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To the best of my knowledge, when Jews fast they either have

  • a minor fast, where they don't eat or drink anything at all, not even water, from sunrise until what they traditionally consider the next day, that is, sunset, OR

  • a full fast, in which, again, total restraint from all food and drink, from sunrise until sunset, and throughout the darkness of the "next day", so that is a full 24-hour day in our modern understanding.

When Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert (cf. Matthew 4:1-11), did he not have anything to eat or drink at all?

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The 3 Gospel texts do not say whether Jesus drank but with God's miraculous intervention (if we interpret Ex 34:28 literally which says "Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water") Jesus may have abstained from water as well, which He could very well able to do since Jesus had a divine nature.

Christianity teaches that while Jesus was sojourning on earth he took on an additional human nature, and on THIS basis (100% human being) we are supposed to imitate Jesus as an exemplary man fully devoted to God. BUT it is foolhardy to interpret Matt 4:2 as an assurance that we can do 40 days fasting without water whenever we want to, since Matt 4:2 leaves open whether God's miraculous intervention was present or not, and we cannot assume that whenever we want to fast as Jesus did, God's miraculous sustenance is automatically granted to us (as God apparently gave to Moses). If we believe in the harmony of truth between faith and science, we can be assured that 40-day fasting without water is medically unsafe and indeed is a sure recipe for death (a South African pastor tried it and died at day 30, see Extreme fasting: How trying to do what Jesus did could literally kill you).

Instead, we should interpret Matt 4:2 as an allusion to "Israel's 'forty years' of privation and testing" not "as a model for his followers' practice". From R.T. France's 2007 NICNT commentary on Matthew on Matt 4:2:

“Forty days” is used in the Bible as an idiomatic expression for a significant but limited period (e.g. Gen 7:4; Num 13:25; 1 Sam 17:16; Jonah 3:4; Acts 1:3), but Matthew speaks more specifically of “forty days and forty nights,” and in view of his interest elsewhere in Moses and Elijah it is possible that he intends that phrase to recall more specifically either the period spent without food by Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9 etc.) or by Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kgs 19:8); the latter would be a particularly suggestive allusion in that Elijah’s hunger during that period was miraculously solved by food provided by an angel (cf. v. 11). But in view of the clear background to this story in the pentateuchal narratives of Israel’s wilderness experience (see above) Jesus’ “forty days and forty nights” more obviously serve as a reminder of Israel’s “forty years” of privation and testing. Matthew gives us no means of knowing whether Jesus’ fast for this period was deliberately self-imposed or simply the result of lack of available food in the wilderness (where, however, both John the Baptist and Bannus seem to have found adequate resources; see on 3:4). Jesus’ fasting is not presented as a model for his followers’ practice; this is an experience unique to the Son of God at the outset of his mission.

So, how did Jesus fast in Matt 4:1-11?

If we use the hermeneutical rule of following the plain sense of Scripture, it appears that "Jesus did, indeed, fast for 40 continuous days" but since all 3 Gospel passages only say that Jesus became hungry and if we keep in mind the likely Jewish custom of Jesus's time, we can conclude that Jesus drank water during his 40-day fast. From the 2018 Verse by Verse Ministry International web article Was Jesus' time in the desert literal?:

From these careful observations we learn that Jesus fasted only from food, not from food and water. He was evidently drinking water throughout the 40 days. This is typical of Jewish fasting customs of the day. Jews will fast either from food alone or from food and drink. Food fasts may last up to forty days, while food and drink fasts last no more than seven days.

In both cases, a body can survive with no serious risks. In fact, 40-day food fasts are still practiced today among both Jews and Christians. Christians who have participated in 40-day fasts report that hunger pangs cease after 2-3 days and don't return again until around the 40th day, just as the Gospels report in Jesus’ case.

