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What is fasting? Is it Biblical? Should Christians do it? If so, when should we do it? Is it necessary?


Fasting is mentioned in multiple verses in the Bible.


What is fasting?

Basically, there is one definition of fasting:

Fasting is the willful refrainment from eating for a period of time.

Variations from this fundamental definition usually involve the purpose for which fasting is done. The term is used in a medical sense when one is to fast for a number of hours for some sort of medical procedure that follows. Some people fast for health reasons. Some use fasting to show dedication to prayer, ritual, or a doctrine of their faith. Common to all these definitions is that they have a specific purpose, and the fasting is willful and deliberate, not forced or caused by external conditions such as poverty or desperate circumstances. For the rest of this article, we will focus on Christian fasting as it relates to this definition.

What does the Bible say about it?

First off, there are few statements in the Bible that can be claimed to require fasting. There are some statements, even some by Jesus, that imply that believers will fast under certain circumstances. But, rather than be hit or miss on this issue, let's look at a cross section of some of them.

A search for "fasting verses in the Bible" on Google listed several sites, of which the first listed was Open Bible. This site listed 100 verses that supposedly pertained to fasting. It turned out that many of them were duplicates, and some do not mention or even pertain to fasting, but this seemed to give a good cross section of what we are looking for in this discussion. I am arranging them in a different order because Old Testament and New Testament verses were mixed together. Listing them in the order of the Bible books will let us identify any differences in the flow of their meanings, if any, between testaments. I will include the NIV version of the quotes, rather than just those ESV versions from their site, to insure context. The ESV often leaves out context normally made clear by punctuation, and the attributes of the speaker of quotes in the text, when you compare the two, as in Isaiah 58:3:

The ESV shows only the question in quotes, implying that it was the Israelites speaking in this verse:

'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' (ESV)

This attributes the verse in question to the Israelites rather than to God. He is the one who is actually saying this and speaking negatively of their grumbling. Notice the "they say" in the NIV , indicating that He is quoting their complaints. This is more accurate to the context:

'Why have we fasted,' they say,
        'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
        and you have not noticed?' (NIV)

While the ESV is more accurate to the original, the context and meaning can be misconstrued. Even the interlinear shows the inclusion of the context ("[they say]") for clarity:

Notice that the context of the NIV version indicates that God has, indeed, noticed not only the fasting of the people, but their complaints about the lack of response.

For each of the verses that follow, my comments will be either a summary of the impression received or to add descriptions from verses that precede the passage to show the context of the quote.


Exodus 34:28-29:

Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant - the Ten Commandments. 29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.

Right off, Moses was with the LORD and ate and drank nothing while he was there. However, this was not a voluntary practice to show his dedication to God, but something that happened because he was there. Because we see his face as radiant, we know that something "supernatural" occurred, which may have been how he was able to go so long without food or water. Let's hold off judgment on this for right now until we have more information.

Leviticus 16:29:

29"This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work - whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you -

Well, here is an outright ordinance, but what is an ordinance? Google defines it this way:


noun: ordinance; plural noun: ordinances

1. North American
a piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority.
"a city ordinance banned smoking in nearly all types of restaurants"
2. an authoritative order; a decree.

Definition number 2 seems more to the point. An order from God. OK. But, deny ourselves of what? According to the notes in my study Bible:

16:29, 31 deny yourselves. See NIV text note; more lit. "humble (or afflict) yourselves." The expression came to be used of fasting (Ps 35:13). The Day of Atonement was the only regular fast day stipulated in the OT (see 23:27, 29, 32 and NIV text note), though tradition later added other fast days to the Jewish calendar (see Zec 7:5; 8:19 and note).

But, wait a minute...

Since this chapter in Leviticus is for the Day of Atonement, and not only the whole book, but the holiday itself "was given only to the Israelites", why would the Gentiles join the Jews in creating reasons to fast at times of their own choosing? Isn't it interesting that Gentiles around the world fast for anything in order to gain favor with God, but refuse to follow His commands for the only holiday where He did command fasting? And, what happens every time you mention the current importance of keeping His Sabbath, another sacred day of God (Leviticus 23:3
3" 'There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the LORD.' "

) that specifies "fasting" from work and not just doing what we please? Did you catch that "day of sacred assembly" statement? Not Sunday, which was never made holy, but Sabbath.

"Hold on, I don't live among the Jews..."

Now, we have the other part of this verse to deal with. Leviticus was a chapter given to Moses for the Israelites. So, technically, this order was given to them and affects no one but them, right? Well, that is unless you are a foreigner living among them.

