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Appendix 2: Fasting In Scripture

The following charts have been presented before in similar form, though minor changes have been made here.853 They have been assembled by searching the Bible for texts that include the words in the “fasting” families,854 as well as other narrative references to fasts which do not contain “fasting” words.

Scriptural References to Fasting

What follows is a comprehensive list of references to fasting in Scripture, with a brief summary of the contents of each passage (synoptic passages have been treated together). Notation is made of the extent of the fast (whether the fast is strictly individual or of a corporate nature), for the purpose of highlighting the corporate nature of biblical fasting in contrast to the frequent misconception that fasting was intended to be a strictly private, individualistic matter. Some text critical notes related to questionable NT passages are made here, but a fuller discussion may be found above in the discussion in the second chapter.

Reference

Extent

Summary

Exod 24:18, 34:28; Deut 9:9, 18, 10:10

individual

Moses twice spends forty days on Mount Sinai without eating or drinking, and in mourning over Israel’s sin.

Judg 20:26

corporate

Israel fasts until evening to inquire of YHWH after loss to Benjamin.

1 Sam 1:7-8

individual

Hannah weeps and refuses to eat when her husband’s other wife provokes her, and she prays for a son.

1 Sam 7:6

corporate

Israel fasts for a day to repent, Samuel prays, YHWH delivers them from the Philistines.

1 Sam 14:24-46

corporate

Saul places the army under oath not to eat until evening on the day of battle with the Philistines.

1 Sam 20:34

individual

Jonathan refuses to eat because of his grief over his father’s mistreatment of David.

1 Sam 28:20

individual

Saul eats nothing all day and night when he consults with the witch of En-dor.

1 Sam 31:13;
1 Chr 10:12

corporate

Men of Jabesh fast seven days after recovering the bodies of Saul and Jonathan from the Philistines.

2 Sam 1:12

corporate

David’s men fast until evening upon hearing the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan.

2 Sam 3:35

individual(?)

David refuses to eat food until evening when he heard of the death of Abner.

2 Sam 12:16-23

individual

David fasts and weeps seven days during the terminal illness of his son by Bathsheba.

1 Kgs 13:1-22

individual

An unnamed prophet is instructed by God not to eat or drink while on a mission to prophesy against Jeroboam’s idolatry.

1 Kgs 19:8

individual

Elijah goes forty days on the strength of the food provided to him by an angel.

1 Kgs 21:4

individual

Ahab eats no food because he is sullen after Naboth refused to sell his vineyard.

1 Kgs 21:9-12

corporate

Jezebel calls a false day of fasting to accuse Naboth of cursing God.

1 Kgs 21:27-29

individual

Ahab fasts and puts on sackcloth in repentance after Elijah rebuked him, and God recognized Ahab’s humility.

2 Chr 20:3

corporate

Jehoshaphat proclaims a fast throughout Judah to seek YHWH for fear of the armies of Ammon and Moab.

Ezra 8:21-23

corporate

Ezra calls a fast to seek God’s protection for those leaving Babylon for Israel.

Ezra 10:6

individual

Ezra eats and drinks nothing because of his mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.

Neh 1:4

individual

Nehemiah mourns and fasts for days over the news of the state of Jerusalem, confessing national sin.

Neh 9:1

corporate

The people of Israel assemble with fasting to confess their sin after Ezra reads from the law.

Esth 4:3

corporate

The Jews weep and fast when they hear of the king’s decree for their destruction.

Esth 4:16

corporate

Esther, her maidens, and the Jews of Susa fast from food and drink for three days before she goes to the king.

Esth 9:31

corporate

Purim is established for the Jews with instructions for fasting and lamentations.

Job 3:24

individual

Job groans at the sight of food, and experiences great affliction and pain.

Job 33:19-20

individual

Elihu suggests that man (specifically, Job) is afflicted by God and unable to eat because God is chastening him.

Ps 35:13

individual

David defends his honor by saying that he fasted and prayed when his enemies were sick.

Ps 42:3

individual

The psalmist (Sons of Korah) says that tears are his food day and night.

Ps 69:10

individual

David’s fasting, weeping and prayer was an object of scorn by his enemies.

Ps 102:4

individual

The afflicted psalmist forgets to eat bread because of his great grief.

Ps 107:17-18

individual

People in distress are pictured as near death, unable to eat, but YHWH saves them.

Ps 109:24

individual

David says his knees are weak from fasting, and his flesh has grown lean during his affliction from his enemies.

Isa 58:3-6

corporate

Israel’s fasts are not heard by God because of their oppression and hypocrisy; He desires righteousness first.

