Acts Part 10

Notes on Acts

Part Ten




Read chapter 11.


“The circumcision party” were those Jews who were zealous for the law. It was still not clear to the fledgling church which laws were to be followed and which ones were recognized to be fulfilled and no longer applicable. This would not be settled until the council of the Jerusalem church in chapter fifteen. Even after it was settled, there would still be men who insisted that the entire law had to be followed. They were known as Judaizers and were strongly condemned by the apostle Paul. They would persist, though in small numbers, for about five more centuries until they finally died out! This shows how doctrinal aberrations can persist for a long time.


This circumcision party was critical of Peter because he ate with Gentiles. Yet, the prohibition of eating with Gentiles is nowhere to be found in God’s law. It was a man-made tradition. Isn’t it ironic that the men, who prided themselves on adhering to God’s law, were criticizing Peter for doing something that God’s law was silent about? Nothing has changed in 2,000 years. Christians today will judge other Christians for not following traditions that are not found in the word of God. Some so-called Christian groups are loaded with traditions, such as the Roman Catholic Church (e.g., statues and bowing to them, the rosary, clerical dress, the immaculate conception, assumption of Mary, the worship of Mary, confessing to a priest). But some evangelicals have traditions by which they judge others, too (e.g., not drinking alcohol, not dancing, not playing cards, not gambling).


Acts 11:18 is a memory verse. However, we only need to memorize the second half:


And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” [1]


“God circumcised their hearts by his Spirit, as Moses saith, (Deut. 30:6,) and made them fleshy hearts of stony hearts, as saith Ezekiel, (Ezek. 11:19.) For it is a work proper to God alone to fashion and to beget men again, that they may begin to be new creatures;”[2]


And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.[3]


“People not only believed intellectually but also turned from their sins to the Lord (I Thes. 1:9). As always, believing is inseparable from repentance manifested in a changed life.”[4]


So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. [5]


“The term [Christian] means ‘of the party of Christ’ and was used in derision. Peter encouraged those who suffered ‘as a Christian’ to ‘not feel ashamed, but in that name to glorify God’ (I Peter 1:14)”[6]


Peter’s use of the word is the only verse in the Bible where the word, Christian, is used as the author’s designation. And, even there it is related to what outsiders think. The biblical expressions for who we are: disciples (>200 times), brothers and sisters (about 175 times), the church (>100 times), saints (about 60 times), believers (12 times), the elect (9 times), the Way (4 times), and followers (twice as the exact word, and about 30 times if you include the verses where the Lord or apostles referred to “following” Him as necessary). It is probably wise to use the biblical expressions of who we are.


Read chapter 12.


And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.[7]


“The angels are faithful ministers of Christ and companions of his servants. In the case of James, they were employed to convey his soul to glory; in that of Peter, they were the agents by whom he was freed from his bonds; in that of Herod, they effected his destruction. The servants of God are in duty bound to acknowledge that a sovereign Lord rules over them, who has power to send them life or death, sufferings or repose. The Lord allows James to be killed. But in the case of Peter, he performs a miracle, and sends an angel to deliver him. It is one of the greatest mysteries of Providence, that God removes many of his faithful servants at an early period, and allows others to experience the most severe afflictions; some, again, are preserved, in place of being overwhelmed by their trials. It here becomes our duty to refrain from judging our fellow-servants, and, in our own case, to submit with humility to all the dispensations of the Lord. We all have one Lord, and one treasure, but neither our lot, nor our guidance in life, is the same. ‘For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.’ (Rom. 14:8).”[8]


Proceeding to chapter 13:


Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. [9]


Observe that it was while they were worshipping and fasting that the Holy Spirit revealed his will for them. Then, again, they fasted before consecrating Barnabas and Saul to their work.


Remember that Jesus Himself taught his disciples to fast:


“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. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that 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. [10]


Jesus did not say, “If you fast…” He said, “When you fast…” Then he went on to teach them how to behave when they fast. He obviously expected them to fast.


