In-Depth Edition

II. Other Significant Practices


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Chapter 29  Part II

Other Significant Practices

It is important for each Christian to understand all significant church practices. The practice of confessing Jesus Christ is one such practice that we need to understand – and be prepared to do. The weekly Sabbath is to some extent ignored by a lot of Christians, many seeing it as not relevant in the new covenant – but many evangelical theologians would “beg to differ”. Reasons both for and against observing it are included in this section. Fasting, when undertaken with a godly focus, is a significant practice that is a very valuable supplement to such things as prayer and worship. The laying on of hands is a further common practice, and so we should also be familiar with its significance and use in the Bible.

Confession of Jesus Christ

The NT speaks of confessing or acknowledging Jesus Christ. Usually it is implicit or suggested – as the word “confess” implies – that this is done in the presence of others. Confessing Jesus Christ is an expression of allegiance to him, as Lord, and involves stating what one believes about him. It is often done formally at one’s baptism and corporately in church with the recital of creeds or “confessions”. In addition, many Christians will experience times in which they should acknowledge Jesus Christ and their faith in him before unbelievers – often at the cost or risk of being persecuted. Such a situation is in view in a number of the verses in this section.

Confess Jesus Christ, before others

Luke 12:8  And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, … ▤ 

Note that where it occurs in verses throughout this section, the Greek translated in the ESV as “acknowledge” or “acknowledges” is at times translated as “confess” or “confesses” in other Bible translations – as is the case with this verse (cf. AMP, NASB, NKJV).

1Tim 6:12  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. ▤ 

This most likely is referring to the occasion of Timothy’s baptism, when he would have confessed his belief in Jesus Christ before numerous witnesses.

2Tim 2:19  But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” ▤ 

The expression “names the name of the Lord” may well be referring to confessing the name of the Lord (cf. NIV), hence the verse’s inclusion here. The “firm foundation” most likely refers to either God’s truth or the church. Despite the efforts of the false teachers (cf. vv. 16-18), God’s solid foundation stands firm. The foundation is sealed with two complementary facets of the faith, referred to by the two quotations. The first points to God’s firm hold on those who are his. The second speaks of naming or confessing Jesus Christ as a key aspect of what identifies and affirms a person as truly being one of God’s people.

Heb 3:1  Therefore, holy brothers,a you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, … ▤ 

a Or brothers and sisters; also verse 12

Heb 13:15  Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. ▤ 

Note that here the phrase “acknowledge his name” could be referring to confessing God’s name instead of Jesus Christ’s name.

  • Confessing Jesus Christ can be costly:

John 12:42  Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; … ▤ 

Here “confess it” has in view the fact that those referred to “believed in him”, Jesus Christ. As such this illustrates that confessing Jesus Christ involves confessing that one believes in him. Note that the penalty of being expelled from the synagogue is also mentioned in John 9:22 in the following sub-section.

Things to confess (or acknowledge) about Jesus Christ

See also:

John 9:22  (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesusb to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) ▤ 

b Greek him

1Cor 12:3  Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. ▤ 

Believers confess (cf. GNT) or acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. Phil 2:9-11 ), enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1Jn 4:2-3a ).

Phil 2:9-11  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ▤ 

1Jn 4:2-3a  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. ▤ 

Believers confess that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh”, i.e. as a human being. (Note that 2 John 7 similarly refers to people “who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh”.) Regarding the use of “spirit”, here it refers to the spirit influencing a person to either acknowledge Jesus Christ and his humanity or not – indicative of whether the “spirit” is the Holy Spirit or an evil one.

1Jn 4:15  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. ▤ 

Note that John appears to be saying that confessing that Jesus is the Son of God is evidence of one’s existing intimate relationship with God.

2Cor 9:13  By their approval of this service, theyc will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, … ▤ 

c Or you

This suggests that believers confess or acknowledge as true what the gospel message teaches about Jesus Christ – in effect all that the NT states about him.

  • An early Christian creed, confessing key truths about Jesus Christ:

1Tim 3:16  Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: Hed was manifested in the flesh, vindicatede by the Spirit,f seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. ▤ 

d Greek Who; some manuscripts God; others Which

e Or justified

f Or vindicated in spirit

The phrase “vindicated by the Spirit” seems to be referring to the Holy Spirit empowering Jesus to perform miracles and in particular to the Spirit’s role in his resurrection – thus vindicating Jesus and his claims. The reference to Jesus Christ being “seen by angels” most likely refers to their witness to his earthly mission, primarily to his resurrection and ascension.

