Fasting – Part 1, Definition of Fasting

Definition of Fasting

By Pastor Bill Murchison


Recently, one of our members encouraged our body to fast for forty days. The impression he had was for each person to sign up for certain meals during the forty-day period and for us to have at least one person fasting over every meal during the corporate fast. Our Leadership Team discussed the idea, and everyone was in favor of the fast. However, they had some suggestions before calling for the fast. One of the suggestions is that we give some instruction to our body prior to calling for the fast. Therefore, I will be starting a new series on the back of the bulletins about fasting.

In this first article, I want to discuss the definition of fasting. In the Old Testament, there are three words used for fasting. The first is Tsuwm (Strong’s H6684), which means to cover over (the mouth) or to abstain from food. It is the most commonly used word in the Bible for fasting. The second word is Tsowm (Strong’s H6685), and it is derived from Tsuwm. It is a noun, and means a fast. The third word is Tevath (Strong’s H2908). It is a Chaldean word used only once, in Daniel 6, when King Darius fasted for God to protect Daniel from the lions. Tevath comes from a root word meaning twist. It implies someone is turning and twisting in hunger from a lack of food. In the New Testament, the Greek word that is used is Nesteuo (Strong’s G3223), which means to abstain from eating. It comes from Nestis, which means not eating. In all of these definitions, fasting is to abstain from food.

The Random House Dictionary defines fasting as: 1) to abstain from all food. 2) To eat only sparingly or of certain kinds of food, especially as a religious observance. 3) An abstinence from food, or a limiting of one’s food, especially as a religious observance.

While the dictionary’s definition may fit some of the cultural uses of the word, only the first definition lines up with the Scriptural definitions. But, fasting is much more than skipping a meal or two. There are other very important elements in a fast that have been omitted from the dictionary. Here is a definition that I have come up with for fasting.

Fasting: to abstain from food in order to humbly seek the Lord in prayer with a specific purpose in mind. I have identified fourteen specific purposes in Scripture for fasting. These include: repentance, mourning, understanding of Scripture, revelation, direction, selection and confirmation of leaders, healing, the loosening of bonds of wickedness, the undoing and breaking of yokes, the freeing of the oppressed free, to lift up the needs of the poor, for protection, or simply to minister to the Lord.

Father, give us understanding about fasting. As we prepare for a corporate fast, may we fast for the right purposes. May our fasting bring glory to Your Name and may Your kingdom be increased. Amen.

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