IN ANSWER to that question you may have been told: “Yes, for Jesus recommended fasting for his followers.” If you are a practicing Catholic, you would respond in the affirmative, for you recognize certain fast days, and in particular you always fast before taking “Holy Communion.”
Did Jesus really recommend or command fasting for his followers?
In the instances recorded in the Bible, fasting was done as an expression of sorrow and repentance for sins or when under distressing conditions. (Dan. 10:2, 3; 1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Chron. 20:3, 4) Also, persons might fast when in sore need of divine guidance or at times when unusual concentration on some service to God was necessary.—Judg. 20:26; Esther 4:16.
ATONEMENT DAY, WITH ITS FASTING, PICTORIAL
However, neither Jesus Christ nor his apostles commanded Christians to observe fasts. On the other hand, the Scriptures do not forbid them to fast. In the instances where Jesus gave counsel on fasting he was speaking to Jews under the Law covenant. (Matt. 6:16-18; Luke 18:9-14) Under the Law, fasting was to be observed at certain times and on certain occasions, notably on the Day of Atonement.
On this day, the tenth day of the seventh lunar month, the Jews were to ‘afflict their souls.’ (Lev. 16:29-31) This included fasting, as indicated by the words of David, who said concerning distressing conditions that he underwent: “With fasting I afflicted my soul.”—Ps. 35:13; compare Isaiah 58:1-5.
On Atonement Day the Jewish high priest made offerings for the sins of the entire nation. It was a day reminding the Jews of their inherent sinfulness. It was a time to acknowledge their sinful condition before God and to manifest sorrow and repentance. Therefore they were required to fast. And it was no mere formalism.
Why, though, did the Jews have to fast repeatedly, every year, whereas the Christian congregation is not commanded to fast at all?
The apostle Paul helps us to understand this by his comments on the sacrifices offered under the Law. He says that these sacrifices sanctified the offerers “to the extent of cleanness of the flesh,” but that they did not make them ‘perfect as respects their conscience.’ These Jewish worshipers were viewed by God as clean to the extent that they could approach him. They were not as the unclean pagans. But they were reminded of their sins again next year on Atonement Day. The cleanness they enjoyed was only a ceremonial cleanness, typical or pictorial of the complete cleanness of conscience that Christians enjoy through the sacrifice of Christ “once for all time.”—Heb. 9:9, 13, 28.
The Christian congregation, being cleansed of its sins, does not need to set aside a day for fasting and repentance each year. Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of his congregation by his sacrificial course. He fulfilled what was foreshadowed by the Day of Atonement. This “day” in fulfillment ran from the time of his baptism until his appearing in heaven before God to offer the merit of his sacrifice. (Heb. 9:24-26) At Pentecost, 33 C.E., about 3,000 persons added at one time acknowledged their sins and repented of them, which sins included bloodguilt for Christ’s death. Faith in his sacrifice really resulted in cleansing from sin.—Acts 2:37-39, 41.
Nevertheless, does not the individual Christian need to fast when he unintentionally commits sins from day to day? No, he can draw on the sacrifice of Christ given “once for all time.” On the basis of this sacrifice he may always “approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that [he] may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”—Heb. 4:16.
“HOLY COMMUNION” OR “THE LORD’S EVENING MEAL”
But what about “Holy Communion,” also called the “Last Supper” or the “Lord’s Evening Meal”? The Scriptures make it very clear that fasting before its observance is not required.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Corinth about this memorial meal. They had…