If a follower of Christ does not fast then something is wrong. It is indicative of a weak will or carnality, or both. Jesus taught his disciples to fast and he fasted Himself (Mat. 4:2; 17:21).  The apostles fasted (Acts 9:9; 2 Cor. 11:27). The early church fasted as we see here (also in 14:23). Thus, if you are not fasting then you are living contrary to apostolic instruction and example.


The disciple who does not fast should take no solace in the knowledge that there are many would-be disciples in the present age who similarly neglect this spiritual discipline. It must be recognized that the church in this age is exceedingly weak and powerless.[11] Commonality of a practice, or lack thereof, is never a justification of it! Think of gluttony. This is a common sin, yet its commonality makes it no less sinful. Likewise with fornication which, at one time in the not-too-distant past, was uncommon in the church. It has made great encroachments among God’s people. Our living, and even our thinking, must align with Scripture, not to our appetites.


When one considers the commonality of fasting in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as throughout church history, and compares it to the absence of the practice, generally speaking, in this era, one is struck by the great disparity.


David fasted for seven days when his child became ill and sought the Lord on behalf of the child’s life (II Sam. 12:16-23). The Lord did not answer David’s prayer, but we still need to ask, “What was the divine motivation for fasting?” Or, alternatively, “What was David’s empowerment for fasting?” In this passage it is unnecessary to speculate because David plainly tells us. He had a great desire that his child live: “I fasted and wept…that the child may live.” (v. 22b). The desire for life that David possessed was a reflection of God’s desire for life. God had another purpose for the death of David’s son, nevertheless, God’s heart is yet for life.

   When Nehemiah was in Babylon and heard of the destruction of the Jerusalem wall along with the trouble his fellow Israelites were in, he fasted: “As 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.” (Neh. 1:4) During his fast he confessed his own sins and the sins of his people. Repentance is always empowered by God.[12] Nehemiah’s prayers included petitions on behalf of his people in accordance with the Lord’s previous promises in the Torah. Hence, his desire was also motivated by Yahweh’s own word.


The Ninevites, although not in covenant relationship with the Lord, set apart a season of prayer and fasting when the prophet Jonah proclaimed the approaching judgment of God.


By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed nor drink water, but 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. Who knows? God may turn and relent, and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. (Jonah 3:7b-9)


And God did. God loves repentance and, as was just illustrated, he vitalizes it so that it does not depend on man but on God the Giver.

   We see that very many Old Testament saints (and non-saints, e.g., Ahab), when faced with a crisis, applied the discipline of fasting to their prayers. We could consider Daniel (Daniel 9:2), Jehoshaphat (II Chron. 20:3), Esther (4:16), Ezra (Ezra 8:21), and Joshua (Josh. 7:6[13]). What is remarkable is that in all of these, as well as our first examples, the blessings of God always attended their fastings. Except for David, all of their petitions were granted. In David’s case, he still received the forgiveness of his sin and was soon thereafter blessed with another child.


  In the New Testament we see an equal attestation of the practice. Jesus himself began his ministry with a prolonged fast (Mat. 4:2). When the apostles set apart candidates for the gospel ministry they did so with fasting (Acts 14:23). Cornelius fasted and received the speaking of the Lord (Acts 10:3)! Anna fasted and saw the Lord (Luke 2:37). When Paul refers to “buffeting his body” he was likely alluding to fasting (I Cor. 9:27). As with the Old Testament examples, each received a blessing.


The early church continued the apostolic tradition. The briefest of samplings are here presented although these could be multiplied many times over. The Didache, one of the earliest Christian documents, has: “You must not let your fasting be at the same time as those of the hypocrites.”[14] And then goes on to prescribe days of fasting as different than those practiced by those in Judaism. Hermas, writing between 88 and 125 AD, receives a vision:


 Then I see the old woman in a vision of the night saying unto me, ‘Every prayer should be accompanied with humility; fast, therefore, and you will obtain from the Lord what you beg.’ I fasted therefore for one day.[15]


This shows the tradition continued, regardless of the authenticity of the vision. Tertullian writes about bodily discipline thus:


…it is the affliction of the flesh…in making libation to the Lord of sordid raiment, together with scantiness of food, content with simple diet and the pure drink of water in conjoining fasts to all this;[16]


In speaking of the fast during Lent, John Chrysostom refers to the experiences of the fast as “spiritual waves”:


However, these spiritual waves are more delightful even than the sensible waves of the crops, since the grace of the Holy Spirit, not the blasts of the zephyr, elevated your souls and made them ardent.[17]


Diadochus, bishop of Photike, writing in the early fifth century encourages fasting: “…by denying ourselves many edible delights, we keep the ardent aspect of our flesh in check…[18]


Meaning of Fasting


   Man has an inner and outer dimension, but he is one person. The sharp dichotomy or separateness of the spirit and body that we tend to subscribe to in the West is not a biblical idea but has its source in Platonism.[19]  The Bible portrays us as unified persons with a spirit and a body that are distinct but not separate. Therefore, the things that we do, whether primarily mental (e.g., prayer, fasting; or, considering more mundane pursuits: math, reading, chess) or primarily physical (e.g., labor, exercise), are best and most effectively done when our whole being is engaged. One author has offered a definition of fasting that gets to the heart of what fasting is about: “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response to a grievous sacred moment in life.”[20]


The fundamental idea behind this definition is both very good and perceptive. But I would like to fine-tune the definition. Today’s lack of fasting is evidence that, when faced with a crisis, fasting is not inevitable, but escapable. Yet, it is more than natural; it is compelling. Secondly, most of the crises we encounter in life are grievous, by far, but not always. Magnificent blessings bestowed can induce one to fast, as well as great needs that are not associated with grief. Lastly, the occurrence that brings grief is not “sacred,” in my opinion.[21]  My definition of fasting, which I think coheres to fasting as presented in the Holy Scripture, is: “Fasting is the natural, compelled response to a crisis, usually grievous, in life.” Since this paper addresses fasting as a spiritual discipline of the Christian faith, I want to offer a definition of Christian fasting: “Fasting is the natural, compelled response to a crisis, usually grievous, where we seek the face of God through Christ.” After considering what it is, we should next consider what it is for.


The Purpose of Fasting


   There is more than one purpose for fasting. Scot McKnight offers eight[22] reasons and they are all good. However, all of these reasons have one purpose in mind: crying out to God and imploring him to answer the yearning of our heart. Put more simply, the purpose of fasting is to receive an answer to our prayer. Fasting raises the level of our communication to God. We are telling him, with our whole being, that the thing for which we appeal is of utmost importance.



The Benefit of Fasting


   There is more than one benefit to fasting. Samuel Miller, professor at Princeton Seminary in the 19th century, lists five benefits.[23] Strangely, he does not include answered prayer! Much could be said on this subject and one benefit that should not remain unsaid is that fasting assists in the mortification of our fleshly passions. However, the main benefit, and the one for which the one who enters fasting is hoping, is that the desire of the heart is answered by God. We must be clear that fasting, even the sincerest sort, does not mean that our petitions will be granted. We saw this in David’s circumstance regarding the life of his child. On the other hand, when we consider the multitude of biblical examples that were cited earlier, it cannot escape our notice that the vast majority of the requests that accompanied fasting were afforded a positive outcome. The question to be asked is: why does fasting result in positive outcome? Speculation must be avoided and our answer must be grounded in what God has revealed in his word. There is a close connection between fasting and humility. In Psalm 35:13 David writes, “I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.” (NIV)[24] Likewise, Ezra 8:21: “I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before God.” The apocraphal Book of Enoch upholds “the spirits of the humble,” “who have afflicted their bodies,” the latter phrase being a circumlocution for fasting.[25] We know that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Jas. 4:6) And, that if we humble ourselves, God will “lift [us] up in due time.” (I Pet. 5:6) Therein is the key to the grace of God in prayer: humility. Fasting contributes to our humility.