Now, what does that mean, "a foreigner" living among the Jews? At the time, Israel was a nation that had the complete attention of God. They were a physical people chosen by Him. After Jesus came, evidently a change came about in the determination of who is included in the nation of God's people. But, wait minute. Did anything change, or did God just wake up the Jews by giving Peter a vision (Acts 10:9-16
9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
14"Surely not, Lord!"" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
15The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.


Nothing changed, but Peter "wised up" the Jews

Galatians 3:7
7Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.

gives us a hint as to the nature of that "change". According to God's message to Peter, this was a "re-education", not a change. The real children of Abraham are the chosen people of God who believe in Him. God had never said that the Gentiles were "unclean", but that's the way the Jews treated them. Some nations were extremely unfaithful to God, so they were not included in "His people". The Israelites were descendants of Abraham, but, so was Ishmael and his descendants - another branch of Abraham. Now that we believe, we are part of the branch from Abraham called Israelites (Romans 11:17
17If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,

). If we stay in the will of God, we are no longer foreigners, but a chosen part of the nation of believing Israelites.

Now, if you believe this, then how do you react to the fact that this was given to the Israelites? If you do not believe it, then you have decided to be part of the branch of Ishmael and do not follow the path of the chosen people.

Leviticus 23:26-32

26The Lord said to Moses, 27"The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. 28Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. 29Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. 30I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath."

Verse 29 makes this a command to the people of God to deny themselves (denying yourself includes fasting, but is not only about food) for the Day of Atonement. It is a sign of obedience. While this is the only day commanded for fasting, the Jews added others.

Let's look at some other verses mentioning fasting.

Deuteronomy 9:18:

Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so arousing his anger.

Moses did this because of Israel's sins, including the creation and worship of the golden calf as well as other episodes mentioned in this chapter. He repented for the people, praying and fasting, and God listened.

Judges 20:26:

Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD.

Because of a brutal crime committed by some of the Benjamites, Israel determined to go to Bethel and make the guilty ones pay. They queried of the LORD who told them to go ahead with their plans. As a result, Israel lost 22,000 men in the battle. They entreated the LORD again, He told them to fight, and they lost 18,000 more men in a second battle. This time they wept and fasted before the LORD, and gave offerings as well. Again they asked Him, but this time He also told them that He would let them be victorious. That was the result of the prayers and fasting of this verse. That, and the fact that they had suffered enough for their sins.

1 Samuel 7:6:

When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, "We have sinned against the LORD." Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.

Here, Israel is convinced by Samuel that they have strayed from the real God. He convinced them to get rid of their "other gods" and return to the LORD. Their fasting showed their dedication to their promise to return to Him.

1 Samuel 31:13:

Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.

In this case, their fasting was a sign of mourning for their king, a sign of respect.

2 Samuel 1:12:

They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

Again, this was a sign of mourning and respect for their king and his son. It evidently lasted only until evening of the day they were informed of the deaths.

2 Samuel 3:35:

Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, "May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!"

This was, again, mourning for the death of Abner, and lasted only until evening.

2 Samuel 12:15-22:

15After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

18On the seventh day the child died. David's attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, he wouldn't listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate."

19David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. "Is the child dead?" he asked.

"Yes," they replied, "he is dead."

20Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21His attendants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"

22He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' "

Here, David found that he was guilty before the LORD and the child was dying because of David's sin. He hoped that his fasting would change the LORD's mind, but it was not to be. David then accepted the decision of the LORD, and went to Bathsheba to make another son.

1 Kings 19:8:

So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

This verse seems unfit for the purpose to understand fasting. This was not the result of voluntary fasting, as Elijah was running for his life and the journey took more energy than he had to give.

1 Kings 21:27:

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.

As a result of some news from Elijah the Tishbite that the LORD was going to punish Ahab for the evil in which he was currently involved, Ahab repented and demonstrated his repentance, including fasting. The LORD noticed and decided to pass the punishment due to Ahab over to his son.

2 Chronicles 7:14:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This verse does not mention fasting, but if you go to verse 17
"As for you, if you walk before me faithfully as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws,"

, you will find that God mentions His decrees. The pertinent one about denying yourself was specified in Leviticus 16:29 above. Again, this is only of concern to those who are the people of God.

2 Chronicles 20:2-3:

2Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, "A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar" (that is, En Gedi). 3Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.

