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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

NEW CLOTH & NEW WINE

Matthew 9:16-17 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. (See Mark 2:21-22 & Luke 5:36-38).

Jesus put this parable forth in answer to a question posed by the disciples of John the baptizer. In the preceding verse 14, they asked, why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? Fasting was required by God under the Law of Moses, but was only necessary on the Day of Atonement. However, fasting was also done voluntarily for other reasons such as in times of repentance and grief. It is well documented that the Pharisees were a very pious sect of the Jewish nation. Often, and in many different ways, they displayed their piety openly in order to be seen and praised by others. This, the Pharisees accomplished in one way by fasting. Apparently the disciples of John the baptizer followed this Pharisee persuasion and fasted often. Apparently they questioned the dedication and the spirituality of the disciples of Jesus because they did not practice fasting to the same degree as they and other Pharisees did.

Jesus' first explanation posed by this question is found in verse 15. Here Jesus used a bridegroom and his friends that were assisting him, as he prepared for his wedding day, in His answer. While they were all together preparing for the much-anticipated day, there was a festive air with much celebration and rejoicing. During this period, there was no reason for fasting. However, when the marriage ceremony was completed, their close friend, the bridegroom, would leave them. Being absent from him, and missing his close companionship, these friends of the groom would be saddened. This, then, would be the time for fasting - during their time of sorrow. By this example, Jesus told the disciples of John, that His own disciples were presently with Him, and that there was no reason for fasting as long as He was with them.

Secondly, Jesus explains the reason His disciples did not follow the Jewish fasting customs, similar to those of the Pharisees, by use of the parable found in the lesson text. No man putteth a piece of new cloth into an old garment. "New cloth," in this instance, is cloth that had not been treated by the fuller, a process used to remove the oily substances that came from raw yarn used in making the material. This process pre-shrunk the material similar to the "sanforizing" process used today. To use untreated, new material to patch a hole in an old garment simply would not be wise, because the "new" patch would shrink when washed, to the extent that it could cause the hole to be made worse.

In a like manner Jesus used the second example given in this parable. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles. "Bottles," referred to here, were not glass or plastic bottles, as we know today. Here the containers, called bottles, were made of animal skins, intestines, or stomachs. With much use, and over a period of time, the material these bottles were made of would age, become less elastic, and would not stretch or give. New bottles that are more pliable were used for new wine, because they must stretch and give due to the preserving process of fermentation. To put new wine in old, inelastic containers would result in the bottles rupturing, spilling, and ruining its contents.

In this parable, the old garment and old bottles represent the Old Covenant given by the Law of Moses. The new cloth and new wine represent the New Covenant, which was not in effect at this time but was to be established through the Gospel of Christ. By this, Jesus was telling the disciples of John that He did not come to "patch up" the old law and keep the doctrines it established. Neither were the "old bottles" which contained the Old Covenant, suitable "containers" for the doctrine of the New Covenant. Christ did not come to earth to continue the Old Covenant, but to fulfill it, and establish a New Covenant. The old law was "written on tables made of stone." The new law was to be written in fleshy tables of the heart of mankind (2 Cor. 3:3). Unless an Old Testament tenant was specifically carried over into the New Testament, it was not binding to the disciples of Christ. This was the teaching of Jesus at this time in his personal ministry, and it is the teaching under which all people are bound today. The Christian doctrine under which we live today is likened to new cloth & new wine.