Examples of people making confessions about Jesus Christ

Matt 14:33  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” ▤ 

Matt 16:16  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” ▤ 

John 1:49  Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” ▤ 

The term “the King of Israel” – as with “the Holy One of God” (John 6:69 ) – is a title of the Christ or Messiah.

John 6:69  … and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. ▤ 

John 11:27  She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” ▤ 

John 20:28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” ▤ 

Thomas appears to confess Jesus not just as being Lord generally, but as being his Lord on a personal level. Strikingly Thomas also confesses Jesus as being his God.

  • Jesus made a confession about himself before Pilate:

1Tim 6:13  I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony beforeg Pontius Pilate made the good confession, … ▤ 

g Or in the time of

John records Jesus’ conversation with Pilate (cf. John 18:33-37) in which Jesus affirmed that he was a king – a reference to being the Messiah. Paul may have John’s account in view here. Note that a number of times elsewhere in the gospels Jesus makes statements about himself that are in effect confessions.

Outcomes of confessing Jesus Christ

Matt 10:32  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, … ▤ 

Jesus Christ’s acknowledgment before God and God’s angels (cf. Luke 12:8 ) of those who acknowledge him, presumably involves him acknowledging or declaring at the final judgment that they belong to him and so are to be accepted into God’s kingdom.

Luke 12:8  And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, … ▤ 

Rom 10:8b-10  “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ▤ 

One will be saved if one confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes that God raised him to life (v. 9). Presumably the latter has in view also believing the implications of Jesus Christ’s resurrection for our salvation. Note that a literal interpretation of these verses, which a number of commentators do take, would mean that one has to make such a verbal confession to be saved. Another view is that Paul is drawing on the “mouth”/“heart” terminology in the quotation from Deuteronomy 30:14 (v. 8b) to emphasize the need for genuine belief in Christ.

1Jn 2:23  No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. ▤ 

Whoever confesses the Son – here in particular that he is the Christ (cf. v. 22) – is in a right relationship with the Father also. As with a number of other verses throughout this section, this verse is not necessarily talking about public denial or acknowledgment, but what it says is applicable to both public and personal domains.

Note: If we deny Jesus Christ, he will deny us

Although the gravity of the following warnings should not be diluted, the verses should not be interpreted to mean that a single act of denial will necessarily result in Jesus Christ disowning a person. This is illustrated in Peter’s experience. Despite his disowning Jesus three times (cf. Matt 26:33-35; Matt 26:69-75 ), Jesus did reinstate him – although in a way which appears to have underlined the seriousness of what Peter had done (cf. John 21:15-17). Also note that Peter showed great remorse and is understood to have in fact later lost his life as a result of his stand for Christ, in contrast to his earlier disowning of him.

Matt 10:33  … but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. ▤ 

2Tim 2:12  … if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; … ▤ 

This appears to be echoing Jesus’ warning above in Matthew 10:33, but some commentators see it as referring to apostasy – abandoning Jesus Christ and faith in him altogether.

Mark 8:38  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. ▤ 

Being “ashamed” of Jesus – usually prompted by a real or perceived threat – encompasses failure to confess him and the more acute act of actually disowning him (cf. 2Tim 2:12 ). Likewise when Jesus Christ returns he will not acknowledge and will disown those who have been “ashamed” of him.

  • Peter’s disowning of Jesus (and subsequent remorse):

Matt 26:69-75  Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians

Keeping the Sabbath Holy

“Sabbath” means “to cease”. Thus to observe or keep the Sabbath day we cease from work and rest. In conjunction with this, rather than engaging in our usual activities we dedicate the day to God. As such we keep the Sabbath day holy, set apart from the other days as sacred to God.

In following God’s example by resting on the Sabbath day, people imitate and associate themselves with God, even fellowship with him. In line with this, for Israel observing the Sabbath was a sign of being God’s people. The necessity for Christians to likewise observe it has been the subject of debate.

On finishing creation, God rested on the seventh day – and made it holy

After working for six “days” in creating the heavens and the earth, God rested on the seventh day. This was not because of any tiredness, but due to the finish of his creative work – reflecting his satisfaction that it was complete and excellent (cf. Gen 1:31). God made the seventh day holy by ordaining it to be a day of rest, in recognition of his rest from his creative work (and perhaps also of his completion of it).

