“Aged wine is just fine.” (Luke 5:39)
From my studies of the Bible as a JW, I knew that you didn’t sew an old patch on new cloth and that you didn’t pour new wine into old wineskins, but somehow I missed this little proverb. Here is a comparison of references to wineskins and patches, starting with what is probably the oldest reference to the latest.
Nobody drinks aged wine and immediately wants to drink young wine. Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil. An old patch is not sewn onto a new garment, since it would create a tear.
Notice that the Thomas version is nonjudgmental; neither the aged nor the new is necessarily better; they are simply incompatible. It might take awhile for someone with a taste for aged wine to develop a taste for young wine. Interestingly, the patch is old, the garment is new.
Nobody sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, otherwise the new, unshrunk patch pulls away from the old and creates a worse tear. And nobody pours young wine into old wineskins, otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and destroy both the wine and the skins. Instead, young wine is for new wineskins.
Now the garment is old and the patch is new. Emphasis is on the young wine; nothing is said about aged wine.
Nobody puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, since the patch pulls away from the garment and creates a worse tear. Nor do they pour young wine into old wineskins, otherwise the wineskins burst, the wine gushes out, and the wineskins are destroyed. Instead, they put young wine in new wineskins and both are preserved.
Matthew relies heavily on Mark, but dramatizes the fate of the wineskins, contrasting a violent destruction with preservation.
He then gave them a proverb: “Nobody tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old one, since the new one will tear and the piece from the new will not match the old. And nobody pours young wine into old wineskins, otherwise the young wine will burst the wineskins, it will gush out, and the wineskins will be destroyed. Instead, young wine must be put into new wineskins. Besides, nobody wants young wine after drinking aged wine. As they say, ‘Aged wine is just fine!’”
Here are parts of the commentary following Luke 5:36-39 in The Five Gospels:
Patches & wineskins. Aged wine. In the complex of sayings recorded by Mark and Thomas and copied and edited by Matthew and Luke, there are three sayings and a quoted proverb:
1. “Nobody sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, otherwise the new, unshrunk patch pulls away from the old and creates a worse tear.” (Mark 2:21)
2. “And nobody pours young wine into old wineskins, otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and destroy both the wine and the skins.” (Mark 2:22)
3. “Nobody wants young wine after drinking aged wine.” (Luke 5:39a)
4. “Aged wine is just fine.” (Luke 5:39b)
Sayings 1 and 2 appear to have been linked at an early point in the tradition, since they are joined in both Mark and Thomas, although in a different order. Saying 3 is preserved only by Luke and Thomas (Luke 5:39a//Thom 47:3). Saying 4 is a secular proverb quoted as such by Luke alone (5:39b).
Luke’s version of saying 1 about patches and garments has either become garbled or Luke is preserving a tradition different from his source, Mark. Some scholars hold the view that Luke’s trio of sayings is another, and probably later, version of three linked sayings preserved in Thom 47:3-5.
There are two issues involved in the evaluation of these sayings:
1. Are these sayings secular proverbs? If so, is it likely that Jesus quoted them?
2. Have the sayings been modified by a Christian understanding of them?
It is all but certain that all four sayings were once secular proverbs. Saying 4 is clearly a secular proverb, as Luke’s introduction indicates: “As they say, . . .” Many scholars are persuaded that the other three also belong to the common fund of proverbial lore.
The original form of saying 1 must have contrasted an unshrunk patch with a shrunk garment; saying 2 must have contrasted young (or new) wine with old wineskins. The original point then had to do with the incompatibility of two things, the combination of which would produce disastrous results. Such results are specified in Thom 47:4-5: young wine will break old wineskins; aged wine will spoil in new wineskins; an old patch sewn onto an unshrunk garment will create a tear.
The contrast in saying 2 between new and old was soon understood as the contrast between the Christian movement (the new) and Judean religion (the old). The new movement was taken to be superior to the old. The contrast between old and new asserted itself and eventually infiltrated into saying 1: the contrast between young and aged wine influenced the contrast between the unshrunk patch and the shrunk garment, so that the latter also became a contrast between the new and old. In neither of the proverbs in their original form was the new superior by definition to the old. Indeed, the saying in Luke 5:39a indicates that, according to one proverb, aged wine is superior to new or young wine. This is also the commonsense point of view. It appears that Luke 5:39 and Thom 47:3 have preserved the earlier, pre-Christian version of these sayings, when the old was still considered to be superior. Compare them with this proverb recorded in Sir 9:10:
Do not desert old friends;
New friends are not on a par with them.
New friends are like new wine:
Until it has matured, it does not bring pleasure.
The other forms exhibit some evidences of modification in a Christian direction. The uncertainty about the meaning of saying 1, the patch and the garment, produced confusion in Luke 5:36: as it stands, Luke’s version does not make much sense.
This comparison has left me pondering the relative merits of old and new. As a JW, I considered Christianity unquestionably superior to Judaism. I stereotyped Judaism as full of bureaucratic, legalistic, and hypocritical old fogeys. Only in later years have I begun to read some of the Jewish writings from that age. Much of it is beautiful, clever, and very wise.
I also considered a new movement like the Jehovah’s Witnesses superior to the older religions in Christendom. Those religions, too, I stereotyped as bureaucratic and hypocritical. I have discovered since that there is a certain beauty in their tradition and history, even while it is mingled with much I find distasteful. The Japanese have a word for the type of beauty and patina only acquired with age--sabi. This is the sort of beauty that I appreciate in these old traditions.
Perhaps someone who knows more about wines can comment about the differences between old wines and young ones. As I understand it, old wines aren’t necessarily better; some young wines are excellent. Every wine is different and may peak at a different time. Perhaps it is time to drop stereotypes based on age and just do some wine tasting. I can then let the character of each wine speak for itself.