#20 – The New or Old Wineskins – Matt 9:17, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37

Matthew 9:17 (NKJV)
17  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Mark 2:22 (NKJV)
22  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

Luke 5:37-38 (NKJV)
37  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.
38  But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

SettingJesus was teaching among people who had worshiped God under one system for about 1400 years.  Their prescribed worship and behavior had been precisely laid out in commandments and ordinances by God’s great lawgiver, Moses.  The Hebrews had known of many blessings when they were obedient, and many disasters when they were not obedient.  Although they knew that Messiah was coming and would change things, they probably expected that the same methods of worship would continue.  If there ever were people who were “set in their ways,” the Jews certainly were!

ContextDuring the early part of Christ’s ministry he picked “Levi the son of Alphaeus” to follow him, and went into Levi’s house to dine with him.  The scribes and Pharisees were upset at his associating with tax collectors and sinners.  Apparently at this same event, the disciples of John and some Pharisees came to him and questioned him about his disciples not fasting as they often did.  The Parables were given in this order:

  1. The parable of The Bridegroom and Fasting (Matt 9:14-15). 
  2. The parable of The New Patch into an Old Garment (Matt 9:16). 
  3. This parable of The New or Old Wineskins (Matt 9:17)

The great majority of commentators consider the second and third parables to be a contrasting of the old and new covenants.  If this view is correct (and I believe it is), Jesus was again preparing his disciples for the huge change that was about to come about concerning God’s relationship with his chosen people.  This “change” would affect fasting as well as all the traditions and practices of the law of Moses.

The Text:  Matthew 9:17

17  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Let’s deal with the physical properties of wine in the first century before we address the spiritual application of this parable.  We know of at least two methods of storing grape juice.  First, it could be stored in large “earthen jars.”  For this method, they would first cook the wine down to a more condensed state and seal the top with oil.  This method sealed out air and prevented fermentation.  The wine could then be kept for a period of time unfermented.  When they were ready to use it, they dipped the oil off the top and added water to bring it back to its original state.  The second common method of storing grape juice was to put it in the skin of an animal.  This certainly made transporting it much easier.  This method allowed air get to the juice and it would cause the juice to ferment and the skins would expand in size.  A wineskin that had been used to hold fermented wine would have expanded to its limit and therefore could not be used again to store wine because the additional  fermentation would expand the skin beyond its limit.  There is much disagreement among scholars about fermented and unfermented wine in the first century.  But we can understand the limits of using an older wineskin to store new wine.

The Spiritual Application:

This parable addresses the consequences of attempting to mix the old and the new covenants.  In the early days of the new covenant, not long after gentiles began to enter in, a faction started that came to be called “Judaizing teachers.”  The first mention of this faction is found in Acts chapter 15.

Acts 15:1-2
1  And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2  Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.  The ruling on this problem by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem is given in Acts 15:23-29.

These Judaizing teachers became stronger and more violent as time went on, following Paul on his missionary journeys, causing great difficulties for him.  These Jews were trying to put portions of the old covenant into the new covenant.  Many examples of Paul dealing with them can be found in Acts and the epistles. In this passage Paul calls it a “… yoke of bondage… “

Galatians 5:1-6  Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2  Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3  And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4  You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5  For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Concerning those who had entered the new covenant, Paul wrote this:

2 Corinthians 5:17
17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

1 Timothy 4:1-3  Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2  speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3  forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

Who, at that time, would have been teaching such doctrine?  Would it not have been Judaizing teachers?  Was it not the old covenant that had such ordinances still being taught in the first century?  Notice how strongly Paul condemns these teachers; “… some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…”  That is serious condemnation!  We still have people today forbidding marriage, but that is a subject for another time.  Peter also makes predictions about some of these people.

2 Peter 2:1
1  But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

Notice that these “… false teachers among you,… will secretly bring in destructive heresies…”   

These “false teachers” would sneak in.  This usage of “false” is the true Biblical usage of the word false. They actually knew they were teaching error.  I suggest a word study of the Greek that has been translated into the English word false.  I think that in each case you will find that false equals deception (foreknowledge of wrong teaching).

Acts 20:28-30
28  Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29  For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
30  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

The new covenant, the kingdom, the wine, would be destroyed if it was placed into the old wineskin of the old covenant.  This parable can be summed up with this word concerning the two covenants: incompatible!

Beyond the events of the first century, we still see folks attempting to assert authority where there is no authority today.  We must continue to resist those even of this day that attempt return to the old covenant commandments or legislate new law

Another large problem in Christianity is somewhat related to this subject.  Many Christians seem to still long for more set structure.  Because of this, they write “creeds” and promote “traditions” over and beyond what the Bible reveals.  They seem to desire a simple “check list” religion in which they can be satisfied with performing “acts of worship” on Sunday and forget about it all for the rest of the week.  These attitudes are similar to the attitudes of the first century Hebrew Christians who longed for the rules and traditions of the old covenant.  But Christ showed that the two covenants were not to be mixed.  The new covenant was, and is, far better Heb 7:22, 8:6, 12:24.

Brent E. Hughes