The External Elements in the Lord’s Supper

By Johann Gerhard

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Johann Gerhard’s Loci Theologici cum pro Adstruenda Veritate tum pro Destruenda Quorumvis Contradicentium Falsitate per Theses Nervose Solide et Copiose Explicati (Theological Topics, Vigorously and Thoroughly Unfolded through Theses Intended both to Establish the Truth and to Destroy the Falsehood of Every Possible Opponent), vol. 5 (Berlin: Gustav Schlawitz, 1867), p. 12-14. For more on the author, see his biography.

I prepared this translation in preparation for, and as an appendix to, a conference paper on the liquid element in the Lord’s Supper.

The endnotes are, for the most part, my attempt to verify or correct Gerhard’s citations. (I feel that this is one of the glaring weaknesses in Concordia Publishing House’s Theological Commonplaces series, which simply leaves Gerhard’s abbreviated citations in parentheses the way they are. That is not to say that the series does not have its many merits or that I am not overwhelmingly glad that Gerhard’s Loci are finally being offered to the English-speaking world at large.) There are a handful of endnotes that belong to the original editor (possibly Gerhard himself). These are noted as such, though they are often accompanied by more complete citations, which belong to the translator.

Perhaps one of Gerhard’s most useful accomplishments is that he connects the reader to the historic Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church) from which the Lutheran Church was born and with which she still identifies herself. Our doctrine is obtained from Scripture alone (and one word of Scripture can overturn centuries of writings by Christian Fathers), but it certainly can only help a person to check whether the convictions of Spirit-filled Christians throughout the centuries line up with his own.

The Lord conveys rich and eternal blessings through his Holy Supper, but, as with baptism, he attached those blessings to specific elements when he instituted it. May the Spirit grant wisdom to the reader to discern what is scriptural and what is not when it comes to the earthly elements we offer in the Supper. And may he graciously preserve the Supper in our midst after Christ’s own intent.

The External Symbols or Earthly Matter in the Lord’s Supper (Locus 21, Chapter 5)

Just as in all the other sacraments, so too in this most holy mystery Christ willed to impart heavenly things to us through earthly things or external symbols. Those external symbols are bread and wine. This is clear from…

  1. the description of the Evangelists, who unanimously testify that Christ took bread, broke it and gave it to the disciples (Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19). In describing what took place afterward they make mention of the cup, τοῦ ποτηρίου (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:20). They testify that there was wine in the cup when they relate Christ’s words to the disciples either after the distribution of the Holy Supper or, as some conclude from Luke, spoken just before the institution of the Supper: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine [ἐκ τούτου τοῦ γεννήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου] from now until the day I drink it anew in the kingdom of my Father.”
  2. the repetition of the apostle Paul, who had been instructed in the third heaven (2Co 12:2). As he recounts Christ’s institution in exactly the same words, he testifies that Christ used bread and wine (1Co 11:23-25).
  3. a comparison of other passages of Scripture which talk about the Holy Supper, yet do not mention any external element other than bread and wine (1Co 10:16,17; 11:26-28; etc.).

The following inquiries are made on this topic:

  1. Why was it Christ’s will to use these external elements and not others?ANSWER: Christian simplicity responds properly and best: This is what God was pleased to do. Who has known the mind of the Lord? His ways cannot be traced and his works are exceedingly wonderful (Ps 139:17; Isa 40:13; Ro 11:33,34). Nevertheless, it is not absurdly said that Christ used bread and wine…
    1. on account of the Old Testament types already enumerated.
    2. on account of the very close communion of Christ, whose sign and testimony was instituted in the Holy Supper. Nothing is more united to Christ nor is anything closer to him than his flesh and blood. These are in fact personally united to him. On the other hand, nothing is closer to us nor is anything more united to us than food and drink. We in fact take these inside our bodies and they are fused to the substance of our bodies. Now among food, bread stands out – it “fortifies the heart of man” – and among drink, wine stands out – it “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps 104:15). So when Christ wanted to institute and seal a very close communion of himself in this mystery, it pleased him to do so in this way, by giving us his body and blood by means of the blessed bread and wine. This is Tauler’s reasoning in his sermon on the Supper. On this point, one should carefully consider the emphasis in the following passages: “The one who eats of this bread shall live forever” (Jn 6:51). “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5). “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Eph 3:17).
    3. because of how well these external elements correspond to the heavenly things distributed by means of those elements in the Holy Supper. For even though the bread and wine in the Holy Supper are used not for signifying, but for imparting the body and blood of Christ, as the apostle testifies (1Co 10:16), yet the striking analogies should not be despised, as long as one does not think that the entire sacramental duty of those symbols consists of signifying.Just as bread is made from kernels of wheat, so Christ’s body is that kernel of grain that bore much fruit when it died (Jn 12:24). Just as bread is baked and prepared for food in an oven in the heat of fire, so Christ was roasted, as it were, on the altar of the cross in the heat of love (Ex 12:9). Just as bread nourishes and fortifies the heart of man, so Christ’s body feeds us for eternal life (Jn 6:50,51). Cyprian in his sermon on the Supper: “Just as bread is common food for the body that we eat every day, so this essential bread is life for the soul and health for the mind.”1 Just as bread does not cause any sickness or disgust by daily use, so the body of Christ is the most delightful food for hungry hearts and causes no sickness whatsoever.Just as wine is the most noble drink, produced from the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth (Gen 27:28),2 so Christ is the true vine (Jn 15:1) from whose side flowed forth the blood which we drink from the eucharistic cup. Just as wine quenches thirst and gladdens the heart of man (Ps 104:15), so Christ’s blood quenches eternal thirst and refreshes souls (Jn 6:53-55). Peter the Venerable in his first book of epistles, folio 29: “Eternal life is placed in the present world spiritually and invisibly, but it shall be enjoyed physically and visibly in the world to come. Now in order that eternal life might be signified in the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s flesh is given to humans under the form of bread for eating, and Christ’s blood is given to them under the form of wine for drinking. In this way, just as humans chiefly use bread and wine to sustain their mortal life, so too they are fed Christ’s body and blood for life immortal (which is Christ himself) – here spiritually, but afterwards both spiritually and physically into eternity.”3
    4. because of the reminder that these external symbols give to those attending the mystical banquet. Just as one loaf of bread is made from many kernels and one cup prepared from many grapes, so in the Holy Supper we take food and drink into one body, that we may pursue love and harmony as members of one body. We who are many are one loaf, one body, because we partake of one loaf (1Co 10:17). “We have all taken drink into one Spirit” (1Co 12:13). Just as bread and wine do little good for those who are already full, so the heavenly food and drink accomplish little for those who approach without spiritual hunger and thirst. To him who thirsts I will give the water of life without cost (Rev 21:6). “Whoever is thirsty, let him come” (Rev 22:17).
    5. to exclude any idea that they are mere representations, figures, or signs. For if it was not Christ’s intent to offer his body and blood, but just to represent them, not to institute his very body and blood, but to institute merely a figure and sign of them, then he certainly would not have abrogated the Passover lamb or used bread and wine in this New Testament sacrament in its place. After all, slaughtering the Passover lamb and pouring out its blood, eating its flesh and sprinkling its blood on the doorposts and above the lintel of the house, would in many ways be a clearer and more obvious analogy to Christ’s passion and its spiritual fruition than bread and wine.
  2. May we change these external elements or earthly things, or substitute anything else similar in their place?ANSWER: No.
    1. The description and repetition of the institution mention only bread and wine; they do not mention any other element whatsoever. Therefore it is not sound practice for Christ’s faithful to stray from this path of the divine institution. “If you continue in my teaching, you will truly be my disciples” (Jn 8:31).
    2. Since Christ used no external symbols other than bread and wine in his original institution, by no means should we rashly depart from this example of Christ.
    3. In the sacrament of baptism, it is not permitted to use any other liquid in place of water. Therefore, by a certain analogy, the external symbols in this sacrament also should not be exchanged.
    4. In all the passages of Scripture that talk about the Holy Supper, mention is made of bread and wine, not of any other element.
    5. The promise of Christ concerning the eating of his body and the drinking of his blood in the sacrament is confined to the use of eucharistic bread and wine. Therefore whoever uses other external symbols in the administration of the Holy Supper does not proceed from faith, whose perpetual correlative is the word of promise.
    6. Bread and wine are the material or earthly matter of this sacrament. They therefore belong to the sacrament’s essentials. And when it comes to the essentials of a sacrament, no human may make any arbitrary change.

We must therefore detest the following:

  1. The Gnostics, concerning whom Epiphanius recounts things horrible to tell in Adversus Hæreses, no. 26. They used human semen and menstrual blood in their sacred rites, saying of the former: τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ (This is the body of Christ), and of the latter: τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ αἷμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ (This is the blood of Christ).4
  2. The Cataphrygians, of whom Augustine writes in De Hæresibus ad Quodvultdeum, no. 26: “[Their] founders were Montanus (the supposed Paraclete) and his two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla. … [The Cataphrygians] are said to have deadly sacraments. For they are said to prepare their quasi-eucharist from the blood of year-old infants, which they obtain from the infant’s entire body by means of small puncture wounds. After mixing it with flour they make bread with it. If the child dies, they regard him as a martyr. If he lives, they regard him as a great priest.”5 6
  3. The Ebionites in Epiphanius, Adversus Hæreses, no. 30,7 the Tatianists in the same, no. 40,8 and the Aquarians in Augustine, De Hæresibus, no. 64,9 are all in error. On the pretext of sobriety, they only offered water in the chalice. Cyprian contends against them in Book 2, Epistle 3, to Caecilius.10 11
  4. The Pepuzians, who joined cheese with bread in their administration of the Eucharist, which is how they acquired the name Ἀρτοτυρίται (Artotyrites or Cheesebreadists).12 Augustine, De Hæresibus, no. 28: “There are the Artotyrites, who are thus named after their offerings. For they offer bread and cheese, saying that offerings were originally brought by humans from the fruits of the earth and of their flocks. Epiphanius lumps them with the Pepuzians.”13 See Philastrius, Basel edition, p. 58.14 15
  5. It is reported from Canon 28 of the Sixth Council in Decretum Gratiani, Division 2, Chapter 6, “that in some churches priests join[ed] grapes to the sacrifice of the offering16…and so distribute[d] both the sacrifice and the grapes to the people at the same time.”17 In the same division, Chapter 7, it is related that some priests were “consecrat[ing] milk instead of wine; others [were] offering an intincted Eucharist to the people instead of a communion where the elements complement each other; others [were] offering a squeezed vine18 in the sacrament of the Lord’s cup; while others [were] keeping a linen cloth dipped in must (or unfermented grape juice) available throughout the year, and when it [was] time for the sacrifice they wash[ed] part of it with water and offer[ed] it this way.”19
  6. In Chapter 4 of his first epistle, Alexander I, Bishop of Rome, specified that the wine had to be mixed with water. From Division 2, Chapter 1: “For, as we learned from the Fathers and as reason itself teaches, neither wine alone nor water alone ought to be offered in the Lord’s cup, but both mixed together, since we read that both flowed out from his side in his passion.”20 The papists maintain the necessity of this mixture right up to the present, which we will address more fully a little later.
  7. Volaterranus writes in his Commentaria Urbana, Tome 1, Book 7, that Pope Innocent VIII permitted the Norwegians to use another liquid in the Supper in place of wine, since wine is not produced in those parts, nor can it be preserved for a long time there.21 22
  8. Theodore Beza writes in his second letter to Tilius: “So if bread or wine isn’t used, or if there’s no supply of them at a given time, the Lord’s Supper really can’t be celebrated? By all means it can be duly celebrated, if what takes the place of bread and wine is used in their place either from common use or by reason of circumstance. For when Christ chose bread and wine for these mysteries, his intent was that, by setting out signs for these things (signs by which our body is nourished), he might, as it were, represent before our eyes the true spiritual nourishment. And so he who substitutes things for bread and wine that have a similar analogy to nourishment (even if not an equal analogy), and does so with no desire simply to innovate, does not stray from Christ’s purpose at all.”23 24 Antonius Sadeel, in Opera Theologica, folio 429, thinks it very difficult to overturn this counsel set forth by Beza.25 26


1 This was not penned by Cyprian († 258), as was generally held in Gerhard’s time, but by Ernaldus Bonaevallis (c. 1156), a Benedictine monk in the Marmoutier Abbey outside Tours, France, and friend of Bernard of Clairvaux. “De coena Domini, et prima institutione consummantis omnia sacramenta” (“The Lord’s Supper, and the Original Institution of the Sacrament that Completed Them All”) was the sixth chapter of his Liber de cardinalibus operibus Christi usque ad ascensum eius ad Patrem (Book on the Cardinal Works of Christ up to His Ascension to the Father). Gerhard’s citation can be found in Patrologia Latina (hereafter PL), vol. 189 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1854), col. 1644.

