Augsburg Confession – Article 26 – The Distinction of Foods

Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 25, click here.)

Previously people have taught, preached, and written that observing the distinction of foods and similar traditions instituted by men helps people merit grace and make satisfaction for their sin.1 On this basis people have come up with new fasts, new ceremonies, new orders and the like every day and have urged them fiercely and powerfully, as if these things were necessary forms of worship through which people would merit grace if they kept them, and would commit grave sin if they did not. This has led to a lot of pernicious error in the church.

First, it has the effect of obscuring the grace of Christ and the doctrine of faith, which holds the gospel before us with great earnestness and powerfully urges people to esteem and cherish the merit of Christ and to know that faith in Christ should be set far and away beyond all works. That is why Saint Paul has fiercely attacked the Law of Moses and human traditions, so that we might learn that we do not become pious before God by our works, but only through faith in Christ, and that we obtain grace for Christ’s sake. This doctrine has almost been completely extinguished through the teaching that people can merit grace by observing appointed fasts, distinguishing between foods, dressing a certain way, etc.

Second, such traditions have also obscured God’s commands, for these traditions are set far above God’s commands. This is all that people think the Christian life consists of: If people observe these festivals, pray these prayers, observe these fasts, dress this way—that’s called a spiritual, Christian life. At the same time, other good works that are actually necessary are considered to be a worldly, unspiritual existence, namely those that each person is responsible for according to his vocation, such as the head of the household working to support his wife and children and to bring them up in the fear of God, the mother bearing children and attending to them, a prince or ruling body governing land and people, etc. These works that are commanded by God had to be a worldly and imperfect existence, while the traditions had to have the sparkling reputation, so that they alone were called holy, perfect works. Accordingly there was neither limit nor end of making such traditions.

Second page of Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Third, such traditions have turned into a heavy burdening of consciences. For it was impossible to keep all the traditions, and nevertheless the people were of the opinion that they were a necessary form of worship. And Gerson writes that many have fallen into despair over this; some have even killed themselves on account of the fact that they heard no comfort from the grace of Christ.2 For one can see how consciences are bewildered from the scholastics and theologians who have attempted to compile all the traditions, and those who have sought some balance to help those consciences have had to spend so much time on it that in the meantime all beneficial Christian doctrine about necessary matters, such as faith, comfort in difficult trials and the like, was smothered. Many pious, learned people in the past have also complained loudly about this, that such traditions cause a lot of strife in the church, and that pious people are hindered with them and cannot come to the proper knowledge of Christ. Gerson and several others have complained fiercely about this. Yes, it even displeased Augustine that consciences were burdened with so many traditions. That is why he gives instruction along with them, so that people do not regard them as necessary things.4

Our men have therefore not taught about these matters out of insolence or contempt for spiritual authority, but dire need has required them to give instruction about the above-cited errors, which have developed from a misunderstanding of traditions. For the gospel compels us that we should and must promote the doctrine of faith in the church, but this doctrine cannot be understood if people are under the false impression that they can merit grace through self-chosen works.

And so we teach in this regard that a person cannot merit grace or appease God or make satisfaction for sin by keeping said human traditions. And therefore they should not be made into necessary forms of worship. The reason for this is drawn from Scripture. In Matthew 15 Christ excuses the apostles when they had not kept the customary traditions, and he says in addition, “They honor me in vain with human rules.” Now if he calls this an act of worship done in vain, it must not be necessary. And shortly thereafter: “What goes into the mouth does not defile a person.” Likewise Paul says in Romans 14: “The kingdom of heaven does not consist in food or drink.” Colossians 2: “No one should judge you in food, drink, Sabbath, etc.” Peter says in Acts 15: “Why do you test God by imposing on the disciples’ necks the yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? No, we believe that we are saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the same way that they are.” There Peter forbids us from burdening consciences with more external ceremonies, whether they be of Moses or others. And in 1 Timothy 4 prohibitions like prohibiting food, marriage, etc. are called devil’s doctrine. For this is diametrically opposed to the gospel, when such works are instituted or performed in order to merit the forgiveness of sins, or the impression is given that no one can be a Christian without performing them.

