39. Prayer and fasting, Mark 9:29

39. Prayer and fasting, Mark 9:29

During 2000 the Lord called my wife to start a prayer ministry to help the families having a loved one involved with the occult and/or addiction to drugs or something else. We guide and empower the parents to intercede for their own and other children in the same predicament. During the years we witnessed many miracles of deliverance and healing.

One day a father came to me and asked: “Herman, what type of fasting should I do and for how long in order to have my son delivered from demons? In Mark 9:29 Jesus says:’ This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.’ Will a Daniel fast be sufficient? I am a diabetic and may not follow a complete fast.”
My NIV Bible mentions only prayer.
At once the direct words of Jesus became paramount. Did Jesus command fasting as precondition to accompany prayer, or is fasting optional?
Where Matthew records the same incident, in chapter 17, vs.21 (Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.) is written in the margin.
It is not about my personal preference, or what I would like to prescribe; nor that of some pious monk somewhere in the past. I had to discern what exactly Jesus commanded.
What would you answer?
As source I went to the Greek New Testament of the United Bible Societies where all variations in the manuscripts are recorded:

Mark 9:29, “prayer and fasting”:

Possibilities: Omitted: Included:
Witness: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers:
101-200 Clement Diatessaron
201-300 p45 Sahidic
301-400 א , B 1 Old Latin W Vulgate, Bohairic, Gothic Basil
401-500 A, C, D 5 Old Latin, Syriac, Georgian
501-600 Syriac
601-700 3 Old Latin Syriac
701-800 L, Ψ 1 Old Latin
801-900 Georgian K, X, Δ, Θ, Π 1 Old Latin
901-1600 f1 f13 21 Minuscules 1 Old Latin

Superfluously seen, the inclusion of this precondition should be included. Yet why would the United Bible Societies with an A-rating be convinced that Jesus had not said these words?
The manuscript evidence for seeing Mat.17:21 as an interpolation from Mark 9:29 is even stronger. Therefore I will only consider the question as seen in Mark, and apply it also to Matthew.
One manuscript that immediately calls for our attention is the Diatessaron of Titan, the Syrian. Around 170 A.D. he compiled a document combining all four Gospels into one narrative, including and discarding whatever he deemed necessary. His document had been quite popular and spread over much of the known world. Bear in mind that the canon had not yet been decided. When the Gospels had been duplicated separately, many of Tatianus’s variations were included. Therefore those manuscripts that escaped the influence of the Diatessaron is of paramount importance for the establishment of the very words of the original autograph.
Another norm to consider is that scribes would rather include words of which they are uncertain. We experience the urge to rather include that leave out something that Jesus might have said!
A third habit of scribes to consider is the addition of religious duties into manuscripts. It is common knowledge that fasting and chastising of the body was common practice in the monasteries, the very place where most duplicating of manuscripts were done.
Do you consider it a possibility that fasting could have been deliberately or by mistake included following the example as recorded in Acts 13:2 and Acts 14:23?
The above criteria have to do with the manuscripts and the duplication process. A next norm to consider with great care, is the delicate process to evaluate intrinsic criteria. Here we ask what Jesus typically would have said, by taking into account His very words and deeds as recorded in the Gospels.
1. Jesus spoke about fasting only thrice. The first was to warn against seeking attention or adoration. Fasting should be a private matter between the believer and God. (Mat.6:16-18) The second time was concerning the fact that His disciples did not fast like those of John the Baptist or of the Pharisees. How could they fast while the Bridegroom is with them? (Mat.9:14-15, Mar.2:18-20, Luke 5:33-35) In Luke 18:12 Jesus tells of the Pharisee who boasted in prayer about how good he was and how often he fasted. These three instances do not bring us nearer to an answer concerning question at hand.
2. Jesus fasted Himself, but the gospels tell only of the time at the beginning of His ministry when He was tempted by Satan. (Mat.4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.) Not once is it recorded that Jesus fasted Himself before driving out demons!
3. Except for the instance under discussion prayer and fasting are never handled together. Not even in Luke 18 where perseverance is discussed did Jesus stress fasting when it seemed as though God would not answer prayer.
4. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He gave them clear instructions. Inter alia He gave them power to drive out demons. Yet fasting had not been given as a prerequisite – it had not even been mentioned! (Mat.10:5-15, Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6)
When you look at Jesus’ own conduct and declarations in the Gospels, do you consider it would be typical for Jesus to mention fasting as a requirement for driving out demons?
Now looking at both the extern as well as the intrinsic criteria, do you consider “fasting” as authentic from Jesus?
What would you answer the parent if he requested an answer from you?

