Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fasting for the Dead in the Old Testament: Not Essentially Different from Praying for Them

 
By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong

If someone is fasting "for" the dead, they obviously think that the dead can be helped in some fashion by that act. Thus, it is the same act in essence as praying for them: some action that we do by which they are aided, in God's grace.


1 Samuel 31:11-13 But when the inhabitants of Ja'besh-gil'ead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, [12] all the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan; and they came to Jabesh and burnt them there. [13] And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. (cf. 1 Chr 10:11-12)

2 Samuel 1:11-12 Then David took hold of his clothes, and rent them; and so did all the men who were with him; [12] and they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

In 2 Samuel 12:23 (a conceivable counter-argument), King David stops fasting after his son died, but not because the dead can't be aided by prayer and fasting; rather, it was because fasting couldn't restore him to life, as he states: "But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?"

This actually reinforces my present argument, based on the word "for," since David's servants say to him, "You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive" (2 Sam 12:21). The object was to aid the child: to save his life. Somehow, David hoped, his fasting would spare his son.

When we get to 2 Samuel 1:12, the text states four times: "fasted . . . for Saul and for Jonathan . . . for the people of the LORD . . . for the house of Israel": all of which was directed towards those who "had fallen by the sword." Therefore, by simple grammar and the meaning of words (the same as in the phrase, "prayed for"), it means that they thought that the dead could be aided by such fasting: the same as praying for them: one person does an act by which another can be helped.


                                                                         * * * * *


10 comments:

Doug Creamer said...

Dave what is the usual evangelical counterpoint when they are shown this?

Dave Armstrong said...

I have no idea. I just discovered it myself, so I don't know about reactions. I imagine they might say that it was simply alongside the mourning, with no intention of helping the dead: a ritual of mourning for the Jews, like sackcloth and ashes, etc.

Doug Creamer said...

Did you have a Socrates email address several years ago? If so we talked several times after I had found over 70 verses that showed that figuratively eating flesh means the opposite of what they say it means in John 6. I had your book on my shelf and I didn't realize who you were. :)

Dave Armstrong said...

I don't remember. I think it may have been "erasmus" in the e-mail.

Restless Pilgrim said...

I guess you could also say that 2 Samuel 12:23 refers to an innocent incapable for personal sin, whereas the same could not be said for Jonathan and most definitely for Saul.

Brian Crane said...

The evangelical counterpoint is that fasting *for* the dead is actually a way that Jews mourned. Fasting = mourning. Another one I've heard is that fasting never benefits anyone else, so DAvid and his men were actually seeking their own individual clarity by fasting. I'm on an Protestant forum, and those were the answers I got when I posed the question last night.

Brian Crane said...

Basically, what Dave said above.

Dave Armstrong said...

They can play that game, but it doesn't jive with all the biblical data.

Nick said...

David fasted for his infant son and one of the Gospels has the Apostles ask why they were unable to drive out a demon, and Jesus responds that kind of demon can only be cast out "by prayer and fasting". These two examples refutes the idea "fasting never benefits anyone else".

Dave Armstrong said...

Excellent; thanks!