Third page of Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

But as for the accusation that our teachers forbid mortification and discipline, like Jovinian did,5 much to the contrary can be found in their writings. For they have always taught about the holy cross that Christians are duty-bound to suffer, and this is real and serious, not invented, mortification. In addition, we also teach that everyone is duty-bound to keep himself in check with physical discipline, such as with fasting and other works, so that he does not give himself occasion to sin, not so that he can merit grace with such works.6 Such physical discipline should not just be urged on certain appointed days, but constantly. Christ speaks of this in Luke 21: “Guard yourselves, that your hearts do not become weighed down by dissipation.” Likewise: “The demons are not expelled except through fasting and prayer.”7 And Paul says that he mortified his body and brought it into obedience.8 He thereby indicates that mortification should serve not to merit grace but to keep the body prepared, so that it does not keep anyone from doing what has been entrusted to him according to his calling. And so we do not reject fasting itself, but the fact that it has been turned into a necessary act of worship on appointed days and with certain foods, with the result that it confuses consciences.

We on our part also retain many ceremonies and traditions, such as the order of the Mass and other songs, festivals, etc., which help to preserve good order in the church. But in addition, the people are instructed that such outward worship does not make one pious before God, and that it should be observed without burdening the conscience, so that if someone gives it up without giving offense, no sin is committed in doing so. The ancient Fathers also preserved this freedom in outward ceremonies. For in the East Easter was observed at a different time than in Rome.9 And when some wanted to treat this difference as a rupture in the church, they were admonished by others that it is not necessary to maintain unity in such customs. And Irenaeus has this to say: “Differences in fasting do not rupture the unity of the faith.”10 So too it is written in Distinction 12 that such differences in human ordinances are not contrary to the unity of Christendom.11 And the Tripartite History, in Book 9, compiles many dissimilar church customs and sets down a useful Christian saying, “The apostles’ intention was not to institute festivals, but to teach faith and love.”12

Notes

1 Thomas Aquinas had written in his famous Summa Theologiae (composed from 1265-1274), Part 2, Section 2, Question 147, Article 1 (e.g. in the bottom of the left column in the 1512 Haguenau edition published by Heinrich Gran):

The practice of fasting is adopted chiefly for three reasons: First, of course, in order to keep the longings of the flesh in check. … Secondly, it is adopted in order that the mind may be more readily elevated to the contemplation of the sublime. … Thirdly, in order to make satisfaction for sins.

2 Melanchthon is citing Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), a French scholar, educator, reformer, and poet. Gerson wished to banish scholastic subtleties from the studies of the University of Paris, and at the same time to put some evangelical warmth into them, giving them a more spiritual and practical focus. Scholars are unsure which of Gerson’s works Melanchthon is citing here.

3 Liber de vita spirituali animae (The Spiritual Life of the Soul), in Joannis Gersonii Doctoris Theologi & Cancellarii Parisiensis Opera Omnia, ed. Louis Ellies du Pin, vol. 3 (Antwerp, 1706), Reading 2 (cols. 16-17); Reading 4, Corollary 11 (cols. 44-45).

4 Augustine treated the subject of traditions especially brilliantly in two letters he wrote in reply to a certain Januarius (Letters 54 and 55). Here is an excerpt from the former:

I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a “light yoke” and an “easy burden,” as He declares in the Gospel: in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God’s ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established. There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live. … I answer, therefore, that if the authority of Scripture has decided which of these methods is right, there is no room for doubting that we should do according to that which is written; and our discussion must be occupied with a question, not of duty, but of interpretation as to the meaning of the divine institution. In like manner, if the universal Church follows any one of these methods, there is no room for doubt as to our duty; for it would be the height of arrogant madness to discuss whether or not we should comply with it. But the question which you propose is not decided either by Scripture or by universal practice. It must therefore be referred to the third class—as pertaining, namely, to things which are different in different places and countries.

5 The ascetic Jovinian (d. c. 405) was much maligned, and his views exaggerated, by Jerome’s later invective in his two books Against Jovinian, written in 393. Jovinian did not so much oppose mortification and discipline, as he did the idea that such measures were meritorious or possessed a character of moral elevation. Melanchthon’s characterization of him here is based on Jerome’s.

6 Modern-day examples would include self-imposed or mutually arranged accountability measures with regard to internet usage, consumption of food or drink, recreational pastimes, etc.

7 Mark 9:29

8 1 Corinthians 9:27

9 In Asia Minor Easter was observed on the Jewish day of Passover (14 Nisan), but in Rome and the rest of the Christian world it was observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox (see Eusebius, Church HistoryBook 5, Chapter 23).