Jer 14:12

corporate

Israel’s fasts are not heard by God because of their oppression and hypocrisy.

Jer 36:6-9

corporate

The people of Judah assemble in Jerusalem for a fast, and Baruch reads Jeremiah’s prophecy to them.

Ezek 24:18

individual

Ezekiel is instructed in special mourning rites, that include fasting, for the death of his wife.

Dan 6:18

individual

Darius fasts from food, entertainment, and sleep through the night while worrying for Daniel in the lion’s den.

Dan 9:3

individual

Daniel fasts, confessing Israel’s sin, upon reading Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy weeks.

Dan 10:2-3

individual

Daniel mourns for three weeks, abstaining from tasty food, meat, wine, and ointment.

Joel 1:14

corporate

Joel calls for a nation-wide fast because of famine that is destroying the land.

Joel 2:12-15

corporate

YHWH calls the people to return to Him with fasting, rending their hearts, not garments; Joel again calls for a fast.

Jonah 3:5

corporate

All of Nineveh fasts, repenting at the preaching of Jonah of the destruction of the city.

Zech 7:5

corporate

YHWH rebukes the priests for their ritual fasts that were done more for themselves than for Him.

Zech 8:19

corporate

YHWH will transform the ritual fasts into feasts of joy when God’s people have repented of sin and He grants them favor.

Matt 4:2; Luke 4:2

individual

Jesus fasts forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil.

Matt 6:16-18

individual

Jesus teaches that fasting should be done privately for God, not for the purpose of being seen to be fasting, like the hypocrites.

Matt 9:14-15;
Mark 2:18-20;
Luke 5:33-35

corporate

Jesus tells John’s disciples that his do not fast because the bridegroom is present, but when He is taken away they will.

Matt 15:32;
Mark 8:3

corporate

Jesus did not wish to send the crowd away fasting,855 since they had been with Him three days and have nothing (more?) to eat.

Matt 17:21;856
Mark 9:29857

individual?

Jesus says that this kind of demon goes out only by means of prayer and fasting.858

Luke 2:37

individual

Anna serves in the temple night and day with fastings and prayers.

Luke 18:12

individual

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable shows his self-righteousness by boasting that he fasts twice a week and tithes.

Acts 9:9

individual

Saul fasted from food and water three days after the Damascus Road experience.

Acts 10:30859

individual

Cornelius was fasting and praying when an angel instructed him to go to Peter.

Acts 13:2-3

corporate

Prophets and teachers in Antioch were ministering to the Lord and fasting before and after the Holy Spirit set apart Saul and Barnabas.

Acts 14:23

corporate

Paul and Barnabas appoint elders in the churches, having prayed with fasting.

Acts 23:12

corporate

Certain Jews bind themselves by oath not to eat or drink until they kill Paul.

Acts 27:9

corporate

Paul’s voyage to Rome takes place after “the fast” was over, a reference to the Day of Atonement.

Acts 27:33

corporate

Paul encourages the ship’s crew to eat, since they had gone 14 days fasting.860

1 Cor 7:5861

couples

Paul tells couples not to deprive one another sexually, except for brief periods devoted to prayer and fasting.

2 Cor 6:5;
2 Cor 11:27

individual

Paul lists “fastings”862 among the hardships he suffered as a mark of his apostleship.

Summary of Biblical Purposes for Fasting

    I. As a Sign of Sorrow

      A. For tragic events (Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 31:13/1 Chr 10:12; 2 Sam 1:12, 3:35; Esth 4:3; Jer 14:1-12; Joel 1:14, 2:12-15).

      B. For personal sorrow (1 Sam 1:7-8, 20:34; Job 3:24; Pss 42:3, 102:4, 107:17-18).

    II. As a Sign of Repentance and Seeking Forgiveness

      A. National or corporate sins (Exod 34:28/Deut 9:9, 18, 10:10; 1 Sam 7:6; Ezra 9:1- 10:17; Neh 1:4-7, 9:1; Dan 9:3-14; Jonah 3:5-9; Zech 8:16-19).

      B. Personal sins (2 Sam 12:16-23; 1 Kgs 21:27-29; Ps 69:10; Acts 9:9?).

      C. As an opportunity for public exposure of sin (1 Kgs 21:9-12; Isa 58:1-5; Jer 36:6-9).

    III. As an Aid in Prayer to God

      A. For others (2 Sam 12:16-23; Neh 1:8-10; Ps 35:13; Dan 6:18, 9:15-19).

      B. For self (1 Sam 1:7-11; Neh 1:11; Ps 109:21-24; Dan 9:3, 10:1-3).

      C. For success in battle (Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 7:6; 2 Chr 20:3) and in other endeavors (Ezra 8:21-23; Esth 4:16).

