The wineskin proverb

Over the weekend I received an answer to one of my questions: “what is the wineskin parable about?”.

The answer came after I spoke to a friend about a choice that the person made. That person reacted negatively to what I was saying. What I was saying was not what they were used to hearing and as a leader they have a vested interest in protecting their own approach to their work. That person was reasonably and sensibly protecting themself.

In a moment I suddenly knew the answer to my question: New wine goes into new wineskins and not into old wineskins, because the old wineskins could not handle the new wine and it would break. God does not want that person to be negatively affected by such dramatic change.

Let’s look at the verses from the bible:

Neither is new wine put in old wineskins; for if it is, the skins burst and are torn in pieces, and the wine is spilled and the skins are ruined. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. – Matthew 9:17

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the bottles destroyed; but new wine is to be put in new (fresh) wineskins. – Mark 2:22

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the fresh wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled and the skins will be ruined (destroyed). But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine immediately desires new wine, for he says, The old is good or better. – Luke 5:37-39

To understand this, let’s first look at what was happening just before Jesus said these words.

In each case Jesus is sitting with people who were considered very sinful. The Amplified Bible says that He was with those who were [preeminently] sinful, [notorious] sinners and [those definitely known to be especially wicked] sinners.

The pharisees challenged Jesus for spending time with such a bunch of horrible people – while ignoring the fact that everyone (including them) is a sinner. Jesus replied:

Those who are strong and well (healthy) have no need of a physician, but those who are weak and sick.

Jesus *is* that physician and He comes to the sick ones: all of humanity struggles with sin in our lives. He has a way of making us well. Cool! He then said to the Pharisees:

Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy [that is, readiness to help those in trouble] and not sacrifice and sacrificial victims. For I came not to call and invite [to repentance] the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God), but sinners (the erring ones and all those not free from sin).

By saying “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy” He was publically slapping the Pharisees across the proverbial face because they were the ones who teach… and He was telling them that they didn’t understand and they should go and learn about mercy.

What didn’t the Pharisees understand? The call on the life of Israel was to reach out to the nations around them. God said He wanted to make all the other nations “jealous” of Israel so that those nations would choose Him (God). But the nation of Israel didn’t go to the nations and convert them. They stayed insular – they behaved like a chosen group and remained cloistered in their area. You can read more about this call: You are blessed… to be a blessing and King David and the Israelites.

Jesus came to show us the way. He spent time with the sick (the people needing to be delivered from the power of sin and evil) and He rescued them. The call to us Christians is to follow His example and to do the same… to complete the work that God tried to do through the Jewish people. To be His people and to reach the nations.

Just in case you haven’t got it yet: God, Jesus, the bible and Christianity… it’s all about love. That is what makes us a peculiar people. Sin and death were truly dealt with by Jesus on the cross.

So after that, after Jesus had so clearly identified His mission was very different to what had gone before (He was called not to the well, but to the needy, the very sinful, the sick) He had drawn a line in the sand to demonstrate that He was different to what had gone before.

Now the disciples of John asked Him, why do John disciples fast and the pharisees fast and yet Jesus’ disciples don’t fast. Why not?

It’s a fair question. Jesus gives two answers:

Can the wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is still with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

The first answer explains the nature of fasting. Fasting is when you are sad about the loss of something. For example if you don’t have enough of God in your life, then you may want to ask for more of Him by praying. If you feel tremendously sad that you are in this situation of loss (not having God) you may want to show that to God by fasting. When I understood that was a purpose for fasting, I fasted a single breakfast and God responded with several days of His presence.

The second reason for His disciples not fasting is given:

And no one puts a piece of cloth that has not been shrunk on an old garment, for such a patch tears away from the garment and a worse rent (tear) is made.

It’s the wineskin proverb. Here we come to the real point: Jesus was doing something new which cannot be received by the old. His message is the new wine and it can’t be given to the old wineskin. It will damage the old wineskin.

He also said:

new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. – Matthew 9:17

He explicitly wants the old to survive the arrival of the new. This is true of “new” moves of God.

I have heard many “prophets” who call for or predict the literal destruction of the existing church in favor of a new move of God. I have heard them encourage people to shooting “flaming arrows” into the church and so on. I heard one prophet say God would “lower the boom” on the existing church. It’s unbiblical and it’s fundamentally unloving to think that God would not simply abandon 2 billion people. This parable says that God will attempt to preserve both the old and the new, separately if necessary. We need only look at the supposedly “old” churches that still exist hundreds and even a thousand years later (Lutherans have half a billion atttendees today, Catholics have a billion or more).

That is not to say that God won’t wipe a denomination out if it openly and boldly moves against His words in His bible. He will.

