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Holman Bible Dictionary


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is the voluntary refraining from some action, such as eating certain kinds of foods or drinking alcoholic beverages.

Old Testament The most prominent examples of abstinence in the Old Testament relate to the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11 ), food laws (Leviticus 11:1 ; Leviticus 19:23-25 ; Deuteronomy 14:1 ), the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1 ), and fasting. While not unique to the Israelites, observance of the Sabbath and food laws became distinguishing characteristics of Israelites in foreign cultures.

The Nazarite vow involved abstinence from fermented products and all produce of the grape vine. On occasion the vow became a lifelong commitment (Judges 13:5-7 ). Fasting was practiced as an act of humbling oneself before the Lord. It involved abstinence from food and drink or on occasion only from food or drink. The Day of Atonement was the most prominent fast in Israel.

New Testament Old Testament forms of abstinence continued in the New Testament period, but the forms themselves frequently were points of controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders (Mark 2:18-3:6 ). Jesus refocused the prohibitive aspects of the practices by emphasizing internal motive over external observance (Matthew 6:16-18 ). Paul established the principle of abstaining from any activity that might offend or cause another to stumble (Romans 14:1 ; 1 Corinthians 8:1 ). This principle often guides the contemporary practice.

Michael Fink

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Abstinence'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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