2 The wine referenced in this passage is תִּירוֹשׁ, must (grape juice before or during fermentation) or new wine (wine still in the early stages of fermentation).

3 Gerhard cites the correct author, Peter the Venerable († 1156), but this quote is found not in his collection of epistles, but in his Tractatus contra Petrobrusianos (Tractate Against the Petrobrusians). The Petrobrusians were the followers of the heretic Peter of Bruys († c. 1125), who, among other errors, “denied all sort of real presence in the Eucharist. Whether or not he retained the office of the communion as a memorial rite is not known” (Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, ad “Petrobrusians”). Gerhard’s citation can be found in PL, op. cit., col. 818.

4 Patrologia Graeca (hereafter PG), vol. 41 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1863), col. 337-340.

5 PL, vol. 42 (Paris: L. Migne, 1865), col. 30.

6 See also Eusebius, Church History, 5, 14 & 16 ( and [accessed 18 Feb 2013]), and Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos, Ecclesiastica Historia, 4, 22 (PG, vol. 145 [Paris: Garnier Brothers, 1904], col. 1033-1036). – endnote original

7 PG, vol. 41, op. cit., col. 431,432.

8 Ibid., col. 839,840.

9 PL, op. cit., col. 42.

10 Epistle 62 in the Paris edition, 63 in the Oxford and Leipzig editions. PL, vol. 4 (Paris: Garnier Brothers, 1891), col. 383-401. The English translation from the Schaff edition of the Fathers can be found at (accessed 18 Feb 2013), where it is dated 253 AD.

11 The Severians similarly condemned wine in the celebration of the Supper “because they assert, with deceitfulness beyond belief, that the grapevine sprouted from Satan and the earth,” as Augustine reports (De Hæresibus, no. 24; see endnote 5). – endnote original

12 From ἄρτος (bread) + τύρος (cheese)

13 PL, vol. 42, op. cit., col. 31.

14 This probably corresponds to no. 74 in PL, vol. 12 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1845), col. 1186,1187.

15 Scaliger, Exercise 158, sect. 1: “On the island of Vendemao [probably Mindanao] they not only use sagu [sago] for bread, but they also make oil from the same tree. Sagu is the tree from which the bread gets its name. They take a piece of wood and remove the thorn-like things from it. Then they beat it, reducing it to fine flour. With this they prepare bread for sailors to use as provisions” (Julius Caesar Scaliger, Exotericarum Exercitationum Liber XV de Subtilitate, ad Hieronymum Cardanum [Fifteenth Book of Exoteric Exercises on Subtlety, to Gerolamo Cardano] [Frankfurt: Heirs of Andreas Wechel, 1582], p. 525). Cardano, in De rerum varietate, Book 1, Chapter 4, folio 18, says that on the islands “bread is prepared from dried fish” (Gerolamo Cardano, De Rerum Varietate Libri XVII [Seventeen Books on a Variety of Subjects] [Avignon: Matthew Vincent, 1558], p. 26). He also testifies from experience that some people make bread from beans and millet. But would such bread really be suitable material for the Eucharist? – endnote original

16 Oblatio in the Fathers is often a synonym for the Lord’s Supper. Cf. Adolf Hoenecke, who includes θυσία and προσφορά in the names given to the Lord’s Supper by the Greek Fathers. He says that it acquired this name “either with reference to the offering of Christ on the cross, or on account of the offering of thanks that is given” (Ev.-Luth. Dogmatik, vol. 4 [Milwaukee: NPH, 1909], p. 100).

17 Pope Gregory XIII, ed., Decretum Gratiani Emendatum et Notationibus Illustratum (Rome: In Aedibus Populi Romani, 1582), col. 2507,2508.

18 Gratian’s note on “squeezed” reads: “That is, a pressed cluster of grapes, for this wine would be made from a squeezed vine according to any man’s fancy; or it could mean that the wine was squeezed [from the grapes] after consecration…” (s. previous endnote, col. 2508). However, Gratian’s text is corrupt; cf. Herm. Theod. Bruns, ed., Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum Saeculorum IV. V. VI. VII., part 2 (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1839), p. 97,98.

