The Problem with the ‘Daniel Fast’

The Bible is a really interesting book.

But even within the Christian world, there is precious little agreement about how it is to be read and understood. This reality continues to impact the work of both evangelism and discipleship in the Church.

The issue at hand is a very subtle one, and as someone who is extremely serious about not only the Bible itself, but about the challenges of discipleship in the church, having seen growing numbers of Christians recently take up this idea of a ‘Daniel fast’ the time has come to say something.

In case you didn’t know, the man responsible for the book that has brought the ‘Daniel fast’ into existence is called Jentezen Franklin. He can be googled, and this is the book he wrote on fasting. Just in case anyone asks, the book is right here in front of me on my desk as I write this. But even if it were not, there is evidence online for what I am about to say (a link occurs later in this post).

[NB It has recently come to my attention (through one of the commenters on this post) that in fact another person who teaches the same idea of a “Daniel fast” – her name is Susan Gregory and you can find out more about her project here]

Enough preliminaries; to the chase. Dear readers, it is a good and biblical thing to fast for the right reasons. And Franklin makes some excellent points in his book. But in any Christian book, one looks for theological consistency. Yes, some (including in my church) will instantly pipe up: “I don’t care about this so-called ‘theology’ stuff; I only care about God’s word” (something like that). However, I mean what I say. The Bible is both used and abused, and in order to know which is which, one needs theology. So this is not a case of Bible OR theology; it is a case of Bible AND theology. And in that order.

If you’ve never read Daniel 1 before, that could be a really good idea. If you have, then you’ll remember the verse which has kick-started this controversy. Let’s check it out, it’s verse 8:

New International Version (©1984)
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

New Living Translation (©2007)
But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

English Standard Version (©2001)
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)
Daniel made up his mind not to harm himself by eating the king’s rich food and drinking the king’s wine. So he asked the chief-of-staff for permission not to harm himself in this way.

King James 2000 Bible (©2003)
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s food, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

American King James Version
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

American Standard Version
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s dainties, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

[N.B. All italics are mine.]

~

On page 33 of his book Fasting, Franklin writes:

A partial fast usually involves giving up particular foods and drink for an extended period of time.

The most commonly used example of a partial fast is found in the Book of Daniel. In the beginning of his captivity in Babylon, Daniel and his three companions refused to eat the choice meats and sweets from the king’s table, asking instead to have only vegetables and water. They did this for ten days to prove that they would be just as healthy as the king’s men. Later, in chapter 10, grieved over the plight of Israel, Daniel began another partial fast, taking no sweets, no meat and no wine for three weeks, during which time he was focussed in prayer. At the end, his prayer was answered by an angel.

So Franklin is saying that the self-imposed dietary restrictions in Daniel 1 were a “fast.” That means that Daniel and co were eating one way prior to the time of this ‘fast’ and that they then returned to something less restricted after the ten days had passed. Is that position congruent with the rest of the passage?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Daniel 1:8-16

New King James Version (NKJV)

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs. 10 And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.”

11 So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” 14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.

15 And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. 16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

~

Some of you Bible-believing Christians reading this who are actually familiar with the book of Daniel might have already begun to see where this is going, but I will spell it out. We saw the range of different English expressions used in the different translations to describe what it was that Daniel proposed to not defile himself with: “delicacies,” “royal food,” “food…given to them by the king,” “king’s food,” “king’s choice food,” “king’s meat,” “king’s rich food,” king’s dainties” etc. The interlinear Hebrew-English Bible I used didn’t help me the way I was hoping it would (no real surprise, as I know that without a solid grasp of Hebrew grammar I’ll never be able to exegete at the level to which I personally aspire) – but in any case, verse 12 makes it very clear what Daniel and co DID choose to eat (which is more useful than knowing what they did not choose to eat) – vegetables and water.

But what is the word used in verse 12? The NKJV above says “test.” The KJV says “prove.” Young’s Literal Translation says “try.” This does not suggest that Daniel and co were on a short-term mission to get a leg up the ladder over the other selected young men who were also being groomed for high office. This suggests that Daniel and co took a good look at the royal haute cuisine and asked for the opportunity to have a test period on a radically different diet – a vegetarian one.

It is interesting that two Protestant commentaries offer such radically different interpretations of this verse. Here is Geneva:

Not that it was a thing abominable to eat dainty meats, and to drink wine, as both before and after they did, but if they would have by this been won to the King, and had refused their own religion, that meat and drink would have been accursed.

That is a highly creative spin, I have to say! I see nothing in the entire text of the Book of Daniel to lend any credence to the assertion that Daniel and co both ate ‘dainty meats’ and ‘drank wine’ before and after this episode, but it shows one take. Let’s compare that to Barnes:

Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days – A period which would indicate the probable result of the entire experiment. If during that period there were no indications of diminished health, beauty, or vigour, it would not be unfair to presume that the experiment in behalf of temperance would be successful, and it would not be improper then to ask that it might be continued longer.

Now, as it happens, that makes much more sense to me. In fact, it makes more sense – full stop. Why? Think about it: if Daniel and co are that much better off for a) having abstained from the royal cordon bleu; b) only eating a vegetarian diet and water – WHY would they then embrace another way of doing things when the ‘test results’ gave conclusive ‘proof’ of the superiority of the ‘test diet?’