Gen 2:2-3  And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. ▤ 

Ex 20:11  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. ▤ 

Ex 31:17  It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. ▤ 

Heb 4:3-4  For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” ▤ 

Neh 9:14  … and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. ▤ 

Observe the Sabbath as holy by resting on it

Deut 5:12-14  Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. ▤ 

Ex 31:14-15  You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. ▤ 

Under the new covenant Christians do not advocate putting to death one who works on the Sabbath. Nevertheless the command (cf. Ex 35:2 ) serves to illustrate the gravity of working on the Sabbath.

Ex 34:21  Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. ▤ 

Even during the busiest times one is to rest on the Sabbath.

Ex 35:2  Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. ▤ 

Neh 10:31a  And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. ▤ 

Purchasing is a form of work; it certainly is a participation in the work of others, encouraging them to do their work. Note that later Nehemiah similarly condemns selling goods on the Sabbath: “In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food.” (13:15; cf. 13:16-17)

Jer 17:21-22, 24  Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. 22And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. ▤ 24“‘But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, … ▤ 

Luke 23:55-56  The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. ▤ 

  • Treat the Sabbath as a delight and honorable:

Isa 58:13  If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasureh on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure,i or talking idly;j … ▤ 

h Or business

i Or pursuing your own business

j Hebrew or speaking a word

We are to view the Sabbath as a delight and honorable. We honor it accordingly by not using it for our own purposes and pleasure (“not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure”) or engaging in matters that are trivial (“talking idly”). Note that “turn back your foot from the Sabbath” refers to not doing activities that would break the command to rest on the Sabbath.

Observance of the Sabbath was given as a sign between God and his people Israel

It is debatable as to what extent Sabbath observance is a sign between God and the new people of God (cf. Verses alleged to indicate that Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath). However some of the points made below in regard to Israel are at least applicable to believers and their relationship with God.

Ex 31:13  You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. ▤ 

Setting apart the Sabbath as holy was in part to symbolize that God made his people holy (cf. Ezek 20:12 ). As such the command may have in view the setting apart of the Sabbath day as paralleling God setting apart Israel, from the other nations.

Ezek 20:12  Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. ▤ 

Ex 31:16-17  Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. ▤ 

Doing as God had done was to be a sign that the Israelites were of God (v. 17), with them being his people and he being their God (cf. Ezek 20:20 ). Note that these verses are often interpreted to indicate that the Sabbath was a sign of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (cf. GNT, NLT).

Ezek 20:20  … and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

  • Observance of the Sabbath was a reminder of the Israelite’s slavery and God rescuing them from it:

Deut 5:15  You shall remember that you were a slavek in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. ▤ 

k Or servant

In contrast to Exodus 20 (cf. Ex 20:8-11 ), in the repeating of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, the reason given for observing the Sabbath was for it to serve as a reminder of the Israelite’s slavery and God’s deliverance. Resting on it may have been to mirror the people resting from their harsh work as slaves, as well as to be a time to acknowledge God’s redemption – taking them for himself – and so be a sign of the close, unique relationship between God and them as his people.

Further reasons for keeping the Sabbath holy

See also:

Ex 16:21-30  Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. 22On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” 24So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” 27On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30So the people rested on the seventh day. ▤ 

This is speaking of the Israelites gathering manna, the food God sent them in the desert. The passage shows that keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest was commanded – and practiced – prior to the covenant with Israel being introduced (although one could argue that this was done with the soon to be introduced covenant in view). Along with the fact that God made the Sabbath holy also prior to the old covenant – in fact immediately after creating the world (cf. Gen 2:2-3; Gen 20:11) – this suggests that now opting not to rest on the Sabbath because it was “only” part of the old covenant is not in itself a valid reason. Note that the passage illustrates that God provides what is necessary so that his people do not need to work on the Sabbath (vv. 23-24, 29).

Ex 20:8-11  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. ▤ 

Verse 10a is in effect saying that the seventh day is a Sabbath dedicated to God (cf. GNT, NLT), in honor of him (cf. NCV, NIrV). Thus one reason we should observe the Sabbath is because it honors God. Verse 1 appears to indicate that the Sabbath is to be observed to commemorate God’s rest from his creative work and perhaps also his completion of it. Additionally there is the suggestion that humankind should – even needs to – follow God’s example of resting on the Sabbath. Such an assertion seems only logical as they are made in his image (cf. Gen 1:26-27). An associated benefit and reason for keeping the Sabbath is given below in 23:12.

Ex 23:12  Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. ▤ 

This points out that resting on the Sabbath enables people to “be refreshed”.

