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What about new wine and old wineskins?

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Description: Jesus’ new wine was his teaching. His listeners had never heard anything like it. How should we react to new and dynamic ways to worship?

Wonder if there’s anything beyond the obvious in Jesus pointing out the perils of using old wineskins for new wine (it’s bad news: the skins will burst and the wine will be lost).


All the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) recount this saying of Jesus. On the face of it, it’s simply an observation that new and old ways don’t automatically make a cosy union. There can be problems – but surely ‘problem’ is just another word for ‘opportunity’. There must be more.


Radical teaching

Two thousand years ago, when Jesus made his observation, he was referring to his teaching. Those listening had never heard anything like it. It was radical – a revolutionary way of understanding and relating to God. Judaism, on the other hand, had been developing for nearly 2,000 years by the start of Jesus’ ministry.


By way of a thumbnail, Judaism was centred on what Christians refer to as the Old Testament – but this is very much an oversimplification. Importantly, the teachers of the law had developed a whole system of man-made rules to lay over the laws God had given to Moses.


Man made rules

Much of Jesus’ criticism was directed towards these man-made rules. It wasn’t simply that they were inflexible and finicky. The real problem was that some did an excellent job of masking the underlying intentions of God’s laws.


In these circumstances, it made perfect sense for Jesus to talk about wine and skins. He was preaching a powerful new relationship with God. It completely blew away the legalistic labyrinth the Jewish religious leaders had imposed. Not even a miracle (or a resurrection) could make them mix.


New ways to worship

Today, fresh and dynamic approaches to worship are developing all the time as people strive to seek and honour God’s will in our diverse multicultural society. There are currently around 2.5 billion Christians in the world. They don’t all dress the same. They don’t follow all the same worship rules. They don’t sing the same songs or hymns. They don’t all meet in the same kind of building… etc. etc. Whether all Christians embrace this diversity is an open question, but I’m willing to bet that God rejoices with them all.


Suppose we’re back to the question about new wine and old wineskins. Thing is: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13.8). His was (and remains) the new wine. Drinking it in different ways offers wonderful opportunities. After all, we’re all intoxicated by the same God-centred, relationship-driven, neighbour-loving gospel.




Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Picture attribution: Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, and FreeBibleimages.

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