Where the world comes to study the Bible

Chapter 2: Fasting In The New Testament: Remembrance And Anticipation In The Messianic Age

A thoroughgoing Christian, evangelical, and canonical theology of fasting will seek to orient both testaments to the central figure of Christianity, Jesus. The OT will be seen as pointing forward toward him and the NT as pointing back to him. The NT presents Jesus as the pivotal, messianic figure who would usher in the kingdom of God. This chapter will seek to show that fasting plays a significant role in new covenant theology by symbolically contributing to this eschatological identity of Christ. Key fasting texts help Christians to understand the nature of the age, and fasting is described both didactically and by example.125

The most important theological ideas related to fasting texts in the NT will flow from this messianic center. In this chapter, Jesus himself is seen to be marked out by his fasting, as he identifies with Israel as its messianic prophet like Moses. He brings an end to the old covenant and the mourning for Israel’s exile and would seem to be putting an end to the significance of the fasting motif. But then he ushers in a new age, one marked by his absence as well as his presence in the Spirit, and so fasting is reinvested with meaning. Fasting was never a sign of righteousness in itself, but humble, righteous people may indeed fast in any age. And so the early followers of Christ did fast, not out of a sense of obligation, but in a desire to seek the Lord’s presence and out of necessity for the ministry of the gospel. Such discipline is encouraged as the Lord does his work through his people, but the act itself did not have the kind of formalized or ritualized meanings it occasionally had for contemporary Judaism, as seen in the last chapter.

In order to better understand the references to fasting in the NT, some further general background will first be presented below. Then a focus on the references to fasting in the gospels will establish the essentially messianic and eschatological character of fasting as a central aspect, as well as a recasting of fasting as an act of true humility before God. In the book of Acts and a couple of references in the epistles, fasting will be seen to function in a renewed form in the nascent new era. Finally, a few major text critical issues will show the bridge from NT fasting to the increasingly ascetic tendencies of the early Christian community.

Greek Background and Terminology
Fasting as Abstaining from Food, Usually for Religious Reasons

Two of the most important pieces of academic work related to a biblical theology of fasting focus on the New Testament. One is a rather comprehensive dissertation by Marion Michael Fink, and the other a competent monograph by Joseph F. Wimmer, without reference to one another.126 Fink presents fasting in the NT against the backdrop of Greco-Roman culture, generally following the lead of Rudolf Arbesmann.127 He gives extensive citations of both primary and secondary sources in Graeco-Roman literature. But while the broader historical milieu of the NT era certainly plays a role in shaping contemporary attitudes toward fasting, one wonders if Fink has overstated the importance of non-Jewish sources on the NT. For instance, he convincingly argues that fasting did not play that great a role in the overall Graeco-Roman culture, yet he suggests that Christian fasting grew away from biblical descriptions: “Through the innocently applied examples of fasting in the New Testament, the early ascetics gained control of the import of the teachings in the New Testament; and fasting succumbed to the syncretistic influences.”128 This seems to result in a lack of balance in the work, with relatively little discussion of the OT precedents as compared to voluminous references to Greek and Latin literature. Such literature is more appropriately used to set a context for the later reception of Christianity in the broader Graeco-Roman world, especially when one considers the thoroughly Jewish character of Jesus, his Galilean disciples and the other protagonists of the NT.

Wimmer’s work exemplifies some of the best of modern Catholic biblical scholarship. The writing is lucid and thorough, and the work is probably the best overall biblical study of fasting to date. While he engages in technical (and sometimes rather theoretical) reconstructive textual work, he keeps an eye on the hermeneutical, theological, and practical implications of his study for the life of the church. His conclusions, as seen below, place fasting in the context of a Catholic commitment to virtue theology (he says that fasting can “foster union with Christ,” while Protestants might wish to emphasize that the gospel establishes that union). In summarizing the relevance of his study, he writes:

We may conclude, then, that the eschatological acceptance of the kingdom, the kerygmatic union with Christ and the transcendental norms of faith, hope, and charity which flow from it are always valid, and that the perennial validity of certain precepts of the New Testament’s categorical morality is to be determined by the degree of their fidelity to the fundamental kerygma. The validity of fasting is judged ultimately by the same criteria, by the degree of its relationship to the fundamental aspects of Christian doctrine, by its ability to foster union with Christ in faith, hope, and love, and by its capacity to prepare us for eternal life.129

While these brief conclusions are appreciated, Wimmer leaves room for an expansion of key theological concepts, which he only touches on as he grounds his work textually. Both Fink and Wimmer provide commendable background studies for fasting in the NT. So it will only be necessary to briefly summarize some of the key features of this discussion here before moving on to the biblical and theological material.

The NT Greek terms relating directly to fasting are forms of the adjective νῆστις, the noun νηστεία, and the verb νηστεύω. Behm says that the basic word νῆστις “means generally ‘one who has not eaten, who is empty,’” and when referring to abstention from food on religious grounds, it becomes the term for the one who fasts.130 The noun form, νηστεία, can denote general hunger, but most often refers to fasting as a religious rite, whether public or private.131 The verb νηστεύω “can also mean generally ‘to be hungry, without food,’ … But it usually means ‘to fast’ in a religious and ritual sense.”132

Louw and Nida discuss the basic terms under the domain of “physiological processes and states,” and the subdomain of “eat, drink,” with these comments:

the state of being very hungry, presumably for a considerable period of time and as the result of necessity rather than choice (compare νηστείαa ‘fasting,’ 53.65)—’to be quite hungry, considerable hunger, lack of food.’133

Referring to the domain of “religious activities,” “fasting” is given its own subdomain, and defined as “to go without food for a set time as a religious duty—’to fast, fasting.’”134 The Day of Atonement is also recognized as a festival known simply as “the fast.”135

Fink emphasizes the “tendency toward non-religious meanings” in the terms: “They were so fundamentally bound up in the physical state of not eating or of lacking food that they represented a spectrum of meanings from ‘hungry’ to ‘hunger’ to ‘famished’ to ‘famine,’ and they were even used to describe the state of unfed animals.”136 This supports his idea that Judaism and Christianity progressively influenced the Graeco-Roman culture to view fasting as being linked to religious observance, while that was not necessarily the case earlier.

According to Wimmer, “With the exception of oracular shrines, fasting played only a small part in the worship of ancient Greece.”137 The only common fast known was a fast on the second day of the three-day Thesmophoria festival, in honor of Demeter. Wimmer notes that fasting and food observance later became common through Oriental influence, as evidenced by initiation rites of mystery religions like Kybele and the Eleusinians. Those who gave oracles, as well as Pythagoreans, sometimes engaged in fasting or partial abstinence behaviors, perhaps having to do with symbolic or magical purification to allow for clarity in their mantic activities. It was “thought that the soul could reach its greatest power when it was independent of the digestive activity of the body and of the evil spirits that inhabit certain foods, so that it could then enter into free communion with the divine world and learn its mysteries through oracles and dreams.”138 The Cynics and Stoics practiced lives of self-control, which included dietary restrictions, to seek peace through simplicity.

As already seen, the Hebrew terms related to צוּם certainly did have a specifically religious connotation. The LXX almost always employed νηστεύω for the Hebrew verb צוּם and νηστεία for the noun צוֹם, with Behm calling them “the fixed equivalent.”139 With reference to the NT, then, the religious usage for νηστέυω words will be primary, but the broader, more general usage of the terms in Greek heritage may also occasionally be present.

Fasting in the Gospels: In Christ, Fulfillment Has Come

The synoptic gospels provide the basic material for a study of NT fasting, with several important contexts.140 Two are treated in more than one gospel, the fasting of Jesus while he was tempted in the desert, dealt with in Matt 4:1-4 and Luke 4:1-4 (although Mark 1:12-13 refers to the incident without mentioning fasting), and his response to a question as to why his disciples did not fast, which is recorded in all three synoptics (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39). Matthew records Jesus’ teaching concerning fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:16-18), and Luke mentions the fasting of Anna in the temple (Luke 2:37) and a parable of a Pharisee who fasts (Luke 18:12). There is also a reference to the possibility of sending the crowd away “fasting,” which raises the question of the less than distinct relationship between intentional fasting and hunger (Matt 15:32; Mark 8:3).

This chapter will suggest that the primary theological contribution of these texts is to highlight the pivotal, momentous eschatological change that has arrived in the person of Christ. The texts will be dealt with in a theologically prioritized order, to highlight the flow from the messianic, eschatological mission of Christ, to teachings about fasting, to less important examples that nonetheless contribute to the greater theology of fasting. First, Jesus’ forty-day fast will be seen to mark him as the messianic figure, the promised prophet like Moses. The fasting query directed to Jesus will teach his followers about the eschatological nature of the age that follows his messianic appearance. The instructions in the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Pharisee will both highlight the nature of true righteousness as opposed to hypocrisy, suggesting the primacy of humility instead of hypocrisy in fasting. The fasting of Anna in the temple anticipates the eschatological fulfillment described above. And the feeding of the hungry crowd, whether it is to be considered fasting per se or not, only further highlights the messianic role of Christ as the giver and sustainer of life. Taken as a whole, it will become evident that fasting functions as an important, symbolic theological foil for the concept of promised fulfillment in Christ, and this theology provides a basis for renewed teaching for the practice of fasting in the life of his disciples.

Jesus’ Fasting in the Desert:
The Ultimate Messianic Figure Has Come
(Matt 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4)

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone.’”

Luke 4:1-4

The only narrative explicitly describing Jesus as fasting confronts the reader in context between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. The following discussion will show that in this strategic location, fasting contributes to the christological theme of identifying Jesus in his messianic mission. This will be seen primarily in his identification as the eschatological prophet like Moses, but also in his identity as the new Adam who faces temptation victoriously through the power of the Spirit.

It must be noted that Mark does not mention fasting in his brief account. Mark 1:12-13 reads: “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs.”. Both Matt 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 offer significantly expanded accounts, mentioning Jesus fasting for forty days as a segue into his dialogue with the devil. While Mark and Luke imply testing during the entire period, Hagner rightly notes that “Matthew’s aorist participle νηστεύσας (and ὕστερον, “afterwards”) puts the testing explicitly after the forty days and nights.”141

A good deal of the scholarly discussion of this account has to do with the nature of the historical background. The expanded accounts in Matthew and Luke include private information, utilizing an omniscient narrator perspective literarily. The second and third specific temptations appear to transcend the simply literal, as it is difficult to imagine the devil transporting Jesus bodily to a pinnacle of the temple, or to the top of a mountain where he could view all the kingdoms of the world.142 But this does not necessarily mean that the account should be considered purely a composition of the author. The following comments of Geerhardus Vos put it well:

Much confusion of thought is created here by a failure to distinguish between the objectivity and corporealness of such a transaction. The second involves the first, but this cannot be reversed: an encounter between persons, especially in the supersensual world, can be perfectly objective without necessarily entering into the sphere of the corporeally perceptible.143

So one does not need to deny the objective fact of the temptation of Jesus by the devil, even though the exact physical nature of the temptations may not be entirely apparent. Perhaps Jesus in the desert experienced a kind of apocalyptic vision of the devil and these temptations, which might find some analogy in the OT prophet Ezekiel. In Ezek 8:3 and 11:1, Ezekiel was transported in vision to Jerusalem, though there is no reason to suppose he traveled there bodily. Rather, he would seem in these and other visions to be bringing a spiritual reality that intersects with earth at some other location into his present one. Similarly, Jesus’ temptations had to do with his messianic calling, which would be centered in Jerusalem and have global implications, so that it is entirely understandable that these would be the subjects of his temptations. Perhaps we can think of the temptations as having truly happened, while also moving into a different dimension—a spiritual, or apocalyptic realm.

The primary purpose of the longer version in Matthew and Luke seems to be theologically oriented toward the identification of Jesus with Moses and Israel in the wilderness. Not only does the fact of Jesus’ fasting for forty days recall Moses on Mt. Sinai going without food and drink (Exod 34:28; Deut 9:9, 18, 10:10), but it also recalls Elijah, who also went without food for forty days on his journey to Mt. Sinai in his role as a prophet like Moses (1 Kgs 19:8). Additionally, the texts Jesus will cite in his rebuke of the devil all come from the context of Deuteronomy 6-8, in which the narrative of Israel in the wilderness is retold by Moses, with Moses’ forty-day fasting explicitly mentioned in the context in Deut 9:9: “When I ascended the mountain to receive the stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained there forty days and nights, eating and drinking nothing”. The story of Jesus’ fasting, therefore, highlights Jesus’ role as the new Moses, leading his people into the promised New Covenant.

