way toward the north. So I lifted up mine eyes the way toward the north, and behold northward at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry. 6 He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? but turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations. 7 And he brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. 8 Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. 9 And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. 10 So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about. 11 And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. 12 Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth. 13 He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do. 14 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. 15 Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. 16 And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD’S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east” (Ezekiel 8:1-16).

Ash Wednesday is actually of pagan origin and was introduced/integrated into the church beliefs of the Catholic Church a few hundred years after Christ. This was the era when Constantine was attempting to weld pagans and Christians into a unit within the Roman Empire. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Roman Catholic churches of the Latin Rite use this service to prepare themselves for the passion and resurrection of Christ through self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial.

Ashes from the burned palms of the preceding year’s Palm Sunday are blessed. With these ashes, the priest marks a cross on the foreheads of those who come forward and kneel, saying, “Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19 KJV). From Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Those who honor Ash Wednesday add to this meaning of penance a second point; the need to prepare for a holy death.

The churches of the Anglican Communion, as well as some other Protestant churches observe this day. Eastern Rite churches do not. Their Lent begins on the preceding Monday. We find the only mention of the word Easter in the King James Version, in Acts 12:4, and that reference is to the Passover, not a Christian observance. Further, it is an improper translation of the Greek word, and most Bible translations have corrected this error.

Pagan Origin

Many Bible scholars believe the name Easter is merely a slightly changed English spelling of Ishtar (pronounced eesh-tar), the name of the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian idol goddess. A feast to this goddess was celebrated at the time of the vernal equinox (about March 20th in the northern hemisphere). Other scholars associate the name with Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Whichever is the case, we can see the pagan influence in the emphasis on eggs and bunnies, which were part of ancient heathen fertility rites and spring festivals.

Judaistic Connection

Since Jesus was crucified and arose from the dead during the Passover season, proponents of the Easter holiday have connected it with this Old Testament holy day. But while Jesus is our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7), and the fulfillment of the pattern set forth in the Law of Moses, Christians have no command or example that suggests we are to keep the Passover.

Like many other things (separate priesthood, clerical garments, incense, etc.) associated with Catholicism, Easter’s Passover connections are an unauthorized and improper binding of old-covenant elements. Christians are specifically told not to do this, because these elements were nailed to the cross when the Lord died (Colossians 2:11-17).

Jesus, during the Passover season supper He shared with His disciples before His betrayal, instituted a weekly memorial of His death (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). But, again, the New Testament is silent about an annual festival to commemorate His resurrection.

Related Events

The inappropriateness, and even sinfulness, of the Easter season is seen in the three seasons (the Carnival season, the Lenten season, and the Post-Easter season) and about a dozen religious events associated with the holiday. And, while many of the Easter-season events are connected with some Biblical event, none of the days or seasons has any Scriptural authority.

Carnival - Most of us think of carnivals as amusement shows. And while the Easter-related Carnival season fulfills that definition, there is more to it. The word “carnival” means, “flesh farewell.” It refers to a season of feasting, reveling, and merry making prior to Lent, when, many people give up certain foods, entertainments, and amusements. So Carnival season offsets, or indulges, in these things prior to the Lenten restrictions. Again, such carnivals are similar to pagan festivals in ancient Rome. Catholicism seems to have appropriated many pagan traditions.

Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi gras, culminates the final Carnival-season days before Ash Wednesday. It is the last big fling of riotous behavior before the Lenten period of so-called sackcloth and ashes. If you’ve ever observed on television the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, you have to wonder how such drunkenness, nakedness, and general lewdness could ever be deemed part of the worship of God.

Lent - Lent is the 40-day period of fasting before Easter. The word “lent” comes from the Anglo Saxon word leneten, which means springtime. In the context of the Easter season, these days are supposed to commemorate Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness immediately following His baptism. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and closes on the Saturday before Easter Sunday.

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics gather for mass, and the priest marks their foreheads with ashes from palms burned on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. These ashes remind participants that man’s end is to return to the dust from which he was created and signifies the need for repentance, as is represented in the sackcloth-and-ashes mourning under the old law. Observance of this day dates from the eighth century.

The final Lenten-season event is Holy Week, also known as Passion Week. During this week, participants observe four special days--Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. This week immediately precedes Easter Sunday. The Holy-Week events are designed to commemorate Jesus’ suffering and the events immediately preceding His crucifixion. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-16).

Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Good Friday focuses on the Lord’s crucifixion. And Holy Saturday focuses on the time Jesus was in the grave.

After Easter - There is also a series of special days known as the post-Easter season, which serve as an anticlimax to the main event. The first events are Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday. On Easter Monday, some countries practice Easter egg rolling, purportedly symbolic of the rolling away of the stone from Christ’s grave.

Ascension Day falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter, to commemorate the ascension. The third event is Whitsuntide, which comes 50 days after Easter. It gets its name from the white garments worn by those who commemorated the day of Pentecost. It is a day used especially to baptize children. Trinity Sunday comes 57 days after Easter and honors the trinity, or Godhood.

The final post-Easter season event is Corpus-Christie, observed on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, which is the 61st day after Easter. The term means “body of Christ,” and the festival honors the Lord’s Supper. Interestingly, Jesus inaugurated the Lord’s Supper to commemorate His death. Thus, Catholics have a commemoration to commemorate a commemoration. This festival was initiated about 1247 A.D.

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