  • The Sabbath was made for the benefit of people:

Mark 2:27  And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. ▤ 

The assertion that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of people is supported above by: Exodus 16:29a, its wording suggesting that the Sabbath was introduced in part at least as a gift from God – i.e. the gift of a day of rest; and Exodus 23:12, in pointing out that it enables people to “be refreshed”. As such, rather than viewing the Sabbath as restrictive, we should in fact see it as a positive thing – we should “call the Sabbath a delight” (Isa 58:13).

It is permissible to do good and necessary things on the Sabbath

Matt 12:10-13  And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. ▤ 

Mark 3:4  And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. ▤ 

This verse is from Mark’s parallel account to the above passage from Matthew. Jesus’ rhetorical question indicates that it is indeed lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Note that the phrases “to do harm” and “to kill” may well be referring to the evil plots of Jesus’ opponents that they were hypocritically actively engaging in on this Sabbath (cf. vv. 2, 6). Alternatively, some commentators think Jesus was referring to the option of not healing the man with a shriveled hand when he had the power to do so.

Luke 13:10-17  Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. ▤ 

John 7:21-24  Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” ▤ 

In v. 21 “marvel” apparently refers to the Jews’ shock that Jesus would perform a “work” of healing in the Sabbath. In v. 23 Jesus appears to be implying that if circumcision which deals with only part of the body was permissible to carry out on the Sabbath, then there is all the more reason to heal the “whole body” on the Sabbath. A slightly different interpretation is that Jesus was drawing a parallel between the wholeness that circumcision signified and the wholeness that was brought by his act of healing, concluding that if one was permissible then both should be.

Mark 2:23-28  One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” ▤ 

In vv. 25-26 Jesus draws a parallel between what his disciples had done to satisfy their hunger and need for food (cf. Matt 12:1 – “His disciples were hungry”) with what David did when he and his companions were “in need and … hungry”. Like David the disciples had acted contrary to the letter of the law, but as in David’s case their actions were not inconsistent with the spirit of the law (cf. NSB). The implication is that it is permissible to do good and necessary things on the Sabbath. In summing up, Jesus affirms that the Sabbath should be used for the good of people (v. 27) – before claiming authority over matters relating to observing the Sabbath (v. 28).

On the Sabbath God’s people assemble for worship . . .

See also:

Lev 23:3  Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places. ▤ 

A “convocation” is a large formal assembly. Undoubtedly “a holy convocation” is a reference to corporate worship.

Ezek 46:3  The people of the land shall bow down at the entrance of that gate before the Lord on the Sabbaths and on the new moons. ▤ 

Acts 16:13-14  And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. ▤ 

On the Sabbath Paul and his companions found a group of women gathered presumably for prayer (v. 13) and other aspects of worship, as is perhaps suggested by Lydia being described as “a worshiper of God” (v. 14a). Note that on joining the women, Paul taught them (vv. 13b-14) – illustrative of the subject of the following subsection.

Acts 20:7  On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. ▤ 

The reference to coming together to “break bread” is probably speaking of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, an aspect of worship. Regarding this being on the first day of the week, see Note: Early Christians met together on the first day of the week.

Num 28:9-10  On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: 10this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. ▤ 

These verses do not mention God’s people assembling for worship, but the additional offerings spoken of do illustrate the increased focus on worship on the Sabbath.

. . . During Sabbath worship there is teaching, with reading of Scripture

See also:

Luke 4:16  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. ▤ 

Note that synagogues are places of Jewish worship.

Luke 13:10  Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. ▤ 

Acts 13:42, 44  As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. ▤ 44The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. ▤ 

Acts 18:4  And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. ▤ 

Acts 17:2  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, … ▤ 

Acts 15:21  For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues. ▤ 

Luke 4:31  And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, … ▤ 

Acts 13:27  For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. ▤ 

Blessings for keeping the Sabbath holy – and judgments for not

Isa 56:1-2, 4-7  Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” ▤ 4For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” ▤ 

Note that the blessings promised were due not just to keeping the Sabbath, but also for being faithful to God in other matters. Other such matters are possibly likewise in view in the promises in Isaiah 58:13-14 and Ezekiel 20:13 below.

Isa 58:13-14  “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasurel on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure,m or talking idly;n 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;o I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” ▤ 

l Or business

m Or pursuing your own business

n Hebrew or speaking a word

o Or of the land

In v. 14, “ride on the heights of the earth” may be speaking of the people’s dominion over their land (cf. NIrV), in conjunction with the subsequently mentioned feeding on the produce of the land, their inheritance. Alternatively it may allude to being held in honor amongst the other nations (cf. GNT, NLT).

Jer 17:24-27  “‘But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever. 26And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. 27But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’” ▤ 

Verse 25 speaks of Israel being independent – strong and not subject to other nations – led by kings who are appropriately from David’s line.