After learning of a massive threat, Jehoshaphat declared a fast for Judah in order to show the LORD their dedication to Him. Then he prayed to God for protection. The LORD answered through Jahaziel, the son of Zechariah, and subdued the invasion. This fast was to declare the strength of their faith. If the people had not been sincere in their display of dedication, the results would have been different.

Ezra 8:21-23:

21There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, "The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him." 23So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

The story behind this passage is that these Israelites were returning to Jerusalem, but found themselves without any Levites to perform the activities in the Temple. They sent for some and many good men responded. This fast was to show their dedication in doing the LORD's work according to His ways, and as a result, He blessed their actions and gave them a safe journey.

Ezra 10:6:

Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.

These people were exiles returning to Jerusalem. They had been exiled for their continuing sinfulness which had included inter-marriage with non-Israelite women. They were in the process of recognizing their sins and came together in chapter 10 to confess to the LORD. They made a covenant with God to correct the situation by sending away all the foreign women and any children to which they had given birth, in accordance with the Law. This and other acts of contrition were performed in order to show the LORD that they were penitent.

Nehemiah 1:4:

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah was in Persia when he heard about the condition of Jerusalem when the exiles returned there. The distress he felt was the cause of his fasting and prayer. It was so visible that King Artaxerxes asked him about it. Whether the King's generosity to let Nehemiah return to Jerusalem was the result of the prayer, we are not told in the text.

Nehemiah 9:1:

On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.

This appears to be a continuation of the description of the confession and contrition of Ezra 10:6 above. The references in following verses of separating themselves from foreigners according to the Law is a clue.

Esther 4:3:

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Mordecai had discovered that Haman was behind a plot to discredit and destroy the Israelites. He put on sackcloth and ashes and began to roam the streets of the city, mourning the plight of his people. When the other Israelites saw him and experiences the reaults of Haman's plot, they began to do the same. Their only recourse in this strange land was to seek help by fasting and prayer. However, one strange note about this book, neither the LORD's name, nor His title, is ever mentioned. Even the request of Esther to Mordecai for fasting, shown in the verse immediately below on this page, does not mention God.

Esther 4:15-16:

15Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai:16"Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

Before this, Esther and her family had been indirectly threatened by Haman and his cohorts. Though she was queen at the time, any unbidden visits to the king would result in the death of the person who intruded, even the queen. She decided to ask the Israelites to fast and pray for her life to be spared, but was willing to take the chance to "impose" on the king, regardless of the consequences.

This fasting was not a direct plea to the LORD, but asking a favor from a friend for her. Maybe this is why the Israelites were trapped in a foreign land. They did not seek their God.

Psalm 35:13-14:

13Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
        and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
        14I went about mourning
        as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
        as though weeping for my mother.

These two verses from a Psalm of David do not give enough details for us to know who the word "they", in verse 13, is describing. When you read the entire Psalm, you find that this sackcloth and fasting is for his enemies "who contend with me" (verse 1 of the same Psalm). David takes the principle of Exodus 23:5 to heart:

5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

Helping your enemy may gain you a friend.

Psalm 69:10:

When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn;

Another Psalm of David. In this one, he describes the scorn he receives because of his love for God. When he follows the LORD's decrees, his neighbors reject him and make fun of him - even while he fasts to the LORD. We should not feel alone when we are rejected because of our following the Lord, as those who follow Him will be persecuted (Matthew 10:22
22You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.


Psalm 109:24:

My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt.

I have no idea of the meaning of this verse other than the plain meaning of the text.

Isaiah 58:3-8:

3'Why have we fasted,' they say,
        'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
        and you have not noticed?'

"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
        and exploit all your workers.
4Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
        and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
        and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
        only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
        and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?

6"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
        to loose the chains of injustice
        and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
        and break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your food with the hungry
        and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
        and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
8Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
        and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
        and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Here, through Isaiah, God is telling the Israelites that their fasting and prayers are falling on deaf ears because they are not fasting in the correct manner (Day of Atonement) or for the right reasons. Also, notice the definition of what God calls a real fast in verses 6, 7 and 8. Unless this is a description of the proper causes of a fast, it sounds nothing like the fasting verses we have studied. How is sharing your food with the hungry considered a fast unless you give them your last food and do without yourself? How does not eating set the oppressed free? There is more here than I can see right now.

Jeremiah 14:11-12:

11Then the LORD said to me, "Do not pray for the well-being of this people. 12Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague."

Once again, Israel has ignored the commands of God, yet they petition Him as though they were still in His favor. Just one verse before this, God says:

This is what the LORD says about this people: "They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the LORD does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins."