Such a role is inherently messianic. All three synoptics place the wilderness temptation just after Jesus’ baptism by John, each concluding the baptism event with the pronouncement from heaven that Jesus is God’s beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased (Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). This identification highlights Jesus’ messianic role as Son of God, derived from imagery surrounding the Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). Vos comments that “the Spirit leading Him into the temptation was the Holy Spirit in His Messianic aspect. The close sequence between the accounts of the baptism and that of the temptation puts this beyond all doubt.”144

Interestingly, Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus immediately after the heavenly pronouncement and before the temptation account. Luke’s genealogy ends with the phrases, “son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). With this juxtaposition, Luke suggests a three-fold meaning for the identification of Jesus in the temptation narrative: He is the eschatological prophet like Moses, the messianic Son of God as son of David, as well as the Son of God as the son of Adam, the head of a new, redeemed humanity.145 Matthew continues the theme of Jesus as the new Moses in the next chapter in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus authoritatively recalls the ancient laws written on stone, but now pushes them further, suggesting that he is the one who will write the law on the hearts of his people. This creates a “context of messianic and eschatological fulfillment,” as D. A. Carson says.146

As Hendriksen points out, the temptation of Jesus by Satan is an attempt to cause Christ as the last Adam “to fail even as the first Adam had failed, in both cases in connection with food consumption.”147 However, Christ found himself at great disadvantage, humanly speaking, when compared to the situation of Adam and Even when confronted by the tempter. Adam and Eve were in paradise, enjoying the fullness of God’s created provision, with the freedom to eat from every tree of the garden. In contrast, Christ was in the wilderness, experiencing his humanity in its weakest condition, eating nothing.148 Jesus’ successful resistance of the devil while in his weakest physical state reinforces the truth of his quotation, “Man does not live by bread alone.” His true life is sustained by his Father, “on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4).

The literary connection of the themes relating Jesus to Moses and Israel, and the identification of Jesus as Son of God, are really quite overwhelming. In commenting on the devil’s opening words to Jesus in questioning his identity as Son of God, Wimmer writes:

This suggests those passages from the Old Testament which connect the ideas of desert, forty, temptation, Spirit, and Son of God. Those most applicable refer to Israel. If we substitute “Lord your God” for “Spirit,” then all of these themes are present in Dt 8:2-5: “And you shall remember all the ways in which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the desert, that he might humble you, testing you… . As a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” Ex 4:22f also contains the fundamental idea of Israel as son, going into the desert: “You shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, let my son go that he may serve me.” The themes of Spirit and desert with the Israelites are found also in Nm 11: 16-30; Is 63:8-14; and Neh 9:19-21. A consideration of the individual images leads to the same conclusion.149

So as Israel was tested in the desert, Jesus as the new Moses and representative of his people Israel was tempted in the desert; but unlike Israel, so frequently rebelling in the wilderness in the midst of testing, Jesus emerged victorious. As the new Adam, Christ endures temptations in the inverse of the ideal conditions of paradise, bringing humanity at its weakest into complete submission to the will of God, resisting the devil and showing that indeed humanity can be united to divinity. So fasting is used both as a means to prepare Jesus for his messianic ministry, and to identify him in that role. Jesus, through fasting, shows himself to be able to withstand the temptation to disobey God in satisfying his human appetites, unlike Adam and Eve, Israel in the desert, and by implication the rest of humanity. And that very act of fasting reminds his followers of the messianic promise of the raising up of the prophet like Moses, whose words would be heeded by the people of the covenant.

The Fasting Query: The Messiah Has Come,
But an Age of Anticipation Will Go On
(Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)

Then they said to him, “John’s disciples frequently fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours continue to eat and drink.”

So Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But those days are coming, and when the bridegroom is taken from them, at that time they will fast.”

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old garment. If he does, he will have torn the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. Instead new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’”

Luke 5:33-39

Just what is the nature of this age?150 How did the advent of Christ change history and how God’s people should perceive their time? These eschatological questions are christocentrically located. The fasting dialogue quoted above tackles the issue of the nature of the age in a moment when Jesus and his disciples are portrayed on the hinge of history. The disciples of John and the Pharisees are part of the old order, and a new order has come—but days will come when elements of the past age are once again present.

How can this be so? After the advent of Christ do we not possess the realization of the ancient hopes? Christ’s ascension and outpouring of his Spirit on the Day of Pentecost demonstrate his lordship over the age. But there are constant reminders that although the victory has been won, the battle is still being fought—both in the world, with its spiritual warfare for the souls of men, and in the flesh, with its ongoing struggle between residual sin and the indwelling Spirit. So this age must be understood in terms of the “already but not yet.”

The following discussion will show that the teaching of this fasting question can play a key role in a balanced understanding of the nature of the age. Not only do we have explicit teaching that should guide our understanding of our time, but we have a tangible practice that links us to both ancient and contemporary communities of faith that wait for God’s redemption. There is continuity with the past in that both fasting and feasting mark our experience. But since Christ has come, their significance has been reversed. Where once the faithful feasted in hope, we may feast in realization of hope fulfilled. Where once the community fasted in mourning, we may fast because of Christ’s absence and in anticipation of the return of our beloved.

Here is the central contribution of this fasting question and answer: this age is appropriately one of fasting, even though the messiah has come. It could also be regarded as an age of feasting since he has come. The “already but not yet” character of the age calls for both expressions in the rhythm of our spiritual seasons, which can move from dry to satisfied, to dry to satisfied again. This will be demonstrated by examining this central passage in greater detail, reviewing the movement from Jewish to Christian fasting, and reflecting on the implications in our eschatology.

Synoptic Issues: A Central Eschatological Episode

This pericope appears in all three synoptics (Luke 5:33-39; Mark 2:18-22; Matt 9:14-17), which suggests something about the theological centrality of its teaching. Bock (based on Fitzmyer and Marshall) mentions nine synoptic differences, listed here with a couple of expansions and an additional tenth point:

    1. Luke includes or at least suggests that the Pharisees participated in the questioning. Matthew has the question on the lips of John’s disciples, while Mark is more ambiguous, perhaps suggesting that it comes from the crowd.

    2. Luke alone ties prayer to the fasting issue.

    3. Like Matt. 9:15, Luke 5:34 relates a shortened form of the wedding image reply, phrased as a question. Mark has Jesus both asking and answering the question.

    4. Luke alone calls the final verses parabolic.

    5. Like Matthew, Luke has no allusion to the fasting practice of others before the event, in contrast to Mark 2:18.

    6. Luke 5:35 speaks of days when fasting will occur, while Mark 2:20 speaks of a day of fasting, a remark that is clearly intended nonetheless to refer to a period of time, as the plural at the beginning of Mark 2:20 makes clear.

    7. Luke 5:33 alone speaks of eating and drinking as the issue, a remark that alludes back to 5:30.

    8. Luke 5:36b refers to “a patch cut out of a new garment,”(NASB) a variation of Mark 2:21 (“a patch of unshrunk cloth”).

    9. Luke 5:39 is a proverb unique to Luke’s version.

    10. Matthew 9:17 includes the phrase, “and both are preserved,” which Mark omits, as apparently Luke does as well, although it shows up in textual variants in the Byzantine family.151

On the whole, the synoptic differences are relatively minor, but they do demonstrate the difficulty of strict historical/chronological harmonization. Additionally, the agreement of Luke and Matthew against Mark on a couple of points shows the difficulty of maintaining a simplistic two-source hypothesis. But the fact that all three keep the fasting query with the wineskin and garment metaphors suggests that the theological force of all three is the same: the old age is passing away, and it is time for a new age in the person of Christ. The metaphors are of such a nature that they look like they could stand alone, and perhaps in the teaching ministry of Christ they may have been together or separate at times. But in Scripture they stand together because of their similar eschatological teaching. In fact, there is a fascinating correlation of the concepts of eating, drinking, and the wearing of clothes in several NT contexts.152

The Fasting Question and Its Answer: Fasting Ends with Christ, but Days for Fasting Will Return

The fasting query asserts that both John the Baptist and the Pharisees were characteristic of the old era. Fasting in Judaism was often associated with the destruction of the temple. As demonstrated in the previous chapter’s discussion of Zechariah 7-8, the fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months mentioned in Zech 8:19 were all “linked to events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; keeping them was a reminder that Israel was still waiting for her real redemption from exile.”153 With Jesus a new “temple” was being erected. This new temple was his body, which metaphorically becomes the church in the epistles (Mark 14:58/Matt 26:61; John 2:19-22; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22, 4:15-16). The Jews also fasted ceremonially on the Day of Atonement, but in Christ atonement was being made. But the metaphor Jesus chooses is that of the bridegroom and his friends (literally, “the sons of the bridechamber”). The bridegroom’s presence is a cause for rejoicing and feasting—it would be a sad wedding indeed if fasting was called for! But then that is just what Jesus announces: “when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35, NASB). The feast will be aborted, and fasting will take its place. Clearly Christ implies here that he will leave his disciples, and their fasting would be an expression of their sadness at his absence.

In fact, this metaphor of the bridegroom and his wedding feast is found throughout the NT in “already but not yet” contexts.154 In Isa 25:6 the great eschatological day was pictured as lavish, joyous banquet with wine flowing in abundance, and it would seem that Jesus is picking up on this apocalyptic theme.155 Luke 12:35-37 describes the need for disciples of Christ to await the return of the bridegroom from his wedding feast, and be ready when he comes knocking. Matthew 22:1-14 describes the master’s wedding feast and the invitations that must be heeded to attend. Matthew 25:1-13 tells the story of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom’s arrival at the feast. Ephesians 5:22-33 describes the church as the bride of Christ, already married but awaiting presentation to the bridegroom. Revelation 19:7-10 again links the bridegroom to feasting, and the bride’s clothing is explicitly noted, as the New Jerusalem of Rev 21:2 is also described. The time of Christ’s earthly ministry is a critical moment in history. The bridegroom is present, but the consummation is in the indefinite future. In the scope of God’s plan it is already begun in the presence of Christ, but from our human perspective it may be distant.

But it certainly sounds very negative to say that the time of the bridegroom’s absence will be a time that is marked by fasting. It is so negative that scholars have had a tendency to relegate this time of fasting to the period immediately following the crucifixion and prior to the resurrection. I. Howard Marshall argues for this,156 citing 4 Esd 10:1-4 as a significant parallel, where a woman (representing Zion) fasted in mourning after her son died in his wedding-chamber. He also ties the thought to John 16:16-24, in which Jesus tells his disciples that they will mourn after he is taken away, but that they will rejoice when they see him again. But it is difficult to imagine the first century church receiving this story off the pens of the evangelists and recognizing in it a historical fulfillment only. In fact, the early church practiced fasting (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23), and these words from Jesus could easily have been seen as validation of the practice. There is at least evidence that some of the Church Fathers understood the passage to be encouraging fasting in this age.157

Marshall deals with the possibility by saying that the fasting of the early church was an accompaniment of prayer for guidance rather than an expression of mourning for Christ’s absence. However, the need for guidance actually begs the fact of Christ’s absence! In his presence, guidance is embodied, and there is a walk of sight, not just faith. When believers are in the presence of Christ, the faith becomes sight—so in this age of faith, Christ’s absence, while vicariously filled by the Spirit, is still a true absence that creates longing in the heart. John Piper’s penetrating devotional questions from his reflection on this passage illustrate a relevant application of this point:

Fasting poses the question: do we miss him? How hungry are we for him to come? The almost universal absence of regular fasting for the Lord’s return is a witness to our satisfaction with the presence of the world and the absence of the Lord. This is not the way it should be.158

The Garments and the Wineskins: The Better Nature
of the New Age That Comes

In Luke 5:36-37 Jesus tells brief parables about garments and wineskins. Old garments are not patched with new cloth, and new wine is not put in old wineskins, because in either case, the old would be destroyed. Rather, “wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5:38). The comparison of the New Covenant age to the new garment and the new wineskins gives a much more positive impression of the new era. As Carson says, “they go beyond the question of fasting only to lay the groundwork for the coherence of Jesus’ answer about fasting.”159

Luke 5:39 is a fascinating commentary on the nature of the reception of the new age in Christ: “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough’”. On an initial reading, one might think that this is making a positive statement about old wine, since fine wine is generally aged. But there is a danger in loving old wine too much. The new wine may be better, but because of satisfaction with the old, the pseudo-aficionado might not bother. “The old is good enough,” he says.

