Let me be upfront here, I have always been a bit confused by this passage especially as it relates to the idea of old and new wine. My confusion is in that for those who know a bit about wine it is quite clear that old wine is indeed better; however, Jesus is promoting the new wine (new wine is a sign of the kingdom, see Amos 9.13). If old wine is better in taste and in potency, then why would anyone prefer the new wine? Or taking it out of the world of wine, if the old kingdom and it’s ways are better (see blog posts on “Kingdom Fail”), why would anyone want the new kingdom Jesus brings?
So here is what I’ve discovered so far. First, there is a bit of difference as to what new wine is. It is obviously the newer wine that has been recently harvested and produced, it is alcohol, but the question of whether it is more or less potent is in dispute. Some hold that the new wine is significantly more potent than old wine because it comes from the first drippings of the grapes. This harvesting method gives the new wine an extra kick. What isn’t in dispute is that new wine is the sign of the eschatological age. That abundance of new wine as we see at the wedding in Cana is a picture of the new kingdom. This new wine is better than the old wine and is declared so by the master of the feast, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2.10 esv). Second, the people/leaders prefer the old wine. Third, the word for “good” in Luke 5.39 can mean two different things. It can mean that which is superior, but it can also mean that which is pleasant or easy.
If we combine the idea that new wine is stronger and more potent along with the idea that the word “good” can mean pleasant or easy what we come up with is the new kingdom is potent, strong and perhaps and therefore hard to take. The old wine or old kingdom is easier to take in, it is familiar and therefore is preferred. The Pharisees prefer the old wine (the former age) rather than the new age of Jesus, so they keep up with the old ways. They want to stick with the old wine rather than with the new wine of the kingdom.
By the way to fully get this we need to understand that the old wine vs. the new wine brings us back to Luke 1-3. Here the people have a picture of what the kingdom is supposed to look like, namely, a kingdom of power that defeats enemies and Israel comes out on top. This is the old wine, the new wine is the ministry of Jesus--which first explodes the old wine skins in Nazareth (they don’t like the inclusiveness of the kingdom).
Here, I think, is the essential piece: while we can speak of old and new wine skins and use that metaphor in a broad sense, Luke uses it rather narrowly--the new wine and new wine skins are the kingdom that Jesus is bringing with all of its ways. He demonstrates this new kingdom by his life and teaching; the old wine skins are wine skins that represent the kind of kingdom the Pharisees and others wanted. The wine skins debate is a debate about the kind of kingdom that will be brought in by the Messiah and God’s direction in the world.
The danger for us is that we too often associate any “new” thing we with new wine, while the old we associate with “old” wineskins. Since we are living in the kingdom age, the age of new wine we have to be careful to recognize that anything that reflects the kingdom brought by the Messiah is new wine, whether it is new or old by our reckoning. Unfortunately we sometimes label only new things (and new things we like) as new wine, while we disparage what has gone before.
So that’s my take on the passage. I’m sure others have done good work on this passage. Any insights that you have or questions about Jesus’ teaching on old and new wine?