Yet we Gentiles think that we can do the same thing, but will not be punished. Sounds a lot like today's "Christian" churches where everyone does what seems right in their own mind, regardless of how it violates the laws of God. But if you listen to the preachers, they tell everyone it is OK to break the rules if you love Jesus. God is still watching, but may no longer be listening because we are not listening to Him.

Jeremiah 36:9:

In the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, a time of fasting before the LORD was proclaimed for all the people in Jerusalem and those who had come from the towns of Judah.

Jeremiah had written the words given to him by God on a scroll. Jeremiah said that he was restricted from going into the temple, so he asked Baruch to go into the temple on a day of fasting and read to them from the scroll. When the time of fasting was declared in this verse, a special day for the people because their minds were likely on God, Baruch did as he was instructed. Other leaders heard about what was read and wanted to hear it read to them as well.

Daniel 6:18:

Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

The king was Darius, and the reason he was upset was that, by an edict he was tricked into issuing, he had just thrown Daniel into the den of lions. Though he did not believe in the God of the Israelites, he was doing the very thing that the Israelites do when they want God to listen to their pleas - he fasted. Daniel was delivered from the lions. Because of this delivery from certain death, the king broadcast that the God of Daniel was the true, living God.

Daniel 9:3-5:

3So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:

"Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws."

Daniel was in exile when he heard that the desolation of Jerusalem would last for seventy years. This distressed him greatly, which was why he fasted and said his famous prayer in an effort to confess the sins of the people. This was when he was visited by the angel Gabriel and given the prophecy of the seventy sevens.

Daniel 10:3:

I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

Once again, Daniel had received a vision of a great war that distressed him to the point of fasting and prayer. In response to this prayer, an angel came and explained the nature of the war and its participants.

Joel 1:14:

Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.

This is part of a prophecy sent to Joel by the Lord. This call to declare a holy fast follows a decree for the priests of Israel to put on sackcloth and mourn the plague of locusts that was sent to the land because of the self-indulgence of the people. The locusts are described as though an invading army had come. They came because of the sinfulness of the people. The Lord wants people to repent and sincerely cry out to Him.

Joel 2:12-15:

12"Even now,"" declares the Lord,
        "return to me with all your heart,
        with fasting and weeping and mourning."

13Rend your heart
        and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
        for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
        and he relents from sending calamity.
14Who knows? He may turn and relent
        and leave behind a blessing -
grain offerings and drink offerings
        for the Lord your God.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion,
        declare a holy fast,
        call a sacred assembly.

A continuation of the plea from the Lord for the people to return to Him.

Jonah 3:5-10:

5The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

6When Jonah's warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

"By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

10When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

This was in response to the message Jonah delivered to Nineveh after he was convinded by the Lord to do what he was told. The king of Nineveh seemed to know what would appease the anger of God, so he told the people to fast and turn to Him so that they might turn away His wrath.

Zechariah 7:5:

"Ask all the people of the land and the priests, 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?' "

God told Jeremiah to let the people know that He knew what they were doing when they claimed to be serving Him. He said that they were hardening their hearts and doing only what they wished because things were going well for them. He was saying that He wanted justice and mercy, not fasting that was only a pretense to be doing His will. He promised them that He would return to Jerusalem, but only if they would listen and do:

16"These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; 17do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this," declares the Lord.

Fasting will not help if they continue to ignore the rest of His word.

Zechariah 8:19:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: "The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace."

If they would only listen, they would be prosperous and have peace.


Matthew 4:1-11:

1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

4Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:

" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' "

7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

10Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' "

11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


Matthew 6:16-18 ESV:

16"And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Maybe this is a hint that we should fast when we have trouble not listening to the Devil.

Matthew 9:14-15:

14Then John's disciples came and asked him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" 15Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast."

The Pharisees seem to have trouble grasping the real meaning of fasting. Are we in the same boat today?

Matthew 17:20-22:

20He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

21(Intentionally blank, see discussion)

22When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men."

Interestingly, the part of this verse that supposedly included it in the list on the site at Open Bible is not in the NIV, nor the Greek. In fact, it's not even in the verse shown on the Open Bible site in the ESV quote. Verse 21 has been added. The ESV has verse 21 as:

["But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."]

This was added to many versions, including KJV, New American Standard, Darby Bible, World English Bible, Young's Literal Translation, and a host of others, in order to sync with Mark 9:29 below, but they forgot to see if the comment on "fasting" was even in that verse. It is not.