So for those of you who don’t know how to do your own theology as yet, please note: I did not say, “Barnes sounds good. I like it. It must be true.” I agree with Barnes on this occasion, but I gave my own reason as to why – and indeed, I’m not done yet. Let’s take a proper look at verse 16:

New International Version (©1984)
So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

New Living Translation (©2007)
So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others.

English Standard Version (©2001)
So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.

~

It is as irresponsible as scholarship and authorship gets to call this ten-day period of dietary restriction a ‘fast.’ How do you explain verse 16? It is totally unbiblical to refer to a ‘Daniel fast’ if you are saying that this is the type of fast that Daniel did using chapter 1, because he was not fasting at all! If one were (as many Christians do) to refer to a ‘Daniel diet,’ then you are winning on that one! This was his lifestyle!

So when we get to Daniel 10, we have a whole new situation. Here’s verse 3:

English Standard Version (©2001)
I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)
I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed.

King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.

GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)
I didn’t eat any good-tasting food. No meat or wine entered my mouth. I didn’t wash myself until the entire three weeks were over.

~

Again, I didn’t get what I sought from the interlinear Bible, but in any case Daniel makes it clear that his diet (which I believe to be already an abstemious one) became even more restricted. Here in chapter 10, he is actually fasting. The commentators have queued up to explain the types of bread that he would have forsaken – and all the rest of it.

Here’s the point: Franklin links the two narratives and calls them both examples of a ‘partial fast.’ But only Daniel 10 contains the story of a partial fast. So it is disingenuous to suggest that the two narratives point to the same principle of fasting. However, it is great that Franklin goes out of his way to show that it is not just about eating vegetables, but about avoiding processed foods, and talks about our Western addiction to sugar. He even goes out of his way to talk about purified water (which is more of an American thing, in my experience…).

The way in which Franklin writes about the experiences of Daniel 10 requires a thorough breakdown of its own, as he makes suggestions and claims and promises about fasting that I can only describe as well-meaning but irresponsible. I suggest you find a copy somehow and take a good look at it for yourself.

In closing, therefore: if Franklin had created a concept of a “Daniel fast” based on Daniel 10:3, that would be much more credible than the amalgam between Daniel 1 and Daniel 10 that he has constructed. Many of the things he says in his book and in online resources such as this are very good. But when the basic biblical principles of something so major as a so-called ‘Daniel fast’ are so botched, one would need to be very, very careful with anything else that he says.

Forget about this ‘Daniel fast’ business – and let’s start talking about something really life-changing – a Daniel diet – or even – a Daniel lifestyle…

  6 comments for “The Problem with the ‘Daniel Fast’

  1. Iris Cox
    May 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    You are very sweet to write so passionately and precisely — there is another Daniel Fast book out here in the States by Susan Gregory that also combines the two — and you are right and you are making a solid point! Not eating the king’s food was probably just sticking to a pretty tight Kosher diet already — so for Daniel it was just saying “no thanks” to fancy food — and then in Daniel 10 he cranked it up more so. To be honest I have been recently convicted to the Daniel Fast concept — and lo and behold, the
    truth is — for me it will be a lifestyle — not a mere 10 days! Afterall if all that rich food is clogging my system why go back? Bless you.

    • theomusicologist
      May 7, 2012 at 12:39 am

      How very kind of you to take the time to write and send this message! I had no idea that another writer had combined the two, but that is good to know. I wish you nothing but the best on your journey to a Daniel lifestyle. God bless you too.

  2. Iris Cox
    May 7, 2012 at 12:56 am

    not to belabor this medium! but who are you and why do you post things and what is your passion that motivates you? Are you a pastor?
    wondering …

  3. Iris Cox
    May 7, 2012 at 12:57 am

    never mind .. I will read the “about” section, thank you!

    • theomusicologist
      May 7, 2012 at 10:46 am

      Hi Iris, it is no problem to ask! But yes, the ‘About’ page will indeed provide a snapshot of some description – but it may also provide more questions than answers…

      Who am I? I am a professional musician with a serious academic interest in humanities scholarship who has been called to Christian ministry, and who now knows that he is going to be a professional theologian as soon as it can happen.

      Why do I post? Many reasons, one being that I know that I am not supposed to be sitting in my house learning more and more things and not sharing any of it with anybody. Knowledge – and especially theological knowledge – is for the empowerment of others. My learning is exclusively dedicated to the Kingdom of God, and I want to learn so that I can grow in God. He has called me to help others do the same, and I have been been delighted to say ‘yes’ to Him. The internet is used for so many terribly destructive purposes – why not join the numbers of those using it for good?

      What is my passion that motivates me? Am I a pastor? Yes, as far as I am concerned, I am a pastor. I am not yet employed as one, but I am trying to live my life with that identity and mindset. I’m getting ready from now! That is the passion that motivates me – a pastor is called to be a teacher (Ephesians 4), and many, many Christians are being spiritually destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Bad theology is seriously hurting both the world and the Church. I don’t just want to be a repository of knowledge; I want to see Christians everywhere grow in faith, virtue, and knowledge (2 Peter 1) and do my bit to help people think in faith, through faith, and also TO faith and find the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

      • Iris Cox
        May 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm

        well then, brother in Christ, do consider me a helper and an intercessor — you seek Him and He will tell you this. bless you …

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