With reflection on Jesus’ use of irony here, one is forced to ask: “Is the old good enough?” Is it better than the new outpouring offered by Christ? After all, there is a mark of fasting in both eras. But indeed, the new is much better. The old is not bad, but it must be drunk in its own context (the old wineskins). The new wine of Christ’s teaching and Spirit ministry will burst the categories of the old contexts of the law and the all too limited expectation of the messiah. The new righteousness of the garments of Christ cannot be a suitable patch for the old era; it must be a new garment all of its own. The new cloth will cause the old to tear—far better to rend one’s own garments in repentance and accept the new era’s new garment intact, without patching a piece of the new to the old, thereby destroying both.

The Lord’s Supper and This Eschatology: Fasting and Communing with Him

In light of the immediately preceding discussion of the theology of the fasting query (Luke 5:33-39 and parallels), the institution of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist can be seen as epitomizing this essentially christological eschatology. The Last Supper of Jesus’ passion week of course took place during the Jewish feast of Passover. His words that night showed that he anticipated sharing with his disciples in the eschatological banquet of the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16-18; Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25). Further, he says that he will be abstaining from eating and drinking “until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16, 18, NASB). Perhaps at that moment in the Last Supper the disciples thought of the coming kingdom as imminent, since Jesus would not eat or drink until it came. Yet as time passed in the intervening years, the church had to come to terms with the nature of a new era, one that was better than, though perhaps unlike, that which the disciples had originally anticipated.

And yet the early church met together after Pentecost for the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). They believed that the Lord Jesus was with them always, just as he had promised (Matt 28:20), and this was a promise until the end of the age—apparently not only the old covenant age that was passing away, but until his ultimate return as well. Paul described the Lord’s Supper as a remembering and proclaiming of the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11:23-26).

So when the church gathers and partakes of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance, it also does so in anticipation. And, by faith and by his Holy Spirit, believers affirm that Jesus is there, communing with them, partaking of that Passover feast fulfilled in the kingdom of God. This is the realization of biblical eschatology, but cast in an age in which we still await its realization yet again. It looks back to promises fulfilled, and forward in hope to promises yet to be manifested. The eternal kingdom of God forever returns believers to their hope for paradise, for citizenship in the New Jerusalem, where access to eating the fruit of the primeval tree of life is continually open (Rev 22:2). Jenks summarizes the meaning of the images of eating as a communal, eschatological banquet:

These scenes of eschatological dining complete the symbolic journeys whose trajectories began in Israel’s most ancient scriptures. In the end time, in a perfect way never quite experienced in this world, food and drink represent fellowship with other men and women, communion with God through covenant and cult, and the gifts of God to Israel and to all mankind through history and through nature. In the time of God’s final victory, the texts affirm, the life force itself will be eternally nourished as the plenty and joy of Eden are restored. The way to the Tree of Life, lost through a primal meal in the Garden, will no longer be barred to a hungering human race.160

Through Christ, these scenes have been fulfilled, and will yet be fulfilled. In one sense, Christ and his followers commune together in the bread and the cup, enjoying the fulfillment of his kingdom age. Yet in another sense, Christ and his believers continue their fast, awaiting a time when the Bridegroom is finally present with his friends once again.

N. T. Wright’s Very Realized Eschatology and His Use of the Fasting Query

N. T. Wright has offered an important theology of the realized eschatology of the NT.161 His christological thesis is that Jesus came to announce the return of God’s people from their spiritual exile, and to find the fulfillment of their hopes in him. So the fasting practices of Judaism find their feasting end in Jesus, the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes. Wright notes that the feasts of Israel, while agrarian in nature, also looked back for Israel on the great acts of God in her history in the barley harvest of Passover, wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah at Pentecost, and grape harvest and the wilderness wanderings in the feast of tabernacles. Jesus presented himself as the embodiment of all of these feasts—he is the lamb that was slain (answering to Passover), the completion of the law (answering to Pentecost), and the new Moses who leads his people (answering to the feast of tabernacles).162

Wright’s use of this fasting pericope provides some telling insights into his commitment to a very realized eschatology in the NT. Commenting on the fasting query (Mark 2:19-21/Matt 9:15-16/Luke 5:34-36) Wright notes well the thrust of the incident:

Fasting in this period was not, for Jews, simply an ascetic discipline, part of the general practice of piety. It had to do with Israel’s present condition: she was still in exile. More specifically, it had to do with commemorating the destruction of the Temple. Zechariah’s promise that the fasts would turn into feasts could come true only when YHWH restored the fortunes of his people. That, of course, was precisely what Jesus’ cryptic comments implied.

… In other words, the party is in full swing, and nobody wants glum faces at a wedding. This is not a piece of ‘teaching’ about ‘religion’ or ‘morality’; nor is it the dissemination of a timeless truth. It is a claim about eschatology. The time is fulfilled; the exile is over; the bridegroom is at hand.163

There is reason for full agreement so far. But this is the end of Wright’s discussion of the passage. Why does he not discuss the rather glaring part about the bridegroom being taken away, which will once again usher in a time of fasting? Does he think this is a later interpolation, as Joseph Wimmer concludes?164 As Keith Main suggests, that would be an unlikely supposition, because the community would be advocating a practice their Lord had apparently thrust off.165 But Wright chooses not to even address this issue, and the reason may be that it would complicate his thesis. The drumbeat of realized eschatology so prevalent in Wright’s work is interrupted by this little text on fasting. In the words of Jesus that Wright fails to mention, “But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35, NASB). Another period of waiting, after the earthly life of Christ is over, is introduced. This is a period that will again be marked by fasting.

Wright could easily enough incorporate this into his eschatology, but it would call for a finer nuancing of his thesis.166 Although he opts for a preterist reading of the majority of eschatological passages in the NT, he does leave room for a shifting of focus and a redrawing of the fulfillment of them for later Christianity. In his discussion of the Christian hope and its movement past the destruction of the temple, he discusses the fact that Christians have always been waiting for Christ’s second appearing.167 Yes, Christ does fulfill Jewish hope—but the NT church is also called to live in hope for an even fuller realization of our Christology and eschatology. It is best to conclude that this teaching actually goes right back to Jesus himself, as evidenced by this fasting text, in which case there is a more complex and earlier version of the “already but not yet” eschatology than Wright seems to allow.

A Fasting Instruction in the Sermon on the Mount:
The Messiah Teaches True Humility
(Matt 6:16-18)

When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. When you fast put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18

This saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is probably the passage that most readily comes to mind when Christians think of fasting. As already noted, the Sermon on the Mount follows contextually in Matthew relatively near to the account of Jesus fasting in the wilderness, and the theological connection between the two strongly suggests the identification of Jesus as the new Moses. As the messianic Moses, Jesus transcends the older Mosaic categories here as he gives his “Messianic Torah.” W. D. Davies has summarized this aspect of the Sermon’s identification of Jesus:

The case would seem to be that, while the category of a New Moses and a New Sinai is present in v-vii, as elsewhere in Matthew, the strictly Mosaic traits in the figure of the Matthaean Christ, both there and in other parts of the Gospel, have been taken up into a deeper and higher context. He is not Moses come as Messiah, if we may so put it, so much as Messiah, Son of Man, Emmanuel, who has absorbed the Mosaic function. The Sermon on the Mount is therefore ambiguous: suggestive of the Law of a New Moses, it is also the authoritative word of the Lord, the Messiah: it is the Messianic Torah.168

This fasting instruction falls in the literary unit of Matt 6:1-18, in which almsgiving, prayer and fasting are treated in parallel sections (although considerably more space is given over to prayer, with the inclusion of the Lord’s prayer occupying the prominent position). In this context, Jesus treats fasting on par with almsgiving and prayer as an “act of righteousness,”169 and following Jesus’ lead, later Christian tradition will frequently link these three elements together.170 Betz classifies the genre of the section as a “cultic didache,” referring to its reforming approach to religious behavior, the phrase of Matt 7:28 which calls the Sermon a didache ( διδαχή, or “teaching”), and the similarities in structure with sections of the early Christian document of that name.171 Carson suggests that these three “acts of righteousness” are chosen to represent all other similar acts, and that the section as a whole is a denunciation of religious hypocrisy in general, and ostentatious piety in particular.172

Jesus does not attack the institution of fasting in Matt 6:16-18. Instead, he warns against hypocritical or ostentatious fasting, which includes putting on a gloomy face and neglecting personal appearance in order to appear to be fasting. It has already been noted in the previous chapter that in Jewish practice, outward rituals such as abstaining from anointing, sexual activity and even the wearing of sandals, as well as the putting on of sackcloth and smearing the body or face with ashes, often accompanied fasting.173 Betz suggests that this characterization of the gloomy-faced worshipper “points to a stock figure in Greco-Roman literature, in particular in texts having to do with the critique of religion and philosophy.”174 Such practices led the Romans to view the God of the Jews as a sad god.175 Betz also calls attention to a parallel from Greek literature in Pseudo-Plato’s Alcibiades Minor in the dialogue “On Prayer:”

In this text Alcibiades is on the way to offer a prayer to the gods when Socrates stops him because of the sullen look on his face. The dialogue on the whole has its purpose in changing Alcibiades’ sullen look into cheerfulness, so that at the end he is ready to crown Socrates with a wreath. Alcibiades’ gloomy look is, as we learn, the result of his wrong ideas about prayer and what to expect from it.176

Such parallels in the broader literature could suggest that the hypocrisy evident in certain ostentatious displays of Judaism was already under the critique of the pagans. There seems to be something of a hierarchy of practical righteousness being set up here, with the lowest rung being hypocrisy, which the best of pagans rise above, to the highest level of true, heart worship of the all-seeing God, that is demanded of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus assumes that his disciples will fast, and instructs them that whenever they fast177 they should anoint their heads, wash their faces, and fast in order to be seen by God in secret. This passage then contrasts proper and improper motives and methods for fasting—fast sincerely for God alone, and not publicly for the purpose of being seen by others. Jesus urged his disciples to fast in a manner that was different from the hypocrites. As will be discussed in the following chapter, this is echoed in the Didache 8.1, but unfortunately it sees the difference in terms of which days of the week fasting should be done: “But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday.”178 This hardly seems consistent with the Lord’s warnings, which have to do with appearing before others as fasting instead of before God, the true audience of our righteous behaviors.

When the disciples do fast to be seen by God, Jesus promises that they will be rewarded. As Carson notes, “Jesus does not discuss the locale and nature of the reward; but we will not be far from the NT evidence if we understand it to be ‘both in time and in eternity, both in character and in felicity.’”179 Here, then, is a clear teaching that Jesus’ disciples can expect spiritual blessings if they fast in a manner that God views as righteous.

In summary then, the theological ethic of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount requires and assumes the theological perspective of the two fasting accounts previously examined in this chapter.180 In the Sermon on the Mount, the messianic Moses is giving his new law, written on the hearts of his followers. He assumes that they will be acting out their righteousness in a period of time in which fasting is appropriate, because of the nature of the age. But this is a superior kind of righteousness, based not on one’s own actions but proceeding from and reflecting a faith in and right standing before the unseen God. Jesus promises that such acts of righteousness will be rewarded, and therefore fasting based on confidence in the unseen God’s reward reflects faith in and obedience to the Messiah in the inaugurated but unfinished messianic age.

A Pharisee’s Fasting in a Parable:
God Justifies the Repentant and Humble, but Rejects the Hypocrite (Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus frequently found himself in conflict with the Pharisees, and no doubt this parable did little to ease the tension with this group. Luke 18:1-8 begins with a parable on prayer, the parable about a widow who wore out a judge with her constant petitioning. Jesus uses her as an example of continual prayer. Then Luke 18:9-14 contains the second parable of the chapter, this parable about the Pharisee and a tax-gatherer, which also is about prayer; but it goes further, to the issue of heart righteousness.

C. F. Evans suggested that the central section of Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:51-18:14) intentionally corresponds to Deuteronomy 1-26.181 Craig A. Evans has sought to demonstrate the relationship of this pericope, the last in Luke’s central section, with Deuteronomy 26, which describes the requirements of tithes and obedience for the feast of the firstfruits in Judaism.182 Craig Evans explores four areas of parallelism: verbal coherence, thematic coherence, exegetical coherence in Jewish sources, and the parable’s meaning in the context of Luke’s central section. Verbally, there are parallels with the concept of tithing all (Luke 18:12; Deut 26:12), humbling and exaltation (Luke 18: 14; Deut 26:6-8), righteousness (Luke 18:9, 14; Deut 26:16-17), and looking to or from heaven (Luke 18:13; Deut 26:15). Josephus paraphrases Deuteronomy 26 to include words that correspond even more strongly, adding phrases about standing before God, giving thanks to God, and God being merciful.183 Thematically, the Pharisee is one who would consider himself to be a keeper of the Sinai covenant, whereas the tax-gatherer has been disobedient and cannot consider himself righteous by means of the covenant. The parallel between the prayer of the Pharisee here and the farmer’s speech at the feast of firstfruits (Deut 26:13-14) is very interesting:

Then you shall say before the Lord your God, “I have removed the sacred offering from my house and given it to the Levites, the orphans, and the widows just as you have commanded me. I have not violated or forgotten your commandments. I have not eaten anything when in mourning, or removed any of it while ceremonially unclean, or offered any of it to the dead; I have obeyed you and have done everything you have commanded me.”

Exegetically, the reference in Deuteronomy 26 to the place where Israel would worship is now the temple in Luke, and numerous Jewish sources exclude tax-gatherers from the covenant, associating them with robbers and thieves. Contextually, Evans believes that the story forms a fitting conclusion to Luke’s central section, as each part deals with election in some way:

The parable of the Pharisee and the publican brings the Central Section to a fitting end by summing up what is for Luke the essence of the gospel message, as it pertains to the question of election: anyone, no matter how far estranged from the covenant of Moses, can repent and be brought back to God. If there is genuine repentance, genuine faith, acts of charity and expressions of thanksgiving, then restoration is possible. This can happen, Luke believes, through the message of the ‘prophet like Moses’ (Deut 18:15-19; cf. Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). Just as obedience to Moses’ teaching would assure possession of the promised land and prosperity within it, so obedience to Jesus’ teaching will assure entry into the kingdom of God and great reward.184

While Evans admits that the results of his study are suggestive and not conclusive, the parallelism is indeed striking. When one considers the general theology of fasting flowing from the messianic Christ as fulfillment of the covenant and the one who ushers in the eschatological age, the hypothesis linking Deuteronomy 26 with Luke 18:9-14 appears entirely reasonable.185 Fredrick Holmgren offers a nice summary of the possible use of the two texts:

Deuteronomy 26:1-15 could well be read as a companion text to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector when the latter is the focus of the sermon. The Deuteronomic text provides a needed critique to the prideful attitude that has ensnared the Pharisee, but it also serves as a rebuke to the self-deprecatory stance that often tempts tax collector types. The Pharisee is to remember, first of all, that he is the recipient of the full grace of God (Deut. 26:5-11), who has accepted him as a covenant partner.186 The tax collector, on the other hand, should listen attentively to Deuteronomy 26:12-15, in which the farmer is charged to witness to what he has done and not done.187

Luke introduces the unit by saying that Jesus told the parable “to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else” (v. 9). With this theme of righteousness, already one can see the theological parallel with Jesus’ discussion of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. Although each of these accounts is unique to its respective writer, it is interesting that both use essentially the same theological base for dealing with fasting in the context of righteousness. The Pharisee in this parable considers himself to be righteous, and fasting is listed alongside of tithing as a positive example of his acts of righteousness, contrasted with the negative examples he lists in Luke 18:11 and assumes for the tax-gatherer next to him.188 But Jesus declares that the tax-gatherer, who humbly begged for God’s mercy and declared himself to be a sinner, actually went away justified rather than the Pharisee.189 The unit ends with the proverbial expression, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (18:14). So in this passage fasting is linked to an act of righteousness, but in this instance it is done by one who is a negative example, like the hypocrites Jesus described in Matthew 6. Instead, the truly humble one is the tax-gatherer who confesses his sinfulness and goes away justified. His attitude was actually more consistent with the proper purposes of fasting and repentance in the tradition of the OT prophets. He has genuinely humbled himself with all his heart, as Joel 2:12-13 called for, and he found the gracious and merciful God he was seeking.

As for the reference to fasting, the Pharisee says he fasts twice per week. This would apparently have been a voluntary act, as Jews were traditionally required to fast universally only on the Day of Atonement. As previously discussed, some religiously oriented individuals might have fasted in various mourning ceremonies over the fall of Jerusalem or for the need for rain. Beyond even that, some pious individuals apparently developed those traditional occasions for fasting into a disciplined, regular routine.190 The Pharasaic tradition of twice a week fasting mentioned here was done on Monday and Thursday, and may have meant taking only bread and water during daylight hours. In Jewish society, Mondays and Thursdays were market days and court days, when public assemblies and Torah readings were common.191 The tradition was apparently grounded in the days Moses ascended and descended from Mount Sinai. This traditional reason is preserved in Midrash Tanhuma:

Let our master instruct us: When a court has ordained a fast for the community so that rains may come down, and they do come down on that day, is it correct for them to finish it? Thus have our masters taught (in Ta’an. 25b [bar.]): IF THEY WERE FASTING, AND THE RAINS CAME DOWN BEFORE THE RISING OF THE SUN, THEY SHALL NOT FINISH IT. AFTER THE RISING OF THE SUN THEY SHALL FINISH IT. <THESE ARE> THE WORDS OF R. ME’IR, BUT R. JUDAH SAYS: BEFORE NOON THEY DO NOT COMPLETE IT; AFTER NOON THEY COMPLETE IT. And where did the generations (i.e., the sages) find support that they should fast on Monday and Thursday? <It is> simply <that>, when Israel committed that act (i.e., of the golden calf), Moses went up <onto the mountain> on a Thursday and came down on a Monday. How is it shown? R. Levi said: He went up on a Thursday. Now from Thursday through <the following> Thursday to the Thursday <after that> there are fifteen <days>. And from Sabbath eve through <the following> Sabbath eve to the Sabbath eve <after that> there are fifteen <days>, for a total of thirty. Also from Sabbath to Sabbath there are eight <days>, for a total of thirty-eight. Then a Sunday and a Monday make forty <days>. Therefore, the sages have ruled that one should fast on Monday and on Thursday, on <the day of> Moses’ ascent and on <that of> his descent. Now at the end of forty days they fasted and wept before Moses, so that the Holy One was filled with mercy for them and appointed that day for them as a day of atoning for their sins. And this was the Day of Atonement, as stated (in Lev. 16:30): FOR ON THIS DAY ATONEMENT SHALL BE MADE FOR YOU TO CLEANSE YOU. See how lovely repentance (rt.: ShVB) is!192

In this important passage, the connection can be seen between the fasting of Moses for forty days on Sinai, the Day of Atonement fasting practice, the tradition of fasting for rain as outlined in Mishnah tractate Ta’anit, and the Pharasaic practice of fasting mentioned in Jesus’ parable. While the connection may at first seem less than obvious, fasting forms the key thread, and the final exclamation cited above shows that the theological link for the rabbis was repentance. Fascinatingly, in Luke 18 the Pharisee is carrying out deeds designed to show repentance with an unrepentant heart, while the tax-gatherer exemplifies repentance.

In summary, then, the Pharisee of Luke 18 provides a negative illustration of the kind of fasting Jesus warned against in Matthew 6. While the tax-gatherer of Luke 18 is not described specifically as fasting, he does indeed provide a positive illustration of the repentant heart attitude that is acceptable righteousness before God. Clearly, then, when Jesus’ disciples fast, they must fast with hearts that are truly repentant. They should not assume that fasting itself will somehow garner merit with God, but rather they must take the part of the sinner and trust a gracious, merciful God to justify and bless them.

The Fasting of Anna the Prophetess:
The Promised Redemption Has Come
(Luke 2:36-38)

There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

This incidental reference to fasting occurs in an explicitly eschatological context.193 She is literarily coupled with a male counterpart, Simeon, whose similar but longer account is written in the immediately preceding context of Luke 2:25-35. Both Simeon and Anna were vessels of prophetic, revelatory gifts. Specifically, Simeon had earlier received a divine promise that he would not see death before he would see the Messiah (2:26). Anna spoke of seeing the Messiah to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38), implying that there were a sizeable number of people with eschatological, messianic hopes at that time. The account of the Christ-child appearing in the temple to these two saints of the old covenant clearly speaks of Jesus’ messianic identity and the fulfillment of the covenantal promises of restoration for Israel.

Anna’s name also recalls her OT namesake of Hannah (1 Samuel 1), who fasted and prayed in the temple (or tabernacle) before Eli the priest so that she might have a son. In that story, a barren woman was given the gift of a child as the answer to her prayers. In this story, an old widow saw the Christ-child as the answer to her prayers. Bart J. Koet has pointed out the similarities between Luke 2:22-39 and another document whose origins probably go back to first century Judaism, Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (LAB).194 LAB 49-51 is a retelling of the story of Samuel’s birth narrative, and chapter 51 paraphrases 1 Sam 1:20-2:11, Hannah’s dedication of Samuel and her song of thanksgiving. There are several commonalities between Luke 2:22-39 and LAB 50-51, including the use of the phrase “light of the Gentiles/nations,” the sanctuary, prominent women both named H/Anna/h, and the prophetic utterances of songs in praise of young boys of promise.195 Koet’s thesis is that “the author of Luke-Acts uses themes of the Hanna-traditions such as those in LAB as a background to Luke 2:22-39.”196 This idea appears sustainable and coincides well with the nuance of Luke’s use of OT characters offered by Raymond Brown. Brown points out that Mary’s “Magnificat” of Luke 1:46-55 also bears striking resemblance to Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel 2. These similarities associate the NT characters with OT ones, while allowing room for differences in development that can accommodate both the historical situation and the new covenant theology. Brown makes this insightful comment: “Luke’s method is not one of identifying figures in the infancy narrative with OT characters; rather he uses pigments taken from OT narratives to color in the infancy narrative.”197

Even Anna’s lineage from the tribe of Asher, which may appear incidental, in fact highlights new covenant expectation.198 Jeremiah 31:31 stated that a new covenant would be made with both the house of Judah and the house of Israel, meaning the northern tribes. Although the northern tribes had been largely assimilated into the surrounding nations following their Assyrian captivity, some maintained their Jewish identity. Anna’s tribe of Asher would have been one of those northern tribes. She is linked contextually with Simeon, whose lineage is not mentioned, but whose name at least literarily recalls another tribe. This also follows the story of John the Baptist’s birth, which highlights the priestly tribe of Levi, and Jesus’ own lineage from Judah.

Max Wilcox has suggested that Anna is linked to another character from Jewish tradition, Serah daughter of Asher, whose name is mentioned as going down into Egypt with Jacob in Gen 46:17, and in the family rolls of Num 26:46 (from which later Jewish works inferred that she survived until the Exodus).199 She appears in later Jewish works as a heroine on a couple of occasions. Parallels can be seen between the reference to Asher, the great age of the characters, their exceptional piety, as well as the redemptive expectations of their respective traditions. In a Jewish midrashic work, Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer 48:82-84, Serah identifies Moses as the liberator of Israel in a similar way to how Anna identifies Jesus.200 She also is said to have brought Jacob the news that Joseph was still alive, which resulted in angels carrying her to paradise (literally, the Garden of Eden) while still alive (Tg. Ps.-J. Gen 46:17, Num 26:46). She is regarded as a woman of great wisdom in some other references (Qoh.R. 9; Yalkut Sam 152; Gen.R. 94, 8-9), and possibly as a prophetess (b. Meg. 14a).201 These writings are later than the gospel of Luke and no literary dependence can be affirmed. But perhaps Wilcox is right that some of the Jewish community of the first century would have been aware of the Serah daughter of Asher motif. Whether or not this is so, it does at least show that there were similar characters in Jewish culture that transmitted redemptive eschatological motifs through their portrayal in their stories.

What is really carried on this OT pigmentation, then, is the theology of expectation and fulfillment. The fasting of Anna may play a role in highlighting this eschatological anticipation. In her fasting she shows herself to be part of a righteous remnant anticipating the messianic New Covenant. As an exemplary character, she fasts in humility, righteousness of heart, and in identification with her people’s mourning and need for repentance.202 This godly woman epitomizes the theme of righteous fasting in anticipation of restoration in the messianic age. And she is rewarded with seeing the Christ child, in whom the promised redemption had come.