19 Pope Gregory XIII, ed., op. cit. Gratian, following his predecessor Burchard of Worms († 1025 AD) erroneously cites the source for Chapter 7 as “Pope Julius, Bishop throughout Egypt” († 352 AD). The original source is actually Canon 1 of the Third Council of Braga in Portugal (675 AD). However, the part about the linen cloth dipped in must was inserted by Burchard. Rf. Unfermented Wine: A Report Published by Request of His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917), p. 23-27.

20 Ibid., col. 2503,2504.

21 Raphael Volaterranus, Commentariorum Urbanorum Libri Octo et Triginta, Accuratius quam Antehac Excusi (Claudius Marnius and Heirs of Johann Aubrius, 1603), col. 248.

22 Yet it is well known that the Norwegians and inhabitants of the islands have a perpetual abundance of wine in their cities, which is annually imported there in large quantities. – endnote original

23 Théodore Bèze, Correspondance, tome 12, ed. Alain Dufour, Béatrice Nicollier-de Weck, et al. (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1986), p. 198. Penned in 1571.

24 But Beza is simply following the advice of Calvin, for Beza writes in his twenty-fifth letter: “Dr. Calvin, man of blessed memory, was asked by brothers who were at that time in America, where wine isn’t used, if it were permitted to use in the Lord’s Supper either plain water, which is in common use there, or some other kind of drink not unusual there. He replied that Christ’s intention in instituting this sacrament was to represent for us, under the symbols of common food and drink, the κοινωνίαν [joint partaking] of spiritual nourishment, that is, of himself. Accordingly, if the use of wine had not been common in Judea in his day, he would doubtless have used some other common drink, as is clear from his goal and intention. Therefore those who, in place of wine, make use of some other kind of drink customary in those regions, and are driven to do so not by contempt or rashness, but by necessity itself, seem to be doing nothing inconsistent with Christ’s intention and will. This reply of Master [Domini] Calvin, since it was grounded on supreme reasoning and in harmony with Christ’s intention, our assembly approved so much that we will judge men to be acting superstitiously if they depend on the symbol of wine so much that they would rather omit the second part of the Supper than make use of some other ἀνάλογον [analogous] symbol in such a compelling necessity” (Bèze, Correspondance, tome 9, ed. Claire Chimelli, Alain Dufour, et al. [Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1978] p. 60; penned in 1568). – endnote original

25 Antonius Sadeel, Opera Theologica, 4th ed. (Isaias le Preux, 1614), folio 429.

26 Johann Heinrich Alsted in Theologia Polemica, Part 5, Division 7, Question 8: “But if a church is to be gathered to God in a place where wine cannot be obtained in any way, another comparatively noble [nobilior], customary drink should be substituted in keeping with the Savior’s purpose, and the assembly should be instructed, lest it take offense” (Theologia Polemica, Exhibens Praecipuas Huius Aevi in Religionis Negotio Controversias [Hanau: Conrad Eifridus, 1620], p. 603). – endnote original

Luke 18 and Fasting

By Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck

Translator’s Preface

“I thank you that I am not like other people. I fast twice a week…”

So begins the infamous prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:11b-12a) in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The entire parable (Luke 18:9-14) is the regularly appointed Gospel for Ash Wednesday. In preparation for preaching on that text I translated the following excerpt from Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck’s Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (Commentary on the New Testament on the Basis of the Talmud and Midrash), vol. 2, Das Evangelium nach Markus, Lukas und Johannes und die Apostelgeschichte (The Gospel According to Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles) (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1961), p. 240-244.

For more about the authors, see the “Translator’s Preface” in The Passover Meal.

The Talmudic citations refer to the corresponding tractate in one of the following works:

  • Jacob Neusner, ed., The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, CD, trans. J. Neusner, Tzvee Zahavy, Edward Goldman, and B. Barry Levy (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2009).
  • Rabbi Isidore Epstein, ed., Soncino Talmud, 30 volumes (Brooklyn, NY: Soncino Press, Ltd, 1990).

Soncino and Neusner sometimes translate corresponding tractate titles differently (e.g. Berakoth in Soncino vs. Berakhot in Neusner). The translator followed each edition’s spelling when using that edition’s translation.