      D. For relief from famine (Jer 14:1-12; Joel 1:14, 2:12-15).

      E. As a means of personal or group devotion (Matt 6:16-18; Luke 2:37; Acts 10:30, 13:2-3; 1 Cor 7:5).

    IV. As a Part of Experiencing God’s Presence

      A. Supernatural sustaining by God (Exod 34:28/Deut 9:9, 18, 10:10; 1 Kgs 19:8).

      B. Reliance on God in times of temptation or spiritual warfare (Matt 4:2/Luke 4:2; Matt 17:21/Mark 9:29).

      C. Reflecting the reality of the absence of Christ’s immediate presence with his followers (Matt 9:14-15/Mark 2:18-20/Luke 5:33-35).

      D. Going without food to remain longer under Jesus’ teaching (Matt 15:32/Mark 8:3).

    V. As an Act of Ceremonial Public Worship (Neh 9:1; Esth 9:31; Isa 58:3; Jer 36:6-9; Zech 7:3-5, 8:19; Acts 27:9).

    VI. As Related to Ministry

      A. Preparation for significant ministry (Matt 4:2/Luke 4:2; Acts 9:9, 13:2-3, 14:23).

      B. Specific command of God while prophesying (1 Kgs 13:1-22).

      C. Suffering for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor 6:5/11:27).

    VII. Negative Associations or Corrections of Fasting

      A. Fasting while engaging in hypocritical actions or attitudes (1 Sam 28:20; 1 Kgs 21:9-12; Isa 58; Jer 14:10-12; Jer 36:6-26; Zech 7:3-14; Matt 6:16-18; Luke 18:12).

      B. Fasting as a solemn binding for a foolish or sinful oath (1 Sam 14; Acts 23:12-21).

      C. Breaking a fast when God has commanded it (1 Kgs 13:8-24).

      D. A sulking refusal to eat (1 Kgs 21:4).

      E. Wrongly attributing the inability to eat as God’s chastening (Job 33:19-20).


853 Kent Berghuis, “Teaching Biblical Fasting” (paper presented at the ETS annual meeting, Orland, Fla., 1998), 11-15; “A Biblical Perspective on Fasting,” BSac 158, no. 629 (2001): 97-103.

854 From the Hebrew root xw< and Greek words related to nhsteuvw.

855 As in the KJV; the NASB translates nhvstei" (acc. pl. masc. from the adjective nh'sti") in Matt 15:32 as “hungry,” perhaps implying that it was not an intentional fast but merely the lack of food; yet the NASB inconsistently translates the same word as “fasting” in Mark 8:3.

856 This verse is well-attested in the Byzantine witnesses, but omitted from Vaticanus, the original hand of Sinaiticus, and a number of other manuscripts. For this reason, and because it was likely assimilated to the parallel in Mark, the omission was assigned an {A} rating in The Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, 4th ed. (UBS4).

857 This verse ends with “prayer” ( proseuchv/) in Vaticanus, the original hand of Sinaiticus, and several minor witnesses. But a corrector of Sinaiticus, Ì45vid, and a large number of later uncials and minuscules add “and fasting” ( kaiV nhsteivav). Recognizing scribal tendencies the UBS4 assigned the omission an {A} rating, and they refer the reader to 1 Cor 7:5.

858 The fact that tou'to deV toV gevno" is neuter would suggest that Jesus was referring back to the unclean spirit ( toV daimovnion) which had just come out of the boy.

859 The reference to fasting is omitted in Sinaiticus, the original hand of Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Ì74, and several other witnesses, while being found in most of the Byzantine and a number of Western manuscripts. Previous editions of the UBS Greek NT gave the reading that lacked the reference to fasting a {D} rating; the {B} rating in the UBS4 seems a little optimistic.

860 This was probably not an intentional fast. But because of the storm, the likelihood of seasickness and the extreme conditions on the vessel, the crew could not find a good time to eat.

861 The reference to “fasting” in this verse is omitted by almost all of the Alexandrian and Western witnesses, with the Byzantine including it. The UBS4 assigns the omission a certainty of {A}, apparently seeing this textual addition as informing Mark 9:29 and Matt 17:21, as suggested by footnote 25 on Mark 9:29.

862 The NASB translates nhsteivai" “hunger” and “without food,” respectively.

Related Topics: Fasting