The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is summarised thus:

Matthew 4:2 (see for example BibleHub and also Luk 4:2)

KJV: And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.

ESV: And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

AMP: After He had gone without food for forty days and forty nights, He became hungry.

NIV: After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

NLT: For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

MSG: Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger... (Luk 4:2 here says merely hungry)

Based on the more literal translations, the original text probably conveys hungry. The more interpreted translations seem to convey very hungry.

Translation philosophy differs, but is the use of the extreme form justified here (and maybe elsewhere) in e.g. the NLT? This may affect the way Jesus is portrayed.

  • 2
    Partly this depends on the widening meaning of hungry in English. It is now often used to mean no more than about ready for lunch, which is much weaker than what was traditionally meant by hungry. . .
    – davidlol
    Commented Aug 5, 2018 at 19:47
  • @davidlol Good point. Seems like popular erosion (or drift in meaning) in language would then necessitate translators to use alternative terms or stronger language.
    – aslan
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 3:29
  • Unfortunately, English does not possess an equivalent form for conveying the difference between was thirsty and was thirsting when it comes to slid food. If it would, then the best translation would be he was hungering.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


The Greek in question is ἐπείνασεν

which is the 3rd person singular aorist form of πεινάω meaning

  • intransitively: I am hungry
  • with a genitive: I hunger for or I crave

so the natural translation is he was hungry or perhaps he hungered

Using an extreme form looks like a translator's response to forty days and nights of fasting


The way that the human body responds to not receiving food is:

  • initial hunger pains
  • after one to three days hunger disappears
  • after the body exhausts stored resources it begins to feed off of itself

During this third step hunger comes back with a vengeance. It seems safe to assume that the reason that translators put "very" hungry is that Jesus would have been very hungry!


  • Let's say the "hunger" signal can originate from the brain (emotional, psychological, habits, thought patterns, etc.) and/or the stomach (real hunger when your body actually needs food). I suppose any of these two signals can be strong. So this becomes somewhat subjective. The question then becomes how much freedom a translator should assume in interpreting the text.
    – aslan
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 3:24
  • In a way, "Jesus became very hungry" is not more accurate than "Jesus became hungry". It should probably read, "Jesus began starving".
    – Ruminator
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 9:31

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