It is my prayer that this excerpt helps the reader to see how deeply the Jewish world in Jesus’ day was infected with the poison of work-righteousness, and that God would guard the Christian church from such work-righteousness today. May he lead us to find all our righteousness in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Commentary on the Gospel for Ash Wednesday

Luke 18:11b. “I thank you that I am not like other people.”

R. Nehuniah b. Haqqanneh (c. 70 AD) also used the prayer of thanksgiving to God to compare himself to other people in order to make himself look better. JT Berakhot 4:2: “And when [R. Nehuniah b. Haqqanneh] exits [the study hall] what does he say? ‘I give thanks to thee, Lord my God, God of my fathers, that you cast my lot with those who sit in the study hall and the synagogues, and you did not cast my lot with those who sit in the theaters and circuses. For I toil and they toil. I arise early and they arise early. I toil so that I shall inherit [a share of] paradise [in the world to come] and they toil [and shall end up] in a pit of destruction. As it says, “For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the pit” [Ps. 16:10].’”1 — The parallel in Berakoth 28b reads: “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast set my portion with those who sit in the Beth ha-Midrash [i.e. the study hall] and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in [street] corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labour and they labour, but I labour and receive a reward and they labour and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to the life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction.”2 ● In a similar way, the (ideal, i.e. rabbinically oriented) congregation of Israel gives an account of herself before God by comparing herself with the inhabitants of large towns and the prevailing world power. ‘Erubin 21b: “Raba [† 352] made the following exposition: What [are the allusions] in the Scriptural text: Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages, let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see whether the vine hath budded, whether the vine-blossom be opened and the pomegranates be in flower; there will I give thee my love? [SS 7:12f.] ‘Come, my beloved, let us go forth in to the field’; the congregation of Israel spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He: Lord of the universe, do not judge me as [thou wouldst] those who reside in large towns who indulge in robbery, in adultery, and in vain and false oaths; ‘let us go forth into the field,’ come, and I will show Thee scholars who study the Torah in poverty; ‘let us lodge in the villages [בכפרים]’ read not, ‘in the villages’ [בַּכְּפָרִם] but ‘among the disbelievers’ [בַּכּוֹפְרִים], come and I will show Thee those upon whom Thou hast bestowed much bounty [i.e. the Roman Empire, which had become Christian by Raba’s time] and they disbelieve in Thee [כפרו בך]; ‘let us get up early in the vineyards’ is an allusion to the synagogues and schoolhouses; ‘let us see whether the vine hath budded’ is an allusion to the students of Scripture; ‘whether the vine-blossom be opened’ alludes to the students of the Mishnah; ‘and the pomegranates be in flower’ alludes to the students of the Gemara; ‘there will I give thee my love,’ I will show Thee my glory and my greatness, the praise of my sons and my daughters.”3 — One can see, then, that the prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus put into the Pharisee’s mouth in Luke 18:11f. was not some original or completely biased invention, but was formed entirely by listening to actual prayers.

Luke 18:12a. “I fast twice a week.”

1. δίς τοῦ σαββάτου = פַּעֲמַיִם בְּשַׁבָּת. — Baba Bathra 88a Mishnah: “A shopkeeper must clean his measures twice a week [פעמים בשבת, so that the measures would not be diminished by the drying up of the residual goods inside], wipe his weights once a week [פעם אחת בשבת] and cleanse the scales after every weighing. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel [c. 140] said: These laws apply only to moist [commodities], but in [the case of] dry [ones] there is no need [for the cleaning].4

2. νηστεύειν = צוּם,iהִתְעַנֶּה, often also יָשַׁב בְּתַעֲנִית, Aramaic יְתֵיב בְּתַעֲנִיתָא “to sit in a fast,” “to observe a fast.” — There were two kinds of fasts: a general fast, which was mandatory for everyone, and a private fast of the individual, which was voluntary.

A public fast for everyone took place on the Day of Atonement, on the 9th of Ab (the day the temple was destroyed), and at times of national crises (drought, crop failure, epidemics, war). In the case of the first two, the fast lasted for one day and was held on the day of the week on which the Day of Atonement or the 9th of Ab fell. Yet when the calendar was arranged every year, care was taken, if necessary, to make sure that both days did not fall on a Sabbath. For fasting observances on the occasion of national crises, we are provided detailed instructions about these in the case of persistent lack of rainfall. In this case a full fasting observance spanned 13 days. Monday and Thursday were always the fasting days, so the entire fast extended over a period of seven weeks. See the excursus “Fasting Observances” (Fastenfeier).