Please share your thoughts.

God bless


ue�Lnw��xЦfronted with is: “does the omission of this verse from Mark nullify this important statement and warning of Jesus?”
The answer is a clear NO! In the preceding verse 25 Jesus said:” And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” The word “and” with which vs.25 starts, binds it to vs. 24, making is one complete statement. Jesus stated that forgiveness is a definite precondition to receive the Father’s forgiveness. The interpolation of vs. 26 from Mat.6:15 causes it to stand on its own with no real function to either the sentence or the understanding of the cause under discussion. In Matthew this verse forms the second part of a couplet with vs.14, a well known figure of speech to emphasize the point made. In Mark it has no function.
By restoring the text to its original as Mark reported this incident, we are just removing the unnecessary tampering of the text by Tatian.
Forgiveness is not only a precondition for receiving our Father’s forgiveness, it is a wonderful relieving experience to be enjoyed by the Christian every day!
Don’t miss out on it.
God bless!


About Herman of bibledifferences.net

The reasons for the differences between older Bibles like the King James Version and newer Bibles like the New International Version have fascinated me ever since my studies in Theology at the University of Pretoria in the seventies. I have great respect for scribes through the ages as well as Bible translators, so there must be good reasons for the differences. With more than 5600 Greek manuscripts and more than 19000 manuscripts of ancient translations to our disposal, the original autographs of the New Testament can be established without doubt. I investigate the reasons behind the differences and publish the facts in a post on my blogs www.bibledifferences.net (Afrikaans: www.bybelverskille.wordpress.com) to enable my readers to judge for themselves. Personally I love to make an informed decision based of facts. That is why I endeavor to provide that same privilege to the readers of my blogs. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page, founder director of Act-Up Support (www.actup.co.za) a prayer ministry for families struggling with drug-, occult- and other dependencies. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, four grand sons and two grand daughters. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman Grobler.
This entry was posted in External Criteria, Internal Criteria, Intrinsic Criteria. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to 39. Prayer and fasting, Mark 9:29

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  5. Sarah says:

    Hi I’m a doctor and was recently struck by the fact that the boy probably had epilepsy and Jesus ascertained from his father that he had had it since childhood.
    Interestingly, an old treatment for epilepsy was fasting and now it is done with a ketogenic diet if the epilepsy is difficult to control with drugs.
    After all Jesus was a physician of sorts !

    • Thank you for this interesting comment Maria. When dealing with healings by Jesus, we of course can never be quite sure. It is possible, even to this date, that demons can imitate epilepsy, the healing being driving out the demon. But we cannot treat all symptoms representative of epilepsy that way. Jesus knew exactly what the case had been. I didn’t know of the modern treatment of epilepsy by diet. Thanks for sharing.
      God bless,

  6. Ortiz says:

    Jesus fasted for 40 days and he is God…what more proof do you need…he was with the devil himself on the mountain.

    • Dear Ortiz,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, however you seem to completely miss the point I am making as well as the purpose of this blog. It is not whether a Christian should fast or not. The question is whether the prerequisite of fasting had been written in the original Autograph, and whether Jesus in fact stated it as needed before one could drive out a demon from someone possessed. Please read my post again and try to understand what I really am saying. And please, go on fasting whenever the Holy Spirit tells you to do that.
      God bless,

  7. Alan says:

    Hi Hermon, I think everyone agrees that fasting is a biblical concept that should be practised by all Christians. But in this particular instance Jesus has just strongly rebuked his disciples and the rebuke is for their being faithless to cast this evil spirit out. Then we have the text apparently saying to them that this kind goes out by nothing but prayer and “fasting” I find this strange as the disciple could not fast while the bridegroom was with with them (Jesus’s words). If fasting was a must ingredient for casting out the evil spirit how could Jesus rebuke them for not being able to to do so when they were not allowed to fast. Jesus was righteous and would never rebuke someone for something they couldn’t do do when the answer for being able to do so was forbidden from them, i.e. fasting while he was still with them.

    People say the fasting was required because of the strength of this evil spirit or because of the length of time it had been there but the disciples had already found by practise that the demons were subject to them in Jesus name (they had been casting out demons with no record of failure).
    Jesus knew that the disciples had not been fasting and he himself had said they should not while he was with them and I believe that is because he was their source of power by the Holy Spirit that gave them the power to do such works (as he breathed on them what which was in him imparting it to them to be able to do such works) but this was only a temporary impartation of the Spirit as they were later told to wait until the Holy Spirit was sent from the father and they be endued with power from on high. Jesus told us what the problem was “unbelief” something that we all can identify with many times (not unbelief in Jesus or God) but unbelief in what God has given to us. So what must be gotten rid of here is the unbelief that has caused this failure, unbelief is the problem, not the evil spirit itself, Jesus said if they’d had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed that day then they could have moved a mountain with it. So its clear that this day they had no faith for casting out demons, because they only needed a mustard seed of faith to do this deed and yet they failed.

