Picture of wineskins, by Tamorlan
30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
33 And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
34 And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
36 And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.
37 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.
38 But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.
39 No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
I recently watched “An Adventure in Space and Time”, a video put together for the 50th anniversary of Dr Who. It is a touching story about the beginnings of Dr Who, with William Hartnell as the first doctor being the central focus. Much of the original crew and all of the original cast except Hartnell change throughout. About 3/4 of the way through, William Hartnell (played by David Bradley) asks, “Why does it change? Why do things all have to change? Why can’t we just go on as we are?”
In a way, it’s an odd thing to ask. The premise of the show, after all, is riding back and forth in time and space with a lot of unanticipated and unexpected things happening. Even the destination cannot be accurately determined until they get there. All but one of his original companions were sudden and involuntary travelers, who were more or less kidnapped into going with him lest they spill the secret. While they were carefully chosen in that one was a science teacher and the other a history teacher, there’s no indication that it was necessarily to be a permanent arrangement. Intentional or not, change really is what the show is all about.
Christianity is also all about change. Life takes us on many unexpected side trips, but we are looking for that permanent destination one day.
The opening scripture is one of the most intriguing of Jesus’ statements. This is in all three of the synoptic gospel accounts, although Luke adds that a man having drunk old wine doesn’t readily want the new.
There is some common understanding:
- It takes place after the calling of Levi (Matthew) the tax collector.
- The timeline makes it appear that it takes place during a feast at Levi’s house.
- It comes right after stating that the scribes and Pharisees murmur against Jesus for eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors.
- Jesus is asked why His disciples do not fast as the Pharisees and disciples of John do.
- It is obvious that Jesus indicates He is introducing something new, and that it cannot be mixed with the old way of doing things.
From here, the departures from commonality begin.
Marcion of Sinope is credited with the heresy that the deity of the OT was inferior to the God that Jesus came to reveal in the NT. Some of his beliefs were common with Gnosticism, but not all agree with that classification. Both systems posit the higher “good God” vs the lower “evil God”, which in Marcionism leads to the rejection of all of the OT plus any writings other than Paul’s and the Gospel of Luke. In other words, anything that even suggests that Jesus meant for Christianity to be a new sect of Judaism (or better a natural continuation of it, minus the false traditions), was rejected out of hand.
I think you can see where vestiges of this belief system permeate even contemporary Protestantism. I remember that while growing up I was given a “Bible” that consisted of the Psalms, Proverbs and New Testament. Most of the OT was relegated to mothballs except for the occasional reference to the Messiah. Of course, it is hard to see what those references are when you don’t even read it.
Marcion used the wineskins analogy to claim that Jesus was making a severance between the Hebrew Scriptures and the religion that Jesus and Paul were preaching.
The Wikipedia article “New Wine into Old Wineskins” states:
Other interpreters see Luke as giving Christianity roots in Jewish antiquity, although “Jesus has brought something new, and the rituals and traditions of official Judaism cannot contain it.”
Let me put it this way: Judaism at the time of Jesus had become hardened (and, unfortunately, so had the hearts of many of the religious leaders) and inflexible. Their sneers about hanging out with sinners and tax collectors showed the hardness of their hearts. Their insistence upon fasting twice a week, which was merely a tradition, and looking down on anyone who did not showed their inability to change.
God does not want us as we are. There is a popular song “Just As I Am”, but the Bible instead talks about “repentance”. That is change! The Bible talks about “conversion”. That is real change!
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
~ 2Co 5:17
I used to have a minister who was fond of saying that God isn’t merely looking to change our old selves but to create something new.
In other words, he isn’t putting His new wine into old wineskins but creating brand new creatures. He isn’t trying to fix the old traditions of human beings but create a better and newer covenant with better promises (Heb 8:6).
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
~ Heb 8:10
What is not new is God’s righteous character! His Law expresses His justice and even His mercy. People like to think it is the other way around, however! They want to come “Just As I Am” instead of realizing it is they who must change instead of God! Their traditions will not please God any more than that of the Pharisees, and until they see that, they will be unable to please God.