On the choice of the second and fifth days of the week as fasting days, see Tanchuma B וירא §i16 (47b): “With which passages of Scripture have the [earlier] generations supported the regulation that a person should fast on the second and fifth days of the week [Monday and Thursday]? When the Israelites committed that act [i.e. worshipped the golden calf], Moses went up [Mt. Sinai] on the fifth day of the week, and on the second day of the week [after 40 days had passed] he came back down. Therefore the sages have commanded that a person should fast on the second and fifth day of the week, on the days when Moses went up and came down. And at the end of the 40 days they fasted and wept before Moses, and God was filled with compassion for them and made that day a day of atonement for their sins.” — This tradition is limited entirely to this passage alone. For the actual reason the second and fifth days of the week were chosen as fasting days, see endnote 10.

The voluntary private fast of the individual is attested in the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 12:16; Psalm 35:13; 69:11; 109:24; Daniel 9:3; 10:5, et al. In the final two centuries BC it had gradually been adopted as a common custom, at least within certain circles of the Jewish people; see Sirach 31:26 (Fritzsche ed.); Tobit 12:8; Judith 8:6; Psalms of Solomon 3:8; Testament of Joseph 3, 4, 9, 10; Testament of Benjamin 1; cf. also passages in the New Testament outside of Luke 18:12, such as Matthew 6:16ff; 9:14; and Luke 2:37. In the years AD the private fast of the individual was regarded in the synagogue as an obvious expression of piety. People fasted for shorter or longer periods of time (e.g. R. Zadok, c. 50 AD, fasted for 40 years – Gittin 56a)5 to make up for a wrong or atone for a transgression; to guarantee that a wish would be fulfilled or a prayer answered; to avert some physical or spiritual harm; or even just for fasting’s sake, because the merit of fasting was considered to be of inestimably high value in God’s eyes. Rf. the excursus on fasting for proofs for all these. The individual could of course undertake his fast on whatever day he wanted; only the Sabbaths and festival days were to be excepted. However, it became the custom to observe the private fast, if at all possible, on the days of the week used for the public fast, namely Monday and Thursday. This became so very commonplace that the Didache (8:1,2) commanded: “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites [i.e. the Jews], for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day [Wednesday] and the Preparation (Friday).”6 For more particulars, rf. the excursus on fasting.

The private fast of the individual described up to this point is altogether characterized as incidental and occasional. It has its basis exclusively in the person of the one fasting himself, in his problems, concerns, and needs. But the fasting done two times a week by the Pharisee in Luke 18 is clearly not thus characterized. With him, we are dealing with a regular fasting that cannot be explained on the basis of the personal circumstances of the one fasting. The motive for his fasting lies elsewhere. But where?

We possess a writing in the Aramaic language from the first century AD, called Megillat Ta‘anit, “Scroll of Fasting.” It enumerates in 12 chapters the national days of joy of the Jewish people, on which there was not to be any fasting or public mourning. Sometime later a commentary written in Hebrew was joined with this writing to make up the whole book. At the end of the twelfth chapter, this commentary mentions people who regularly fast twice a week, and in fact on the second and fifth day of the week. For them the requirement of pausing the fast if one of the national days of joy fell on a Monday or Thursday is rescinded. But they were only to be entitled to continue their fast on these days if their fasting vow was taken before the publication of the days of joy named in the Scroll of Fasting (cf. also Ta‘anith 12a Baraithra)7. We may confidently place these people in the camp of the Pharisee in Luke 18; they and he without a doubt fall into the same category. Unfortunately we do not also learn in this passage in the Scroll of Fasting the motives that caused these people to undertake fasting twice a week.

Later on a thirteenth chapter was added to the Scroll of Fasting as a closing chapter. Here we finally get the information we wanted: “Our teachers have also stipulated that one should fast on the second and fifth days of the week on account of three things: the destruction of the temple, the Torah that has been burned, and the profaning of the divine name.”8 Thus it was national tragedy which occasioned regular fasting twice a week in certain circles after the destruction of the second temple. By their fasting they want to atone for the sins which brought about the disaster, in order thus to avert any further disaster that could still break out against the people as a result of those sins.