Ezek 20:13  But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. ▤ 

Neh 13:16-18  Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disasterp on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” ▤ 

p The Hebrew word can mean evil, harm, or disaster, depending on the context

Verses alleged to indicate that Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath

Col 2:16-17  Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. ▤ 

With it being mentioned specifically in association with other aspects of the old covenant that believers no longer are required to abide by, this verse arguably provides the best evidence that believers do not need to keep the Sabbath. However one could argue that Paul is not necessarily meaning that they do not need to keep the Sabbath at all. Rather in mentioning it here he may have in mind certain aspects of its observance, such as offerings required on it under the old covenant or even the day of the week on which it is to be observed.

Rom 14:5-6  One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. ▤ 

What Paul is referring to here is possibly inclusive of the Sabbath, although the reference to eating suggests that a special day of feasting may be what is foremost in view. Regarding contentious issues like those in question here, Paul is primarily concerned that: his readers be convinced in themselves (v. 5b), so they can act with a clear conscience; and the chosen course of action be taken for the Lord’s honor and with thanksgiving (v. 6b).

Gal 4:8-11  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. ▤ 

In view of the discussion regarding the law in the preceding chapter (cf. 3:2-25) and latter passages – and also a possible reference to it in v. 12 – some consider that Paul is referring to the law in vv. 9-10, with “the weak and worthless elementary principles” (v. 9) paralleling the shortfalls of the law with paganism (v. 8). As such “days” would quite possibly encompass the Sabbath. However the reference to paganism in v. 8 points to paganism as being what Paul has in mind here (cf. CEV, GNT). If this is the case, then there is no reference here to the Sabbath.

Note: Early Christians met together on the first day of the week

The fact that the early Christians are recorded as meeting together on the first day of the week – and the reason why (cf. Rev 1:10 ) – has influenced most Christians to meet for worship and celebrate the Sabbath on this day rather than on the seventh day of the week. But bear in mind that one reason why the early Christians did not meet together on the seventh day, may have been that they continued to observe it as the Sabbath.

John 20:19  On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” ▤ 

Note that v. 26 records a similar appearance by Jesus to the disciples, who were again meeting together. But as it was eight days later, it illustrates that they did not only meet together on the first day of the week.

Acts 20:7  On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. ▤ 

1Cor 16:2  On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. ▤ 

This verse is quite probably speaking of money being brought to Christian gatherings held on the first day of every week.

  • The first day of the week was referred to as “the Lord’s Day”:

Rev 1:10  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet … ▤ 

This is understood to be referring to the first day of the week, which was called “the Lord’s day” in view of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day. It being “the Lord’s day” is most likely the major reason as to why believers regularly met together on the first day of the week.

Pray for persecuted Christians


Fasting involves abstaining from food and drink, though not necessarily water which provides no calories or energy. Ordained fasts in the OT were usually from sunrise to sunset. People who fast regularly today often do so once or twice a week, for one or two successive meal times. In the Wesleyan revival, fasting was observed from after the Thursday evening meal to mid-afternoon Friday. Note that in the NT there are examples of fasting, but it is not actually commanded.

Fasting involves abstaining from food and drink

Est 4:16a  “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. ▤ 

Ex 34:28  So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.q ▤ 

q Hebrew the ten words

Note that the forty-day fasts of Moses and Jesus (cf. Matt 4:2 ) were exceptional cases of fasting.

Lev 23:32  It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath. ▤ 

The clause “you shall afflict yourselves” refers to fasting (cf. text note on 16:29), denying oneself of food. Note that the reference here is to the annual Day of Atonement (cf. vv. 27-28).

Judg 20:26b  They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. ▤ 

1Sam 31:13  And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days. ▤ 

2Sam 12:16-17  David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. ▤ 

Ezra 10:6  Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night,r neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. ▤ 

r Probable reading; Hebrew where he went

Matt 4:2  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. ▤ 

Acts 9:9  And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. ▤ 

  • Daniel abstained from choice food for three weeks:

Dan 10:2-3  In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. 3I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. ▤ 

Fasting can be done regularly – as an adjunct to prayer and worship

See also:

Matt 6:16-18  And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ▤ 

One implication of this teaching is that Jesus appears to expect that his followers would fast regularly.