Mark 2:18-20:

18Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?" 19Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast."

Again, it seems that tradition has overtaken common sense, both back then and today.

Mark 9:29:

He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."

Oops. The word "fasting" was never in this passage.

Luke 2:37:

and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

This Anna was a prophetess who spent all her time dedicated to the Lord. She spoke of Jesus and redemption.

Luke 4:2:

where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

Again, we can only assume this is how He prepared to confront the Devil.

Luke 5:33-35:

33They said to him, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking."

34Jesus answered, "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast."

As we have said, it seems that tradition is stronger than obedience to God.

Luke 18:12:

'I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'

This Pharisee considered his strict obedience to be better than honesty and penitence. His pride was in the way of seeing the reality of his need. Fasting is not a subsitute for faith.

Acts 9:9:

For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Paul was not eating because he was shocked at being struck blind by the Lord. While we would not call this a fast for Paul, if he recognized why the Lord did this to him, he may have known what to do from his knowledge of the Scriptures.

Acts 10:30:

Cornelius answered: "Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me"

Note that the word fasting is not in the NIV here, and it is not in the Greek, but it does appear in the KJV, which is probably why it was showing on the site with this list.

Acts 13:1-3:

1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.2While 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." 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Here, mourning does not seem to be the reason for the fasting, so it was part of their worship. Since the Holy Spirit spoke to them, the Lord was listening.

Acts 14:23:

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

The image here is that through prayer and fasting, they were able to get a clear word of God about the elders they were assigning to the churches.

Acts 27:33:

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food - you haven't eaten anything."

According to our definition, this is not fasting.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5:

1Now for the matters you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." 2But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

This seems to be speaking of denying yourself for other than food fasting.

1 Corinthians 8:8:

But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

This discussion is regarding the eating food sacrificed to idols. Not eating that kind of food has nothing to do with fasting.

1 Corinthians 9:27:

No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Again, this is about disciplining oneself. This can include fasting, but also has to do with a multitude of other temptations.

1 Corinthians 10:31:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

This is part of a discussion of whether you should eat meat in front of a vegetarian or food that has been declared to have been sacrificed to idols. This is not a license to eat things God has labeled "detestable". Anything sold in the meat market will have lost any significance of being sacrificed to idols.

2 Corinthians 11:27:

I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Forced hunger is not what we call fasting. Fasting is voluntary and for mourning or a spiritual purpose.

The purpose of fasting

OK. Now that we have looked at the multiple fasting events that we are told about in the Bible, what is the purpose of fasting? Looking up "fasting holidays" results in over 8 million hits, so I just went with the first one on the list. The site at Becoming Eden presents a thorough list of 12 different faiths that use fasting for various purposes. Many of those listed are associated with Christianity and Judaism, but on the entire page there was not one quote from the Bible. Even the paragraph on Judaism lists only those facts about fasting from Tradition, not the word of God.

Now, changing the search a little to "Jewish fasting holidays" returned about one million hits, with the first article listing only two Jewish full fast days: Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur.

Tisha B'Av is a fast of mourning in the fifth Jewish month of Av because of the destruction of the first Jewish temple by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (2 Kings 25:8-21) in 586 B.C. The mourning is not only for the temple itself, but also the disobedience that led to that destruction.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is a day of atonement and repentance for sins in the Jewish seventh month of Tishrei.

Each of these is a 24-hour fast day. Should Christians fast on these holidays? Well, that would seem to be a personal decision based on whether or not you actually mourn the destruction of the first temple, or are truly trying to atone for your sinful life.

Yes, we all have a sinful life, in God's eyes. Fasting because of fasting is not a reason to fast. We are to be genuine in our dedication to God when we do something for God, not just do it because the Jews do. As for atonement and repentance, this was a day set aside by God in Leviticus 23:26-32:

26The Lord said to Moses, 27"The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. 28Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. 29Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. 30I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath."

If you believe that God has set aside Sabbath days for His people to faithfully observe to show their faith in His plan of redemption for us, then I would answer, "Yes. We should observe the fast holiday of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)." We may not be sorrowing about the destruction of the first temple, but we should recognize the reason for God allowing it to be destroyed - sin and disobedience on the part of His people. We are His people and we are still disobedient.


We, believers in Christ, are the people of God. Some of us are still trying to be faithful to His word, some are not. When we hear of the need for a revival, we recognize the need for people to return to God. The only way to do that is to find out what He said to do - and then do it. That is hard for us because we don't even know how to do that. It's time we learned.

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