The parable Jesus told about putting new wine in new wineskins (Jul7 15, 2012) that we find in Luke 5 ends with this verse…
And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’
So what does that mean? It sounds like Jesus is endorsing the “old school” practices of traditional Judaism. And doesn’t that contradict what we saw in the parable — that the “new wine” of a relationship with Jesus will always break out of the traditional practices of religion? So what is going on with this quote?
First, the fact that Jesus quoted what appears to be a common saying of the time does not mean that he endorsed that saying. After all, he had just made the opposite point. It seems instead that he was exposing the unquestioning folly of the saying.
Second, the expression — “The old is better” — actually is usually quite true … when you are talking about wine. Wine lovers say the older the vintage of the wine, the more prized it is because of the mature taste and character of the wine. And in this context, Jesus quoted the popular saying because many people — when confronted with something new, something that challenges their comfort, their old, established, familiar ways — prefer the old to the new.
FF Bruce writes “New teaching is disturbing; it forces people to think, to revise their ideas and attitudes. Religious people tend to be conservative, to suspect innovations. … Jesus found that much resistance to accepting his message on the part not of hostile but well-intentioned and pious people, arose simply from this attachment to old ways and old ideas. This was a perfectly natural response, and one which was not totally regrettable: it could be a safeguard against the tendency to fall for anything new just because it was new — to embrace novelty for novelty’s sake.”
On one hand, let’s not be so conservative that we hold on to something just because it is old, just because “We always did it that way,” just because a loud or respected voice of conservatism says it is true.
Instead, let’s be students of the Word of God who carefully examine new ideas — and the old ideas that we already hold onto so tightly — and test them all, old and new, to see if they are true. If an idea or practice needs to change, then let’s not be afraid to change it. And if it needs to be held onto and defended, then let’s not be afraid to hold on and fight for truth in the middle of a culture of compromise, appeasement and accomodation.
Resting in Him,
* FF Bruce The hard sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 40, 41.