    This kind only goes out by prayer and “fasting” what kind? kind of demon? no this kind of unbelief only goes out by prayer and “fasting” prayer and fasting does not remove demons only the faith that can comes from prayer and perhaps fasting removes them. Its the unbelief that prayer and fasting would remove, prayer and fasting builds up our faith, we have the power and the authority to use that power but without faith in that power and authority we will fail. Remember again the disciples had been given power of the (Holy Spirit and authority by Jesus to use it and had been doing so with no recorded failures. They had been using these two things in faith and were successful yet now they have got into a state of unbelief, also remember they didnt understand why they couldn’t cast it out and had to ask Jesus (they expected to be able to do it) otherwise they wouldnt have asked why they couldn’t. Faith comes and goes, some people have faith that they are saved but have no faith for anything else, some people have faith for healing but no faith ffor their daily needs to be met let alone any financial blessing. So you can have faith in one area and not another. The disciples still had faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah the Son of God, they had faith their but no here for this demon on this day.

    I think that the original text in Mark read “this kind goes out only by prayer” and that fasting was added, we know that in Matthew’s gospel the prayer and fasting part was added most scholars agree that it was taken from Marks gospel and added to Matthews at a later date, from this we see that copyers did change the text to suit their opinions of what ought to be there probably assuming that Matthew forgot this part of the words Jesus spoke.

    Now today I would not dispute for one second the need for prayer and fasting to build up our most holy faith as it is instructed in scripture. But as we know the disciples were forbidden to fast while the bridegroom was with them. So just imagine if you were a disciple that had just been rebuked for your faithlessness and then you are told that the part of the answer to your faithlessness is fasting something you are forbidden from doing while the bridegroom is with you. I dont know about you but I would have had something to say about that if I were a disciple wouldn’t you? I would have said but Jesus you told us that we cannot fast while you are with us so why are you rebuking us for not having the faith required for this job when we cannot fast to get the faith required. When I think about it in these terms I don’t believe that the fasting part was originally written there because even we wouldnt rebuke people for something they cannot do and I know that Jesus certainly wouldn’t have being righteousness personified.

  8. Daniel says:

    Hello sir,
    Based on all the interesting points mentioned in your article, I believe that fasting is not necessary, not required, fasting does not seem to be linked to chasing demons.
    Jesus did fasting once only because he was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days – he was kind of forced to.

    In Mk 2:19 on the fact that the apostles were not fasting, Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
    So, fasting will be expected of the apostles only when Jesus depart.

    Matthew 6:17-18 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
    So fasting is for yourself, not for others.

    I do not know anything about demons and I do not have any interest into demonology. So I could not recognized it and therefore I could not recommend someone to fast because of alleged demons. That being said, demon or not, prayer is never going to make things worst.

    I hope I answer you question. I am not an erudit in anything so, that might not suffice to convince that parent.

    However, Mister Herman, I do have a question as you seem to be quite knowledgeable in the bible, if you want, of course.

    In your point 4 Jesus gave them power to drive out demons. According to Jn 14:12-14
    12Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

    Why would Jesus needed to give them that power? Were they (apostles) lacking faith at that time despite their time with Jesus?
    Thank you

    • Hi Daniel
      I just love your insight you deal with us! I fully agree with you concerning fasting.
      As I understand it, Jesus gave specific instructions to the disciples when He sent them out on that occasion. They had to spread the gospel and perform the miracles Jesus enabled them, inter alia the driving out of daemons. John records a different teaching of Jesus in John 14. That was not on the occasion when Jesus sent them out as a sort of “practice journey” but on preparing them for the time after He has left them when He ascended into heaven. Then they had to perform certain tasks, but He promised them also that they could directly ask of Him what they needed. Often-times we do not perform the tasks Jesus asks us to to, but rather just identify the problem and then ask God to solve it. Sometimes we are too “humble” to take upon ourselves the authority Jesus gave us and just pass on the “hot potato” to God! And when He does not do what we should have done in the first place, our faith is hurt!
      There really is a delicate balance between our own responsibilities and our dependence on Him, as followers of Jesus. When we lack faith, we ask God to do what we should do ourselves. And that breaks down our faith even more!
      God bless,

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