FastAid to Bible Understanding
under the Mosaic law and observed the Day of Atonement and its fast.
The text about fasting at Matthew 17:21, appearing in the Authorized Version, is not contained in some of the most important ancient manuscripts. Likewise, although the Authorized Version mentions fasting at Mark 9:29, Acts 10:30, 1 Corinthians 7:5 and 2 Corinthians 6:5, according to such manuscripts these texts do not contain any references to fasting.
Some have taken Matthew 9:15 as a command for Christians to fast. In reality, Jesus was merely making a statement of what was going to happen when he died. While Jesus was with his disciples on earth, it was not appropriate for them to fast. When he died, they did mourn and fast. But they had no cause for mournful fasting after his resurrection and especially after the marvelous outpouring of holy spirit. (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35) Certainly Christians were not under obligation to fast on the anniversary of the Lord’s death, for the apostle Paul, correcting abuses that had crept into the annual observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal, said: “Certainly you do have houses for eating and drinking, do you not? . . . Consequently, my brothers, when you come together to eat it [the Lord’s Evening Meal], wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, that you may not come together for judgment.”—1 Cor. 11:22, 33, 34.
While not fasting as a religious requirement, the early Christians did fast on special occasions. When Barnabas and Paul were sent on a special missionary assignment into Asia Minor, there were both fasting and praying. Also, there was the offering of prayer “with fastings” when older men were appointed to office in a new congregation. (Acts 13:2, 3; 14:23) Hence, Christians are neither under command to fast nor prohibited from doing so.—Rom. 14:5, 6.
FatAid to Bible Understanding
The English word fat is used to translate various Hebrew words that describe, not only the substance called “fat,” but also that which is full-fleshed and plump. These terms may also be used in a figurative sense as expressing that which is rich or fertile (just as in the English expression “fat of the land”), or to convey the idea of insensibility or dullness of mind and heart.
Hheʹlev is ordinarily used to refer to the substance “fat,” either of animals (Lev. 3:3) or of men (Judg. 3:22). The “suet” or hard fat about the kidneys or loins in the burnt offerings is also expressed by another word, peʹdher. (Lev. 1:8, 12; 8:20) Hheʹlev first appears at Genesis 4:4 in connection with Abel’s sacrifice to Jehovah of “fatty pieces” from the firstlings of his flock. Most references to hheʹlev thereafter simply relate to sacrificing. However, the root from which hheʹlev is drawn seems to carry the idea of smoothness and slipperiness and the word is also used metaphorically for the best or richest part of anything. For instance, at Genesis 45:18, Pharaoh tells Joseph that his family is welcome to eat the “fat part of the land.” Thus, too, Numbers 18:12 reads: “All the best [hheʹlev] of the oil and all the best [hheʹlev] of the new wine and the grain . . . I have given them to you.”—See Psalm 81:16; 147:14.
THE LAW REGARDING FAT
In the third chapter of Leviticus, Jehovah gave the Israelites instructions concerning the use of fat in communion sacrifices. When offering cattle or goats they were to make the fat around the loins and intestines and that over the kidneys smoke upon the altar. In the case of sheep, the entire fatty tail likewise was to be offered. (The sheep of Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Egypt have fat tails, often weighing ten pounds [4.5 kilograms] or more.) The Law specifically said, “All the fat belongs to Jehovah . . . You must not eat any fat or any blood at all.”—Lev. 3:3-17.
Fat would burn fiercely and would be quite thoroughly consumed upon the altar. Any fat offered on the altar was not to be left over until the next morning; it was likely to corrupt and become offensive, something very unseemly for any part of the sacred offerings.—Ex. 23:18.
Not incumbent on Christians
After the flood, when permission was given to Noah and his family to add flesh to their diet, nothing was stated regarding fat. (Gen. 9:3, 4) However, the eating of blood was prohibited. This was more than eight hundred and fifty years before the Law covenant, with its prohibitions against the eating of both blood and fat, was made with Israel. In the first century C.E. the governing body of the Christian congregation confirmed the prohibition against blood as remaining in force for Christians. (Acts 15:20, 28, 29) As in the case with Noah and his family, however, nothing was stated concerning the eating of fat by Christians. Thus, the law against eating fat was given only to the nation of Israel.
Reason for the law
Under the Law covenant, both the blood and fat were looked upon as exclusively Jehovah’s. The blood contains the life, which only Jehovah can give; therefore it belongs to him. (Lev. 17:11, 14) The fat was viewed as the richest part of the flesh of the animal. The offering of the fat of the animal would evidently be in recognition of the fact that the “first” or the best parts belong to Jehovah, who provides abundantly, and would demonstrate the desire of the worshiper to offer the best to God. Because it was symbolic of the Israelites’ devotion of their best to Jehovah, it was said to smoke upon the altar as “food” and for “a restful odor” to him. (Lev. 3:11, 16) To eat fat, therefore, was an illegal appropriation of what was sanctified to God, an invasion of the rights of Jehovah. Eating fat would incur the death penalty. Unlike blood, however, fat could be used for other purposes, at least in the case of an animal that died of itself or was killed by another beast.—Lev. 7:23-25.
Extent of the law’s application
Because of this latter text, many commentators have sought to limit the prohibition of Leviticus 3:17 only to the fat of those kinds of animals that were acceptable for offering in sacrifice, such as bulls, sheep and goats. Rabbinical Jewish teaching is divided on this subject. However, the injunction on fat at Leviticus 3:17 is linked with the one regarding the eating of blood, a law that clearly included the blood of all animals. (Compare Leviticus 17:13; Deuteronomy 12:15, 16.) It seems more consistent, therefore, that the law on fat should also have embraced the fat of all animals, including those killed for the Israelites’ common use.
The view that the prohibition applied to all fat is not controverted by the text at Deuteronomy 32:14, which speaks of Jehovah as giving Israel “fat of rams” to eat. This is a figurative expression referring to the best of the flock, or, as The Jerusalem Bible renders the phrase, “rich food of the pastures.” (See also Darby [ftn.] and Knox.) This poetic sense is indicated by later portions of the same verse referring to “the kidney fat of wheat” and the “blood of the grape.” So, too, with Nehemiah 8:10, where the people are commanded to “Go, eat the fatty things,” we are not to conclude that they literally consumed whole fat. “Fatty things” refers to rich portions, things not skinny or dry, but luscious, including tasty items prepared with vegetable oils. Thus, Knox’ translation here reads “regale yourselves with rich meat,” while Moffatt’s translation says “eat the dainty pieces.”
The Mosaic law restriction did not prevent the feeding or fattening of sheep or cattle for the table. We read of the ‘fattened young bull’ slaughtered for the prodigal son. (Luke 15:23) Solomon’s food included “fattened cuckoos” and cattle. (1 Ki. 4:23) The Hebrew mar·beqʹ translated “fattened calf” at 1 Samuel 28:24 literally means ‘a calf of the stall or tying place’; meʹahh and meriʼʹ refer to a ‘fatling’ or a