Luke 18:12  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. ▤ 

Luke 2:36-37  And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.s She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. ▤ 

s Or as a widow for eighty-four years

Fasting implies and promotes earnestness in worship and prayer. When fasting, the ache and craving of hunger brings an earnestness and intensity to our worship and prayers (cf. comment on 1Cor 7:3, 5 ). Fasting also promotes clarity of thought. Furthermore, our hunger serves as a reminder to worship and/or pray throughout the fasting period.

Luke 5:33, 35  And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” ▤  … [Jesus:] 35The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” ▤ 

John the Baptist’s disciples often fasted as an adjunct to prayer – as did the disciples of the Pharisees (v. 33). But during the remarkable time that Jesus was with them, it was not appropriate or necessary for his disciples to fast. But on his death – when he, the “bridegroom”, would be taken away from them (v. 35) – then they would fast. The reference appears to be in particular to fasting in mourning over his death.

Acts 13:2  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ▤ 

Acts 10:30  And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,t and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing … ▤ 

t That is, 3 P. M.

In this verse some manuscripts have “praying and fasting” (cf. GNT text note).

Lev 23:27  Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. ▤ 

This refers to an annual fast rather than a regular one. It is included here as further example of fasting being involved in worship.

  • Abstaining from sexual relations for the sake of devotion to prayer:

1Cor 7:3, 5  The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. ▤ 5Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. ▤ 

A parallel can be made with this practice and fasting, with both practices involving giving up something that is craved in order to intensify one’s focus on something else, namely prayer. Note that Paul may not be encouraging this practice, particularly as he puts restrictions on it – i.e. that it be done only with mutual consent and for a limited time.

Fasting can be done on particular occasions, in petitioning God – as in seeking God’s help . . .

See also:

Ezra 8:21-23  Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. ▤ 

2Sam 12:16  David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. ▤ 

2Chr 20:1-4  After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites,u came against Jehoshaphat for battle. 2Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom,v from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). 3Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. ▤ 

u Compare 26:7; Hebrew Ammonites

v One Hebrew manuscript; most Hebrew manuscripts Aram (Syria)

Dan 9:2-3, 19  … in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. ▤ 19O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. ▤ 

Acts 13:3  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. ▤ 

Here members of the Antioch church appear to be fasting and praying in regard to Barnabas and Saul and the work to which God had called them (cf. v. 2 ), presumably largely to ask God to help them in the work (cf. Acts 14:23 ).

Acts 14:23  And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. ▤ 

. . . or as in asking God to relent from punishing sin

See also:

Fasting can be done in seeking God’s forgiveness of sin along with deliverance from his punishment for the sin.

Deut 9:18-19  Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. ▤ 

1Ki 21:21-22, 27-29  Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 22And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. ▤ 27And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. 28And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29“Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” ▤ 

Joel 1:13-14  Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar. Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God! Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. 14Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. ▤ 

Apparently as a punishment for the people’s sin (cf. Joel 2:12-13 ), an awesome plague of locusts had devastated the land, leaving neither grain nor wine even for offerings (v. 13b; cf. Joel 2:14 ). Thus the prophet calls on the priests – and similarly the people (cf. vv. 5-12) – to seek God’s forgiveness and restoration, in part with fasting (v. 14a).

Joel 2:12-17  “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? 15Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. 17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.w Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” ▤ 

w Or reproach, that the nations should rule over them

Jonah 3:1-10  Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city,x three days’ journey in breadth.y 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6The word reachedz the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. ▤ 

x Hebrew a great city to God

y Or a visit was a three days’ journey

z Or had reached

  • The Israelites fasted on the annual day when atonement was made for them to cleanse them from sin:

Lev 16:29-31  And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselvesa and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. ▤ 

a Or shall fast; also verse 31

Fasting can be done to express distress in trouble or remorse over sin

See also:

In conjunction with seeking God’s help, fasting expresses one’s distress in trouble. Likewise, in conjunction with seeking God’s forgiveness, fasting expresses one’s remorse over sin. Note that most of the passages in the previous subsection are also reflective of fasting expressing one’s remorse over sin.

Judg 20:25-26  And Benjamin went against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed 18,000 men of the people of Israel. All these were men who drew the sword. 26Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. ▤ 

Neh 1:3-4  And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” 4As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. ▤ 

Est 4:3  And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. ▤ 

The edict in question ordered the killing of all Jews (cf. Est 3:8-15).

Ps 109:22, 24  For I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me. ▤ 24My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat. ▤ 

Neh 9:1-2  Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. ▤ 

1Sam 7:6  So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. ▤ 

The pouring out of water before God is quite possibly indicative of repentance, and so also remorse. It may have been done as an offering (cf. CEV, GNT) and/or as an allusion to self-denial and fasting.