The Historical Means of Fasting


   It has been said, “Anyone who has studied the history of fasting in the church throughout the centuries cannot help but be amazed at the great variety of attitudes and practices that have characterized fasting at different times and places.”[26] In light of this dictum my consideration of the actual practice historically will be brief. We have already seen varieties of duration in the Bible: from one day to forty days. The practice of fasting can be divided into three categories: irregular fasting, regular fasting, and continual fasting. By irregular fasting what is meant is that a fast is entered into in an unusual circumstance or a time of crisis. It can still be planned or calendared. A circumstance may arise and the fast may be entered into immediately or it may be planned for the following week. Regular fasting is fasting that is calendared as one seeks to discipline oneself for some purpose, such as overcoming a temptation or simply drawing nearer to God experientially. Both kinds of fasting have been common throughout the history of the church. As an example of the latter can be found in the Rule of St. Benedict:


“ …let them fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the  ninth hour; on the other days let them dine at the sixth hour.”[27]  Continual fasting is done every day and, obviously, must be partial (although there is a Hindu practitioner who has allegedly not eaten in over one year). An example of this kind of fast is seen in the desert fathers: “…the hermits prized fasting higher than food, and only ate at nightfall, but they knew that love was more precious than fasting…”[28]


There were also partial fasts, as still practiced by Catholics today, where only certain foods are abstained from. “Partial” fasting has no biblical support and its merits are questionable.


   From the foregoing one can conclude that fasting should be an integral part of the disciple’s life. Blessings will surely attend the practice, many of which were not included here for lack of space. May God grant grace to all of his children who embark on this spiritual discipline.


Having established the importance of the practice, we are left to ask why so few evangelicals practice it.  Likely, the two most common reasons are a lack of hunger for God and the call of our flesh. That is, if we do not have a longing to grow closer to the Lord then our motivation to fast will be weak or non-existent. Similarly, if we are not tormented by our remaining sin but, rather, just meander through our days content to be lukewarm, then we will likewise have little motivation to fast. For fasting is a means to overcome sin. Robert Govett well summarized the motivation of remaining sin to prayer:


The longer we know the evil in our hearts, the more fervently will like petitions be offered.”[29]


Secondly, the call of our flesh. At times, a Christian will see the necessity of fasting and seek to enter in. Then their true god shows himself: their stomach (Phil. 3:19). What a sad commentary on those who claim Christ. They secretly have another god – their belly. Rather than obey the Lord, and fast, they will just continue satisfying their false god. They will follow their flesh and not the spirit. But there will be a price to be paid when we make our appetite our god. That price will be a shallowness in our relationship with the Lord and it will be little or no victory over sin.


As already stated, our Lord expected his followers to fast (“When you fast…”). We come then to our Lord’s teaching on the subject: when we fast we do not let others know (Matthew 6:16-18). He addresses motive.  Our fasting should be to draw closer to the Lord or to receive an answer to a godly request. It ought not to be to let others know how spiritual we are.


And, yet once again, our Lord holds out rewards as a divine motivator to a practice he calls us to do. He does this so often that we cannot escape its importance.


…that 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. [30]


Our Lord thought that fasting was important enough that he held out rewards for its practice (if done in secret).


The benefits for fasting are numerous. The health benefits of fasting haven’t even been considered;[31] we have focused on the spiritual benefits.


These four benefits alone ought to be enough to motivate us to fast:


  • In the present (meaning in this life) we will discover that our prayers are answered!
  • We will subdue our fleshly desires and, thereby, overcome sin in our life.
  • We will have greater power over the forces of darkness (Mark 9:29; NKJV)
  • In the next age we will discover that the sanctification that fasting brings will result in greater glory, greater joy, greater rewards.


Aren’t these benefits marvelous? They are! Therefore, we ought to fast!


