"What's the story behind fasting?" My response to a question

"Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you”. 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth."

What is the story behind fasting?  I do not remember reading anything in the Bible from God saying we should fast.  Just a tradition? 

Even Jesus seemed neutral; he just said if you do it - do not do it to be seen by others as sacrificing for your own personal benefit.


Hey Dennis,

In the Old Testament, and in later rabbinic Judaism, fasting was practiced for several reasons: as a sign of mourning (i.e., “I’m too sad to eat), as a sign of repentance (i.e., “I gave up sinning and food”), to increase the efficacy of prayer, supplication for others, or to pursue heavenly wisdom.

So, while I doubt the entire city of Nineveh repented of their sins in mourning and fasting, Jews would have assumed that fasting was a part of mourning over sin.

You’re right: the Bible never gives a moral commandment to observe fasts. Instead, it is assumed in ancient Judaism to be a part of religious life for the reasons I mentioned above. Moreover, Jesus never commands it; he just regulates it (Matt. 6:16-18).

This is why I don’t teach/preach that Christians should do it. They certainly can do it; and, perhaps it helps them. I know some people really enjoy fasting—it helps them re-gain focus. Instead of eating/drinking, they pray and/or read their Bibles.

Of course, modern fasting is almost always partial. In ancient Judaism, it seems, fasting was total (like Muslims today during Ramadan, at least during the daytime). Ancient Jews don't seem to have just skipped a meal: they didn’t eat or drink all day long, or even for a few days in a row!

For the Kingdom,