Fast and pray, or pray fast?

My post about Bishop Michael Reid has attracted a lot of interest. Simon Jones’ post which I linked to has attracted even more, to judge by the number of comments.

Well down the comment thread on Simon’s post a discussion has started on fasting. The issue was raised by Dr Raj Patel, and the discussion continued by John, a preacher from here in Essex, who reports the following:

Reid taught that it was not right to fast because the Lord, the bridegroom, is now with us and we do not need to fast. He even stated at a meeting for pastors that “fasting is heathen.” This is clearly false teaching, especially in view of Acts 13:2-3.

Raj continues with

You are absolutely right, Reid has totally contradicted Scripture on the issue of fasting. Indeed, some might say say he has blasphemed on this point, as the New Testament tells us that Jesus taught his disciples to ‘pray and fast without ceasing.’ … It looks as if the ‘bishop’ thought he was so important and authoritatative that he could contradict the teaching of Christ himself !

Strange, these quoted words don’t appear in my New Testament. Can anyone tell me where they come from? It is not Reid but whoever first attributed these words to Jesus who “thought he [or she] was so important and authoritatative that he [or she] could contradict the teaching of Christ himself”. For when we look at what Jesus actually taught about fasting, it is by no means that his followers should fast. He did not condemn fasting, but, in Mark 2:19, laid down a general rule, which Reid faithfully taught, that they should not fast “because the Lord, the bridegroom, is now with us”. So, according to commenter John,

Reid also used to say that we should not fast and pray, but pray fast.

Excellent advice! Fasting may be helpful for some in certain circumstances, but in his teaching Jesus, without condemning fasting, repeatedly teaches on the importance of prayer. Not fast prayer in the sense of babbling words or getting it over quickly, but praying fast in the sense of being quick to turn to prayer when there is a need, and of holding fast to God in prayer.

I agree that Reid went too far in saying that “fasting is heathen.” This is indeed false teaching, as are large parts of what Reid taught. But he should be condemned for what is false, and for his adultery, and not for this teaching which is correct, and explodes a long held myth about fasting.

No doubt some of you my readers will want to point me to Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29 (see also 1 Corinthians 7:5) in KJV and NKJV, in which Jesus appears to commend prayer and fasting. But if you look for this teaching in almost any modern Bible translation except for NKJV, you will not find them. Matthew 17:21 is not in these translations at all, and there is no mention of fasting in Mark 9:29 or 1 Corinthians 7:5. In each of these cases the wording with “fasting” is found only in later manuscripts in the Alexandrian and Byzantine traditions; the scholars of the biblical text who produced the UBS 4th edition Greek New Testament judge that in each of these three cases “the text is certain”, referring to the version without “fasting”. It seems highly probable that the variants with “fasting” reflect the growing prominence of this practice in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and not the actual teaching of Jesus and the apostles. These readings found their way into KJV through the Byzantine manuscripts of the New Testament on which the “Textus Receptus” is based, but are now almost universally (except by “KJV-only” people) rejected as later additions.

Since Jesus is with his church, the bridegroom with his bride, I can agree with Reid, as reported by John, that as a general rule

Christians should be feasting and not fasting.

0 thoughts on “Fast and pray, or pray fast?

  1. When Jesus talks about fasting in Matthew 6, I’ve noticed that He says “when” you fast, and not “if” you fast…I take this to mean that I SHOULD be fasting on at least some level. Peter, what are your thoughts on this?

  2. Good question, Rhea.

    Yes, Jesus does say “When you fast …” in Matthew 6:16,17. But it is wrong to understand this as an instruction to fast. It might perhaps be taken to indicate that Jesus is not banning fasting. But then no one, except possibly Reid, believes that he did; after all, Acts 13:2,3 shows that the early Christians sometimes did fast.

    Also Jesus did foresee circumstances when the disciples might want to fast, Mark 2:20 and parallels. It is not entirely clear what he meant by the time when the bridegroom is taken away. Perhaps this was the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection, when fasting would have been appropriate. I suppose this is how Reid takes it. Others might take it as the time from the crucifixion or the ascension and the Second Coming, so including the present time. I can see an argument for this, but it does also imply an understanding which I consider wrong, that Jesus is not currently present in his church. Thus I prefer the interpretation which Reid took. Of course here we get into some rather tricky questions relating to eschatology which I don’t want to get into in this comment.

  3. I hope you will find time to comment on my views on the decline and fall of Michael Reid Ministries.

    I wish the people of Peniel well so that the damage will be repaired and they will be able to have genuine fellowship with local churches.

    Many are praying for the true repentance of Michael Reid.

  4. It seems that emails with my blog address are not allowed. You can find my account of “The decline and fall of Michael Reid Ministries” on the web. Google
    my alias Johli Baptist and you should find my blog.

  5. John, I’m sorry some of your comments were caught as spam. I have now retrieved them all, which means some repetition but I can live with that. Presumably Akismet had your site blacklisted for some reason – it should now have been informed that this is not a spam site. You might do better to put your blog address in the URL field when you log on as a commenter, as I think this is less likely to be taken as spam.

    Sorry also to be slow responding – my limited blogging time yesterday was taken up with another thread.

    I will have a look at your post on Michael Reid and comment on it there.

  6. Hi Peter

    I suggest that you, me and Dr Raj Patel should go out for a fellowship feast. It would be better than a fellowship fast. We can all drink to that and I’ll buy the first round of drinks!

    How about the Holiday Inn at Brentwood?

  7. On Simon Jones’ blog you, Peter, and Dr Raj Patel have said that you are willing to meet at the Brentwood Holiday Inn. Thursday evenings are convenient for me, so would May 8, 15 and 22 suit you?

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Why the Ascension was necessary

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