New wine into new wineskins

'No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.' (Mar 2:21–2)

A parable is a short story or statement based on events in everyday life that teaches a spiritual lesson, and the two events Jesus based this parable on would have been familiar to his listeners:

Jesus spoke those words two thousand years ago and was referring specifically to the religious system of his day. But God has incorporated them into his eternal Word, which means that they are relevant to every Christian in every age (2Ti 3:16–7). So what message do they hold for us today?


Judaism, by the time of Christ, had become a rigid and inflexible system that was incapable of holding the new wine (manifestation) of his Spirit that God was about to pour out at Pentecost. But what had made it so rigid and inflexible? The main reason was that it had become a religion that was based largely on tradition.

Jesus told the Pharisees and teachers of the Law that they had let go of the commands of God and were holding on to human traditions (Mar 7:5–8). And, unfortunately, that was not going to change because the leaders didn't want it to change. Jesus spoke a profound truth when he said:

'And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, "The old is better."' (Luk 5:39)

Many people, even Christians, prefer things to remain as they are; they feel comfortable and secure with what they know and have got used to. Change often involves stepping out into the unknown, and not everyone is willing to take that step.

But God doesn't stand still even if we do, and his church must be flexible and open to the leading of his Spirit if it's to fulfil its purpose on earth.


In Jesus' day the treated hides of small animals (usually goats) were used extensively for storing and transporting liquids, especially wine. However, wineskins eventually lose their elasticity and become brittle. Such skins are suitable for storing old wine, which is no longer fermenting, but not for storing new wine.

New wine was wine from the most recent harvest, whereas old wine was wine from the previous year which, through age, had matured and was considered by many to taste better.

When new wine was placed into a wineskin it continued to ferment, so it was essential to put it into a new, flexible, skin that would expand as the carbon dioxide gas (a by-product of fermentation) was given off. If new wine was placed into an old wineskin the gas would burst the skin and both the skin and the wine would be lost.

Similarly, everyone knew what would happen if an unshrunk patch was sewn on an old garment. When it was washed the patch would shrink and pull away from the garment leaving a bigger tear than before.

Jesus used these illustrations to show that the outpouring of his Spirit, which was about to take place at Pentecost, would have to be put into a structure that would be flexible enough to contain it, ie the New Testament church, rather than the old, inflexible, wineskin of Judaism.


What lessons can we learn from this? There are two:

The parable of the wine and the wineskins is about putting new wine into a suitable vessel or container, and there are two vessels, or containers, the Holy Spirit dwells in today: the church, and the believer.

The church

Don't you know that you yourselves [the church at Corinth] are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives among you? (1Co 3:16)

Every Christian church is a temple of God's Spirit and it's the responsibility of its leaders to provide a suitable framework for his Spirit to move freely within that church. It is also the duty of Christians to find a church where that framework exists.

The believer

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1Co 6:19–20)

Every Christian, also, is a temple, or vessel, of the Holy Spirit. How flexible and malleable are we in the hands of our Lord? Do we resist the moving of his Spirit within us?

Is Jesus totally Lord of our lives or have we retained control of certain areas, such as our finances for example? If he is not Lord of all, then he is not Lord at all.

Patching the old

Luke records other words of Jesus on this subject:

'No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.' (Luk 5:36)

No one would take a new garment, tear a piece out of it and sew it on an old one, would they? Or would they? There is only one person who would do that: someone who cherished the old garment so much that they would be prepared to ruin the new one in an attempt to patch the old one—and that, unfortunately, is what is happening in some churches today.

Some are taking what they like best from the current move of God's Spirit and incorporating it into their fellowships. They are accepting new songs and using modern instruments to accompany their worship. Some are even allowing clapping and exuberance in their meetings, but they won't allow prophecies, messages in tongues or other manifestations of the Spirit.

However, we cannot be selective with God. We cannot take from him what we want and leave what we don't want. If that happens, then those who have embraced the new will eventually pull away from the old and form a new fellowship, or join another fellowship. New wine must be put into new wineskins (see opening text).

Spiritual gifts

Paul gave instructions for church meetings in 1Co 14:26–33. Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to strengthen the church (1Co 12:1,4–11) and should be desired and welcomed by every believer and fellowship (1Co 14:1).

Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18) and we can be sure that he will build it according to his own will and purpose. He will not allow our likes, preferences or traditions to stop his work.

Remain flexible

Judaism began as a religion based on God's commands and decrees (Deu 27:9–10), but by the time of Christ had degenerated into a religion based on human rules and traditions (Mar 7:5–8). Similarly, any New Testament church can begin as a new wineskin, supple and flexible in the Lord's hand, but with time can become rigid and set in its ways.

People wonder why new churches are being formed while existing churches are falling into decline. This is often because the churches our Lord moved so freely through in the past have become rigid and incapable of holding the new wine (current move) of his Spirit?

Church history has shown that every new move of God has resulted in new churches being created because the existing churches were unwilling to embrace what God wanted to do.

Many churches are founded on a vision from God and subsequent leaders are often zealous in adhering to that vision. But God moves on and his will can change. What he wanted to achieve through a church yesterday may not be what he wants to achieve through it today.

We must remain flexible and open to the moving of God's Spirit, both in our own lives, and in the life of his church.

Michael Graham
August 2002
Revised May 2024

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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