For those who have neglected the practice, some practical suggestions for getting started are these:


  • Begin with a 12-hour fast. Not counting the hours of your sleep, begin counting your fast from the time you awaken. For example, if you arise at 6:00 am, fast until 6:00 pm.
  • Once you have fasted for 12 hours successfully, next try 24 hours.
  • Fasting should always be combined with prayer (unless you are fasting for health reasons alone). Choose a day when you are not working so that you may devote yourself to prayer.
  • Pray about only one matter during your fast. Focus on one thing. This is the pattern we see in Scripture. If you have two or more needs, simply undergo a separate fast for each one.
  • Drink lots of pure water during your fast. Alkaline water is recommended.[32]
  • The experience of many people is that it is only the first day that it is difficult. Your hunger will be great and bothersome on either a 12- hour or a 24-hour fast. Once you have slept after a day of fasting, the second day you will notice a significant decrease in your feeling of hunger. The same is true on the third and fourth days, if you fast that long.[33]
  • For fasts 48 hours or more, when you begin eating again it is best to eat bland foods that do not require long digestion. Avoid meats, fruits, and salads for your first meal after a long fast. Eat things like soup (not spicy soup), cream of wheat, jello, or a protein drink (one that uses easily digestible proteins[34]) for your first “meal” afterwards. A few hours after that first meal you may eat whatever you wish.


May the Lord help us to conform our lives to that of our Lord (I John 2:6), the apostles (Acts 9:9; I Cor. 9¨27), and the early church. May the Lord help us to deny our carnal desires for food and comfort and to seek His will!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 11:18b). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (2010). Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 1, p. 464). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 11:21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] John MacArthur, JMNTC on Acts, Vol. 1, 313.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 11:25–26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] John MacArthur, JMNTC on Acts, Vol. 1, 315.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 12:7–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (p. 234). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 13:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 6:16–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] This is evidenced by the complete failure of the modern church to influence society to reject wickedness and abominations (which the church has done for centuries) and that it has allowed perversions to enter the church.

[12] Acts 5:31; 11:18; II Cor. 7:10; II Tim. 2:25

[13] Fasting is not specifically mentioned in this passage, but the context indicates that it was surely practiced.

[14] Thomas O'Loughlin, Didache, The: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010), 166.

[15] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume 2 (Early Church Fathers Series) (Edinburgh: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1988), 16.

[16] Ibid, Volume 3, 715.

[17] Saint John Chrysostom, St. John Chrysostom on Repentance and Almsgiving (Fathers of the Church) (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 69.

[18] Cliff Ermatinger, Following the Footsteps of the Invisible: The Complete Works of Diadochus of Photike (Cistercian Studies - Cistercian Publications) (Cistercian Studies Series) (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010), 89.

[19] Scot McKnight, Fasting: The Ancient Practices (Ancient Practices Series) (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 16.

[20] Ibid, xviii.

[21] The common definition of “sacred” includes the idea of veneration; therefore, it does not seem appropriate to modify “moment” with sacred. 

[22]  turning (expression of repentance), plea, expression of grief, discipline, body calendar, body poverty, body contact, and expression of hope, found in his book, Fasting, previously referenced.

[23] Samuel Miller, The duty, the benefits, and the proper method of religious fasting (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1983), 9-15.

[24] NASB: “My clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting.”

[25] R.H. Charles, translator, The Book of Enoch (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2007), (108:7),154.

[26] Joseph F. Wimmer, Fasting in the New Testament: A Study in Biblical Theology (Stimulus Book) (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 120.

[27]  Justin McCann, translator, The Rule of St. Benedict (London: Sheed and Ward, 1976), (Ch. 41),47.

[28] Walter Nigg, Warriors Of God: The Great Religious Orders And Their Founders, 1st Am. ed. ed. (New York: Knopf, 1959), 46-47.

[29]  Govett, 178.

[30] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 6:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[31] There are many!

[32] According to, most tapwater in the U.S. is acidic and acidic diets and liquids can contribute to cancer (cancer cells thrive in acidic environments and die in alkaline environments). The site lists the following benefits to alkaline water: improved metabolism, more energy, slows aging process, improved digestion, reduces osteoporosis.

[33] Remember that Jesus fasted for forty days. David fasted seven days.

[34] Whey is a good source; avoid casein, meat-sourced proteins, and vegetable sourced proteins, which are fine but just take longer to digest.