“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev. 1:8
I want to pick an argument with some people… actually, a lot of people, since I think most of the folks I know who have interpreted the “Old Wine in New Wineskins” passage that is contained in the synoptics–in Matthew 9:16-17; Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:33-39–have done so while laboring under the assumption that Jesus is referring to his own teaching as the “New Wine” and to the Law, particularly the legalism that had developed among some of the Pharisees, as the “old wineskins.” I wonder though, if this is correct, and wanted to offer another possibility.
Consider the passage in Luke, particularly Luke 5:39, wherein Jesus states that everyone knows the old wine is better, and that no one, after drinking the old wine, would want the new. Most commentators and exegetes seem to say that this is a criticism of the pharisees and the other Jews who wanted to hold on to their human traditions, their “Old Wineskins,” and therefore were unable to receive Jesus’ “new” teachings because of their preconceived notions.
I believe there is another, perhaps less convoluted way of reading this portion of scripture, but it depends upon a view not toward the way people perceived Jesus’ ministry at the time, but rather, the way in which it was actually carried out. That is to say that, while the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes et al…, as well as many Christians after them have understood Jesus’ teaching is as something new, it doesn’t seem that Jesus himself, or the New Testament for that matter, really envisions Jesus or his teaching as “new” or in discontinuity with the tradition. Instead, the writers of the New Testament went to great lengths to demonstrate beyond all doubt how Jesus actually fulfilled the requirements of the Law and the writings of the Prophets. Additionally, Jesus himself never denies the Torah, rather he attacks the various accretions that the Pharisees and others added to it, always re-centering discussion on the original intent which was being obscured by their new teachings. One can perhaps see this most clearly in two places–one within the context of the new wineskins passage itself–that is, how Jesus explains the Sabbath by indicated the intent of the Sabbath, i.e. Mark 2:27, and in his response later to their question regarding divorce in Mark 10 begins with Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation…” Clearly then, Jesus did not see himself as an innovator, but as the one who was to purify and complete what had already been set forth (by God the Father through the Son, the Logos) in creation.
Just a thought…