Posted in Bible, reflections

The nature of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness

Jesus was in the wilderness fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, as described in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 4:1-11, Mk. 1:12-13, Lk. 4:1-13). Was this fast:

a) going without both food AND water, or

b) abstaining only from food?

Consider:

1) Luke 4:2b (NIV) – “He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” There’s no mention of drinking nothing, only of eating nothing. The text does not say “he ate or drank nothing, and at the end of them he was hungry and thirsty.” Luke’s “he ate nothing” provides clarity missing in Matthew’s and Mark’s account.

2) The devil’s temptation centered around bread, not water. He tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread, focusing on where he knew Jesus’ weakness lie, i.e. his hunger. Otherwise, surely the devil would have said: “If you are the son of God, strike this stone with a rock, and water will come forth,” much as Moses had done in the wilderness (see Exodus 17:1-7). Water is the # 1 requirement for life in any climate, but particularly in an arid one.

3) We believe that Jesus is fully divine, but also fully human. The incarnation means that Christ took on human existence in the flesh, with all its biological limitations and requirements. The human body cannot last more than a few days without water. Therefore, both Jesus and John the Baptist must have found water in the Judea wilderness, perhaps the Jordan river (see Matthew 3:1-6).

Conclusion

The correct answer is (b), that Jesus went without food but did drink water when tempted in the wilderness.

Our mission statement as Nazarenes is to make “Christlike disciples.” If we emulate Jesus in our spiritual practices, then it’s important that we correctly understand how Jesus fasted. To get this wrong may damage our bodies.

_________________________

Image credit:

Signimu & Google & Penubag, Apache License 2.0 http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Author:

I'm a health care chaplain.

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