Perspectives on Fasting: New Testament Perspectives

Lesson 1998
Tags: Fasting
Excerpted from Perspectives on Fasting

Greek Terminology

  • nesteuo [3522]: to fast, to abstain from food and drink as a religious exercise; to be hungry.
  • nesteia [3521]: a fasting, fast, whether voluntary or driven by need; hunger.
  • nestis [3523]: empty; fasting, having not eaten.
  • asitos [777]: fasting, without having eaten.
  • asitia [776]: abstinence from food, whether voluntary or enforced.

Examples of Fasting in the NT

  • Anna (Lk 2.36-37)
  • Jesus (Mt 4.1ff)
  • John the Baptist’s disciples (Mt 9.14; Mk 2.18; Lk 5.33)
  • Cornelius (Acts 10.30-31)
  • The church at Antioch-Syria (Acts 13.1-3)
  • Paul (Acts 9.8-9; 14.23; 2 Cor 6.5; 11.27)

Key NT Text on Fasting

Matthew 6.16-18

16 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.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Principles Concerning Fasting

Several circumstances led NT characters to carry out a fast. These included the following:

  • preparation for ministry (Mt 4.1-2)
  • regular discipline of service to God (Lk 2.37)
  • desire to know God and his will (Acts 10.1-4, 30-31)
  • ministry activities in a growing local church (Acts 13.1-2)
  • commissioning local church leaders (Acts 13.3; 14.23)

Various abuses of fasting are noted in the NT. These include the following:

  • publicizing the fact that one is fasting (Mt 6.16; Mk 18.12)
  • practicing fasting without joy (Mt 6.16)
  • fasting for public recognition rather than spiritual reward (Mt 6.16-18)
  • taking pride in one’s habit of fasting (Lk 18.11-12)

There is some biblical evidence that fasting is a means of seeking spiritual power (Mt 17.18-21; Mk 9.25-29). However, there is some question regarding the validity of the manuscripts that mention fasting in these passages (Harrison 2:284; Wallis 108-09).

The NT seems to teach that fasting is a normal Christian practice. Several arguments support this claim:

  • When asked why his disciples didn’t fast, Jesus gave indication that they would when he was no longer with them (Mt 9.14-15; Mk 2.18-20; Lk 5.33-35). His statement implies that fasting is an acceptable—and perhaps even expected—Christian activity.
  • Fasting, like prayer, is a means of serving God (Lk 2.37).
  • Jesus grouped fasting along with prayer and charitable giving as practices that his followers could reasonably be expected to observe (Mt 6.16-18; cf. 6.1-8).
  • Several early church leaders—most notably Paul and his associates—practiced voluntary fasting (Acts 13.1-3; 14.23; 2 Cor 11.27).
  • Fasting is named in the epistles as a normal Christian discipline, a practice that should be accompanied by prayer (1 Cor 7.5).