Old wine is better? #LukeActs2014

Reading Luke 5 as part of the Bishop Ken Carter’s year-long invitation to United Methodists to read Luke-Acts together, I was struck by the difference between Luke and Matthew with regard to new wine.

First, Matthew 9:16-17:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Then, Luke 5:36-39:

He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they 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. Otherwise, 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 they say, ‘The old is better.’”

The endings are what I am puzzling over. In Matthew it ends with “and both are preserved,” referring to the new wine and new wineskins. In Luke, Jesus speaks of old wine, noting that no one wants new wine if they have tasted old wine.

For they say, “The old is better.”

I confess to being confused by that last line, especially since the phrase “new wineskins” usually means in our culture an appeal to innovation and breaking free of the old ways that would hamper what Jesus is up to.

Is Jesus saying the old is better? That is undoubtedly true for actual wine. New wine is just crushed grapes. It has not fermented yet into wine. So, I can see allusions to maturity and development. If we press the idea of “spirits” we might even see a suggestion that the disciples are not yet filled with the spirit the way unfermented wine lacks alcohol.

Or is Jesus explaining that if he had his disciples practice the old ways they would acquire a taste for that old wine and not tolerate the new? Is he saying, in essence, he can’t let them practice the old ways because they would not be willing to do new things once they did?

I’m not sure what to make of it.



6 thoughts on “Old wine is better? #LukeActs2014

  1. Excellent questions, John! You have my thoughts percolating, and I’m starting to feel a sermon series coming on that will hopefully inspire the church to think and act in ways that are both grounded and growing.

  2. John,

    I ran across this difference in Luke’s version several years ago and had the same reaction. For years I have used the Matthew version to support the need for adaptive change and new structures and forms to match the “new thing” that God is doing today (Isaiah 43:18-19). As I pondered the “Old Wine,” God led me to Jeremiah 6:16, where He says, “stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it , and find rest for your souls” (NRSV).

    My interpretation is that God’s ways, His paths and Commandments are like old wine, they are better and should be cherished and not be forgotten. However, both versions are true and good for teaching and reproof. New wine does need new wine skins, but that does not mean we abandon God’s paths and ancient ways in the process. This is why I say we in the Church today need to focus on restoration and not renewal or revitalization of the current reality. We need to restore and recapture the “Apostolic Genius” of “The Way/The Old Wine” as Paul did in his day and as John Wesley did in his day.



  3. I think we might apply the parable to say that new concepts, new programs must be properly packaged, and given some time to mature before being poured out to the general public. I have witnessed people coming home from some workshop brimming with the ideas they just discovered, only to have them buried by the home church because they were not properly packaged and allowed time to gain acceptance by the real decision makers who may not be the ones listed by the Nominations Committee.

  4. The passage recognizes the law of inertia. It takes energy to affect change. People prefer things that are familiar. However, in the case of wine and programs, they sometimes go sour with age. New wine and new projects must achieve or sustainability to become effective. Wine the critical factor is amount of sugar content that does ferment, versus the amount that becomes vinegar. It takes a skilled keg master to know when to bottle for distribution.
    Californians constantly judge which vineyard is best each year, the wine being the results of past years’ grape crushes. Many congregations love the taste of ” Forty Days to…” Others want to “Walk to Emmaus,” both well matured programs, but sparkling bubbly to them.

  5. In around 140 AD or so there was a guy named Marcion who had his own version of the gospel of Luke, which was nameless. And in Marcion’s version, the first 2 chapters were not there. And Marcion’s doctrine was that the Old Testament is to be rejected. Marcion butressed his rejection of the OT with allegorical interpretations of some of Jesus’ sayings, like this one, and the one about the two trees. So the words “No man after drinking the old wine straightway desires the new but says the old is better” were added to combat Marcion’s rejection of the OT. Added only to Luke, because only Luke has a connection to Marcion, since the only gospel he accepted was a shorter version of Luke. That’s one theory anyway.

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