Feeding a Crowd that Had Nothing to Eat:
The Source and Sustainer of Life Has Come
(Matt 15:32; Mark 8:2-3)

Then Jesus called the disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry since they may faint on the way.”

Matthew 15:32

This passage (and the parallel in Mark 8:2-3), in the story of the feeding of the four thousand, is of relatively minor relevance to this study, though it does use the term νήστεις to describe the crowd. This seems to be a general description of the condition they were in after three days of being with Jesus in a deserted area. They were lacking food (perhaps they had actually brought some along, but had run out). It does not appear to be an intentional, religiously oriented fast, but Jesus does take the occasion to feed them miraculously, which points to the presence of the eschatological Messiah. He was able to satisfy the hungry crowd, which is a picture of his new covenant ministry.

Fasting in Acts and the Epistles:
The New Era Moves Forward

The following section deals with references to fasting in the NT outside of the synoptic gospels, and these are found in Acts and 2 Corinthians. There are several contexts that include fasting in the book of Acts. The first explicit reference is related to Saul’s conversion, and may function theologically to illustrate the move from the old to new covenant in an individual Israelite. Two corporate prayer and fasting references would seem to answer positively the question of whether fasting is to be viewed as an ongoing practice in the Christian era. They occur after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, which marked the ushering in of the new covenant. Some passing references of relatively minor significance also occur, which will receive only a brief mention. Then in two passages in 2 Corinthians, Paul lists fasting with his hardships he suffered for the sake of the gospel, suggesting that in this age believers might willingly subject themselves to disciplined behaviors, and even disruption of normal lifestyles, for the sake of ministry. While none of these passages alone contributes a great deal to a theology of fasting individually, taken together, they will show that fasting did indeed play a role in the earliest Christian community, as the new era of messianic fulfillment and anticipation took shape.

Saul Fasts Three Days Waiting for Sight and the Holy Spirit:
A Blinded Israelite Enters the New Covenant
(Acts 9:9)

For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.

Acts 9:9

The story of Saul’s conversion includes this account of him fasting. Although Bruce says this was “probably from shock,” Saul’s meeting with Christ was a religious experience of the first order, and his abstinence from food should not be seen as merely incidental.203 When he encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, the accompanying flash of light blinded Saul, and although his eyes were open he could not see (9:3, 8, 22:11). His companions heard the voice but saw no one (9:7), and Acts 22:9 adds that they also saw the light though they did not understand the voice. Saul remained in this condition for three days, during which time he did not eat or drink (9:9). Then Ananias came and laid hands on him, commanding him to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and something like scales fell from his eyes so that he could regain his sight (9:18). After this, Saul was baptized and he took food (9:18-19).

In this fascinating story Saul may be viewed theologically as representing a prototypical conversion of an Israelite. Before his conversion, he thought he was the greatest keeper of the law, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14.204 In this state, he thought he could “see,” but he was blinded to the spiritual reality of Jesus as messiah. When he met the risen Christ, the light shone on him, which ironically blinded him. His true spiritual state was exposed, one of inability to “see” the truth right before his eyes. When he received the Holy Spirit with the laying on of hands by Ananias, the scales fell off his eyes, and he could truly see. The Holy Spirit in the new covenant enabled him to see what his previously blinded eyes missed, though the truth was right in front of him. Acts 26:18 provides an expanded statement of Paul’s mission, in which Jesus tells him that he will be sent to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (NASB). Perhaps this vivid personal experience informs Paul’s use of OT blindness imagery as applied to Israel in passages like Rom 11:8, “Eyes to see not and ears to hear not”(NASB).

Perhaps Saul’s fasting in recorded in Acts 9:9 contributes to this theme in his conversion experience. He identifies with Israel as a self-righteous covenant keeper who blindly persecuted Christ. Now in his fasting, he has the appearance of a man truly humbled, even stupefied, by his new awareness of messianic realities. The fast ends with his receiving of the Holy Spirit and the ritual of baptism, as he fully enters into the blessings and ministry of the new covenant.

Fasting and Prayer in the New Community:
The Church Seeks and Finds Guidance and Leadership
(Acts 13:1-3, 14:23)

Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.

Acts 13:1-3

When they [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 14:23

These two passages suggest that fasting was indeed part of the practice of the earliest Christian communities. In these verses it is clear that it was done as an accompaniment of corporate prayer. Both contexts have to do with the choice of leaders for the new community. While some commentators think it is important to note that these are not formal ordination services, Fitzmyer is right that such a distinction is basically “meaningless. It is not a question of a transfer of power, but of a Spirit-guided commission.”205 The first incident commissions Barnabas and Saul for their first missionary journey, and the second passage refers to the selection of local church leaders in the new communities that formed as a result of that missionary journey. As Johnson says, the prayer and fasting in the second incident “makes the ordination echo the appointment of Paul and Barnabas themselves as they began the mission.”206

These passages illustrate a proper kind of application of the eschatological pronouncement of Jesus in the synoptic fasting query (Matt 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). The new covenant indeed had come—and yet this proved to be a time for fasting. But what these passages show is that such fasting is not necessarily like old covenant fasting, such as in mourning over exile. Rather, in the absence of the Messiah, these disciples prayed and fasted, with the result that the Holy Spirit of that very same Messiah ministered among them, and their Lord’s presence was felt and his will was made known. It is a present era application of the reality of living between the realized and unrealized eschaton. The fasting of the earliest Christians bears witness to their inward, spiritual hunger, their longing for Jesus to be among them. They were rewarded with guidance from the Spirit of Christ as a token of his actual presence. So in this age, the Christian community expects the Spirit to minister in the absence of the Messiah himself, and fasting can demonstrate our desire for that presence in our lives.207

A Wicked Fast as an Oath
(Acts 23:12-14)

When morning came, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty of them who formed this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves with a solemn oath not to partake of anything until we have killed Paul.”

Acts 23:12-14

This plot by the forty Jews to kill Paul involved a total fast, apparently as a sign of their seriousness. This wicked, hypocritical use of fasting, normally a religious act of piety, may recall the OT king Saul’s foolish oath imposed on his army (1 Sam 14:24-46), or Queen Jezebel’s hypocritical fasting assembly to condemn innocent Naboth (1 Kgs 21:9-12). While hardly advancing the theology of fasting in any positive direction, it does show that religious actions that can be used for good may also be appropriated by evil, which only heightens the hypocrisy. As Fitzmyer says, “one may wonder about the binding character of such an oath.”208 Since the plot failed, one can only surmise that these conspirators proved themselves to be oath breakers as well, as it seems unlikely that they really kept their oath not to eat or drink until Paul was killed. Witherington notes that “Jewish law, however, specified that if one was unable to fulfill an oath due to circumstances beyond one’s control, one could be let off the hook.”209 Such a use of the law, however, only further contrasts these men with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:20), “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

A Passing Reference to the Day of Atonement
(Acts 27:9)

… voyage was now dangerous because the fast was already over.

Acts 27:9

This reference to “the fast” serves basically as a calendar notation.210 The point of the passage is that in October the winter storms were making a sea voyage dangerous. The text contributes little to the theology of fasting, and serves only as a witness to the universal understanding of the Day of Atonement as a fast. The term had become basically synonymous for the Jewish holiday.

A Ship’s Crew Eats Nothing for Fourteen Days
(Acts 27:33)

As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day you have been in suspenseand have gone without food; you have eaten nothing.”

Acts 27:33

It is highly unlikely that this was an intentional or religious fast. Rather, because the storm caused extreme conditions on the ship, the crew likely could not find a good time to eat, and with the likelihood of seasickness, may not have wanted to do so. The Greek word used is ἄσιτοι, which tends to be more descriptive of the physical condition of hunger. Witherington says, “This may perhaps mean that there had been no formally prepared meals during the storm,” and “Paul is probably speaking somewhat hyperbolically here to get his point across.”211

Paul’s Fasts Evidence the Hardship He Endured for the Gospel
(2 Cor 6:4-7, 11:27)

But as God’s servants, we have commended ourselves in every way, with great endurance, in persecutions, in difficulties, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in troubles, in sleepless nights, in hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by benevolence, by the Holy Spirit, by genuine love, by truthful teaching, by the power of God, with weapons of righteousness both for the right hand and for the left, …

2 Cor 6:4-7

.. in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing.

2 Cor 11:27

The NET Bible uses “hunger” to translate νηστείαις in 2 Cor 6:5, but this could be a reference to intentional fasting by the apostle Paul.212 Several reasons have been proposed for Paul’s mention of “fastings” here. If the word is more closely associated with the preceding terms, it might appear to be an affliction imposed from without, suggesting that circumstances forced him to go hungry. However, if it is read in connection with the context of the following terms in 2 Cor 6:6-7, it could be understood as a cultivation of virtue. Additionally, “sleepless nights” (here the plural of ἀγρυπνία) could refer to lack of sleep due to circumstances, or the kind of intentional vigil that would forego sleep for ministerial purposes. Since it is coupled with the “labors” (plural of κόπος) in the context, some have suggested that Paul performed secular work in order to support himself while in the ministry so as not to burden the churches, and as a result he may have had to work through the night, forego eating, or perhaps not even be able to afford food.213 If this is the case, it would appear that this kind of fasting is of a sort of intentional but unintentional nature, not specifically religious but a willing suffering of hardship for the sake of the ministry.

Similarly, 2 Cor 11:27 is a bit ambiguous, where the reference to being “many times without food” in the NET Bible translates ἐν νηστείαις πολλάκις. This follows an explicit reference to being in hunger and thirst ( ἐν λιμῷ καὶ δίψει), so perhaps the context here is more clearly in line with hardships suffered rather than self-imposed disciplines.214 Since it is coupled again with sleeplessness ( ἀγρυπνία), it seems reasonable that one’s conclusion would be the same for both passages, and that the reason for sleeplessness and fasting would also likely be the same. Though it is difficult to be sure, it seems best to conclude that both references to fasting in 2 Corinthians refer to hardships, the entering into circumstances in which eating had to be foregone. However, it should not be forgotten that the apostle entered into this state of affairs willingly. Perhaps Paul could refer to a variety of kinds of experiences of going without food, whether intentional or not, as “fasting.” But in sum, his approach to ministry was indeed one of intentional discipline, though such circumstances as going without food (as referred to here) were in themselves not considered desirable.

The Lack of Fasting in the Epistles and Related Ideas

Apart from the two references in 2 Corinthians, the rest of the epistles and Revelation do not explicitly mention fasting. This might lead to the idea that the practice was not important to the early church, or perhaps even viewed negatively. Fink goes so far as to say that even the interest in fasting shown in Luke-Acts departs from the teachings of Jesus.215 Keith Main stresses the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith so much that for him fasting seems to imperil Christian doctrine.216 On the other hand, if the references to fasting in the NT already discussed (especially those mentioned in Acts) are understood as indicating that fasting was an accepted part of the life of the early church, then perhaps the absence of explicit references means very little. Perhaps the practice was assumed, and the examples in the synoptics and Acts serve as a kind of narrative teaching, so that the lack of didactic teaching on fasting should not be overvalued.217

Within the backdrop of the theology of the changing of the ages in Christ is the apparent abolition of dietary regulations. This is most clearly seen in the account of Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-23. The discourse begins with the intriguing statement that Peter “became hungry and wanted to eat” (10:10). Peter was commanded by the divine voice to “slaughter and eat!” While the account is first to be understood as about the acceptance of the Gentiles, it should also be noted that the Jewish concern about Peter was not that he preached to them, but that he “shared a meal with them” (11:3). Whether or not this means he ate food that was not kosher is not explicit, but it is clear that Jew and Gentile were to enjoy table fellowship, and the revocation of food regulations is clearly implied (it was Peter, the Jew, who was commanded to eat the unclean food). This should also be read in conjunction with Mark 7:19. Here during a discourse of Jesus on internal versus external forms of righteousness, the writer inserts the parenthetical comment, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” Clearly the early church was coming to a position that the old covenant food regulations had been done away in the new era. This raised sensitive cultural issues for Jews, especially when added to the thorny association of eating foods sacrificed to idols. The apostolic council of Acts 15 specifically concluded against those arguing that the Gentiles needed to “observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). But in a kind of position of deference, they wrote that they should still abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood and things strangled, as well as fornication (Acts 15:20, 28-29). Paul addressed these concerns by also taking a middle road, clearly affirming that food regulations were not a part of Christian practice, but readily deferring to others’ sensitivities (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). Yet the writer of Revelation could condemn a “Jezebel” who encouraged Christians to eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:20). So this theme of the abolition of dietary regulations implies that fasting could not be made mandatory in the New Covenant community. Yet at times, some forms of abstinence would be desirable to maintain personal purity and harmony within the community. The application to fasting would be that Christians should not presume to mandate such practices, but fasting could at least be a live option. Hopefully such fasting would promote purity and harmony.

