1. Exposition

Was the fasting of the disciples of the Pharisees and John of a general kind or for a specific day of fasting?

Mark 2:18 (ESV)

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Some people regard Mark’s words here as a general characterization (they held days of fasting; cf. Matthew 9:14; Luke 5:33), whereas others think of them as a reference to a day of fasting that was being observed at that particular moment. We do not have to make a choice between these two. The way Mark formulates the question, it is clear that this is a general question about the attitude of Jesus and his disciples, while at the same time his choice of words suggests that this general question is made with reference to a specific day of fasting. Since the question is raised after the meal at Levi’s house, it may well be that this was a day of fasting for the disciples of John and for the Pharisees and that therefore the scribes were more affected by the fact that Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners precisely on that day. Having expressed their annoyance about the Levi incident, they now add a more general objection to it.1