New Wine in Old Wineskins?

Jesus sometimes used analogies to teach spiritual lessons to His followers. What is the meaning of His parable of new wine in old wineskins?

Jesus spoke a parable to some of John the Baptist’s followers about becoming Christian. In Matthew 9:16-17 He told them:

“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. 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.”

Unshrunk cloth on an old garment

If a person patches a garment that has already been washed and dried—and therefore undergone shrinkage—with a new, never-washed piece of cloth, the result will not be satisfactory.

When the patched garment is washed, it won’t shrink further. However, the patch will shrink. When the patch shrinks after washing, it pulls away from the garment and there may again be a hole in the garment. The hole may be even bigger than it was before patching. The garment is therefore worse than before.

Meaning of new wine into old wineskins

Wine was, and in some cases still is, carried in bags made of goat skin. New wineskins are stretchy. Old wineskins are stiffer and don’t have elasticity.

New wine is still undergoing fermentation. The sugar in the grape juice is being converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. 

New wineskins can stretch to accommodate the increased volume. But old wineskins are unable to stretch. Therefore, they rupture, and the new wine is spilled.

Becoming a new person

These descriptions of cloth and wineskins can be compared to becoming Christian. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is a new and different person. Over time, the new Christian grows and progresses in godly character. He or she is not the same person anymore, but is a new creation. He or she lives differently and thinks differently than before.

The converted Christian is to be a new person. He or she lives differently and thinks differently and can be compared to new wine in a new wineskin.Paul wrote about this to the Christians in Corinth.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The old way of living has passed away. It is not a matter of the same person behaving better. The converted Christian is to be a new person. He or she lives differently and thinks differently and can be compared to new wine in a new wineskin.

Paul also wrote about this in his letter to the Romans:

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

When we are baptized, we bury the old life. Our old life is dead. The old self is put away and gone. We are raised from the water into our new life. Walking in newness of life means living and thinking the Christian way.

New Christians have and develop Christian thoughts, attitudes and approaches to life’s happenings. They develop a contrite heart, as described in Psalm 51:17. New Christians undergo these changes because, after being baptized and having the laying on of hands, they now have the Spirit of God dwelling in them.

The Holy Spirit enables the new Christian to live the new way.

To learn more, read “What Is Conversion?

An inner change is required

Some people consider themselves Christian and may even attend church, but lack the help of the Holy Spirit that is necessary. A person attempting to live as a Christian without undergoing the inner change needed will not be fully successful. Those who try on their own to alter their physical actions and behave in what they believe is a Christian manner cannot truly live the Christian life.

There must be a change in the inner self. It is a spiritual change. For example, the Christian understands that sexual lust outside of marriage is like physical adultery. He or she understands that whoever hates another person is spiritually a murderer. God’s way, His law, is now being written in the person’s heart.

This change into a new person is so vital that when Paul met a group of disciples in Ephesus who had been baptized by John the Baptist but had not received the Holy Spirit, he had them baptized again. This time they were baptized into Jesus Christ and had hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit.

There must be a change in the inner self. It is a spiritual change.This is described in Acts 19:2-6. Paul “said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’

“So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’

“And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’

“So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’

“Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”

This group of disciples may well have been living exemplary lives, but they still needed to receive the Spirit of God and change the inner man.

To learn more about the work of God’s Spirit within a human life, read “How Do You Know You Have the Holy Spirit?

More than just altering behavior

People who see the futility of living as most people do, in the ordinary way, might attempt to correct their lives through behavior modification. They might try to stop or lessen the visible actions they perceive as wrong. If they have a habit of profanity, they might try to stop talking that way. If they have a hot temper and frequently get in fights, they might try to resist that.

Doing these things can be beneficial, but these things do not make them Christians. True Christianity goes beyond merely modifying our behavior. Instead, there must be a change in the inner person. The heart must be changed.

Otherwise, the changes described above would be like putting new wine in old wineskins. They might appear outwardly better for a while, but the effort would ultimately fail. The old garment might look well-repaired, but it will fail when it is washed. The old wineskin might appear satisfactory at first when new wine is poured in, but it will soon fail. The new wine will be spilled and the old wineskin ruined.

Becoming Christian is a profound inner change.

This transformation is available to you! If God is calling you, you can become a new wineskin to pour the new wine into. For a more detailed explanation of the conversion process, study our booklet Change Your Life.

Image courtesy of Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing.

Topics Covered: Christian Living, Bible Study, Christian Growth

About the Author

Ken McIntosh

Ken McIntosh is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, who attends the Fort Worth, Texas, congregation.