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What Did Jesus Mean: Putting New Wine Into Old Wineskins?

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Jesus Christ references the idea of putting new wine into old wineskins in a parable, a teaching method he often used to teach his disciples, the Jews, and the Gentiles, about the kingdom of God. This specific parable was directed to John’s disciples as they and the Pharisees sat in confusion about the new way of the Christian life that Jesus was bringing to the world.  

In this article, we will examine the parable and two others it is paired with to understand the significance of putting new wine into old wineskins in Jesus’ teaching. 

wineskins with the text Ever pondered upon the enigmatic words of Jesus regarding 'Putting New Wine Into Old Wineskins?

New Wine Into Old Wineskins

The parable that Jesus tells the disciples of John about putting new wine into old wineskins is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is found in a trio of short parables told one right after the other: a  parable about a bridegroom and his guests, a parable about an old garment, and of course, a parable about wine and wineskins.

As with a majority of the parables sprinkled throughout Jesus’ teachings, this parable, paired with the other two, teaches on the workings of the kingdom of God after the fulfillment of the Law that Jesus was born to bring. 

What are Wineskins?

It’s not worth much when you are trying to dissect a passage in scripture if you do not know what is being referenced or used in its figurative language! To be totally honest, it wasn’t until going through this passage the first time that I learned what a wineskin is. They are, in fact, still used to this day, but you probably will not see much of them unless you yourself are involved in the wine-making process. 

Wineskins were basically just containers for wine in Jesus’ day and modern times as well. They were typically made from the hide of a livestock animal, such as a goat or a sheep, as they would need to stretch out as the wine went through the fermentation process. 

The reason new wine needed its own, fresh, new wineskin is because the fermentation process that brings the drink from simple grape juice into an alcoholic beverage, releases carbon dioxide molecules that put pressure on its container, and requires it to stretch out to accommodate the growth. An old wine skin would already be stretched out from its last use, so it would not have any more room to stretch for the new wine, and would therefore burst or explode, wasting both the labor and resources that had been used so far. 

The Meaning of the Parables

Again, this parable about putting new wine into old wineskins—and its dangers—is found in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For the sake of finding the meaning, we will focus on just the recording in Matthew chapter 9. 

Leading up to Jesus’ teaching through the trio of short parables, He had called the tax collector Matthew to follow him – to the surprise of many as tax collectors were viewed very, very poorly. He then sat at a table with many tax collectors and sinners, something that the religious Jewish people never could have imagined. This of course both astonished and confused the Pharisees, so they asked the disciples of Jesus why their teacher was eating among sinners. 

To this Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13 (ESV)

After this, John’s disciples expressed their confusion about Jesus’ ways through a question of their own. Their confusion was centered around fasting, as the religious leaders and themselves both participated in fasts, but Jesus’ disciples did not. It was Jesus’ response to this question that contained the short parable about putting new wine into old wineskins. 

Jesus answered John’s disciples with this: 

“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:15-17 (ESV)

Let’s look first at the last of the parables, the focus of this blog post, though we will touch on the other two as the meaning of all three relate to one another. 

The pieces of this indirect teaching, aka figurative language, include new wine, a new wineskin, and an old wineskin, but what in the world do those have to do with God’s kingdom, or even more specifically, John’s disciple’s inquiry?

Before Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came to the earth through the Virgin Mary, the Jews were under the Law as commanded by God. It was under this Law that religious rituals, such as fasting, were so closely followed by God’s people, as they did not have the Holy Spirit or Jesus’ ultimate atonement to restore their relationship with God whenever they inevitably committed sin. But Jesus came to fulfill the Law. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

However, Jesus had not died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for all sin, nor had he left behind the Holy Spirit in his wake, so many people were still living as though the Law was still reigning over them. The confusion of both the Pharisees and the disciples of John is very valid. If this guy truly is the Son of God and the Messiah, then why would he not follow the commands of God that the rest of them are following?

That is why Jesus answered with these parables. 

Jesus’ coming to the earth meant that new things were coming for the kingdom of God, a new kind of restoration – new wine. And those new things, the good news of the gospel, did not coincide with the religious rituals of the past – the old wineskins. Those rituals were simply placeholders for the restoration found in Jesus. 

If you sinned, you had to go through the religious practice of sacrificing an animal (in quite a specific way), but because of Jesus, the sin was already paid for, and all you had to do was repent. If you desired to draw closer to the presence of God, you would partake in a fast, but because of Jesus, you now have the presence of God living inside of you. 

The old wineskin is the practice of the Law and even the Law itself. The new wine that is found in Jesus, the justification and therefore the nearness to God, does not mix with the old things of the Law. Because the Jewish people, especially the religious leaders, are so set in their ways, the way of the old things of the Law, they will not accept Jesus’ ministry of the new things well; they will burst like the old wineskin when you put new wine into it. 