A decent case study might be made of Paul’s discussion of bodily disciplines. In Col 2:16-23 he appears to take a dim view of regulating food, drink, and holiday observances. He refers to such things as acts of “self-abasement” (2:18, 23, NASB, translating ταπεινοφροσύνη) that are “of no value against fleshly indulgence.” The word ταπεινοφροσύνη and related terms are sometimes used to refer to fasting in the LXX.218 Some commentators, like Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, do not think this text has anything to do with fasting.219 On the other hand, John Muddiman says this is “probably a Semiticism for fasting, since the practice is coupled with ‘angel worship,’ i.e., it was intended to induce visions of angels.”220 Perhaps a middle ground is best. As argued previously in relation to the Day of Atonement passages, the “self-abasement” in view may include fasting as an understood application, but is larger in scope. As Francis says, the term is “bound up with regulations of much broader effect than fasting.”221 So Paul is strongly opposed to the kind of regulatory actions (which would likely include certain kinds of fasting) in certain instances, such as that described in this passage. Yet he is not entirely opposed to voluntarily abstaining from foods, as his discussion of questionable eating practices in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 proves. He describes “bodily discipline” as of some value in 1 Tim 4:8.222 He also condemns those who live by their appetites, which might tacitly condone fasting (Phil 3:19; Rom 16:18; Titus 1:12). Additionally, the other NT appearances of the word ταπεινοφροσύνη from Col 2:18 and Col 2:23 are all used positively (including a use in the very next chapter), as a virtue Christians are to cultivate (Acts 20:19; Eph 4:2; Phil 2:3; Col 3:12; 1 Pet 5:5). Louw and Nida offer this comment on the term in context:

The rendering of ταπεινοφροσύνη in Col 2.18 as ‘false humility’ is justified in terms of the context, but there is nothing in the word ταπεινοφροσύνη itself which means ‘false.’ It would be possible to render ταπεινοφροσύνη in Col 2.18 as ‘subjection to,’ and one might render the entire expression as ‘in abject worship of angels.’ In other languages ‘false humility’ may be rendered as ‘just pretending to be humble’ or ‘appearing to be humble but really being proud.’223

It would seem reasonable that Paul would not outright reject a practice that he himself practiced, as evidenced in other texts. Rather, it would be consistent to see a passage like Col 2:16-23 functioning similarly to Jesus’ strong criticisms of certain kinds of fasting behaviors in Matthew 6 or Luke 18. It is not fasting itself, or bodily discipline in general, that are condemned, but rather the hypocrisy and poor theology that so often accompany them. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that the apostles and early Christians thought that fasting would be an appropriate means of bodily discipline if it were encouraging genuine humility.

Textual Variants That Add Fasting to Biblical Texts

A handful of passages of Scripture have had phrases related to fasting added into their textual traditions in the early centuries of the church. In each case, fasting is added as a sort of tag on to a reference to prayer. In The Text of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger treats these passages under the heading of “Alterations Made Because of Doctrinal Considerations,” and he writes:

In view of the increasing emphasis on asceticism in the early Church and the corresponding insistence upon fasting as an obligation laid on all Christians, it is not surprising that monks, in their work of transcribing manuscripts, should have introduced several references to fasting, particularly in connexion with prayer. This has happened in numerous manuscripts at Mark ix. 29, Acts x. 30, and 1 Cor. vii. 5. In Rom. xiv. 17, where the kingdom of God is said to be not eating and drinking, ‘but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’, codex 4 inserts after ‘righteousness’ the words ‘and asceticism’ ( καὶ ἄσκησις). Such interpolations abound in chapter vii of 1 Corinthians.224

Metzger’s decision to treat these texts basically as a unit has been highly influential, as will be seen in the following discussion. Assuming that Metzger’s line of reasoning is correct, the tendency to add fasting to the text of Scripture raises a couple of interesting questions about the role of tradition and Scripture. Should these additions be regarded as intrusive, reflecting a later and perhaps contradictory theology of fasting? Or are they merely clarifications, so that their addition accurately reflects the earliest church’s theology and practice, making explicit what was previously merely implicit? Both of these (or something else) may be going on, and so a case-by-case analysis may be in order.

Mark 9:29 and Matt 17:21:
Balancing Spiritual Warfare Against Magical Powers

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· τοῦτο τὸ γένος ἐν οὐδενὶ δύναται ἐξελθεῖν εἰ μὴ ἐν προσευχῇ ( καὶ νηστείᾳ).

He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer [and fasting].”

Mark 9:29

This verse occurs in a context in which the disciples were unable to cast a demon out of a boy. After Jesus performed the exorcism, they asked him why they could not do it, and this was his response. The fact that τοῦτο τὸ γένος is neuter would suggest that Jesus was referring to the unclean spirit, and that perhaps a special power was required for casting it out. This special power would come through prayer—and perhaps also fasting?

Mark 9:29 ends with “prayer” ( προσευχῆ'/) 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” ( καὶ νηστείᾳ), and a few minor versions add “fasting and” before prayer. While it is possible that the manuscripts that omitted the reference to fasting did so in an attempt to harmonize the passage with Mark 2:18 that presents Jesus as speaking against fasting, this would posit an unlikely tendency in early monks to minimize the role of fasting because they found it inconsistent with the words of Jesus. Instead, recognizing the opposite scribal tendencies, the United Bible Societies’ fourth edition of The Greek New Testament (UBS4) assigned the omission an {A} rating, and the reader is referred to 1 Cor 7:5. Metzger comments,

In light of the increasing emphasis in the early church on the necessity of fasting, it is understandable that καὶ νηστείᾳ is a gloss that found its way into most witnesses. Among the witnesses that resisted such an accretion are important representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western types of text.225

All of the modern English translations based on the critical text of the NT omit the reference to fasting in the text of Mark 9:29. Similarly, contemporary commentators almost unanimously agree with Metzger’s reasoning.226

The entire verse of Matt 17:21 (which reads with the long ending of Mark 9:29 as above) 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 UBS4 (upgraded from a {B} rating in UBS3). According to Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, “The relative lack of support here for the lectio brevior is not surprising in view of the significance of fasting and the respect for it characteristic not only of the early Church but also of monasticism throughout the medieval period.”227 Again, modern English translations based on the critical text of the NT follow this reasoning and so omit the verse, and contemporary commentators agree. Carson writes:

“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” is omitted by a powerful combination of witnesses. It is obviously an assimilation to the synoptic parallel in Mark 9:29. There is no obvious reason why, if original, it should have been omitted; and textual harmonization is quite demonstrably a secondary process.228

Similarly, Craig Keener writes:

17:21 is missing from some of the best manuscripts. Although its wide geographical distribution could favor its inclusion, it is easily explained as a harmonization with the wording of Mk 9:29, scribes being dissatisfied with Matthew’s twofold use of Mk 11:23… . Matthew omits some Markan material here; e.g., probably due to the danger of false prophets to his community (7:15; 24:24) he omits Mark’s account of the exorcist outside their circle… . Despite the syncretic character of most exorcisms in the magical papyri, many early Christians continued to expel demons immediately by a command (Minucius Felix Octavius 24-27) and found fasting an important weapon against more powerful demons (Tert. On Fasting 8.8; Jerome Against Jovinianus 2.15; the variant reading in Mk 9:29).229

There appears to be nearly a consensus among scholars as to how to deal with the textual evidence in these cases. However, questions remain as to how certain such conclusions can be asserted. The omission of fasting in Mark 9:29 is based on only a handful of manuscripts, and only two that might be considered major.230 Elsewhere Jesus gave express directions about fasting (Matt 6:16-18), and the early church practiced fasting (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23), so there is no inherent reason why a reference to fasting could not be original. There is also the idea that adding fasting would create a harder reading, given Jesus’ earlier statements in Mark 2:18. Additionally, the consensus regarding Matt 17:21 relies on the assumption that Matthew is literarily dependent on Mark, which could possibly be subject to future nuances. In total, it seems reasonable to follow Metzger’s reasoning that scribes tended to add references to fasting to these texts that mention prayer, but one should be cautious not to oversimplify these textual issues.

Now, theologically, one must ask whether adding fasting is theologically intrusive, or if it could be understood as complementary to the original context. On the negative side, one needs to avoid the idea that prayer and fasting could intrinsically impart a magical sense of power over demons. On the other hand, if fasting is seen as an appropriate intensifier and accompaniment to prayer, then fasting might merely complement the original saying of Jesus. Seeing fasting as having an intrinsic, magical power should be rejected by Christians, and this passage as originally recorded (assuming the reference to fasting is not original) gives no warrant for pursuing fasting to increase abilities in exorcism. However, it is possible that humble, intense prayer may bring one into a state of dependence on God and close relationship to him. This could allow a person to accomplish his will more completely, and fasting may play a role in such prayer. There is clearly biblical precedent for connecting prayer and fasting, as already discussed.231 Perhaps balancing these two ideas will help one to avoid the danger of fasting as a magical practice on the one hand, and the tendency to ignore spiritual warfare altogether on the other. In any case, fasting can be coupled by Christians with prayer as a means of intensifying the experience, but whether or not this would give specific spiritual powers would be up to God.

Acts 10:30: Describing Piety

καὶ ὁ Κορνήλιος ἔφη· ἀπὸ τετάρτης ἡμέρας μέχρι ταύτης τῆς ὥρας ἤμην τὴν ἐνάτην προσευχόμενος ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ μου, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀνὴρ ἔστη ἐνώπιον μου ἐν ἐσθῆτι λαμπρᾷ

And Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments.”

Acts 10:30, NASB

Metzger describes this interesting text critical problem in some detail:

The Textus Receptus, supported by a diversified and respectable array of witnesses, appears to be clear and straightforward: ᾿Απὸ τετάρτης ἡμέρας μέχρι ταύτης τῆς ὥρας ἤμην νηστεύων, καὶ τὴν ἐνάτην προσευχόμενος ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ μου, which ought to mean, “From the fourth day until this hour I was fasting, and while keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house” … The superficial impression, however, that Cornelius had been fasting for the immediately preceding four days is clearly erroneous, for the terminus of the fasting was the sudden appearance of a man in bright clothing who told him to send to Joppa, etc.232

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 to be a little optimistic.233 Perhaps this growing confidence is due to the idea of treating all the textual variants related to fasting together as a kind of commonly themed unit. Metzger writes: “Although the words νηστεύων καί may have been deleted in some copies because nothing is said in the previous account of Cornelius’s fasting, it is more probable that they were added to the text by those who thought that fasting should precede baptism (compare 9.9 and Didache 7.4 κελεύσεις δὲ νηστεῦσαι τὸν βαπτιζόμενον πρὸ μιᾶς ἢ δύο).”234

If the reference to fasting here is not original, then evidence of fasting in the early church drawn from the statement of Cornelius could only be coming from scribal additions. Cornelius’s piety could have included fasting with his prayers, even though he likely was not originally presented as explicitly fasting. It is possible that in the original context his prayers could have included fasting, but there is no real way to confirm or deny such a thing. Perhaps early scribes sought to validate Christian fasting practices related to baptism, as noted above, by adding it to positive biblical texts like this one. There does not seem to be any real theological intrusion by the addition, and the problem seems to be one that is basically incidental.

1 Cor 7:5: Linking Fasting to Sexual Abstinence

μὴ ἀποστερεῖτε ἀλλήλους, εἰ μήτι ἂν ἐκ συμφώνου πρὸς καιρόν, ἵνα σχολάσητε τῇ ( νηστείᾳ καὶ τῄ) προσευχῇ καὶ πάλιν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ἦτε, ἵνα μὴ πειράζή ὑμᾶς ὁ σατανᾶς διὰ τὴν ἀκρασίαν ὑμῶν.