It would have been exactly the same case with the regular fasting twice a week in certain circles before the destruction of the temple. The men who decided to undertake it felt an inner calling to step into the breach between God and Israel, which the sin of the masses at large was ever tearing apart anew. By the atoning power of their fasting they hoped to turn away God’s wrath and guard the people from blows of national tragedy. Thus it is said about R. Zadok (c. 50) in Gittin 56a: “R. Zadok observed fasts for forty years in order that Jerusalem might not be destroyed.”9 Here we might furthermore call again to mind the arrangement of the so-called “men of standing,” who had to represent the entire Jewish people when the daily morning burnt offering (the morning tamid) was made in the temple, or who had to assemble at their local synagogue for joint Scripture reading and prayer. During their week of service they fasted from the second to the fifth days of the week, thus for four days, “but they did not fast on Friday out of respect for the Sabbath, nor on the first day of the week [Sunday], so that they would not go straight from resting and living in ease [on the Sabbath] to pain and fasting, and die as a consequence.”10 It is then communicated more precisely that they fasted on the second day of the week (Monday) for those traveling by sea (for their safe travels), on the third day for those traveling by desert, on the fourth day for angina, that it would not befall their children, and on the fifth for the pregnant and nursing (see at Luke 1:5, p. 63ff, esp. notes fh). From this we recognize not only how the synagogues systematically trained a wide circle of the people for fasting, but also, above all, how they intentionally attempted to make the general well-being the precise motive and object of fasting. Then it cannot surprise us when the most zealous of those faithful to the law did not want to let themselves be outdone in fasting by the men of standing, and so took upon themselves to regularly fast twice a week on their own, whether for one year or for more, in the name of the common good. The Pharisee in Luke 18 also belongs to this group of people zealous for the law. So he stands before God as one who carries the well and woe of the people of God on his heart as he fasts and prays. He thereby thinks he can make himself be regarded by God.

Note: It is incorrect when every so often it is inferred from the Pharisee’s fasting twice a week that most Jews were only accustomed to fasting once a week. The ancient Jewish literature knows nothing of such a general practice. The other opinion, that all the Pharisees were obligated to fast twice a week, is just as incorrect. Such an obligation never appears. Regular fasting like this was always observed only by individuals who vowed to do so completely on their own.


1 Neusner, 155.

2 Soncino, 172.

3 Ibid., 150, 151. Wettstein is incorrect at Luke 18:13, when he takes the words of Aboth 2:13: “[W]hen thou prayest, make not thy prayer a set task” (Soncino, 22, 23), to mean: “When you pray, do not enumerate your good works in your prayers.” – Strack-Billerbeck

4 Soncino, 361.

5 Ibid., 257.


7 Soncino, 53.

8 Cp. Ta‘anith 26a,b Mishnah: “On the seventeenth of Tammuz [perhaps July]…Apostomos burned the scroll of the Law and placed an idol in the temple [perhaps “the profaning of the divine name” in the Scroll of Fasting?]. On the ninth of Ab [perhaps August]…the temple was destroyed the first and second time…” (Soncino, 138, 139). Schlatter in Die Tage Trajans und Hadrians (The Days of Trajan and Hadrian), p. 24 and 29, wants to read “Apostatis” instead of “Apostomos,” and he understands “Apostatis” to be R. Elisha b. Abuyah, c. 120. Schlatter seems to refer the setting up of the idol to the founding of the temple of Zeus in Jerusalem by Hadrian. – Strack-Billerbeck

9 Soncino, 257.

10 These words incidentally reveal to us the actual reason why the second and fifth days of the week were appointed for days of fasting. For fasting, people wanted two days in the week which, for one, had no contact with the Sabbath, and which furthermore were as far separated from each other as possible, so that fasting recurring for a longer period of time would not make demands on the person’s physical abilities that would prove too strenuous. There were only two such days in the week – Monday and Thursday. Thus the choice of the second and fifth days of the week for fasting days has nothing to do with Moses’ ascent to Mt. Sinai, as the earlier citation from Tanchuma B suggests. – Strack-Billerbeck