Who puts new wine into old wineskins?

Who puts new wine into old wineskins? According to Jesus, no one. “Instead, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22). While I am not an expert in the field, I understand that no one puts new wine into an old wineskin because, over time, the new wine expands but, unlike new wineskins, old wineskins don’t.  As a result, the new wine breaks free from the old wineskins.

What did Jesus have in mind when he spoke those words? Most if not all students of Scripture agree that Jesus was offering an aphorism (a brief statement of a principle) rather than a teaching on wine. But if Jesus’ words constitute an aphorism, how are we to understand it? What is this new wine and what are old wineskins?

Jesus does not answer those questions but didn’t really need to.  The message is clear. Wineskins represent the delivery system, the wine the package.  Wineskins represent the non-essentials, the wine the essential. Wineskins represent the strategy, the wine the goal or objective. Wineskins represent the instruments through which the Holy Spirit works, the wine represents the work of the Holy Spirit. As Howard Synder wrote years ago,

Jesus distinguishes here between something essential and primary (the wine) and something secondary but also necessary and useful (the wineskins). (See Howard A. Snyder, The Problem of Wineskins, 13)

We not only understand the aphorism, we find it easy to apply the principle to the ministry of the local church. As Christ-followers or disciples, we expect to receive new wine as we are led by the Holy Spirit, live by the Holy Spirit, and cooperate with the movement of the Holy Spirit. We also tend to assume that the Holy Spirit will work most effectively through the old wineskins.Since, for example, in years gone by the Holy Spirit worked mightily through the Sunday evening worship service, we expect the Holy Spirit to work through that same instrument today.  Why shouldn’t we assume that? We may not assume that because new wine requires new wineskins.  The old wineskins can’t hold the new wine; they can’t contain it.

Friends, the Holy Spirit is alive and well. The local church is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is able to do far more than we ask or imagine.  As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, our future as disciples and as congregations will include new wine. The challenge we face, then, is to prepare new wineskins for new wine.  Towards that end, we need bold, creative, courageous, and wise congregations willing to not only discern with thanksgiving the presence of new wine, but also willing to discard old wineskins and employ new ones.  Not easy work.  But what’s the option but spilled wine.


  1. Randy B. on May 2, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Hi Sam,
    I agree that the Holy Spirit renews and refreshes our worship, when we gather, how we pray etc., with creative and fresh ideas. But the new wine metaphor relates more to the issue Jesus is discussing with the Pharisees and his disciples regarding salvation in Him: living under grace opposed to living under the law. The new wine is a new way to love one another as Jesus has loved them, lived out in grace(a new wine skin). This new wine (way of thinking and living) would burst an old wine skin Pharisees approach the law (old way of thinking). The love of God in Christ needs a whole new package that Jesus would not place within the current system. No hybrids, no compromise with their agenda.
    This may relate to a discussion of legalistic approaches to ways in which we minister and worship. However, I don’t think the new wine metaphor can be used in the same breath for renewing our church’s need for creative worship or new approaches to ministry. We take the metaphor and use it for our own meaning. But if the new wine is this love of Jesus, then 1 Corinthians 13 applies here to say, “If I don’t have love, I’m only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal”. And we cannot have newness at the expense of the new wine, the love of Jesus. Attitudes and resistance to change cannot be enforced by this metaphor.
    I’m all for throwing out old wineskins that can’t hold what Jesus implies is new wine, which is his love. That’s why a new wineskin, his grace is needed.
    for what it’s worth in the discussion.
    Grace and Peace,

  2. Randy on May 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Sorry for several grammar mistakes in my last comment.
    I meant to say near the end,
    “Attitudes and resistance to change in ministry cannot be argued against by using this metaphor.”

  3. Sam Hamstra on May 2, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks Randy. Great to “hear” from you. I had not made the connection between new wine and Christ’s love. But, I am wondering, when we boil it down, is not this new love of Christ a fresh work of the Holy Spirit by whom the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts? Yet, I agree with you that I would not use the metaphor for new approaches to ministry – only with new works of God’s grace.

    • Randy on May 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Hi Sam,
      good to hear from you too!
      Sorry for sounding so arrogant before. I appreciate your patient response.
      Too often have I heard this text used by younger generations as the church’s mandate to change the their way of doing things (namely worship styles) at the expense of older generations. Old wineskins often gets taken to mean old values. However,our creativity needs to encompass every generation. But that also means that every generation needs to give sacrificially for the sake of the body. I wish each generation could value what the other brings to the body; to see The Holy Spirit changing us from the inside out in the love of Christ for each other. old as well as young members of the body often hold too dearly to non-essentials. How I wish we could love each other with the essentials. The love of Christ calls the body to unity, one of the hardest things to encourage in a culture that is constantly changing.
      Thanks for listening,
      the Lord be with you.

  4. Regina on May 3, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a building. The son of man did not have a place to lay his head and yet was more Holy Spirit led and obedient than all of us. Jesus said we must be born again. When we are finally resurrected or if we are in the bunch alive when Jesus returns and rise to meet him in the air 1Thes 4, then we will have new wine, incorruptiple and immortal spirit in incorruptible and immortal new body. We must be born again. There are multiple layers to what Jesus said. Thanks for the comments on wine and wineskins. Maranatha.

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