Do not deprive each other, except by agreement for a definite time, so that you may devote yourselves to [fasting and to] prayer. Then resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Cor 7:5

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 well. Metzger describes the additions of fasting as “interpolations, introduced in the interest of asceticism. The shorter text is decisively supported by all the early and best witnesses.”235

This text is of particular interest for fasting, in that the addition of fasting to the act of prayer here also associates the concept with sexual abstinence. This ascetic association of fasting and sexual abstinence cannot be found clearly in either the OT or NT, but it did appear in both Jewish and early Christian literature. Therefore it is not surprising to see fasting making its way into this context, much like the Aramaic Targums added fasting and sexual abstinence to the Day of Atonement passages already discussed. So here we see a very similar tendency toward textual addition by Christian scribes. Just as Jewish tradition sought to apply humiliation passages with the inclusion of fasting, it appears that Christians were attempting to associate fasting not only with prayer, but also as an accompaniment of sexual abstinence.

Summary of the Nature of Textual Fasting Additions:
Increased Awareness, Without Subversion

What do these textual variants suggest about the relationship of fasting to the theology of the NT? A balanced approach seems best, one that is in line with what O’Collins and Kendall cite as “The principle of exegetical consensus: Where available, the consensus of centrist exegetes guides systematic theology.”236 On the one hand, it should be candidly acknowledged that these references to fasting are most likely not part of the original text of the NT, and so do not bear the kind of authority that inclusion in the NT would imply. However, that does not necessarily mean that the simple addition of “fasting” to references to prayer should be seen as subversive. The given theology of any of the above passages is not really changed by the references to fasting, since in each case the reference to prayer alone would have basically the same function. Fasting merely serves to intensify the references to prayer. This suggests that the early Christians who added fasting to these texts saw fasting as an appropriate way of applying the passages before them, and perhaps they saw this reflected in their own communities of faith. If fasting is seen as connected to prayer, it is difficult to see how adding a more intense action as part of prayer subverts the meaning of Scripture.237 There may be evidence in the cumulative effect of these additions of an increase in ascetic behaviors in the early Christians over time, but that alone is not necessarily subversive, either. More appropriately, one would need to evaluate the forms that asceticism took, rather than merely dismiss it altogether. Such a discussion will be engaged in the following chapters.

Conclusion: Fasting as Remembrance
and Anticipation in the Messianic Age

The NT uses fasting as a way of symbolizing the anticipation of the messianic age. Jesus fasted in the wilderness, and this helps to identify him as the messianic prophet like Moses, and as the second Adam who could withstand temptation and teach us not to live by bread alone (Matt 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4). The godly Anna fasted in anticipation of his messianic appearance, and was rewarded with seeing him (Luke 2:37). His disciples could not fast in his presence, because the messianic bridegroom was with them. But, the nature of the age would turn, the bridegroom would be taken away, and this age is seen to be an age when fasting is once again appropriate (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39). In this age, the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount governs the way his disciples should fast—not hypocritically (like the Pharisee in Luke 18:12) or ostentatiously, but humbly before God, who will reward them (Matt 6:16-18). In the New Covenant community, the early Christians fast and pray, seeking the presence and guiding of their Lord, and his Holy Spirit leads them to build up his church (Acts 13:1-3, 14:23).

Now, in the messianic age since Christ has returned to his Father in heaven, fasting can become a way of both remembering him and anticipating his presence. As the texts that have been examined show, the NT certainly qualifies the religious practice of fasting, and Christians should not assume that fasting has any particular merit in and of itself. Additionally, the texts examined do not explicitly command fasting as an obligation for believers, either. But on the positive side, as Christians grapple with the nature of the age in which they find themselves, fasting appropriately could help center the believer and believing community in its life between the times. We now turn to a study of Christian history, to see how Christ’s followers have sought to use fasting in the practice of their faith.


125 On these methodological points, see the discussion of Doriani, The Bible for Theology, and O’Collins and Kendall, Putting the Truth to Work, at the beginning of the first chapter.

126 Marion Michael Fink, Jr., “The Responses in the New Testament to the Practice of Fasting” (Ph.D. diss, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1974); Joseph F. Wimmer, Fasting in the New Testament: A Study in Biblical Theology, ed. Lawrence Boadt, Theological Inquiries: Studies in Contemporary Biblical and Theological Problems (New York: Paulist, 1982).

127 Rudolf Arbesmann, “Das Fasten bei den Greichen und Römern,” Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 21, no. 1 (1929): 1-131; and “Fasting and Prophecy in Pagan and Christian Antiquity,” Traditio 7 (1949-51): 1-72.

128 Fink, 288.

129 Wimmer, 123-24.

130 TDNT 4:924-25. BDAG, 672, defines nh'sti" as “not eating, hungry,” and the only biblical texts cited are Dan 6:19 (LXX, which certainly could be interepreted as “fasting” where the king Darius “spent the night fasting and weeping for Daniel,” kaiV hujlivsqh nh'sti" kaiV h\\n lupouvmeno" periV tou' Danihl), Matt 15:32 (where Jesus refers to the crowd following and, and “does not want to send them away hungry,” ajpolu'sai aujtouV" nhvstei" ouj qevlw), and Mark 8:3 (which is parallel). LSJ, 1175, lists the definitions as “not eating, fasting,” or as a substantival “famine,” “hunger,” “the one fasting,” “causing hunger, starving.”

131 BDAG, 671-71, cites only two NT verses for nhsteiva as hunger or going without food by necessity, 2 Cor 6:5 and 11:27 (where Paul refers to himself as “in fastings often,” ejn nhsteivai" pollavki"), but these could refer to intentional fasts as well (see discussion of these texts below). LSJ, 1175, only uses the definition “fast.”

132 TDNT 4: 925. BDAG, 672, only defines nhsteuvw as “to fast,” then cites a variety of examples (as a devotional rite, as a sign of grief, with lamentation and prayer, and some miscellaneous references) without any distinct definitions. LSJ, 1175, defines nhsteuvw as “fast,” and also as “abstain from kakovthto",” citing only the single example of Empedocles 144, where it is used metaphorically.

133 L&N, 253 (23.31).

134 Ibid., 541 (53.65).

135 Ibid., 530 (51.11).

136 Fink, 60-61, citing Onasander, The General, xii; Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1616ff.; Prometheus Bound, 569ff., 599ff.; Agamemnon, 1014ff.; Homer, The Iliad, xix 155ff., 205ff.; Aristotle, Parts of Animals, III. xiv (675b-676a); Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers, 246ff.; and Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, vii. 307d-f, which is an extended quotation that Fink includes in his text, describing numerous (usually derogatory) comparisons to people who engage in fasting to mullet fish. Mullets were described as fasters because they did not retain food in their stomachs.

137 Wimmer, 23.

138 Ibid., 24-25.

139 TDNT 4:925. The minor exceptions inlcude Esth 4:16, in which xW< appears twice and is translated the second time, perhaps only as a stylistic difference, by ajsitevw (a slightly broader word which might normally mean “to hunger,” but could include fasting), and Esth 4:3 and 9:1 do not translate the word at all. The LXX also used forms of nhstevuw to translate *x*ba, a word describing female religious servants, perhaps suggesting a fasting role for these women, though the evidence is scanty, in Exod 38:8 (LXX 38:26; Fink, 44, mistakenly references these as Exod 28:8 and LXX 28:8); nhsteivan for &u*x*rh, a word for a solemn assembly in Isa 1:13; and changed 1 Kgs 21:9 (LXX 3 Kgs 20:9) from *àq=raW-xo<to nhsteuvsate nhsteivan.

140 John does not mention fasting explicitly in any context. The closest possible reference is John 4:32, in which Jesus tells his disciples who were urging him to eat, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about”. Although this may possibly indicate that Jesus was intentionally fasting, it is more likely that the situation of needing food (especially kosher food in Samaria) prompted the disciples to go get some, and they returned expecting Jesus to eat. He then used the opportunity for a double-entendre lesson in his mission. This also provides an introduction to the more lengthy discussion of himself as the bread of life in John 6. See Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St John, trans. Kevin Smyth (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 1: 445-48.

141 Hagner, Donald A., Matthew 1-13, WBC 33a (Dallas: Word, 1993), 64.

142 The difficulties for a literalistic reading have prompted some biblical scholars to regard the story as a kind of Hellenistic Judeo-Christian “haggada, in which the teaching of Dt about Israel was used to present Jesus as the prototype of those who remain faithful to God in the course of temptation” (Wimmer, 33). Wimmer concludes that the evidence for calling the account this sort of genre is overwhelming, citing rabbinic parallels, the references to Moses and Israel in the desert as a textual commentary on Deuteronomy 6-8, the symbolic nature of the account, the use of Psalm 91 by the devil, the fact that Jesus is quoting the LXX, the private nature of the temptations, and the reflection on the meaning of the proclaimed title “Son of God” immediately preceding the context. Wimmer, 33-34, lists A. Meyer, R. Bultmann, H. A. Kelley, S. Schulz, B. Gerhardsson, B. Rigaux, X. Léon Dufour, and H. Schürmann in support.

143 Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948; reprint, 1975), 331.

144 Ibid., 332.

145 Cf. the Pauline doctrine in Rom 5:12-21, with its emphasis on the relationship between Adam, Moses and Christ. Cf. also 1 Cor 15:45. See also Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Vol 1: 1:1-9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 367-74.

146 D. A. Carson, Matthew, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 148. This is seen in the six verses that begin, “You have heard that it was said,” and transition to “But I say …”. Jesus cites Mosaic laws, as commonly misunderstood by the people of his day, concerning murder, adultery, divorce, false vows, talionic justice, and love of neighbor with the hatred of enemies. In contrast, he tells his disciples to obey these commandments at an attitudinal, or heart level: the command not to murder is kept by not being angry with another, not committing adultery and divorcing is prevented by not lusting, not breaking a vow is prevented by not making a vow at all, and talionic justice is replaced by loving one’s enemies and doing them good. This, at least thematically, is consistent with the need for the law to be written not merely on tables of stone, but on the heart, as seen in the figure of the circumcised heart in the restoration in Deut 30:6, and the new covenant promise of Jer 31:33. This theme is picked up by Paul in 2 Cor 3:1-4, in which his new covenant ministry in the gospel of Christ is one of writing the law of Christ through the Spirit on the hearts of his converts, which stands in contrast to the letters written in stone.

147 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 233.

148 Ibid., 233-34; Cf. also Bock, Luke 1: 371; A. Feuillet, “Le récit lucanien de la tentation,” Bib 40 (1959): 613-631.

149 Wimmer, 34.

150 Much of the material for this section was first presented in Kent D. Berghuis, "Fasting and the Nature of the Age," (paper presented at the ETS annual meeting, Boston, 1999).

151 Bock, Luke 1: 503.

152 Cf. Matt 7:25-34 in which allegiance to Christ is the key to overcoming worry about these matters; Matt 22:1-14, 25:1-13, Luke 12:35-37, and Rev 19:7-10 all link the eating and drinking of wedding feasts to the appropriate attire for such occasions.

153 N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 234-35. See discussion below for further interaction with how this fasting question and answer qualifies Wright’s eschatological thesis.

154 Bock, Luke 1: 517.

155 Alan W. Jenks, “Eating and Drinking in the Old Testament,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 2: 250-54 (New York: Doubleday, 1992).

156 I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 226. In “Jesus—Example and Teacher of Prayer in the Synoptic Gospels,” Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker, McMaster New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 123-25, Marshall adds that other references to fasting by Jesus simply assume the current Jewish practice, and do not argue for continued practice of fasting after the joyous event of the resurrection. He does allow for fasting as a special accompaniment of prayer, though he sees it as relatively marginal to NT prayer on the whole.

157 Examples include Basil’s homily About Fasting 2.7, and Augustine’s Sermon 210.4, mentioned in the following chapter below. There is no reason to suggest that there was any misunderstanding in any of the links between the words of Jesus, the writing of these passages, and their early church reception.

158 John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 84-85.

159 Carson, Matthew, 228.

160 Jenks, ABD 2: 254.

161 For critiques of Wright’s thesis about the restoration of Israel (especially as found in Jesus and the Victory of God), see Carey C. Newman, ed., Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1999); Clive Marsh, “Theological History? N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God,” JSNT 69 (1998): 77-94; Maurice Casey, “Where Wright is Wrong: A Critical Review of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God,” JSNT 69 (1998): 95-103; Robert H. Stein, “N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God: A Review Article,” JETS 44 (2001): 207-18; Robert H. Gundry, “Reconstructing Jesus,” Christianity Today 42 (April 27, 1998): 76-79.

