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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Fast, the

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(Acts 27:9)

The passage in which the reference occurs is part of the account of the voyage of St. Paul. It reads: ἰκανοῦ δὲ χρόνου διαγενομένου καί ὄντος ἤδη ἐπισφαλοῦς τοῦ πλοὸς διὰ τὸ καὶ τὴν νηστείαν ἤδη παρεληλυθέναι, παρῄνει ὁ Παῦλος, κτλ. (‘Seeing that a considerable time had elapsed, and that already sailing was dangerous, and also the Fast was by this time over, Paul exhorted.’ etc.). St. Luke is anxious to emphasize the fact that the period when, according to ancient custom, navigation must cease, was imminent. The Romans reckoned the period of mare clausum from 11 Nov. to 10 March (Vegetius, de Re Milit. iv. 39; Pliny, Historia Naturalis (Pliny) ii. 47). Previous to this was a period (24 Sept. [the autumnal equinox]-11 Nov.) when sailing was regarded as attended with great risk (Caesar, Bell. Gall. iv. 36, v. 23). For the Jew, navigation was possible only from the Feast of Pentecost to the Feast of Tabernacles (Lewin, Life and Epp. of St. Paul, 1875, ii. 192n., quoting Schöttgen, Horœ Heb. i. 482). By general consent the ‘Fast’ referred to by St. Luke is regarded as the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:19; Leviticus 23:26-32; Jos. Ant. xiv. xvi. 4), although unsuccessful attempts have been made to refer it to the third day of the Athenian Thesmophoria, or to some nautical mode of expression (=extremum autumni) (cf. Knowling, Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1900, in loco). This Fast occurred five days before the Feast of Tabernacles, when, according to Jewish reckoning, sailing was no longer possible. The problem to be solved is to account for the emphatic way in which the language is heaped up, so as to imply that the situation for those on board was really critical, and to explain the advice given by St. Paul to remain where they were, which was disregarded (Acts 27:10-21; Acts 27:21). The sailing-master and captain were anxious to reach Phœnix, a Cretan port further on, not only because they thought it a safer port to winter in, but also, no doubt, that they might lose less time, and perhaps gain the glory that accrued to the bringing in of the first corn-ship to Rome in the spring (cf. W. M. Ramsay, St, Paul the Traveller, 1895, p. 322ff., where the whole situation as between St. Paul and the responsible authorities is clearly explained), St. Paul showed himself not only the more prudent sailor, but as having the greater regard not merely for human life, but also for the guidance of God. This purpose in St. Luke’s mind is revealed in his use of καί before τὴν νηστείαν, ‘also the Fast was now gone by.’ In other words, less than five days remained from the date (Feast of Tabernacles) when to sail would be contrary to the will of God. The implication is that they actually did set sail within these five days.

Two questions of critical interest emerge from a careful consideration of the use of νηστεία in this passage.

1. Chronological.-The word seems to afford an important clue to the exact year in which the voyage of St. Paul to Rome took place. In this connexion we must note that, in all probability, the phrase ὄντος ἤδη ἐπισφαλοῦς τοῦ πλοός refers to the Roman mode of reckoning, and that there is a studied contrast (implied in καί) in the verse between the Roman and the Jewish Calendar. The καί reproduces vividly the note of apprehensiveness. ‘It seems to follow, therefore, that Luke is writing of a year in which the Great Fast is subsequent to the Autumnal Equinox, or is at all events very late indeed’ (W. P. Workman, in Expository Times xi. [1899-1900] 317). Workman deduces, after a careful examination of the various dates proposed, especially of a.d. 56, 58, 59, that a.d. 59 is the one that fits in best with St. Luke’s statement. The Fast took place on Tishri 10, which is calculated by adding 173 days to Nisan 14; the calculation of the latter date presenting some difficulty only in a.d. 56, which for other reasons is unsuitable, although championed by Blass and Harnack. Turner in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) i. 862, article ‘Chronology,’ argues for a.d. 58, but in that Year Tishri 10 is 16 Sept., eight days previous to the equinox. If Workman’s interpretation of the contrast in St. Luke’s mind between the two modes of reckoning is correct, a.d. 58 is therefore unsuitable, and the only possible year is a.d. 59, in which Tishri 10 falls on 5 October. This is the year contended for on other grounds by Ramsay and others. Another advantage is that, by this means, the chronological difficulty created by the ‘three months” stay in Malta (Acts 28:11) is somewhat alleviated; for the patty could not possibly set sail again until the very beginning of February at the earliest. The spring equinox occurred on 9 Feb. (cf. Turner, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) i. 422a; Zahn, Introd., iii. 454). St. Paul would of course reckon after the Jewish Calendar (1 Corinthians 16:8), and it is quite natural that St. Luke, a Gentile Christian, should also do so (Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles [NT Studies iii.], p. 21 [=Beiträge zur Einleitung in das NT, iii. (1908)]).

2. Authorship of Acts.-Does the mention of the Fast imply that St. Paul observed it? This question can be answered adequately only in connexion with a full investigation of his attitude towards Judaism. Such an investigation has a very important bearing on the question of the Lucan authorship, and cannot be entered upon here (see article Acts of the Apostles). It may, however, be pointed out that, on the most probable. supposition that St. Paul, along with his companions Aristarchus and Luke, did observe the Fast, the fact is illuminative for the question of his attitude to Judaism generally, notwithstanding his principle that the law is abrogated. Waiving the general question as to whether such conformity on the Apostle’s part is inconsistent with the doctrine of the Epistles (cf. Acts 21:27 ff; Acts 23:6; Acts 26:6), and the assumption that on this account the portrait of St. Paul in Acts is therefore a Tendenz-product, we may find in this passage an important confirmation of Harnack’s position that a mere theory of accommodation to Jewish customs for the sake of peace on St. Paul’s part is neither worthy nor satisfying. No such motive could be in place under such circumstances. He observed the Fast because he was a Jew, who at the same time did not seek to bind such observances on Gentile Christians. His one aim was to promote a sense of brotherhood ‘in Christ’ between Jew and Gentile. ‘St. Paul, indeed, took up a position even then no longer tenable when he regarded “Judaism” as still possible within the Christian fold, while he himself, by his mission to the Gentiles, had actually severed Judaism inside Christianity from its roots’ (Harnack, Date of Acts and Synoptic Gospels [NT Studies, iv.], p. 76 [=Beiträge, iv. (1911)]).

Literature.-For Chronology, see Literature mentioned in the article; and for the whole discussion of St. Paul’s relation to Judaism, see A. Harnack. Date of the Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels, Eng. translation , 1911, p. 67ff., also his Acts of the Apostles, Eng. translation , 1909, p. 281ff.; T. Zahn, Introd. to the NT, Eng. translation , 1909. iii. 152; E. von Dobschütz, Problem das apostol. Zeitalters, 1904. p. 81ff.; J. Weiss, Uber die Absicht und den literar. Charakter der Apostelgeschichte, 1897, p. 36ff.; A. Jülicher, Neue Linien in d. Kritik d. evangel. Uberlieferung, 1906, p. 59f.

R. H. Strachan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fast, the'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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