10 Quoted in Eusebius, Church HistoryBook 5, Chapter 24, par. 13.

11 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 12, Chapter 10 here (type 98 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go). The excerpt cited there was penned by Gregory the Great to Augustine of Canterbury (Bishop of the Angli from 597-604) and reads as follows:

Thy Fraternity [dignified way of addressing Augustine] knows the use of the Roman Church, in which thou hast been nurtured. But I approve of thy selecting carefully anything thou hast found that may be more pleasing to Almighty God, whether in the Roman Church or that of Gaul, or in any Church whatever, and introducing in the Church of the Angli, which is as yet new in the faith, by a special institution, what thou hast been able to collect from many Churches. For we ought not to love things for places, but places for things. Wherefore choose from each several Church such things as are pious, religious, and right, and, collecting them as it were into a bundle, plant them in the minds of the Angli for their use.

The entire letter is available in its entirety in English here. (To distinguish this Augustine from the more renowned Augustine of Hippo, some choose to pronounce the former AW-gus-teen and the latter u-GUS-tin.)

12 Rf. Note 13 under Article 24. Melanchthon’s reference (from Book 9, Chapter 38) can be viewed on folio 78b here. It is based on Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22.

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Augsburg Confession – Article 20 – Faith and Good Works

Articles 19 & 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 19, click here.)

The accusation that our teachers forbid good works is levied against them falsely. For their writings on the Ten Commandments and other writings prove that they have explained and promoted actual Christian stations and works profitably and well. Prior to this little was taught about these and instead the focus of all sermons, for the most part, was on childish and unnecessary works, such as the Rosary,1 worship of the saints, monasticism, pilgrimages,2 appointed fasts, holy days, brotherhoods,3 etc. Even our opposition no longer praises such unnecessary works as much as they once did, and they have even learned to talk about faith now. Formerly they did not preach about faith at all; now, however, they teach that we become righteous before God not just by works, but they add faith in Christ, saying that faith and works make us righteous before God. Speaking this way might bring a little more comfort than only teaching people to trust in works.

Now since the doctrine of faith, which is the centerpiece of Christianity, has been neglected for such a long time, as everyone must admit, and instead only works-doctrine was preached in all places, this is the instruction on faith that our teachers give:

First, our works cannot reconcile us with God or earn grace for us. This happens only through faith, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, the only mediator who can appease the Father. Now whoever mistakenly imagines that he can accomplish this by works and can merit grace despises Christ and is seeking a peculiar way to God contrary to the gospel.4

Second page of Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

This doctrine of faith is clearly and plainly treated by Paul in many places, especially in Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and none of this is from yourselves, but it is God’s gift, not by works, so that no one may boast, etc.”

And we can prove from Augustine that we are not introducing some new understanding here, for he thoroughly treats this matter and teaches the same thing, that we obtain grace and become righteous before God through faith in Christ, and not through works, as his entire book On the Spirit and the Letter demonstrates.5

Now although this doctrine is much despised among untried people, the fact is that it is very comforting and healing for weak and terrified consciences. For the conscience cannot find rest and peace through works, but only through faith, when it can conclude for certain that it has a gracious God for Christ’s sake, just as Paul says in Romans 5: “If we have been justified through faith, we have rest and peace before God.”

This comfort used to be neglected in sermons. Poor consciences were instead directed to their own works, and many kinds of works were undertaken. Bad consciences have chased some people into the cloisters, where they were hoping to earn grace through the monastic lifestyle. Others have invented other works by which they might merit grace and make satisfaction for sin. Many of these people have learned from experience that there is no peace to be found in these ways. Therefore it has been necessary to preach and diligently promote this doctrine of faith in Christ, so that people may know that God’s grace is apprehended through faith alone, apart from merit.

The people are also instructed that here we are not talking about such faith as the demons and the godless have, who also believe the historical accounts of Christ’s suffering and rising from the dead.6 We are rather talking about true faith, which believes that we receive grace and forgiveness of sins through Christ.

Third page of Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Now the one who knows that he has a gracious God through Christ truly knows God, calls upon him, and is not without God like the heathens. For demons and godless people do not believe this article of the forgiveness of sins. Accordingly they are hostile to God, are unable to call on him, and expect nothing good from him. And thus, as has now been indicated, Scripture speaks of faith, but by “faith” it does not mean the kind of knowledge that the devil and godless people have. For this is what the Letter to the Hebrews teaches about faith in Chapter 11, that faith is not just knowing the historical accounts, but having confidence in God that we will receive what he has promised. And Augustine also reminds us that we should understand the word faith in Scripture as meaning confidence in God, that he is gracious to us, and not just knowing historical accounts the way even the demons know them.7

