Parable of wine and wineskins



Neither is new
wine put into old wineskins;
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.



And no one puts new
wine into old wineskins;
otherwise the wine
will burst the skins,
and the wine is lost,
and so are the skins;
but one puts new wine
into fresh wineskins.



 And no one puts new
wine into old wineskins;
otherwise the new wine
will burst the skins
and will be spilled,
and the skins will be destroyed.
38 But new wine must be put into new wineskins.
39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’


In my morning devotions, I was reading the parable of the wine and the wineskins. I had been reading Mark’s version, when I became curious about the other two synoptic gospels, so I checked them out. As you can see, there are some variations. What struck me though is that in all three versions of the parable, the point is nuanced differently. In Mark, the point comes across as an instruction of how to store new wine properly and the consequence if one fails to do so. In Matthew, the additional words “and so both are preserved” provides a purpose for storing the new wine. The implication being that preservation is necessary for the drinking of a high quality wine. In Luke, verse thirty-nine communicates more explicitly, what Matthew communicates implicitly—namely that everyone who drinks old wine prefers it to new wine.


Now historically, this parable has been interpreted allegorically, something along these lines: The old wine and wineskins symbolize the Jewish people and God’s covenant with them or the Torah and Judaism. The new wine and wineskins symbolize the Church and the new covenant or Christ and Christianity. The exhortation not to mix old with new is practical—the fermentation process of new wine expands the wineskins and old skins that have been stretched to their limits can only expand so far, then they will explode. However, is there also a theological point here? Is this exhortation not to mix the old with the new a hardening of positions between church and synagogue? Or is it a reflection of the Torah teaching forbidding certain mixtures?


It is interesting—and I believe instructive for both Jews and Christians—to note that in the parable, in all three versions, both the wine and the skins seem to be valuable. If one interprets that nuance allegorically, one may make the case for valuing both the Torah and Judaism the Jewish people and their covenant—and the Church and the new covenant, Christ and Christianity. Indeed, thanks to Judaism the Torah has been preserved and remains a God’s Living Word. The same is true of the Church concerning the new covenant and the Gospel.


Finally, Luke’s additional conclusion to the parable in verse thirty-nine is, if again interpreted allegorically, a remarkable compliment to Judaism and the Torah.