Chapter 8

What is fasting?
Mark 2:18-22 (NIV)


18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” 19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 21 “No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no-one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”


Mark 2:18
A puzzling question

Some people notice that Jesus’ disciples are not fasting, unlike the disciples of John and the Pharisees. Puzzled, they ask Jesus why this is so. The Pharisees think they gain merit points by fasting,[1] though that is taught nowhere in the Bible. Fasting cannot make us better or worse before God and cannot make us accepted by Him. Only personal faith in Christ can do that. Neither is fasting a yardstick to measure others’ devotion to compare it with our own. No-one should fast just to follow others.

Fasting is concentrating extra time in prayer in specific needy situations, or simply to get closer to God, by not eating for a limited period. In the spirit of true fasting, other legitimate privileges can also be temporarily suspended to concentrate on praying to God.[2]

Fasting helps us know God’s help to say ‘no’ for a short time even to legitimate appetites, like eating, and enables us to experience His strength in doing that. Anyone fasting must do so secretly, in quiet sincerity, and not parade his fasting to others.[3] But God’s people can also decide on fasting to focus on praying together for a great need. Each individual must decide if, when, and for how long to fast.

Fasting is often mentioned in the Old Testament. New Testament references include, seven in Matthew’s Gospel (once referring to Jesus’ fasting),[4] and five in Acts.[5] 2 Corinthians reveals that the apostle Paul fasted.[6] Only one day of Jewish fasting was stipulated by the Old Testament law, namely the Day of Atonement.[7] No-one has the right to command others to fast.

So how does Jesus answer the question asked about why His disciples are not fasting at this particular time?

Mark 2:19-22
Right fasting and wrong fasting

He answers by referring to wedding guests who are the bridegroom’s friends. How absurd for them not to eat at the wedding feast! That would destroy the whole feast’s purpose. (It would be different, of course, if the bridegroom had died.) Jesus is living with and amongst His disciples. That calls for joyfulness, not for fasting, at this time.

He also shows how silly it is to sow a new unshrunk piece of cloth onto older clothing needing repair. As the new cloth shrinks, it will make the tear worse. Similarly, to pour new wine into old leather wine skins will cause the new wine to burst the skins as it ferments. How ridiculous!

Something entirely new should not be attached to something old and perishing. They do not match, being incompatible. Jesus longs to give sinners eternal life and a new relationship with God involving receiving a new heart and a new spirit from Him. That relationship cannot come through continuing obsolete religious Old Testament habits. Jesus is at hand to bless those who know Him. That brings rejoicing! After His death there will be times for joint fasting and prayer—but that cannot be the main focus during His physical presence on Earth. To know Jesus brings joy!



[1]    .  Consider, for example, the Pharisee described by Jesus in Luke 18:12.
[2]    .  1 Corinthians 7:5, for example, applies the principle to mutually agreed temporary suspension of intimacy between husband and wife.
[3]    .  Matthew 6:16-18.
[4]    .  In Matthew chapters 4, 6, 9 and 17.
[5]    .  In Acts chapters 10, 13, 14 and 27.
[6]    .  2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:27.
[7]    .  Leviticus 18:12, Acts 27:9.


Questions on Chapter 8
Mark 2:18-22 What is fasting?

A. Why is fasting helpful and right if it is correctly carried out? Why do you think fasting is unpopular with some Christians today?   Matthew 6:16-18    Luke 18:10-14

B. What are some potential abuses or misuses of fasting? Why can fasting not save you from sin?   Luke 18:10-14   Matthew 6:16

C. How do the two illustrations that Jesus gives (sowing a new patch onto old cloth, and putting new wine into old wine bottles) apply to fasting?   Matthew 6:1-8   Matthew 6:16-18

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *