Fasting: A View from the New Testament

Here is an unedited list of references to fasting from the New Testament with brief comments about what we can learn about fasting from these references. This list is a companion to my earlier list from the Old Testament found here.

  • Matthew 4:1-3 – “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him.” – Before Jesus launched into His public ministry He went to the desert for 40 days to pray and fast. This reminds us of Moses’ 40 days on the mountain with God, as well as the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before arriving in the Promised Land of Canaan.
  • Matthew 6:16-17 – “When you fast…”—It is worth noting that Jesus takes for granted that His followers will fast, just as they will give and pray (6:2, 5). He does not say, ‘if’ you fast or you ‘must’ fast. It seems that the fasting is included with giving and prayer under the heading ‘acts of righteousness’ (6:1). These are practices we should live by, but not in a legalistic way like the Pharisee, whose aim was recognition by others for these things.
  • Matthew 9:14-15 – “Then John’s disciples came and asked him [Jesus], ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus 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.’” – Jesus is not saying that His followers should not fast, but that the timing is not right for fasting while He is on earth. When He leaves, fasting will be appropriate.
  • Acts 9:9 – “For three days he [Paul] was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” – Again, an example of an absolute fast in the face of cataclysmic circumstances. Paul (then ‘Saul’) had just encountered the glorified Jesus on the road to Damascus; his life was never the same.
  • Acts 13:2 – “While 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.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” – The leaders of the church in Antioch were gathered in worship. Fasting here is not clearly a response to anything, other than possibly a report by Barnabas and Saul to the church in Jerusalem. Perhaps it is a response to the need for clarity on next steps.
  • 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.” – As with the example from Antioch, the church and its leadership was established in prayer and fasting.

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