The subject of fasting, usually in conjunction with prayer, occurs in both Old and New Testaments of the Bible. However, there has been some debate in the medical community about its usefulness and potential dangers.
Some people have made claims regarding fasting as a means of somehow "cleansing the body." The final verdict, according to modern medical science, is that fasting has little value in the promotion of health. Indeed, if a person fasts for too long, serious physical damage can be done to one's internal organs.
In the Bible, fasting is seen as a way of disciplining the flesh by doing without food and drink for a relatively short period of time. There have been exceptions to this rule; the following fasted for 40 days
- Moses (Exodus 34:28)
- Elijah (1 Kings 19:8)
- Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:1-4)
Fasting was sometimes used as a means of focusing on the things of the spirit by denying the flesh in order to come closer to God. This was done by individuals and sometimes by the nation as a whole (2 Samuel 12:22; Judges 20:26; Joel 1:14).
Fasting was a way of expressing:
- grief (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35; Nehemiah 1:4; Esther 4:3; Psalm 35:13,14)- repentance (1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Kings 21:27; Nehemiah 9:1,2; Daniel 9:3,4; Jonah 3:5-8)- humility (Ezra 8:21; Psalm 69:10)
It was also seen as an aid to prayer (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; 2 Samuel 12:16-23; 2 Chronicles 20:12-23; Ezra 8:21-23)
In the New Testament our Lord seems to expect that his disciples would fast occasionally (Matthew 6:16-18).
Examples of fasting in the New Testament:
- In Acts, the leaders of the disciples fast when choosing missionaries and elders (Acts 13:2,3; 14:23).- The Apostle Paul refers to his practice of fasting in 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27.
What is the conclusion? Medically, there is very little physical benefit to fasting and indeed if one is not careful one may do oneself real harm by taking fasting to an extreme. On the other hand, there seems to be a real spiritual benefit to occasional, short-term fasting. It is a way of disciplining the appetites of the flesh and it helps us to focus our minds more clearly on God. Fasting can help to make our prayers more powerful and so strengthen our relationship to our Heavenly Father.
Christadelphians, the sponsors of this website, are a lay group and we have no central authority apart from the Lord Jesus and the Bible which would issue some kind of prescription regarding fasting. If a Christadelphian individual or congregation wants to fast, that is their decision and it will be respected by other Christadelphians. We are free to act according to our conscience on this matter without having to be dictated to by some human authority.
You can prepare for fasting by being aware of both its spiritual benefits and medical cautions. That way you will reap the benefits without doing yourself physical harm.