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you can’t teach an old dog new tricks

January 13, 2018 - Blog, Luke/Acts -

Someone asked a question: “What’s your take on the parable of the Old/New Wineskins in Luke 5? Here’s my take!

This parable illustrates the stark CONTRAST between the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses, which demanded 100% performance in order to achieve right standing with God) and the New Covenant (salvation by grace through faith). In short, the parable is Jesus’ way of saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Additionally, this is one of the first examples of Jesus being sarcastic or snarky toward the religious establishment. I imagine this parable was coupled with an eye roll and possibly a groan of frustration from Jesus. 

Let me explain…

Jesus ministry style is getting some serious attention from the Pharisees (religious elite) AND they were harshly criticizing Him and His ministry. The reason why his ministry is met with criticism is because his “methods” are an extreme contrast to what was acceptable in that day. 

For context, here is a quick list of what happens in Luke 5…

  1. He miraculously provides the big catch of fish for Peter. This happens in front of a large crowd. So people are definitely talking about it.
  2. Then he actually selects Peter, James & John as his first disciples. Which is totally unexpected and unconventional. Even Peter is saying “I’m an awful sinner” and doesn’t feel worthy. So you can imagine that really gets people talking.
  3. Then the man with an “advanced case” of leprosy is healed. Jesus sends this man to the temple to be examined by the priest. This is sort of Jesus way of putting the religious establishment on blast and proving that his ministry is legit.
  4. Then the paralyzed man was healed in front of a very large audience, and that audience includes these pharisees who are literally there trying to shut Jesus’ ministry down.
  5. THEN, to top it all off, Jesus calls LEVI the tax collector (Matthew) to be one of his disciples. Tax collectors were usually crooks, lining their own pockets by overcharging the people. They throw a huge party and invite Jesus, some people get drunk, but Jesus hangs with them anyway. This really ticked off the pharisees and they all started taking shots at Jesus. 

All these things invited heavy criticism from the Pharisees, but it was purposeful. Jesus is intentional to show them that he is coming to establish a new way, and a different kingdom. And the pharisees began asking all these questions like “who does He think he is,” and “why is he hanging out with all those scumbags.” At first, Jesus is civil in his response with a clear explanation for his methods. He tells them “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 

But they STILL didn’t get it. They were hard headed and refused to accept the teachings and methods of Jesus.  They couldn’t wrap their minds around WHY Jesus would give his life to serve THOSE people. So they proceed to ask a really sarcastic, self-righteous question in verse 33, they say “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?”

And this sends Jesus into an eye roll…you can see the subtle self righteousness in their line of questioning…

And Jesus responds with this sarcastic metaphor, sort of a quick punch to the throat.

Luke 5:36-37

36Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment.” (DUHHH!)

37“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. 38New wine must be stored in new wineskins. 39But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.”

First, He explained that when an old piece of cloth is torn you cannot patch it with new cloth because the tear will increase if the new cloth is stronger than the old. This was obvious information that everyone understood to be true.  In the same way, Jesus said, you do not put new wine into an old wineskin. A wineskin was a leather pouch that stretched and expanded as the wine fermented. But it was only supposed to expand once. And if you put new wine in an old wineskin that has already been stretched, it will burst the wineskin and then both are ruined.

So, new cloth goes into new clothing and new wine goes into new wineskins. New cloth in old clothing and new wine in old wineskins simply doesn’t work. Basically, Jesus is saying that those Pharisees who were devoted to the Old Covenant (strict adherence to religious law) were NEVER going to understand the practices of the New Covenant (salvation by grace through faith). In some ways, he was saying this “NEW” covenant was not meant for them. It could not be contained within their current system or religious structure. The New Covenant required new skins and new materials.

So, what is the “new skin”? The new skin was fishermen, tax collectors and “outsiders” to carry His message. The “old skin” of Judaism was never going to embrace it. They were old cloth and old wineskins.  And Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that they would never embrace the New Covenant. So, He turned to new cloth and new skin.

The parable of old/new wineskins was Jesus’ way of standing up to the religious elite and saying “I don’t need you…” while simultaneously inviting all the outsiders who felt pushed out by religion to participate.


thank you for joining me on this 3 month journey through Luke & Acts. You can find the full reading plan here. Subscribe to my blog in the right sidebar or connect on Facebook to get updates!

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