Is Jesus Old or New? (Luke 5:36-39)

I preached on Luke 5:33-6:16 on Sunday. It was one of the hardest sermons I’ve ever prepared. It took ages and I was mega-confused during most of my prep time.

One of the issues I came across was related to Jesus’ parable in Luke 5:36-39. It’s a famous passage about new/old clothes and new/old wine/wineskins.

I came to the conclusion that there is a lot of assumption done about this passage, without the necessary rigorous exegesis that it required. Every commentator (except one) that I read on those verse assumed that Jesus = new and Pharisees/Judaism = old. That is a very well loved interpretation of these verses.

However, I want to question the validity of that interpretation. During my prep, exegesis and research, I came to the conclusion that the text makes much more sense if we understand the parable to be working the other way round – that is, that Jesus is the old and the Pharisees are new.

Now, you might strongly disagree with my conclusion there – but the main point I want to raise is that there is nothing in the text itself which demands the parable be interpreted one way round or the others. The fact that almost every preacher and commentator takes Jesus as NEW is nothing more than an assumption which most, if not all, fail to address or defend.

In fact, the only time in these verses where any preference is expressed towards either old or new is in v39 where Jesus says “the old is better”. Most interpreters are required, by their presuppositions, to understand Jesus as making a negative comment about the Pharisees refusal to accept Jesus. The problem with that is that, once again, it is slightly forced onto the text. Not to mention the fact that most people recognise that old wine is better than new wine – so Jesus’ words make most sense if he is saying that the old is better, that He is the old and that the Pharisees are adding new rules which tear, spill and destroy the old.

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