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  • 1
    "Christianity teaches that Jesus on earth took on a human nature" Uh, no it doesn't. Sep 16, 2022 at 18:49
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    @OneGodtheFather sadly Christianity does teach such stuff but the Bible does not.
    – steveowen
    Sep 16, 2022 at 20:46
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    This is a confused answer. You speak of a ‘divine Jesus’ who could, but a ‘human one’ who couldn’t. Can you make up your mind which one is in focus here?
    – steveowen
    Sep 16, 2022 at 20:50
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    I don’t get why you persist with this theory. The point of my comment was, and repeated, which Jesus ‘nature’ is the one enduring the fast? Your answer cannot decide thus far. If he was divinely fasting then it was nothing! If he was just the man, it was impossible according to you. If you say it was both, then it was a charade and nothing more! This reasoning makes a mockery of anything he did, including dying on the cross because he was just God pretending to be human. Pretending to be tempted, suffer, die, pray, fast, it was all a show. The true heresy is the unbiblical hybrid Jesus.
    – steveowen
    Sep 17, 2022 at 1:34
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    Yes I understand that you hold the creeds before the bible as it doesn’t teach what you claim. It would seem that your understanding of how Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights is still a mystery
    – steveowen
    Sep 17, 2022 at 2:30
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Fasting for 40 days without water will kill a human being unless a miracle intervenes. A food fast for that length would lead to severe hunger and debilitation but is humanly possible. Christians affirm that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine.

The text reports that Jesus suffered the temptation to break his food fast:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:2-4)

There is no mention of Jesus experiencing thirst or being tempted because of a lack of water.

Because a human being can survive 40 days without food but not without water, and because Jesus was explicitly tempted with food but not with water, the most likely answer is that Jesus' abstained only from food and not water during his temptation in the wilderness.

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  • Well-reasoned answer, Dan Fefferman. Though not scientifically ratified, there has been a belief that beyond 40 days without food, a human body starts disintegrating itself , starting with the intestines, in order to supply vital nutrition to the organs. No one as such, was permitted to fas beyond 40 days . Even those who fast beyond a permissible time with say, political aims , are forcibly fed by the authority . So, Jesus fasted for the maximum permissible duration. Fasting does not mandate abstinence from plain water, as is the case of an hour' s fasting before receiving of Holy Communion. Apr 21 at 12:37
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I think the question is: What is the food and water that Jesus went without for 40 days and 40 nights?

John recorded Jesus as saying:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (6:35) and, "Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (6:53)

God spoke through Jeremiah and said:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (2:13)

John recorded Jesus as saying:

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (7:38)

And Isaiah prophesied:

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. (30:19, 20)

This is a fraction of Scriptural references mentioning food and water. John describes more about this, as do the prophets, but I hope my observation is clear. Many people think of food and water in purely physical terms, but clearly there is more to food and water as described in Scripture than apples and, well, water.

To answer your question, I think that Jesus set his deity aside and ventured into the world of man for a period of time, 40 days and 40 nights, and tried to rely on his own understanding of Scripture to continue his course as God's salvation for mankind. As the Son of God he had limitless power to live, but as a man he was weak and experienced our weaknesses as we are being tempted and succumbing to temptations of the flesh. Jesus did not succumb to the temptations.

Jesus had to do this so that we could be able to relate to him, AND so that we can call on him to help us in our times of weakness.

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  • An interesting point defeated by the supposed deity. Scripture teaches Jesus was human not deity. I don’t relate to a hybrid God/man that you attempt to describe.
    – steveowen
    Oct 17, 2022 at 0:30
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It was a full 40 x 24-hour-day fast with neither food nor water. The similitude in Moses is a confirmation of this:

And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water (Exodus 34:28)

Those discounting the physical possibility of this under the circumstances created by God are discounting the power of God, and the power of Jesus over death because of His physical inheritance from His Father.

Elijah also participated in a 40-day full fast. The account of this in 1 Kings 19:8 shows that two meals prepared by an angel were apparently required and preparatory to making such a fast. It may be that food from God's kingdom is able to nourish the body sufficiently that a 40-day fast becomes physically possible for a mortal to survive.

As noted, it is not advised to attempt to participate in such a fast unless God Himself directs otherwise. Given that the only documented instances of surviving such a fast are of men called of God to be major prophets, attempting and failing such a fast would only be proof that you are not called of God, nor such a prophet. It cannot be done by sheer will power alone, but by the will and callings of God. No delusional attempt will be honored by God.

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