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I was reading Luke 5, and could not understand verses 36-39. What did Jesus mean?

Luke 5:36-39 (New King James Version) reads:

36 Then He spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. 39 And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

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@2pietjuh2, Was it the metaphor itself that you did not understand? Or, was it the context in which Jesus used the metaphor that puzzled you? –  Sarah Dec 16 '13 at 19:31
@Sarah I do not understand what he means by the metaphors. I know the context, Jesus is eating with tax collectors. –  2pietjuh2 Dec 16 '13 at 19:36
In all three accounts, the context is that the disciples of John asked why Jesus disciples did not fast as they do. This metaphor appears to be part of Jesus' answer. –  Sarah Dec 18 '13 at 18:25
I was just answering someone who was questioning this Scripture. In Pentecostal circles the wine is often referred to as the Holy Spirit. I was explaining that in the context Jesus was using a parable to explain that His new teaching did not go with the old teaching or His new ways were not compatible with the old. Her follow up question then was if the new wine is the new teaching and the old wine skins is the old then what is meant by them both being preserved? Can anyone expound on that? –  Megan Jan 27 at 3:15
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3 Answers

Summarizing Hastings Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels entry on wine bottles:

In ancient Israel, the grapes were pressed in the winepress and left in the collection vats for a few days. Fermentation starts immediately on pressing, and this allows the first "tumultuous" (gassy) phase to pass. Then the must (fermenting juice) was put in clay jars to be stored, or into wineskins if it was to be transported some distance.

The wineskins were partially tanned goat skins, sewn at the holes where the leg and tail had been. The skins were filled with must (partially fermented wine) in the opening at the neck and then tied it off.

If one puts freshly pressed must directly into the skin and close it off, the tumultuous stage of fermentation would burst the wineskins, but after this stage, the skins have enough stretchiness to handle the rest of the fermentation process. However, skins that have already been used and stretched out ("old wineskins") cannot be used again since they cannot stretch again. If they are used again for holding wine that is still in the process of fermenting ("new wine"), they will burst.

This, then, is the meaning of Jesus' parables of the patched garment and the wineskins: the gospel of the Kingdom which Jesus brings cannot be fitted into the the Pharisees' paradigm or way of living, for "by a mongrel mixture of the ascetic ritualism of the old with the spiritual freedom of the new economy, both are disfigured and destroyed" (JFB on Luke 5).

These parables came in response to the Pharisees' question about Jesus' practice of fasting compared to their own and John the Baptist's. Hence this parable also apparently applies to John the Baptist's asceticism, which Jesus seemed to view as good but passing away, since it was part of the Old Covenant which he was fulfilling and renewing (cf. Luke 7:28; 22:20). By contrast, Jesus generally viewed the Pharisees' practices as hypocritical and "majoring on minors," as it were (e.g., Matthew 23:23)

The last verse in the quoted passage about preferences for new and old wine seems to refer to a period of adjustment for followers of the old paths (e.g., John and his disciples) who will grow into the new ways. An initial confusion or negative reaction to differences between the old and the new, which on first glance offend both the Pharisees' and John's disciples, will grow less for the faithful as they acquire a taste for and better appreciate the new, as they transition into the new economy. It is a lesson "on the one hand, to those who unreasonably cling to what is getting antiquated; and, on the other, to hasty reformers who have no patience with the timidity of their weaker brethren!" (JFB again).

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Could you use the blockquote markup to indicate where the quote begins and ends? Thanks! –  Daи Dec 16 '13 at 19:01
There's no actual quote from the dictionary entry. I just summarized it from memory after re-reading it. The source is cited there, so hopefully you'll pardon me if my noodle retained any exact phrasing from the exercise. –  metal Dec 16 '13 at 19:03
OK @metal thanks for clarifying! –  Daи Dec 16 '13 at 19:05
Excellent cultural and historical tidbits, which go a long way in explaining the literal aspects of the figurative analogy of the wineskins. Don –  rhetorician Dec 16 '13 at 19:05
No, I don't think you can accuse John the Baptist of ascetic ritualism, as he was a Nazarite and specifically has the rules of that position to follow. –  Lance Roberts Dec 16 '13 at 19:55
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The natural antipathy between the old (Judaism) and the new (Jesus's message) is what Jesus spoke of in His wineskin/garment analogies. He thought Judaism was brittle and inflexible, like an old wineskin, or a worn-out garment not fit to wear.

In Jesus' day, unfermented grape juice was placed in wineskins instead of bottles. If the wineskin container was old, as the juice ferments, the brittle and inflexible wineskin container fails to expand as the chemical reaction is taking place inside it; consequently the skin bursts, and the juice is wasted. A similar thing happens today when a balloon is blown up past its ability to contain the air inside, and "pop," it bursts.

When you repair a holey garment, if you patch it with new fabric having strong fibers, the new patch will simply make the old garment with its weak fibers to become even more holey. Jesus saw himself and his message as the new wine and the new patch, which from his perspective caused the inflexible religion of first century Judaism to burst and tear. What was needed, he said, was a new wineskin and a new garment; the old needed to be thrown out, and the new needed to be welcomed. This did not happen, so Jesus turned to the gentiles.

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Also, this answer would be greatly strengthened by citing a reliable source for the information concerning the practice of using old and new wineskins. –  Daи Dec 16 '13 at 19:00
Who were the gentiles Jesus turned to? –  gideon marx Dec 18 '13 at 15:55
@gideonmarx: Jesus had a variety of ways of referring to the Gentiles (notice the capital G). For example, if His fellow Jews were "the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:23)," then the Gentiles were the "other sheep I have, which are not of this fold," as He put it in John 10:16. Jesus also referred, interestingly enough, to the Gentiles as "little dogs" (e.g., the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mt 15)--in other words, household pets or lapdogs. He also likely linked Gentiles with "street people" and "the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" (Luke 14:21-23). –  rhetorician Dec 18 '13 at 16:40
@gideonmarx: Also, Mt 21:43 refers to the Gentiles as "a nation bringing forth the fruits [i.e., of repentance]." Is this what you had in mind, or do you want names of specific people? –  rhetorician Dec 18 '13 at 16:42
This is an interesting understanding you have. –  gideon marx Dec 19 '13 at 8:55
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He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"

Elisha ben Avuyah said:

"He who studies as a child, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to ink written upon a fresh [new] sheet of paper. But he who studies as an adult, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to ink written on a smudged [previously used and erased] sheet of paper. Rabbi Yose ben Yehudah of the city of Babylon said, "He who learns from the young, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to one who eats unripe grapes, and drinks unfermented wine from his vat. But he who learns from the old, unto what can he be compared? He can be compared to one who eats ripe grapes, and drinks old wine. Rabbi (Meir) said: Do not pay attention to the container but pay attention to that which is in it. There is a new container full of old wine, and here is an old container which does not even contain new wine.

Like the larger Gospel context of Luke chapters five and six, the Avot passage is comparing different types of teachers, disciples and teachings. If we allow the similes of Avot 4 to inform the metaphors of Luke 5, we have surprising results.10 In Avot, the vessels for containing wine are not institutions, religious movements or teachings. The vessels containing the wine are individuals. The wine is the teaching that the individual consumes or contains.11 Applying this symbolism to Luke, we could parse out Luke 5:36-39 as follows:

Symbol Meaning New garment previously uneducated students Old garment previously educated students

Patch teaching New wineskins previously uneducated students Old wineskins previously educated students

New wine new teaching Old wine previous teaching

Singular Meaning: New teaching requires previously uneducated students in order to be received.

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