162 N. T. Wright, The NT and the People of God, 234.

163 N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 433-34.

164 Wimmer, 93.

165 Keith Main, Prayer and Fasting: A Study in the Devotional Life of the Early Church (New York: Carlton, 1971), 37.

166 See especially his discussion of his understanding of Jesus’ eschatology in his response in Carey C. Newman, ed., Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, 261-72. It is evident here that Wright is very hesitant to build on the idea of Jesus speaking to an ultimate future eschatology, even though he seems to acknowledge the possibility.

167 Wright, The NT and the People of God, 459-64.

168 W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 93.

169 Matt 6:1 reads, Prosevcete [ deV] thVn dikaiosuvnhn uJmw'n mhV poiei'n e[mprosqen tw'n ajnqrwvpwn proV" toV qeaqh'nai aujtoi'": eij deV mhv ge, misqoVn oujk e[cete paraV tw'/ patriV uJmw'n tw'/ ejn toi'" oujranoi'". This is the structure maintained by each of the following three sections, and so almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are all considered thVn dikaiosuvnhn.

170 See especially the discussion of Leo the Great in the following chapter.

171 Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49), Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), 330-32, 337.

172 D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10 (Toronto: Global Christian Publishers, 1999), 60.

173 B. Ta’an 15B-16A describes the practice of putting ashes on oneself during fasting; 12A-B describes refraining from wearing sandals, bathing, anointing, and marital relations. These may help illustrate the contrast here between the different approaches offered by the Pharisees and Jesus to hygiene during fasting.

174 Betz, 420.

175 Ibid., citing Horace Sat. 1.5.101-3.

176 Ibid., citing Ps.-Plato Alc. min. 150ff., in Plato, LCL v. 12, 228-73.

177 The phrase here is {Otan deV nhsteuvhte, with the temporal particle plus the present subjunctive defined as: “Usually of (regularly) repeated action whenever, as often as, every time that” (BDAG, 730-31). The phrase implies that Jesus’ disciples will fast, and when they do so, here is how it is to be done. It is to be taken in a general, rather than absolute, sense.

178 Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, ed. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 259.

179 Carson, Matthew, 164., citing John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Valley Forge, Penn.: American Baptist Publication Society, 1886).

180 Jesus’ fasting in the desert in Matt 4:1-4 and Luke 4:1-4, as well as the fasting query of Matt 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, and Luke 5:33-39.

181 C. F. Evans, “The Central Section of St Luke’s Gospel,” Studies in the Gospels, ed. D. E. Nineham (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955), 37-53.

182 Craig A. Evans, “The Pharisee and the Publican: Luke 18:9-14 and Deuteronomy 26,” The Gospels and the Scriptures of Israel, ed. Craig A. Evans and W. Richard Stegner, JSNTSS 104, Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity 3 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 342-55.

183 Ant. 4.8.22 ß 242-43.

184 Craig A. Evans, 354.

185 Craig L. Blomberg, “Midrash, Chiasmus, and the Outline of Luke’s Central Section,” Gospel Perspectives: Studies in Midrash and Historiography 3, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983), 217-61, criticizes the approach of C. F. Evans and his followers rather strongly. Blomberg thinks there is a lack of evidence for correspondence for a number of the pericopes, and that Luke does not fit the general category of Midrash well, since Midrashim normally are more explicit in their dependence on OT Scriptures and do not generally follow the kind of neat linear order proposed. Craig Evans is aware of Blomberg’s criticisms, and seeks to answer Blomberg’s concerns and avoid falling into the errors Blomberg rightly points out.

186 That is, hypothetically, if the Pharisee were to be truly considered righteous before God. Holmgren’s words here do not make that completely clear, although that is the thrust of his point. Obviously the parable does not present the Pharisee here as justified (Luke 18:14 explicitly says that he was not).

187 Fredrick C. Holmgren, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector: Luke 18:9-14 and Deuteronomy 26,” Interpretation 48 (1994): 259-60.

188 Bock notes, “The Pharisee manages to refer to himself in the first person five times in two verses and describes himself in the prayer with the active voice. The tax collector has God as the subject and sees himself as a passive figure” (Luke: Vol. 2: 9:51-24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 1458).

189 Joachim Jeremias remarks, “Our passage is the only one in the Gospels in which the verb dikaiou'n is used in a sense similar to that in which Paul generally uses it… . Our passage shows, on the other hand, that the Pauline doctrine of justification has its roots in the teaching of Jesus” (The Parables of Jesus, rev. ed., trans. S. H. Hooke [New York: Scribner’s, 1963], 141).

190 B. Ta’an 12A says that individuals may take vows to fast on Monday and Thursday throughout the entire year, beyond the prescribed days.

191 Felix Böhl, “Das Fasten an Montagen und Donnerstagen: Zur Geschichte einer pharisäischen Praxis (Lk 18,12), Biblische Zeitschrift 31 (1987): 247-50. Bock says the days reflected the traditional days that Moses went up and came down from Mount Sinai, “but the real reason may be simply that it divided the week nicely” (Luke 2: 1463).

192 Midrash Tanhuma (S. Buber Recension) 4 (Wayyera): 16 (Genesis 19:24ff., Part I), trans. John T. Townsend (Hoboken, N. J.: KTAV, 1989), vol. 1: 102-3.

193 Nelson P. Estrada (“Praise for Promises Fulfilled: A Study on the Significance of the Anna the Prophetess Pericope,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 2 [1999]: 5-18) provides a summary of the promise-fulfillment-praise motif in the infancy narratives in general and the Anna story in particular.

194 Bart J. Koet, “Holy Place and Hannah’s Prayer: A Comparison of LAB 50-51 and Luke 2:22-39 À Propos 1 Samuel 1-2,” Sanctity of Time and Space in Tradition and Modernity, ed. A. Houtman, M. J. H. M. Poorthuis and J. Schwarz, Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1998). “LAB survived only in a Latin text from the 4th century. It is generally assumed that the Latin text is a translation of a Greek text, which in turn is a translation of a Hebrew text from the 1st century.” While there is debate about dating it before or after the fall of Jerusalem, “there seems to be nearly a communis opinio about dating LAB to the latter part of the 1st century” (45).

195 Ibid., 46.

196 Ibid., 60.

197 Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1979), 451; also cited by Koet, “Holy Place,” 60.

198 Cf. Bock, Luke 1:251.

199 Max Wilcox, “Luke 2, 36-38: ‘Anna Bat Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher, a prophetess …’: A Study in Midrash in Material Special to Luke,” The Four Gospels 1992: Festschrift, Frans Neirynck, ed. F. Van Segbroeck, C. M. Tuckett, G. Van Belle and J. Verheyden, vol. 2, BETL 100 (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1992).

200 Cf. Gerald Friedlander, ed. and trans., Pirkê de Rabbi Eliezer, fourth ed. (New York: Sepher-Hermon, 1981), 384-85. In this translation, when Serah (or Serach, as here) hears about Moses, she says, “He is the man who will redeem Israel in the future from Egypt, for thus I did hear, ‘I have surely visited you’ (Ex. iii.16). Forthwith the people believed in their God and in His messenger, as it is said, ‘And the people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel.’”

201 The reference is actually to Sarah wife of Abraham, but Wilcox thinks this is due to a confusion of traditions (Wilcox, 1576).

202 This recalls the discussion in the first chapter on deriving doctrine from narrative, and combines within a context that focuses on the narrative of the history of redemption elements of what Doriani, 86-91, refers to as “exemplary acts” and “biblical images or symbols.”

203 F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, third revised and enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 236. See also the discussion by Alfred Loisy, Les Actes des Apotres (Paris: Nourry, 1920), 403. This text has historically been seen by some as an example of fasting before baptism. While Saul’s experience was likely not understood by him to be a ritual for that purpose, it could certainly be seen as a historical experience that later believers imitated.

204 Cf. Phil 3:3-6.

205 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, AB 31b (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 497.

206 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, Sacra Pagina 5 (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1992), 254.

207 These narrative passages would seem to fit the principles mentioned in the first chapter, offered by Doriani, 195, 207: “Where there is no direct teaching, narrative provides guidance,” and “Biblical narratives guide readers in their proper use.”

208 Fitzmyer, 723.

209 Ben Witherington, III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 694. He cites m. Ned. 3.3.

210 For a good discussion, see Bruce, 515. He arrives at the date of October 5, A.D. 59.

211 Witherington, 772.

212 Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1986), 174-75. Martin mistakenly cites Barrett in support of his view, when in actuality Barrett argues against it.

213 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 226; C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1973), 186; Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984), 355.

214 Ralph Martin, 175, however, uses this point to follow just the opposite line of reasoning.

215 Fink, 283-85.

216 Keith Main, Prayer and Fasting: A Study in the Devotional Life of the Early Church (New York: Carlton, 1971).

217 For a discussion of deriving theological application from narrative literature, see Doriani, 161-212, and the more thorough interaction with these ideas at the beginning of the first chapter above.

218 Ps 34 [35]:13; Isa 58:3; Ezra 8:21; the Day of Atonement passages in Lev 16:29, 31, 23:27, 29.

219 Markus Barth, and Helmut Blanke, Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, trans. Astrid B. Beck, AB 34b (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 344.

220 John Muddiman, “Fast, Fasting,” ABD (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2: 775. See also Fred O. Francis, “Humility and Angelic Worship in Col 2:18,” in Conflict at Colossae: A Problem in the Interpretation of Early Christianity Illustrated by Selected Modern Studies, ed. Fred O. Francis, and Wayne A. Meeks, Sources for Biblical Study (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1975), 167-71.

221 Francis, 168.

222 The phrase for “bodily discipline” in Greek here is swmatikhV gumnasiva, not askesis as Muddiman writes (“Fast, Fasting,” 775).

223 L&N 88.53.

224 Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 203.

225 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition: A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, fourth rev. ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1994), 85.

226 Cf. Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 502; C. S. Mann, Mark, AB 27 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1986), 371; Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, WBC 34B (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 47; Walter W. Wessel, Mark, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 704.

227 Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes, second ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 301. Their discussion goes on to cite several verbal changes in the manuscript tradition from Mark 9:29 to Matt 17:21, as “a further indication of the seondary character of Matt. 17:21 that the influence of the Marcan text occurred at various times and in various forms. a* (the verse is added typically by the second hand) B q 33.892* pc e ff1 sys and syc as wekk as the preponderance of the Coptic tradition are more than adequate evidence for the originality of the omission of verse 21 from Matthew’s text. On the other hand, no one would have deleted a text of such popular appeal, and the relatively great number of witnesses for the omission (particularly astonishing is the presence of the Old Syriac and the Coptic traditions, representing cultures where monasticism and fasting were especially esteemed) offers further confirmation of the hardy tenacity characteristic of the New Testament textual tradition.”

228 Carson, Matthew, 392.

229 Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 442, n. 128. Cf. also Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution, second ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 353; Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, WBC 33B (Dallas: Word, 1995), 501; W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, AB 26 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971), 209.

230 Aland and Aland, 301, however, are confident that “ a* B 0274 k and Clement of Alexandria are quite adequate support for the shorter form of Mark 9:29.”

231 Cf. Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 1:7-11, 7:6; 2 Sam 12:16-23; 2 Chr 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Neh 1:8-11; Esth 4:16; Pss 35:13, 109:21-24; Jer 14:1-12; Joel 1:14, 2:12-15; Dan 6:18, 9:3, 15-19; Matt 6:16-18; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2-3.

232 Metzger, Textual Commentary, 330.

233 For critiques of the optimism about textual certainty evidenced in UBS4, see Kent D. Clarke, Textual Optimism: A Critique of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, JSNTSup 138 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997), and K[ent] D. Clarke and K. Bales, “The Construction of Biblical Certainty: Textual Optimism and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament,” Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts: Papers of the First Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, ed. D. G. K. Taylor, TS Third Series 1 (Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1999).

234 Ibid., 331.

235 Ibid., 488.

236 O’Collins and Kendall, 6, 25-27.

237 The situation seems to be analogous to the OT references to the Day of Atonement and their application in Judaism as discussed in the previous chapter. Although the Scriptural texts in Lev 16:29-30, 23:27-32, and Num 29:7 do not explicitly command fasting, the Targums frequently added fasting to the requirements, reflecting how fasting was universally practiced by the Jews by that time. The NT acknowledges the Day of Atonement as “the Fast” (Acts 27:9), and we have no reason to believe that the early Christians saw these practices as subversive of the meaning of the OT Scriptures, with the understanding that Jesus qualified how his disciples should fast in Matt 6:16-18, as discussed above.

Related Topics: Fasting