We furthermore teach that good works should and must be done, not so that we may trust that we have merited grace through them, but for the sake of God and to the praise of God. It is always faith alone that apprehends grace and the forgiveness of sins. And since the Holy Spirit is given through faith, the heart is thereby already equipped to do good works.8 For prior to receiving faith, the heart is too weak, since it is without the Holy Spirit; in addition, it is in the control of the devil, who drives the poor human nature to many sins. We see this in the philosophers; they strove to live honorable and blameless lives, but nevertheless did not succeed, having instead fallen into many glaring, open sins. That’s how it goes with a person when he is apart from the true faith, without the Holy Spirit, and governs himself only through his own human power.

Therefore this teaching about faith should not be denounced for forbidding good works. It should rather be praised for teaching how to do good works and offering help so that people can actually attain to good works. For apart from faith and outside of Christ human nature and ability is much too weak to do good works, to call on God, to have patience in suffering, to love one’s neighbor, to diligently carry out one’s entrusted responsibilities, to be obedient, to avoid evil desires, etc. Such high and proper works cannot be done without Christ’s help, as he himself declares in John 15, “Without me you can do nothing.”

(To continue to Article 21, click here.)

Notes

1 The Rosary is a collection of prayers, arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys with each set preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Glory Be to the Father. During recitation of each set, known as a decade, thought is given to one of the so-called Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The Glorious mysteries are said on Sunday and Wednesday, the Joyful on Monday and Saturday, the Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and the Luminous Mysteries are said on Thursday. Normally, five decades are recited in a session.

2 One of the most common pilgrimages mentioned repeatedly by Luther is the Way of St. James, which ended at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The cathedral supposedly houses the earthly remains of James the apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of John; his beheading by King Herod Agrippa is recorded in Acts 12. Such pilgrimages earned various indulgences.

3 Brotherhoods were associations of laypeople who organized for religious exercises and to participate in, support, and sponsor church-related work.

4 Paul says the same in Galatians 5:4.

5 Luther often spoke highly of Augustine’s On the Spirit and the Letter, a work Augustine penned in 412 AD against the Pelagians which is also readily available in English. For example, he writes in Chapter 22: “Accordingly, by the law of works, God says to us, Do what I command thee; but by the law of faith we say to God, Give me what Thou commandest. … Now, having duly considered and weighed all these circumstances and testimonies, we conclude that a man is not justified by the precepts of a holy life, but by faith in Jesus Christ,—in a word, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith; not by the letter, but by the spirit; not by the merits of deeds, but by free grace.”

Here the Latin version adds: “And Ambrose teaches similarly in On the Calling of the Gentiles and elsewhere. For this is what he says in On the Calling of the Gentiles: ‘Redemption through the blood of Christ would become worthless and human works would not surrender first place to the mercy of God, if justification, which takes place through grace, were due to merits that preceded it. Justification would not then be the gift of a bountiful giver, but a payment owed to workers.’”

This quote has more dubious origins. It has sometimes been attributed to Ambrose (c. 340-397), though it is now generally recognized not to be his (there is another, shorter work by the same name, On the Calling of the Gentiles, that is attributed to him). Sometimes it has been attributed to the well-educated layman and disciple of Augustine, Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390-c. 455), though some still doubt this attribution too. Regardless, the work is of early origin and the excerpt Melanchthon quotes fits well in this article. (The original Latin quote can be found in col. 669 [Book 1, Chapter 17] here.)

6 James 2:19

7 Augustine does distinguish the faith of a Christian from the faith of a devil, for example, in his Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John (Homily X, 2), but he does not make the same point there as Melanchthon makes here. Augustine rather distinguishes the two by saying that Christian faith produces the fruit of love (which is of course also true). Some scholars also think that Melanchthon might have in mind the work De cognitione verae vitae, which was commonly attributed to Augustine, though now generally ascribed to Honorius Augustodunensis (12th century). Chapter 37 (in col. 1025 here) of that work answers the question: “Is there a difference between believing God and believing in God?” and thus also distinguishes between Christian faith and the faith of demons and pagans. But there too the author does not stress confidence in God as Melanchthon does here. Perhaps Melanchthon mis-cited Augustine here, or perhaps he has some other work(s) in mind with which we are simply not familiar.

8 In addition to the proof passage Melanchthon himself cites later, see Psalm 51:10-13; 119:32; Matthew 12:33.

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.

Endnotes

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.

6 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html

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