Skip to content

The Great Wineskin Fallacy


The Wineskin Fallacy

Text. Matthew 9:14-17
Have you ever heard a sermon on the subject of putting new wine into old wineskins? Have you heard the preacher saying something like, “The Lord is doing a new thing. But  our old worship practices are hindering the move of God, – you can’t put new wine into old wineskins, and you can’t confine this new thing to the old restrictions of worship. So, we need new worship, new ways to praise God that will allow Him to move in power in our gatherings.
I’ve heard that many times. It’s not true, and to base such a fallacy on one single verse, taken alone, out of its context, and make it mean that is to do great injustice to the integrity of the text.
So, let’s read the text and see what it really means…

1. A Question about Hard Religious Duties14 Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”

The disciples of John approach Jesus, with the Pharisees in tow. They want to complain about his disciples! (That’s often the way people work – they won’t complain to your face, they’ll complain to someone else, and hope that the person in question will then take the matter to you.) And of course the disciples of John had more than like had a little push from the Pharisees when getting ready to bring this complaint. Mark 2:18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? Luke 5:33 And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink? There’s two essential points being made by the disciples of John…

Look at us! We fast! But what lay behind their devotion?

  • They were men followers. They were certainly following the prompting of the Pharisees in this little snapshot, The Jewish religious leaders were always keen to trip up Jesus, and to find fault. No doubt the Disciples of John were being used here. But I wonder how many of them were followers of John because of his powerful personality?  I wonder were the disciples of John imitating their leader? John certainly fasted. Matthew 11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil
  • They were self righteous! They were setting themselves up as being ‘better’ than the disciples of Jesus, by declaring their own righteousness! Look at us, – we are more holy than you, we’re better at fasting…

Look at them! Look at YOUR disciples! They don’t fast! Like many people of course, they are quite happy to point the finger in accusation, even though they don’t have the full facts. How did they know whether the disciples of Jesus fasted or not? Hadn’t they been on the mountain for the Sermon on the Mount? Hadn’t they heard Jesus instructing his disciples that when they fast, they were not to be like the hypocrites, who disfigure their faces, and tears their clothes and go around looking miserable? Matthew 6:17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. They don’t SEE the disciples fasting, so they just put two and two together and get five. They decide to judge others by their own standards, and not by the teaching of Christ.

So, what will Jesus say in defence of his disciples?

2. The Answer of Jesus.
Now we should use the answer of Jesus as a help for ourselves. See how he replies. He could have attacked their religion, or their over-estimated self-esteem, or their motives. We might have dome it that way. It’s so easy to attempt to attack a person’s religion, to try to prove they are wrong, to beat them in an argument.   When Jesus speaks to these religious people, he speaks to their conscience. He doesn’t start a debate about fasting, its merits, its theological basis, its practice… the pharisees would just have loved that! Instead he gives reasons why an outward appearance of religion is not an indication of inward regeneration. He uses the law, Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. to bring them under conviction of sin, so that they will be receptive to the good news of salvation in Christ. So Jesus implies that…

  • Its not the RIGHT TIME. The illustration of a wedding. 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  The Pharisees mourned when they fasted. Remember how Jesus described them in Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when you are at a wedding, ie, when the Bridegroom is with you, you don’t mourn, – you rejoice! It’s a wedding! it’s a time of great happiness – so why would you go around with a long face, with a mournful expression. Jesus is the bridegroom of the church. he was there, in their midst, physically present, why would the disciples look like they were at a funeral! The time to fast and mourn will come soon enough, for Jesus will soon be taken from them, for he going to go to Jerusalem, where he shall die for sinners on the cross. Then would be the time for weeping – not now. Also, …
  • The disciples are not still SPIRITUALLY MATURE. The illustration of the wineskins. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. 17 Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. Perhaps the disciples of John should consider that these disciples, only a few months before had been fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, sinners, – they had not had any formal religious training, no college training, they were largely big rough men, working class men with calloused hands and with untrained attitudes, and openly unlearned. Acts 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. They were still spiritual babies!

Compare their spiritual immaturity with others around them

  • The Pharisees. They had fasting and mourning down to a fine art, for austerity in lifestyle and appearance was their chief characteristic. They had a history of austerity, a background drawn from the sect of the Nazarites (Not to be confused with the Nazarenes) – those frugal, tee-total aesthetes of the OT, who wore long beards and restricted themselves in dress. The schools of the prophets had morphed into religious academies to teach them how to be miserable! How to be bent and bowed and broken under the restrictions and regulations of a law they could never keep. They were professional weepers and wailers!
  • The Disciples of John. They must have been an interesting bunch. John preached out in the wilderness, an aesthetic preacher dwelling among communities of other aesthetic preachers. Out in the wilderness there were the strict disciples of the Essenes, the people who lived in deserts and caves and were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls… These people would have heard John, would have found his message of repentance and his lifestyle attractive, would perhaps have been among his converts and disciples, and would maybe even be among those who were speaking and complaining to Jesus right now. They too have a long history of religious observance.

Now contrast them all with the disciples of Jesus. The fishermen, the tax-collectors (hated sinners) the outcasts, the scum of society, – no religious background any way similar to the Pharisees and the disciples of John. They were Jews, brought up in the Jewish religion, but they were new disciples. So Jesus points out,  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved

You can’t put new disciples into the mould of a seasoned follower. You cant expect young believers to suddenly become fully formed adult, mature believers, with a grasp of doctrine and spiritual things. They need to be fed with the milk of the word, nourished and encouraged, and helped to grow as believers, and to gradually become a mature believer.  The whole wineskin would burst! When we expect new Christians to act like older, college trained pastors and their long-in-the-tooth elders we are putting new wine into old wineskins and the results could be ruinous. I wonder how many young Christians have stumbled because older people in the faith think they should become mature believers overnight?
Look at how Jesus deals with the young… Isaiah 40:11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

And isn’t that just exactly what he’s doing here? There’s nothing in this passage about worship, or about new waves of the spirit… Jesus is answering a question about why his disciples don’t appear to fast, and he’s rebuking those who ask that question in a very gentle way, telling them that they need to be careful how they deal with young immature believers.

© BobMcEvoy

From → Bible Study, Matthew

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: