Is Your Spirituality an Old Wineskin?
Wearers of new garments, flexible skins of new wine,
The sweetest and strongest of wines to you.
The following article is an adaptation from a chapter in my upcoming book on parables. I am exhilarated writing this book. It is too amazing how there is always more the Spirit of wisdom and revelation can illuminate from Scripture. I get more and more obsessed with the Word as each day goes by. It is truly the Word of the Most High God.
The twin parables of the old garment and the old wineskin were Jesus' first parables. Matthew and Luke used Mark's gospel as their guide, so we need to look at Mark to get an idea of chronology. Mark places these parables very first, in 2:18-22. Oh how crucial, incredibly crucial, these two parables are on so many levels.
Is Your Spirituality an Old Wineskin?
Jesus' first parable was The Parable of the Old Garment, found in Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, and Luke 5:33-39. It is paired with a twin sibling, The Parable of the Old Wineskin. Please read these texts before continuing.
Two Paradigms of Understanding
There are essentially two, drastically different, understandings of these parables. The more common understanding is that they contrast the Old and New Covenants (or Judaism and the gospel, or law and grace, etc.) and emphasize the utter incompatibility of the two. In this understanding, the Old Covenant (the old garment, old wineskin) is flawed or deficient in some way, to be surpassed and replaced by the New Covenant (the new garment, new wineskin).
The second understanding is altogether different. It proposes that these parables are contrasting the Torah (the old) with the excess traditions that were added to it by the Jewish leaders (the new). In this school of thought, the Torah (the old, the ancient paths of Jeremiah 6:16) is the favorable element, while all the unnecessary manmade additions (the new) are the unfavorable element. For example, Old Covenant law does not require fasting every Monday and Thursday, but the Jewish leaders added this new tradition and made it dogmatic (Lk 18:12). They did many other things like this: washing hands at set times, diverting money intended for parents to korban, etc.
The Hinges of Each Paradigm
To form a verdict on which of the above two (or any proposal) is correct, we need to analyze the hinges or premises of each paradigm.
The first understanding hinges on the fact that Jesus wants to preserve both the new wine and the new wineskin. He said in Matthew 9:17 (Young's Literal Translation), ...they put new wine into new skins, and both are preserved together. If the parable is supposedly negative towards the new element, if the new represents manmade additions to the Torah, then why is Jesus concerned with preserving both the new wine and new wineskin together?
Another hinge of the first paradigm is the fact that the old garment has a hole in it and the old wineskin cannot expand. If the parable is supposedly positive towards the old element, if the old represents the unadulterated Torah, then why does Jesus illustrate it with glaring deficiencies? Jesus is strongly conveying the unsustainability of the old garment and old wineskin.
"But," someone from the second paradigm might say, "Jesus said 'the old is better' in Luke 5:39. It seems Jesus is contrasting the superiority of the unadulterated Torah [the old] and the inferiority of the new manmade additions [the new] by the Jewish leaders, is He not?"
Considering all the detective work we are about to do, as you will see, the background knowledge does not support the understanding of "the old is better". Jesus is simply saying that, initially, a first century Torah-keeper would not have an immediate taste for the gospel and New Covenant truth. They were so conditioned to the taste of Old Covenant wine that their initial knee-jerk response would be, "Hmmm...the old is better." Even we, today, tend to do this when God is trying to introduce something new into our lives. It is human nature to stick to familiar tastes.
"But," someone from the second paradigm might say, "Jesus nor the context ever mention the covenants. So how can He be referring to the Old and New Covenants?"
It is true the actual word covenant is not used in the immediate context of these twin parables. However, what is certainly explicit in the context is the spirituality of the Pharisees and John's disciples, which was an Old Covenant spirituality with manmade additions (in context, the added tradition of obligatory Monday and Thursday fasting). There is no ambiguity or fuzziness that the topic at issue was their spirituality, and that spirituality was fundamentally an Old Covenant spirituality.
Garment, as Understood by the Hebrews
Jesus' words are informed by the Torah (the Law), the Nevi'im (the Prophets), and the Ketuvim (the Writings), i.e., Hebrew sacred history. Jesus is not pulling words and metaphors out of thin air, nor is He speaking to a twenty-first century western mind. Jesus was sent first and foremost to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 15:24) as a minister to the circumcised (Ro 15:8), and therefore, He spoke with their epistemology and linguistics. We need, therefore, to do detective work in the Hebrew Scriptures to enter His thinking and His audience's thinking on the subject of garments. Sure enough, the garment illustration has a strong and specific meaning.
Garment, Beginning at Sinai
Metaphorically, garment referred to righteousness (clean, white, fragrant, splendorous, etc.) or unrighteousness (dirty, smelly, holed, etc.). This metaphor began at Mount Sinai at the inauguration of the Old Covenant. Exodus 19:10,11,14 say (NIV, underline mine): And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai..." After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes.
This washing was literal, but it laid the foundation for the metaphor.
The heart of the Sinai covenant--the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers--use some form of the word garment around 91 times. Almost all of these references are in the context of practicing the Mosaic law (priestly garments, tassels on garments, garments for the Tabernacle, etc.). See the illustration emerging?
Regarding wicked persons, Asaph said, "...violence covers them like a garment" (Ps 73:6 NKJV). David spoke similarly and said, "As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment...Let it be to him like the garment which covers him..." (109:18,19 NKJV). Regarding unBiblical divorces, Malachi said, "...He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence..." (Mal 2:16 NKJV).
Probably the most well-known verse that uses this illustration is Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV), "...all our righteousness are like filthy rags..." The Hebrew for "rags" is beged, which literally means "garment". For example, Isaiah uses beged in the previous chapter, 63:1-3, to refer to Jesus' garments covered in blood. 64:6, then, literally says all our righteousness are like filthy garments, which the NKJV mentions in the footnote.
Deep into the New Testament, the negative side of the garment illustration is still used. Jude 23 (NKJV): ...hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
The writer of 2Samuel said the royal virgins wore "an ornate robe...the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore", indicating their sexual purity (2Sam 13:18 NIV).
Boaz covered Ruth with the hem of his garment (Ru 3:9), and Yahweh covered Israel with the hem of His garment (Eze 16:8), indicating they enveloped their women in covenant (see the second half of Ezekiel 16:8). This has important implications regarding the hem of Jesus' garment and its power to heal (Mk 6:56, Lk 8:44). It also has important implications regarding The Parable of the Old Garment. We'll get to those in a sec.
Isaiah exhorted Jerusalem to put on garments of righteousness, poetically referring to them as "garments of splendor". Isaiah 52:1 (NIV, underline mine): Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor...
We can see, then, the Hebrews had a specific understanding of (1) garments in a central and iconic role in the Mosaic covenant and (2) garments metaphorically to illustrate righteousness or unrighteousness.
A Messiah is Coming With a New Garment
Several prophecies use the garment illustration in conjunction with the promised Messiah. These prophecies tell us He would come wearing and offering a new garment.
Daniel: A Messiah With a White Garment
Daniel saw the Ancient of Days, the Messiah, and that "His garment was white as snow" (Dan 7:9 NKJV). On the Mount of Transfiguration, "his garments did become white as the light" (Mt 17:2 YLT). Daniel and Matthew are describing Jesus' literal clothing, however, see how the garment storyline advances into Messianic territory. Jesus came wearing a unique and perfect and "white" garment--a new garment--which He also offered to whosoever will. Zechariah and Isaiah prophesied of this upcoming offer.
Zechariah: Joshua's Garment Change is a Symbol & Prophecy
In a remarkably illuminating experience between Joshua and an angel, Zechariah writes that Joshua's "filthy clothes" were taken off and replaced by "fine garments"--representing the full removal of his sin (Zec 3:4 NIV). Just when we think this experience is all about Joshua, the Lord says this (v8 NIV, underline mine): Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.
The Lord Himself says this profound old garment/new garment experience for Joshua was "symbolic of things to come". In the next phrase He says, "I am going to bring my servant, the Branch", which is, of course, Jesus the Messiah and the First Coming. Put the entire prophecy together in normal language: the Branch or Messiah is coming and will bring with Him a new garment for whosoever is willing to be like Joshua. In that day, whosoever will can have an old garment/new garment change like Joshua.
Isaiah: A Garment of Salvation, A Robe of Righteousness
Isaiah, writing before both Daniel and Zechariah, said the Messiah would come and give whosoever will "a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isa 61:3 NKJV). Jesus began His Messianic ministry by quoting this very prophecy (Lk 4:17-21).
Isaiah's prophecy continues by flashforwarding to Israel's glory in the Millennium (Isa 61:4-9), but then finishes by circling back to the garment illustration (v10) and salvation going to the nations (v11). Isaiah rejoices vicariously with us, as if he were one of those blessed future individuals who would enjoy the new garment Messiah would bring (v10, underline mine): I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness...
Keep in mind, in context, Isaiah is hearkening back to that garment of praise from verse 3. Here in verse 10 he is pinpointing exactly what that coming Messianic garment will be: a garment of salvation, a robe of righteousness.
Can you see what Daniel, Zechariah, and Isaiah were foretelling? A Messiah is coming wearing and offering a new garment.
The New Covenant Church: Those Who Accept the New Garment
If you have been born-again, you are the fulfilled symbolism of Joshua's garment change, the fulfillment of the new garment promises of Isaiah 61:3,10. Me too. And everyone who has accepted the new garment Jesus came wearing and offering. All this background detective work elucidates several New Testament scriptures. All underlines are mine.
Matthew 22:11,12 (NKJV): But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.
So he said to him, "Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?" And he was speechless.
Luke 24:49 (YLT): And, lo, I do send the promise of my Father upon you, but ye--abide ye in the city of Jerusalem till ye be clothed
with power from on high.
Galatians 3:27 (NIV): For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Revelation 3:4,5 (NKJV): You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in
white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments...
Revelation 3:18 (NKJV): ...and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed...
Revelation 7:9 (NKJV): After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude...standing before the throne and before the Lamb,
clothed with white robes...
Revelation 16:15 (NKJV): ...Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.
Revelation 19:8 (NIV): Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God's holy
Old Garment, Old Wineskin
From Mount Sinai to Revelation we have traced, discerned, and organized almost all of the relevant scriptures about garments. Now we are ideally situated to understand Jesus' first two parables, the Old/New twins, with keyhole accuracy. You may need to refresh yourself on the texts: Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, and Luke 5:33-39.
A Garment With a Hole, A Wineskin With a Limit
The Parables of the Old Garment and Old Wineskin are premised on elements that have glaring deficiencies: the old garment has a hole in it and the old wineskin cannot expand. Jesus is conveying inadequacy and unsustainability. He is referring to the spirituality of the Pharisees and John's disciples, both of whom were stringently practicing the Old Covenant plus added traditions (in context, the added tradition of Monday and Thursday fasting).
The Hole & Limit of the Old Covenant Explained
The message of the New Covenant is premised on the fact that the Old Covenant was inadequate (it had a hole) and unsustainable (it had a limit). That hole and that limit can be summarized in a few simple verses. Romans 3:20 (NIV): Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. And Galatians 2:16 (NIV): Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law...by the works of the law no one will be justified. And James 2:10 (NIV): For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
Can I go deeper? The all-important book of Hebrews gives us a theologically intricate explanation of the hole and limit of the Mosaic system. Read the underlined phrases with that hole and limit in mind.
Hebrews 9:9,10,13 (NIV): ...sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only...external regulations applying until the time of the new order. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.
Not able to cleanse the conscience (inner being) of the worshiper. Only external regulations. Only outwardly clean. See the hole? See the limit? One more passage.
Hebrews 10:1,4,11 (NIV): The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship...It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins...Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
An Old Covenant spirituality "can never...make perfect those who draw near to worship". Impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Can never take away sins. See the hole in the old garment? See the limit of the old wineskin?
New Garment, New Wineskin, New Wine
And so Jesus comes, at His First Coming, wearing a new garment of perfect righteousness and offering that garment to whosoever will (scriptures above in the The New Covenant Church: Those Who Accept the New Garment section.) This garment cannot be merely added to or slapped on top of Judaism like a patch, which is what the circumcision group tried to do throughout the first century. Paul wrote much of Galatians, and sections of other epistles, to counterattack the circumcision group and their "new patch on an old garment" spirituality.
The new garment covers you in the perfect righteousness of Christ. What about the new wineskin and new wine?
The New Wineskin & New Wine
The new wineskin is the new, regenerated, born-again spirit every New Covenant convert receives at the moment of salvation (Jn 3:6, 1Co 6:17, Ro 8:16). The new wine is the indwelling, infilling Holy Spirit (Jn 2:10, Ac 2:13-18, Eph 5:18).
Ezekiel prophesied about both the new wineskin and the new wine coming to Israel (and shortly thereafter, the Gentiles). In 36:26,27 the Lord said (NIV, underline mine), I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you...
The new, regenerated, born-again spirit is the new wineskin, the indwelling Spirit is the new wine.
The Old Wineskin, Precisely
If the new wineskin and new wine are the regenerated spirit and the indwelling Spirit, what, precisely, was the old wineskin and old wine?
Remember from the previous section, Old Garment, Old Wineskin, these refer to the Old Covenant system, generally speaking. The old wineskin, however, narrows down further to specify the flesh was the container of the old wine of that system. The old wine of that system was the Spirit temporarily coming to individuals' bodies for specific actions or roles. We could say the old wineskin was "religious flesh" or "legalistic flesh". The flesh was the one cleansed and purified ceremonially. The flesh was the one who tried to perform all 613 of the Mosaic commands. The sign of the covenant, circumcision, was done in the flesh of every male. Another sign of the covenant, the various Sabbaths, was for fleshly rest. Paul gives us the perfect summary of the Old Covenant's religious flesh in Colossians 2:23 (NIV): Such regulations...their harsh treatment of the body...
Religious flesh, like an old wineskin, has a limit. It cannot expand or grow beyond that limit. A new wineskin was needed--a regenerated spirit--a container for the Spirit that could expand and grow with Him ad infinitum from glory to glory to glory to glory.
The Old Wine, Precisely
The Holy Spirit did not suddenly start being wine from Acts 2 onward. He has always been wine. His presence and activity in the fading Mosaic system was referred to by Jesus as "old wine". It was good enough for the time, but the best wine was being saved for the last covenant, the New Covenant.
The Holy Spirit and His old wine activity are first mentioned in Genesis 49:11,12. This colorful, highly metaphoric prophecy is about Jesus' First Coming and how He would be saturated with wine--the Spirit's character and potency--through and through. Remember, Jesus came for Israel first and ministered under the Old Covenant (Mt 15:24, Ro 15:8, Gal 4:4), meaning, the Spirit used Him in largely an old wine way (with tastes and sips of the new wine here and there). Jeremiah, feeling the effects of this same old wine, said this (Jer 23:9 NIV): ...I am like a drunken man, like a strong man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and his holy words.
In the twin sibling Old/New parables, Jesus is indeed contrasting the Old and New Covenant spiritualities and their utter incompatibility. The old garment is the Old Covenant, generally speaking, but narrows down further to specify a garment of legalistic righteousness with a glaring hole in it. The new garment is the New Covenant, generally speaking, but narrows down further to specify Christ's garment of perfect righteousness covering those who accept and are born-again.
The old wineskin is the Old Covenant, generally speaking, but narrows down further to specify the flesh was the container of the old wine of that system. We could say the old wineskin was "religious flesh" or "legalistic flesh". The old wine was the Spirit's presence and activity in the Mosaic era, how He temporarily came to individuals' bodies for specific actions or roles. The new wineskin is the New Covenant, generally speaking, but narrows down further to specify the new, regenerated, born-again spirit every New Covenant convert receives at the born-again moment. The new wine is the indwelling, infilling Spirit.
Application: The Root Nourishes the Tree
The first application should be obvious: do not feel obligated or pressured to practice Old Covenant distinctives. That garment has a hole, that wineskin stopped expanding long ago.
You can, however, learn and be nourished by the Hebrew roots of the New Covenant, or celebrate the feasts of the Lord in a New Covenant, grace-centered context. Paul said the Hebrew root system nourishes us and continues to nourish us (Ro 11:17,18, 15:4, 1Co 10:11). Learn your Old Testament with intricacy and expertise and your New Covenant relationship with God with go places you could not have fathomed. I keep being surprised, I wish I had the space here to share, at how the root system nourishes me and takes me to new places, pastures, wells, gardens, and treasures on my destiny path in God.
Application: Is Your Spirituality an Old Wineskin?
The Old Covenant wineskin, the religious flesh, became obsolete. A new wineskin was needed if God's plan was to continue unfolding. In our personal glory-to-glory journey with the Spirit (2Co 3:18), we, too, will regularly experience our current spiritual level becoming obsolete. The Spirit will keep requiring that we expand and grow from glory to glory to glory to glory. He will regularly try to update your wineskin so that He can fill you with new wine, with new dimensions of Himself. Are you letting Him? Are you resisting the new wineskin for the next era of your life? What old spiritual or theological wineskins do you have that have stopped expanding? Some of you have become so Pentecostal-Charismatic that you are an inflexible wineskin (imagine that). Some of you are so Baptist the Water-Walker is walking right past your Baptist boat. Some of you are too Catholic, or too seeker-sensitive, or too mean in the name of holiness, or too emotional, or too academic. We can ruin perfect wine with a rigid wineskin.
Do not be deceived beloveds, what you are currently is not sufficient for where God wants to take you. Yes, the old wine was great or good enough for the time, but for where God is taking you next your wineskin needs to be updated with new potentialities. Then the new wine will flow and make you stagger with rejoicing and blessings.