So why is there a second wineskin? Why does the first one not adopt the new wine? Jesus said that anyone who is used to drinking the old (Pharisee) wine will not like the new wine:

no one after drinking old wine immediately desires new wine, for he says, The old is good or better. – Luke 5:39

If you have a taste for the old way of doing things you will probably think it’s the better way to do it. There is a saying that goes like this: you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

The old does resist the new. It is for this reason that Saul resisted David. God loves the people in the old wineskin, not just the people involved in the new. God understands that we all have thoughts and opinions and that we resist change. God wants everyone to be in a loving community and so He tries to look after both groups. That is why both must be preserved for a time.

If you are a part of the new, take a few lessons from David’s life: do not criticise the old. Do not attack it or wish it bad. Have the humiity to admit that the “old” was once a “new” move of God and that your “new” is only new for now, because someday there may be another new which causes yours to be old.

Will you resist the new that comes after you? Yes, probably. hehehehe.

11 responses to “The wineskin proverb

  1. Pingback: Emerging church (Barna: Revolution) « Faith + Hope + Love·

  2. Dear brothers & Sisters,
    There are three parables in this paragraph
    1. They do not have to please god by fasting to get closer God, because the Desciples have already accepted Christ as Mesiah – they are living in hi presence. (Bridegroom is with them) (Also we cannot reach to God with Acts but only by faith) also tharaathiram nobalana seka

    2. The cloth is old and torn, it is to cover the nakedness, which was first obsereved when Sin entered Adam & eve. They themselves tried to cover up the glory lost – sinful nature with leaves, but they could not. Therefore God himself dreseed them with Lamb skins.
    Due to our sinful nature which has increased in todays generations, every one knows that people can spot it how much we try to cover our tracks – they will surface.
    By using a brand new poece of cloth – a torn patch can be mended – and it will look more pretty & new & fresh for a short time, untill the cloth is washed. As soon as the new cloth gets wet it shrinks when drying – which makes a worse tear.

    The same way we take decissions to be righteous, to lose habbits, but after a few days we lose, because God’s presence is not there. Just like Adam and eve was clothed by God with skins, we need to drop our self righteousness, and be humble before God, Repent and accept our weakness, he will cloth us with mercy. God hates self righteousness, we cannot take the Glory, which belongs to God.

    3. The Wine represents Old Covenant & New Covenant.
    Wine gives JOY – both covenants are from God, and both are Good because God has given.

    The old wine which is used up – Old Testament Law given through Moses

    The new Wine – New Covenent of Grace through Jesus- This completed the laws
    better than old wine because it gives everlasting life – not like the wine skin which has one use and discarded.

    People would have used you when you were full and discarded you when you were empty

    But Jesus Christ will renew you for a purpose – to use you for his Glorious service to build the Church

    2 Corinthians 5:17-20
    17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

    Purpose to be made a new craetion
    20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

    God has Plans for you to serve him un eternal heavenly purposes – not lifetime – but Everlasing through Jesus Christ

    God Bless you all

    brother Sidath

  3. Adam, I too was reading this in Luke and didn’t quite understand the part about people preferring the old wine to the new, so I googled the verse and came across this post.

    Mark, thank you for this explanation. You have helped this Christian draw a little closer to understanding the Word of God. May God bless you too.


  4. Nice one. I was reading this in Luke last night and didnt quite get this – especially the bit about the people preferring old wine – thanks for posting this.

  5. what my question is is it possible that i am an old wineskin desire the new wine? and if so does it mean i am stuck, or can i be renewed?

    Hi Ame. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you and guide you into all that Jesus Christ has made available to you through His perfect life, His cross and His resurrection. God bless you! Mark.

  6. Mark, just wanted to thank you for your great article. I was going over the message,in my head, I had prepared for Sunday on Matthew Chapter 6, when God told me that wasn’t the message I was to preach Sunday. He impressed on me that this was a new year and it was time for some new wine. So I wenht to my bible and read the parable and decided to find out more about wineskins. I googled it and found your article which helped me a lot. Don’t you also think that this could be refering to Christians trying to put their new life as a Christian into their old mindset. I think we all have a tendency to try and do that until we realize it won’t work, and we accept the fact we are new creatures and everything is new. And the new of course must be put into new wineskins. Just a thought!! Thanks Again!! Jim Smith Pastor Hardriders Biker Church (

  7. In my Bible class we have to write a commentary on a certain section of verses from Luke that our teacher has assigned to us. Part of my section includes this parable in Luke chapter 5. I understood for the most part the point Jesus was trying to get across but this article helped me to understand better. It’s put more in language I understand, so thank you!

    I’m really pleased I could help Kt. God bless you – Mark.

  8. Hello.

    My sis asked me yesterday if I understood the parable.. I told her I don’t, but I ended up thinking about it, and the conclusion I drew was almost the same as what you have just explained. I even thought of the same adage (You can’t teach an old dog new tricks)!

    Thank you so much – you have cleared things up considerably for me.

    God bless you.

    Hi Haldis. It’s great that you and your sister are talking about Christianity at home. That rocks!! May God bless you, Mark.

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