Fasting: A Biblical Definition

By: David Stephens

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6


The Hebrew word translated “fast” in the above passage is “tsowm”. As in all other Old Testament (KJV) references translated fast here it is taken from the Hebrew primitive root “tsuwn,” which means: to cover over the mouth. It is the thesis of this study that the Hebrews and early Christians “covered the mouth” and neither ate food-nor drank liquids when fasting. If the proposed is scripturally supported
Apostolics (by definition) should follow this practice.

Please examine the passages presented below:


“Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing, LET THEM NOT FEED NOR DRINK WATER.” Jonah 3:7


“Go. . .and fast ye for me, and NEITHER EAT NOR DRINK THREE DAYS, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast LIKEWISE. . . Esther 4:16


“And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did  NEITHER EAT BREAD NOR DRINK WATER.” Ex. 34:28


“David sware, saying, so do God to me, and more also, if I TASTE BREAD, OR OUGHT ELSE, till the sun be down.” II Samuel 3:35


“And when he came thither, he did EAT NO BREAD NOR DRINK WATER. . .” Ezra 10:6


“For so it charged me by the Lord of the Lord saying: EAT NO BREAD, NOR DRINK WATER, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. 1 Kings 13:9


“And he was three days without sight, and NEITHER DID EAT NOR DRINK.” Acts 9:9

You will notice that all of these passages explicitly state that those who fasted did not eat or drink when fasting. THERE, IS NOT ONE REFERENCE IN THE SCRIPTURE ENTIRETY THAT STATES ANYONE DRANK LIQUIDS WHILE FASTING. Indeed the young prophet of 1 Kings 13; was ordered by god himself not to drink water nor eat bread during his mission trip from Judah to Bethel and back. When he disobeyed God by EATING AND DRINKING he was destroyed by God’s judgment.

There are some Holy passages that do not distinctly declare that the faster abstained from all food and liquids. These passages may only state that the participant fasted. Some Bible students conclude
that the omission of this distinct indication allows that the faster did not totally abstain. This teaching is often advanced regarding the fast of Jesus recorded in St. Matthew 4:2: “And when he had fasted
forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.” Pointing out that the Bible does not explicitly record that Jesus was thirsty but only hungry, these scholars purpose that he may have taken
adequate liquids during his fast.

Allow an analogy to be drawn between such a theory regarding fasting with the same basic theorem Apostolics face concerning baptism. All passages THAT EXPLAIN THE MANNER of Apostolic baptism state plainly that each new convert was baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus. Other passages, however do not define the exact method of baptism but state only that the convert was (or was to be) baptized, i.e. Paul (Acts 9:18, 22:16) and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33). Before those baptisms, however, a precedent had been set. All prior converts had been baptized in Jesus name by immersion. NOT ONE PASSAGE SAYS THAT ANYONE IN THE EARLY NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH WAS BAPTIZED IN ANY OTHER WAY. Therefore, it is illogical to assume that either Paul or the Philippian jailer were baptized in any other manner.

The same logic can be applied to Biblical references to fasting AND ESPECIALLY THE 40 DAY FAST OF JESUS. Concerning Moses’ fast of forty days, the book of Exodus plainly states “he did neither eat bread nor drink water.” The scripture strongly infers that Elijah abstained from food and drink during his forty day fast, stating that he ate and drank twice before he entered his fast. Did Jesus break the established precedent and ‘fast’ with liquids? No; never did Jesus take the easy road. He experienced the same suffering as did Moses and Elijah. The Greek word translated in Matthew 4:2 as ‘hungered’ also
means ‘famished.’ It does not necessarily refer to his need for solid foods alone. Matthew’s statement that Jesus was ‘an hungered’ in no way indicates that he was also thirsty. Jesus physical body was in
need of nutrients in any form.


