A Question About Fasting (Matthew 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2018-06-22 14:24.

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It appears that Jesus banqueted with his disciples on what may have been a fast day (either Monday or Thursday) observed by the Pharisees. This prompted some disciples of John the Baptist to ask him, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast [often (not in all manuscripts of Matthew)], but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

In reply, Jesus indicated that it was inappropriate for the guests [literally, “sons”] of the bridegroom to fast while the bridegroom was with them. When, however, he would be taken away from them, they would fast. (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19, 20; Luke 5:34, 35) Illustrating the point further, Jesus used two likenesses or parables.

No one would patch an old garment with a new, unshrunk piece of cloth. Upon being washed, the new fabric would shrink, pull away from the material of the old garment, and worsen the tear. (Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21) Luke 5:36 identifies the source of the patch as a new garment. The new fabric would not match the old cloth, and both garments would be ruined.

No one would put new wine into old wineskins. Lacking elasticity, the old wineskins would burst from the fermenting of the new wine, and the new wine would spill out. To prevent this, new wine would be poured into new wineskins. (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38)

People, however, have a tendency to resist change, preferring the old and familiar. As Jesus said, “No one who has drunk the old [wine] wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” (Luke 5:39)

By means of the parables, the Son of God emphasized that his teaching could not be fitted into the old traditional mold. Any attempt to do so would work out ruinously for his dynamic teaching and would wreck the old traditional way. This should have helped the disciples of John the Baptist to see that their loyalty to him was not to interfere with their becoming Jesus’ disciples, as John’s preparatory work had served its purpose.


Matthew, Mark and Luke word the point about fasting somewhat differently. “Why do we and the Pharisees fast [often], but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14) “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2:18) “The disciples of John fast frequently and pray, as also [do the disciples] of the Pharisees, but your [disciples] eat and drink.” (Luke 5:33) The differences in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are understandable. The words were not originally spoken in Greek, and the writers of the accounts conveyed the sense of what the disciples of John said and not their precise words.

During the time Jesus was dead, the disciples, overcome with grief, would doubtless have fasted. After his ascension to heaven, the disciples also fasted for specific reasons. In time, believers came to include Pharisees, and they may have continued with their fasting routine, as it was not wrong in itself. Generally, though, early believers do not appear to have set aside specific fast days.