How Fast Do We Fast (Acts 12:1-3)?
Feb 07, 2011 by Craig Blomberg | 0 Comments
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (13:2; updated NIV)
“We need more people to fast.” I have often heard those words in Christian contexts when someone is praying fervently for a particular need. Is this the key?
Fasting was a common practice among ancient Israelites. The Greek verb nēsteuo, the standard word for fasting, occurs twenty-eight times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and eighteen times in the Gospels. A few passages have textual variants, less well attested, but well known from their use in the KJV translation of the Bible, that add “fasting” after “prayer” as the key to working the kind of miracles Jesus performed.
After the inauguration of the new covenant at Pentecost, however, there are only two uses of the verb. Only in this brief passage of how the church in Antioch chose the two it would send out as its missionaries does any reference to fasting appear in all of Acts through Revelation. And it appears merely as a description of what the Christians there did, not as a prescription of what we all should do.
The fasting obviously worked, so there is no reason why Christians shouldn’t fast in seeking God’s will. But if it were a central spiritual discipline for all of us, we’d see it commanded, and referenced a whole lot more often. And we must never forget Colossians 2:23: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”