Still another example used to support ‘fasting’ with liquids (and, or some solid foods) concerns the three week of Daniel’s mourning. (Dan. 10:2, 3). “In those day I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I
ate no peasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” Some teach that because fasting is scripturally depicted as a type of
mourning (e.g., Matthew 9:5) that Daniel was fasting as he mourned for three weeks. Projecting that this passage relates only that Daniel ate no PLEASANT bread, it is concluded that he may have eaten UNPLEASANT bread. However, it is evident that many who mourned in the scriptures were not fasting. (e.g., widow of Nain, Luke 7) (As a social worker I can verify that when people are depressed they often refuse food. This of course is not a Bible fast). Thus though, fasting may be a type of mourning, all “mourning” is not “fasting,” (in the same sense as all Fords are cars but all cars are not Fords). Therefore, to contend that Daniel was fasting because he was mourning is conjecture and cannot be

There are three basic reasons why one should not follow a doctrine of partial abstinence solely on this passage.

1. It is Biblically improper to construct any doctrine on one scripture. Repeatedly the sacred script admonishes us: In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (II Cor. 13:1,
Deut. 17:6, 19:5, etc.) We all are aware of many religious groups that teach a variety of false doctrines built around an isolated and obscure passage. In search of Bible answers (as you know) one must
always collaborate a scripture with one or two other references — and then delve deeply into the meaning of the passage.

2. This passage does not state that Daniel was fasting.

3. Even if Daniel were indeed fasting for twenty-one days, the Bible does not state that he ate food or drank any liquids. It merely says he “ate no pleasant bread” and did not allow flesh or wine in his
mouth. It is my contention that any food is pleasant after two or three weeks! (Indeed, I have developed a hearty appetite for food previously disliked when immediately following a one day fast!)


Others contend that complete abstinence for a considerable period of time may prove harmful to our health. This may be correct, however we cannot prove ourselves holy by long fasts. Neither can we offer
ourselves as sacred as Jesus Christ; as instrumental as Moses and Elisha. I can only feel that these were given a special grace by Cod to complete such an extended fast – as previously shown completely
abstinent. UNLESS WE ARE GIVEN SUCH A GIFT OF GRACE we should not attempt a fast of extended duration. Some enter a prolonged fruit Juice fast and, when completed, tell others of its length. Could
this be an effort to prove oneself righteous? If so, these fasts are condemned by Jesus in MATTHEW 6:16-18. It may be that a three day fast in complete abstinence is as much or more of a sacrifice than a thirty-day liquid fast. God does not honor the fasts length; He does honor scriptural obedience and humility. Do we fast for our health? If so, let’s call it a diet: it’s for us and not God. Fasting is a spiritual tool that yields a spiritual result, if done according to the guidelines of the Spirit.

The author cannot accept the suggestion that the method of fasting makes no difference: that the only import of fasting is the fact of it. That again is what many of the church would contend regarding baptism. They declare it matters not HOW you are baptized as long as you are. Anything that the scriptures teach is important! If they teach complete abstinence from food and water, let’s do it Biblically.


As spiritual Israelites, we do not want our sacrifices to God to become contaminated. The prophet Malachi condemned the Israelites for offering God polluted bread, blind and sick animals for sacrifices.
One new convert drank “only” malteds when fasting. Others regularly drink fruit juices. Where is the line to be drawn? Fasting must be defined and practiced according to the scriptures.

We, as Apostolics, do not want to follow ecclesiastical liberalization in failing to believe and FOLLOW the scriptures precisely. A few months ago I received an invitation to participate in a denominational day of fasting and prayer. The invitation defined fasting as giving up something pleasing to you, like candy or television. One can readily see that most of the church world believes and practices such a diluted and ineffective fast. What road could lead Apostolics to such an impotent definition? It is the road of Indifference to the true definition according to the Holy Writ.

Bible fasting will unloose the heavy bands of wickedness and set the oppressed at liberty. However, like other potent Apostolic tools, it will yield Apostolics results, if practiced with the distinctive Apostolic precision. “As they ministered to the Lord, AND FASTED, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Acts 13:2. Let’s hang our flesh on the cross, so that the Holy, Ghost may speak to us. Let us not drink “gall and vinegar” to ease the pain. As laborers
in the Word, let us obey it in fasting without food and drink.

(The above article appeared in an issue of The Michigan Vision.)

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