Quartz Hill School of Theology

New Wine and Old:
Christianity and Traditional Judaism

Jonathan Israel Strider


       He told them this parable: "No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'" Luke 5:36-39 NIV

       In the Gospel of Luke, chapter five, Jesus is quoted as telling the parables of the wineskins and of the cloth. These are symbolic of a very old standoff between traditional Judaism and Christianity. Though both faiths worship God the Creator and King of the Universe, there is dissension concerning the mystical nature of that God. Though both faiths profess the coming of a messianic prophet, there is dissension concerning the identity of that prophet. Though both faiths profess the personal involvement between God and individuals concerning the individual's salvation from unrighteous behavior and thinking. There is dissension concerning the process of obtaining that salvation.
       And what of the many Israelites who do believe the Christian assertion concerning the messianic prophet? These people tend to be seen as religiously incorrect by members of both faiths. The Synagogue says that if one accepts the assertion that Jesus is the messiah, then one is not a Jew. The Church (how about some, or many churches?) says that if one keeps the Laws of Moses, than one is not a Christian. And yet, Jesus was a well schooled Jew, who preached fundamental Judaism! Allow me to use Jesus' parables, or analogies to illustrate this point.
       The Church, the congregation of Christians, is metaphorically like a new wineskin. The New covenant is like new wine. Similarly, the Synagogue, the congregation of Jews, is like an old wineskin. The Abrahamic covenant, including the Mosaic Law, is like old wine.
       Just as new wine will expand and stretch the wineskin as it ages and ferments, so the traditions of the New covenant will do within the church. This has been evidenced through the almost two millennia of church history. The traditions of the Abrahamic covenant have already done this within the congregation of Israel. The rebelliousness, the trial-and-error learning of a young people has already run it's course. What is left is a mature, sedate people, with several millennia of tradition to flavor and color their culture. Much like a fine, aged wine. If the New covenant were instilled into the synagogue, the growth of it's new traditions would press against the limits of the established traditions.
       Another analogy might be to compare the New covenant to a new patch of cloth that is intended to be sewn onto an older garment. The garment represents the established traditions of the Synagogue. This analogy anticipates that when the new cloth is washed and worn it will shrink and pull away from the cloth of the garment, thus making a mess of both pieces of fabric.
       The assertion in this analogy is that if the New covenant were applied to the traditional Synagogue, then as the newer covenant engaged it's own traditions, there would be a "tearing away" from the older establishment. There are similarities in the revolutionary processes of many colonies becoming nations.
       Let it suffice that the older garment is adequate to it's wearer and the newer cloth can be made into a fine garment for it's wearer. Similarly, just as the older wine is preferred by the mature palate, so the Abrahamic covenant is preferred by the traditional Synagogue. And just as the newer wine, with it's brighter color and aroma is preferred by the youthful palate, so the New covenant is preferred by the creatively evangelical modern church.
       To the Christian, I say, do not ever say that there is fault with the Abrahamic covenant. That would be incorrect and in opposition to the stated opinions of God Almighty and of the teacher, Jesus Christ. To the Jew I say, do not accuse the New covenant of being at fault. There are many, many people who have had very real, personal and public experiences of miraculous unlikeliness, based on their dedication to Jesus Christ as Messiah.
       The two covenants are, at the same time very much alike and very different. Forgive my amorphism, but the relationship is similar to that of a father and a son. In this analogy, the son wants very much to be just like his father. He upholds his father's doctrine with fervor. Yet he is determined to be his own man. In his youthful vigor he finds new ways to accomplish his father's goals. And this does not invalidate either the father or the son. I think most of us are familiar with this. It's one of the fundamental lessons we learn in the school of life.
       The Abrahamic covenant is based on law. And within it's tenants, one can find a "Spirit of the Law," as the underlying tide of it's premises. This underlying tide commands love for God and for fellow man. The New covenant is also based on Spirit. And, within it's tenants one can find a "Law of the Spirit," as the overlying tide of it's premises. This overlying tide also commands love for God and for fellow man.
       Put another way the Abrahamic covenant describes the forest by telling of the trees, whereas the New covenant describes the trees by telling of the forest. We're being told of the same forest and the same trees here, people!
       It is very common that when two people argue a point, they are both asserting the same point, using different terms and / or different ideologies. Only when each of them stops and listens to each other will they realize the commonality of their assertions. Additionally, each must begin with the most general assertions and eschew naming as tantamount, the specific details until the general terms are assimilated by the other.
       In short, pay attention and don't make mountains out of molehills! It is also very common that people refuse to listen if they are convinced, a priori, that the "opponent" is wrong. This is unfortunate.

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