By saying that the new wine requires new wineskins, Jesus is saying that the new things of his ministry will require a new spiritual attitude and a willingness to expand with the new wine, as the new wineskin is equipped and ready to do. 

image of wineskins hanging on wood beam for the post What Did Jesus Mean: Putting New Wine Into Old Wineskins?

Got questions put it this way: 

“The old expectations—such as the expectation that everyone must fast on certain days set by the religious leadership—were inadequate. It was time to adjust expectations. Jesus’ ministry was not going to fit neatly into preconceived ideas and tired rituals. An inflexible adherence to the old ways was going to result in spiritual loss.”

Of course, we know how this turns out. The Pharisees, as well as many Jewish people, are unwilling to expand and end up crucifying their very own Messiah. The old skins did, in fact, burst and cause a spiritual loss for those who refused to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for them. 

The other two short parables before this one about putting new wine into old wineskins exemplify the same thing in different ways. 

The first one, about mourning the absence of the bridegroom, is teaching directly on fasting. Why would the guests of the bridegroom mourn the man who is right there with them? They should be celebrating before he is taken away, and they actually have a reason to be sad! In the same way, why would Jesus’ disciples fast in strife for the closeness of God and the Messiah when the Messiah and, therefore, the presence of God is right there, walking among them, in Jesus? 

The second parable, about the old garment, is very similar to the parable of the wineskins. When you wash a new garment, it shrinks. An old garment that had already been washed had already shrunk. So if you go to patch up the old garment with a new piece of a garment, no matter how perfectly measured it may be, the patch of unshrunk cloth will shrink in the wash, while the rest of the old garment stays the same size. The new patch will, therefore, tear off, and you’ll be back to square one. 

Again, the new garment that is the new covenant through Christ Jesus as the Messiah will not adhere to the old garment that is the old way of life under the Law.

The pharisees, their disciples, and other religious people of Israel should have known that the Son of God, who was to be their Messiah, would bring new practices and an overall new way of Christian life, as this was not the first time they had heard of it. 

Jesus in the Old Testament

I’ve always found it to be one of the more interesting things during Jesus’ day that the religious people of Israel were so quick to reject their Messiah. I’d even say it baffles me. God had told them about the new way to come through Christ Jesus numerous times in the Old Testament long before Jesus was conceived. 

In fact, we see the very first allusion to Jesus in the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible – the beginning of the world itself. On the sixth day, God created humankind and said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26). If it was just God by himself, why would he use the plural pronouns of “us” and “our”? Because the Holy Trinity has always been, and therefore, Jesus has always been! 

Also, in Genesis, God’s promise to Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant, indirectly mentions the Messiah. 

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)

The earth has seen many families come and go and will continue to do so, so how are all families blessed through this one guy who lived a long, long time ago? Abraham fathered Isaac, who fathered Jacob (later renamed Israel – the great nation), who fathered Judah – skip a few generations to avoid a very long list – and eventually we get to Joseph, who fathered Jesus. It all started with Abraham! If you wish to read the entire genealogy, you can find it in Matthew 1. 

Here are some other allusions to Jesus in the Old Testament:

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:18-19 (ESV)

This one is quite specific to the parable of the wineskins, as it talks about the new things that God will bring through Jesus. 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise you head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

This verse is God’s curse on the serpent, Satan, during the fall. Jesus came from a woman, Mary, and he delivered the ultimate strike to Satan and sin, crushing both with his redemptive act on the cross.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of this government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

This one is pretty obvious and straightforward. Jesus would come and rule the world, offering a peace beyond human understanding. But again, those humans must be open to the new way under Jesus to experience that peace. 

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

2 Samuel 7:12-13 (ESV)

This passage is a segment within God’s covenant to David, continuing the Abrahamic covenant. The seed God speaks of here that will come from David’s body is that of Jesus’ bloodline. God promises to establish Jesus’ kingdom at his right hand, where he will reign forever. 

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Jesus Will Make Things New Again

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5 (ESV)

Jesus will come again to end all warfare between dark and light, good and evil, and he will win. He will restore the heavens and the earth to their original harmonious design that God had before sin corrupted them.

Satan will receive his final blow and will no longer have any authority over man or any part of creation. Old things will pass away and new things will come. 

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:4

When this time comes, will you be closed off, unwilling to stretch for the renewal of the heavens and the earth, like an old wineskin? Or will you be spiritually fresh and ready as the new wineskin? 

You may enjoy this song by Hillsong Worship New Wine about the parable of new wine into old wineskins.

Or one of these recommended resources:

Pouring New Wine into Old Wineskins: How to Change a Church Without Destroying It by Aubrey Malphurs

New Wine In The Old Wineskin: Parable of Jesus by Kenneth Milkas

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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