Ezra 10:6  Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night,b neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. ▤ 

b Probable reading; Hebrew where he went

Note: Fasting in itself is not significant

Jer 14:10-12  Thus says the Lord concerning this people: “They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” 11The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. 12Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” ▤ 

It does no good to fast – or perform any religious practice – while continuing to live a sinful life. God takes no notice of such fasting (cf. Isa 58:3 ).

Isa 58:1-7  Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. 3‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,c and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? 6“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressedd go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? ▤ 

c Or pursue your own business

d Or bruised

Fasting should signify godliness. Thus it ought to be manifested in such things as: obedience to God (vv. 1-2); treating others appropriately (vv. 3-4); and caring for the needy (vv. 6-7). Without being accompanied by such things, fasting itself is of no significance.

Zec 7:2-6  Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord, 3saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 4Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: 5“Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? ▤ 

Fasting must be done for the right reasons, with God primarily in view – as with all religious practices (cf. v. 6). As far as God is concerned, there is no point just “going through the motions” or doing it with less than God-centered motives – which God’s reply (v. 5) suggests that the people were doing. Any religious practice performed without a focus on its proper object becomes a stale and pointless exercise.

Luke 18:9-14  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayede thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” ▤ 

e Or standing, prayed to himself

Fasting in a spirit of self-righteousness counts for nothing in God’s sight.

Matt 6:16-18  And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ▤ 

Fasting for show – so as to display one’s supposed piety – is unacceptable to God, and receives no reward from him. It must be done discreetly.

1Sam 14:24, 28-30  And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. ▤ 28Then one of the people said [to Jonathan], “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. 29Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” ▤ 

The binding of Saul’s troops to a fast with an oath was thoughtless, pointless and in fact counterproductive.

  • We should not be legalistic about the practice of fasting:

Matt 9:14-17  Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast,f but your disciples do not fast?” 15And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” ▤ 

f Some manuscripts add much, or often

A number of commentators interpret the inclusion of the wineskins illustration (vv. 16-17) immediately after Jesus’ comments on fasting (vv. 14-15), to imply that under the new covenant one should not be legalistic about the practice of fasting – which no doubt would have been in contrast to the Pharisees’ attitude in their fasting (v. 14).

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The Laying on of Hands

See also:

Bear in mind that generally at least – and as reflected in some of the passages in this section – the laying on of hands is done in conjunction with prayer.

In conveying the gift of the Holy Spirit

Note that the laying on of hands to convey the gift of the Holy Spirit is generally done in conjunction with the recipients coming to faith – rather than at a time chosen by those performing the act. Also, it is not essential for a person to have hands laid on them for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:17-18  Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, … ▤ 

Acts 9:17-18  So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; … ▤ 

Although it is not stated, presumably Paul received the Holy Spirit at this time, particularly as it is mentioned in conjunction with receiving back his sight (v. 17) which did occur here (v. 18).

Acts 19:6  And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. ▤ 

In conveying blessing

Mark 10:16  And he [Jesus] took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. ▤ 

Matt 19:13-15  Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15And he laid his hands on them and went away. ▤ 

Particularly as it is spoken of as being done in conjunction with prayer (v. 13), it would appear that Jesus’ act of placing his hands on the children signified that he was blessing them (cf. Mark 10:16 ).

Gen 48:14-16, 20a  And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitudeg in the midst of the earth.” ▤ 20So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” ▤ 

g Or let them be like fish for multitude

Here Jacob (called Israel) blesses Joseph’s two sons, in a sense blessing Joseph himself (v. 15a). Note that the right hand (v. 14) was indicative of a greater blessing.

Lev 9:22  Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. ▤ 

Here and in the following reference from Luke, a group of people is being blessed. So instead of hands being laid on each of them individually – which here in Aaron’s case would have taken an enormous amount of time – hands are used to convey blessing by being lifted towards the group.

Luke 24:50  Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. ▤ 

  • The laying on of hands is listed amongst elementary and foundational teachings:

Heb 6:1-2  Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2and of instruction about washings,h the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. ▤ 

h Or baptisms (that is, cleansing rites)

Being listed amongst such elementary and foundational teachings points to the importance of this practice, with presumably the importance of what it signifies being in view.

In conveying God’s healing

See also:

Those who have the gift of healing, generally convey God’s healing through laying their hands on sick people – as Jesus often did.

Luke 4:40  Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. ▤ 

Matt 8:3  And Jesusi stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. ▤ 

i Greek he

Matt 9:29-30a  Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30And their eyes were opened. ▤ 

Mark 5:23  … and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” ▤ 

Mark 6:5  And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. ▤ 

Mark 7:32-35  And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. ▤ 

Note that in conjunction with touching the man (v. 33), in healing him Jesus also appears to pray (v. 34).

