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Introduction: Contribution and Methodology

This dissertation develops an integrative theology of fasting from an evangelical Christian perspective. This introduction will suggest the contribution the dissertation makes to theological studies, briefly describe the methodology that has been followed, and succinctly present its thesis statement.

Contribution of the Study

As later chapters in this dissertation will show, fasting has been largely overlooked as a topic for thorough theological study in the modern era. But in the latter part of the twentieth century, fasting practices began receiving more attention. The Roman Catholic Church reevaluated its stance toward fasting practices in and around the time of the Second Vatican Council, sponsoring renewed interest from that perspective.1 Evangelical Protestants also began paying attention to fasting in the Bible and other church traditions, and this revitalized interest was seen in an increased number of popular books promoting fasting as a spiritual discipline.2 A number of theses or minor dissertations have appeared, some of which are focused on various aspects of fasting.3 Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Wimmer has written a significant work on fasting in the New Testament, and a handful of modern scholarly monographs have been devoted fasting in Christian history.4 A few substantial articles on specific aspects of fasting have also appeared,5 and there are several brief articles in standard reference works.6 Yet no evangelical Christian has developed a comprehensive study of fasting that integrates biblical, historical and systematic theological insights into a cohesive framework.7 This dissertation is the most comprehensive attempt to date by an evangelical Protestant to synthetically work with the biblical texts in their cultural contexts, in conversation with the broader Christian tradition, in order to develop an integrated theology of fasting for Christians today.8 It is hoped that fitting this work into that niche will make some modest contribution to academic studies and the church.

Additionally, this dissertation has appended to it two sermons, About Fasting, Sermons 1 and 2, by St. Basil the Great, the fourth century Cappadocian church father.9 These sermons are not readily available in English translation, and represent the most important, previously untranslated, extant patristic statements on fasting, ranking with works on fasting by Tertullian, Augustine and Leo the Great in influence.10 These sermons have been integrated into the conversation with patristic texts that takes place in this dissertation, but it is hoped that including the complete translations also represents something of a contribution to readers of English that are interested in patristic literature, and Basil specifically.


The basic methodology of this dissertation is evangelical in character, and that perspective entails several convictions. These include the inspiration and authority of Scripture, an orthodox understanding of the Trinity (as expressed in the creeds of Nicea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon), and the Reformation understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. These convictions will be assumed and not argued in the context of this dissertation. This dissertation is an attempt to develop a specifically Christian theology of fasting. As a result, it does not engage in discussions of fasting in non-Christian religions, or fasting for purposes of health, except where certain intersections might be used for background or application of ideas.

In holding scripture in high regard as the primary source for Christian theological reflection, the progress of revelation is seen as centering on the work of Jesus Christ in a canonical theology. Two chapters have been devoted to studying the references to fasting in scripture, one each on the Old and New Testaments. Various passages related to fasting are studied within their theological and textual contexts, raising attendant ideas that will relate to a theology of fasting.

This reflection is also done in conversation with the Christian community, both in its historical trajectories as well as contemporary forms. A chapter has been devoted to the extensive discussion of fasting in the patristic era, as well as another chapter that traces the history of fasting practices through monasticism, the Reformation, and into their decline in the modern era. In the final chapter of the body of the dissertation, the contemporary reawakening to fasting in Catholic, Orthodox, and evangelical traditions is examined. The integrating eschatological motif of the nature of the age that is seen emerging from the larger study of fasting is then stated in a christocentric fashion within the context of the story of God’s redemption. This synthetic theology is applied in the cultural context of evangelical Christianity in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Thesis Statement

Christian fasting must ultimately be centered on Christ, reflect proper ways of engaging the human body in sanctification, and remember the corporate nature of the believer’s community. Fasting has too easily been associated with a focus on human effort, a fixation on or deprecation of the body, or an individualism that disregards communitarian concerns. It is hoped that this thesis will set fasting in an appropriate, positive theological context, so that its biblical and Christian heritage might be embodied in renewed spiritual expressions.

1 For recent Roman Catholic works related to fasting, see Adalbert de Vogüé, To Love Fasting: The Monastic Experience, trans. Jean Baptist Hasbrouck (Petersham, Mass.: Saint Bede's, 1989). George A. Maloney, A Return to Fasting (Pecos, N.Mex.: Dove Publications, 1974); Thomas Ryan, Fasting Rediscovered: A Guide to Health and Wholeness for Your Body-Spirit (New York: Paulist, 1981); Slavko Barbaric, Fasting (Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University Press, 1988). P. R. Régamey, Redécouverte du jeûne (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1959), 386-436. Alexandre Guillaume, Prière, jeûne et charité: des perspectives chrétiennes et une espérance pour notre temps (Paris: S. O. S., 1985); Marcellino Zalba, “Fasting,” Sacramentum Mundi: An Encyclopedia of Theology, ed. Karl Rahner (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), 2: 334-35; P. M. J. Clancy, “Fast and Abstinence,” New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), vol. 5: 847-50. Barbara Siebrunner, Die Problematik der kirchlichen Fasten- und Abstinenzgesetzgebung: eine Untersuchung zu dem im Zuge des zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils erfolgten Wandel, European University Studies Series 23, Theology 736 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2001); Canon Law Society of America, Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition (Washington: Canon Law Society of America, 1983), 446-47. Paul VI, “Paentemini (Apostolic Constitution),” AAS 58 (1956); National Conference of Catholic Bishops, On Penance and Abstinence: Pastoral Statement of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (1966); Thomas Francis Anglin, The Eucharistic Fast: An Historical Synopsis and Commentary, The Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies 124 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1941); James Ruddy, The Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus: Text, Translation and Commentary, with Short Annotations on the Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem, The Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies 390 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1957); Joseph C. Dieckhaus, “The Eucharistic Fast and Frequent Communion in the West: A Canonical and Liturgical Perspective” (Licentiate in Canon Law Dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1991); Paul VI and John Paul II, Fasting and Solidarity: Pontifical Messages for Lent (Vatican City: Pontifical Council Cor Unum, 1991).

2 The most influential evangelical works on the spiritual disciplines are Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), and Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988). Popular works promoting fasting include Angus Dun, Not By Bread Alone (New York: Harper, 1942); James Miller, Systematic Fasting (Apollo, Pa.: West, 1951); David R. Smith, Fasting: A Neglected Discipline (Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1954); Arthur Wallis, God’s Chosen Fast: A Spiritual and Practical Guide to Fasting (Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1968); Derek Prince, Shaping History through Prayer and Fasting (Old Tappan, N. J.: Revell, 1973); How to Fast Successfully (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: CGM Publishing, 1976); Charles W. Johnson, Jr. “The Mysteries of Fasting,” Spiritual Frontiers 5, no. 1 (1973): 44-51; Fasting, Longevity, and Immortality (Turkey Hills, Pa.: Survival Publishing, 1978); Eric N. Rogers [Pseudonym], Fasting: The Phenomenon of Self-Denial (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1976); Andy Anderson, Fasting Changed My Life (Nashville: Broadman, 1977); Jerry Charles, God's Guide to Fasting: A Complete and Exhaustive Biblical Encyclopedia (Madison, N.C.: Power Press, 1977); Gordon Lindsay, Prayer and Fasting: The Master Key to the Impossible (Dallas: Christ for the Nations, 1977); Jerry Falwell, Fasting: What the Bible Teaches (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1981); John E. Baird and Don DeWelt, What the Bible Says About Fasting, What the Bible Says Series (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1984); Bob and Michael W. Benson, Disciplines for the Inner Life (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1985); Wesley L. Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury, 1990); Bill Bright, The Coming Revival: America's Call to Fast, Pray, and ‘Seek God’s Face’ (Orlando: NewLife Publications, 1995); Ian Newberry, Available for God: A Study of the Biblical Teaching and the Practice of Fasting, trans. Peter Coleman (Carlisle: OM/Paternoster, 1996); Elmer L. Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough: A Guide to Nine Biblical Fasts (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 1996); John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1997); Ronnie W. Floyd, The Power of Prayer and Fasting: 10 Secrets of Spiritual Strength (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997).

3 Samuel J. Fox, “An Investigation of Fasting in the Old Testament Literature” (M. A. thesis, Butler University, 1944); William Loftin Hargrave, “Fasting in the Early Church: Being a Study of Fasting Based Upon References to the Subject in the Old and New Testaments, and Upon the Writings of Some of the Ante-Nicene Fathers” (S. T. M. thesis, University of the South, 1952); David Eddle Briggs, “Biblical Teaching on Fasting” (Th. M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1953); Wayne Barton, “Toward an Understanding of Fasting in the New Testament” (Th. D. diss., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1954); Frederick Gordon Moore, “The New Testament Concept, Practice, and Significance of Fasting: Its Historical Background and Present Implications” (B. D. thesis, Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, 1955); Frederic R. Dinkins, “The Biblical Practice and Doctrine of Fasting” (Th. M. thesis, Columbia Theological Seminary, 1966); James W. McAfee, “The Practice of Fasting” (Th. M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1973); Donald Vinson Winter, “Fasting: A Biblical and Practical Approach” (M. A. thesis, Columbia Bible College Graduate School of Bible and Missions, 1976); Thomas Wilson Jacob, “The Meaning and Importance of Fasting in the Teaching of Jesus” (M. A. thesis, Wheaton College, 1976); Stanley D. Nairn, “Identification and Purposes of Fasting” (M. Div. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1976); William Lee Johnson, “Motivations for Fasting in Early Christianity” (Th. M. thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1978); Gary D. Dehnke, “Fasting: Practice and Function in the New Testament and in the Early Church” (M. Div. thesis, Concordia Theological Seminary, 1983); Daniel Edward Wickwire, “The Role of Prayer and Fasting in Binding and Loosing with Special Reference to the Problem of Reaching the Unreached People of the World Today” (Masters thesis, The Columbia Graduate School of Bible and Missions, Columbia, S. C., 1983); R. D. Chatham, Fasting: A Biblical Historical Study (South Plainfield, N.J.: Bridge Publishing, 1987); Charles W. Quinley, “Not By Bread Alone: A Study in the Christian Discipline of Fasting” (D. Min. diss., Asbury Theological Seminary, 1989); Thomas H. Felter, “The Relevance of the New Testament Treatment of Fasting to Modern Life” (M. A. thesis, Wheaton College, 1960); Keith Main, Prayer and Fasting: A Study in the Devotional Life of the Early Church (New York: Carlton, 1971); Marion Michael Fink, Jr., “The Responses in the New Testament to the Practice of Fasting” (Ph.D. diss, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1974).

4 Joseph F. Wimmer, Fasting in the New Testament: A Study in Biblical Theology (New York: Paulist, 1982); Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkely, Calif.: University of California, 1987); Veronika E. Grimm, From Feasting to Fasting, the Evolution of a Sin: Attitudes to Food in Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1996); Teresa M. Shaw, The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1998).

5 Some of the more important that have been noted are R. Arbesmann, “Das Fasten bei den Greichen und Römern,” Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 21, no. 1 (1929), H. A. Brongers, “Fasting in Israel in Biblical and Post-Biblical Times,” in Instruction and Interpretation: Studies in Hebrew Language, Palestinian Archaeology and Biblical Exegesis, Ots (Leiden: Brill, 1977); Susan Mathews, “The Biblical Evidence on Fasting,” Diakonia 24 (1991); J. B. Muddiman, “Jesus and Fasting,” in Jésus aux origines de la christologie, ed. J. Dupont (Leuven (Belgium): Leuven University Press, 1989); Herbert Musurillo, “The Problem of Ascetical Fasting in the Greek Patristic Writers,” Traditio 12 (1956); J. Schümmer, “Die altchristliche Fastenpraxis: mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Schriften Tertullians,” LQF 27.

6 H. Achelis, “Fasting,” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950); Johannes Behm, “ Nhstiv, Nhsteuvw, Nhsteiva,” TDNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967); P. M. J. Clancy, “Fast and Abstinence,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967); “Fasting in the Christian Church,” in Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, ed. John M'Clintock and James Strong (New York: Harper, 1891); Johann Gamberoni, “Fasting,” in Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology, ed. Johannes B. Bauer (New York: Crossroad, 1981); Julius H. Greenstone, “Fasting and Fast-Days,” in The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. Isidore Singer (New York: Ktav, 1964); Stuart George Hall and Joseph H. Crehan, “Fasten/Fasttage,” TRE 11, R. Hindringer, “Fasten,” LTK 2; Robert P. Kennedy, “Fasting,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999); Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, “ xW<,” in The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. Rev. Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm (Leiden: Brill, 1996); J. P. Lewis, “Fast, Fasting,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976); J. B. Muddiman, “Fast, Fasting,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992); Thomas O'Loughlin, “Fasting: Western Christian,” in Encycopedia of Monasticism, ed. William M. Johnston (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000); Michael D. Peterson, “Fasting: Eastern Christian,” in Encycopedia of Monasticism, ed. William M. Johnston (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000); F. S. Rothenberg, “Fast,” in New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); F. Schmidt-Clausing, “Fasten,” RGG 2, F. Stolz, “ xW<,” in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997); Robert J. Way “ xW<,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. Willem VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997); Naphtali Winter, ed., Fasting and Fast Days, ed. Raphael Posner, Popular Judaica Library (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975); Marcellino Zalba, “Fasting,” in Sacramentum Mundi: An Encyclopedia of Theology, ed. Karl Rahner (New York: Herder and Herder); N. van der Zijpp, “Fasting,” in The Mennonite Encyclopedia, ed. Harold S. Bender and C. Henry Smith (Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite, 1956).

7 Perhaps the closest work in this regard is R. D. Chatham’s Fasting: A Biblical-Historical Study (South Plainfield, N. J.: Bridge, 1987). But her work, while reasonably good in surveying biblical and historical references to fasting, falls short of integrating fasting into a theological framework.

8 As used here, an integrated theology might be defined as one that examines and develops ideas first from Scripture and then from various historical and contemporary Christian communities, then contextualizes a synthetic statement of its conclusions to its particular setting (and here that is the general community of Protestant evangelicalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century). Cf. Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 25-26.

9 These sermons are commonly known by their Latin title, De jejunio (occasionally De ieiunio), and are found in PG 31:164-97.

10 Sermon 1 was actually published in English translation as an appendix to Reginald Pole, A Treatie of Iustification (Lovanii: Ioannem Foulerum, 1569; reprint, Farnborough: Gregg, 1967). Although this translation was certainly excellent for its day, its dated nature and rather obscure publication clearly does not preclude a contemporary version. No English translation of Sermon 2 has been located.

Related Topics: Fasting

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