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Author: Ron Graham


Notes on Fasting in the Bible
—Religious fasting

Here are some notes on what the Bible says about fasting. We consider abstinence from foods, and various other things, as a matter of religion.

These notes are not dealing with fasting for good health which some people believe in and practise. We are looking at fasting as a religious practice usually associated with prayer.

1 Fasting is one of many forms of abstinence.

Fasting, temporary abstinence from food and drink, is not the only kind of abstinence mentioned in the Bible. Here are some examples.

2 Fasting is associated with solemn occasions.

It is evident, in the verses noted above, that fasting and other forms of temporary abstinence, in a religious setting, take place on special days and solemn occasions.

For example, when sending Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, leaders at the congregation at Syrian Antioch fasted and prayed (Acts 13:1-4).

In times of mourning, penitence, tribulation, dedication, petition, or revelation, it is appropriate to fast. Mary, at the feet of Jesus, was not interested in the big meal that Martha was preparing. Instead, Mary was drinking in the word of our Lord (Luke 10:38-42).

The disciples of Jesus did not fast often like the Pharisees or the disciples of John the Baptizer (Matthew 9:14-15). They did, however, fast when the occasion warranted it. For example, when Paul was appointing elders in every church it was done prayerfully with fasting (Acts 14:21-23).

3 The Christian view of fasting

In Biblical Christianity, fasting is voluntary. Rules such as "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" are made by men, but not by Christ (Colossians 2:20-23). "He declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:18-19 ESV) and did not command abstinence from them.

Even the law of Moses did not require fasting, although it is a common practice among devout Jews. In particular, traditional Judaism requires fasting on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) since the law commands "self-denial" on that day (Leviticus 16:29-30).

Jesus, like Moses, once fasted for an extreme 40 days eating nothing. (Luke 4:1-2; Exodus 34:28). Jesus, however, does not require us to fast for even one day.

Nevertheless, if we choose to fast, Jesus allows it with this rule: do not make a show of it (Matthew 6:16).

Paul expands on that: "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom, in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:23).


Webservant Ron Graham

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