Should Christians Fast
Fasting in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, fasting is sometimes done, but never commanded.
The only command to fast comes from Esther the queen, who asks her people to fast for three days and night -- Esther 4:16.
Examples of Old Testament Fasting:
Judges 20:26 gives the first example of fasting in the Bible. It took place in the midst of“civil war" among the tribes, who were seeking wisdom from God.
1 Samuel 7:6 -- the people of Israel repent and fast before the Lord for their disobedience, begging the Lord for the return of the ark of the covenant.
1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12 -- Israel fasts at the death of King Saul.
2 Samuel 12:16-23 -- David fasts for the life of his son by Bathsheba.
1 Kings 21:27 -- Wicked King Ahab fasts when judgment is pronounced.
Ezra 8:21-23 -- Ezra proclaims a fast for the rebuilding of the Temple.
Nehemiah 1:4 -- Nehemiah fasts over the fallen state of Jerusalem.
Isaiah 58:1-8 -- The fasting of Israel is condemned by the Lord for a different kind of fasting.
Jeremiah 14:12 -- The Lord refuses to respond to sinful Israel's fasting.
One particularly insightful example:
Zechariah 7:5 --
The people were fasting in the fifth and seventh months.
The fifth month was likely the fasting in the month of Ab to remember the destruction of the Temple.
The seventh month was likely the Day of Atonement.
The Lord condemned their selfish fasting. Note the words when ye fasted for a New Testament connection.
Does the Torah prescribe any fasts?
Leviticus 16:29 interpreted by Ezra 8:21 and Isaiah 58:5 is the closest there is to a prescribed fast, on the Day of Atonement.
Fasting in the Gospels
Matthew 4:3 -- Jesus fasted 40 days and night at the beginning of His ministry.
Matthew 6:16-18 -- Jesus taught that the Israelites should fast secretly.
The words when ye fast (v. 16) are likely the beginning of an allusion to Zechariah 7:5, and thus the traditional fasting of the fifth and seventh months.
Matthew 9:14-15 -- the disciples of Jesus were accused of not fasting. Jesus confirmed the accusation but said there would come a day when they would.
Matthew 17:21 -- The disciples were told that a particular kind of demon does not leave but by prayer and fasting.
Luke 2:37 -- Anna, the widow in the Temple, served God with fastings.
Luke 18:12 -- Jesus told a parable of a self-righteous Pharisee who fasted twice a week. It is difficult to know if there was intentional exaggeration or if the Pharisees had literally exaggerated fasting to twice weekly.
Fasting in the Book of Acts
Acts 10:30 -- Cornelius was fasting when he received his vision concerning Peter.
Acts 13:2 -- The church at Antioch was fasting when the Lord separated Paul and Barnabas for ministry. See also Acts 14:23 for a similar event.
Acts 27:9 -- The fast is used as a term for the Day of Atonement.
Fasting In the Epistles
1 Corinthians 7:5 -- The only time Paul mentions fasting (save 2 Cor. 11:27, out of our context). In this singular mention it is not prohibited, not promoted, and not described in detail.
Fasting In Contemporary Christian Discussion
Fasting is seen as a normative Christian discipline for many Christians today. It is presented as something that brings spiritual power, insight, and growth.
Fasting is often worked into a formula that is artificial.
Sometimes event based -- days of fasting before an event.
Sometimes calendar based -- days of fasting during lent.
Sometimes behaviorally based -- fasting for repentance over certain sins.
Should christians Fast?
A Christian should never fast because they feel that the Bible requires it. There is no such requirement.
A Christian should not fast because their pastor or church demands it. Such a demand (whether direct or by implication) is not within their authority.
If a Christian fasts, it should be a highly personal time of enhanced spiritual journey. Few, if any, should know about it.
If a Christian fasts, it should be for:
The joy of spending time with God.
The joy of learning from His Word.
The heartfelt search for Biblical counsel.