Perspectives on Fasting: Religious Perspectives

Lesson 1998
Tags: Fasting
Excerpted from Perspectives on Fasting

  • “Fasting, that is, complete or partial abstinence from nourishment, is an almost universal phenomenon within both Eastern and Western cultures” (Rader 5:286).
  • “[I]n most cultures that ascribe to [fasting] at least three motivations are easily discernible: (1) preliminary to or preparatory for an important event or time in an individual’s or a people’s life; (2) as an act of penitence or purification; or (3) as an act of supplication” (287). Specific reasons for fasting in various religions include seeking spiritual power, preparing for ecstatic revelations, achieving higher levels of union with deities, and averting evil spirits (287; Behm 632).
  • The Mosaic Law imposed on the Jews only one regular fast—the Day of Atonement (Lev 16.29ff; 23.27ff). However, it also recognized the legitimacy of private, voluntary fasts (Num 30.13). Religious and political leaders of the Jews called for widespread fasting during times of urgent national need (e.g., 2 Chr 20.2-4; Esth 4.15-16).
  • As might be expected, the practice of fasting approved of by the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is both similar to and distinct from fasting in other religions. Biblical teaching concerning fasting will be outlined in the following sections.