Luke 13:12-13  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. ▤ 

Mark 16:18  … they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. ▤ 

Acts 28:8  It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. ▤ 

In commissioning for ministry

The practice of established leaders laying their hands on newly appointed leaders or ones being commissioned for a new role, denotes the bestowing of authority by the established leaders – who have such authority themselves – onto the newly appointed leaders, before God.

Num 27:15-23  Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” 18So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. 19Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. 20You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. 21And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” 22And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, 23and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses. ▤ 

Acts 6:1-3, 6  Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenistsj arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers,k pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. ▤ 6These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. ▤ 

j That is, Greek-speaking Jews

k Or brothers and sisters

Acts 13:1-3  Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,l Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. ▤ 

l Niger is a Latin word meaning black, or dark

Note that the prophets and teachers (v. 1), leaders in the church, may well be in view as those who laid hands on Barnabas and Saul.

1Tim 5:22  Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. ▤ 

This is commonly understood to be referring to the laying on of hands in the ordination of elders – which should not be done without due consideration nor until the candidate has had sufficient time to prove their suitability.

Num 8:10-11  When you bring the Levites before the Lord, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, 11and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord. ▤ 

In contrast to the other passages in this subsection, here the people rather than the leaders, are said to have been the ones who laid hands (on the Levites). This signified that the Levites were representative of the whole people, having the authority to represent them before God, including making offerings on their behalf. Verse 1 indicates that as such they were in a sense an offering from the people to God, to do his work, notably interceding before him on the people’s behalf.

  • Timothy’s spiritual gift for ministry given through the laying on of hands:

1Tim 4:14  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. ▤ 

Most likely the elders laid their hands on Timothy in commissioning him for service. As such he would have received this spiritual gift primarily to equip him in the work. Note that in 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul speaks of Timothy receiving a spiritual gift through Paul himself laying his hands on him: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” As such Paul could be speaking of himself as one of the elders on the occasion referred to here in 1 Timothy 4:14.

Note: The OT use of oil to anoint and consecrate people for God’s service

In the OT, a person being ordained or inducted into a role in God’s service – notably as a priest, a prophet or a king – was anointed with oil. It signified them being set apart by God for such a role. Particularly in the case of priests, it also signified them being consecrated or made holy in order to undertake their holy work. This practice is imitated in some churches today, in commissioning people for ministry.

Ex 29:7, 21  You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. ▤ 21Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons’ garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him. ▤ 

Note that the composition of the sacred anointing oil used to anoint and consecrate priests, is given in 30:23-25. Unauthorized making and use of it is strictly prohibited in 30:32-33.

Ex 40:9, 13-15  “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. ▤ 13and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. 14You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, 15and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” ▤ 

As with the tabernacle and the other things in v. 9, the anointing of the priests would have been done with the anointing oil.

Lev 8:12  And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. ▤ 

Lev 21:10-12  The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose nor tear his clothes. 11He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother. 12He shall not go out of the sanctuary, lest he profane the sanctuary of his God, for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is on him: I am the Lord. ▤ 

1Sam 10:1a  Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? ▤ 

1Sam 16:1, 12-13  The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” ▤ 12And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. ▤ 

Ps 89:20  I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, … ▤ 

1Ki 1:39  There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” ▤ 

2Ki 9:6  So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his [Jehu’s] head, saying to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. ▤ 

Zec 4:12-14  And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oilm is poured out?” 13He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” 14Then he said, “These are the two anointed onesn who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” ▤ 

m Hebrew lacks oil

n Hebrew two sons of new oil

This is from one of Zechariah’s visions and uses figurative language. The “two branches of the olive trees” symbolize Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua the high priest. Possibly the “golden oil” (v. 12) – which originates from the olive trees (cf. v. 11) to which the branches belong – is associated with their anointing to serve God (v. 14). As such the imagery would be reflective of the use of oil to anoint people for service to God.

  • The practice of anointing sick people with oil for healing:

James 5:14  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. ▤ 

The anointing with oil may simply be medicinal treatment, as in its use by the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34a – “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” This is also the case in Isaiah 1:6b – “… bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.” Some however view it as being of spiritual significance. Either way, it is done “in the name of the Lord”, acknowledging that healing is ultimately from him. Note that Mark 6:13 also speaks of Jesus’ followers (the twelve disciples) employing this practice – “And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”

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