Matthew 9:15-17 (NIV) "Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
Luke 5:36-39 (NIV) "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.'"
Of all of Jesus' teachings, these parables have been the ones I have struggled with the most. I have studied these in various translations and paraphrases, searched commentaries, and meditated on these verses for years. Finally, I felt like I understood the text and the meaning of the text in context. As I understood it, Jesus was refuting the Pharisees' concerns that His disciples were not fasting and adhering to the traditional measures of the Law as the Pharisees and John the Baptist's disciples were. Through these parables, Jesus was pointing out to them that He was bringing with Him a new way of relating to God, a new way of understanding what it meant to be in communion with God, and that these new ways could not fit the mold of the old, traditional teachings of the Pharisees. For that reason, His disciples did not fast now, but would in the future, fast in a new way.
The whole intent of the passage, as I understood it, was that a new covenant had come, one that was similar to the old covenant, but so entirely different in form and function that the old ways and old traditions would burst if they tried to contain the liberating message of Christ. Likewise, just as it would not be profitable to try to force His disciples to conform to the old traditions, it would be extremely difficult for those contained by the old traditions to try to capture the new. In short, Jesus was prophesying that the Pharisees and the teachers of the law would reject His new teachings in favor of the old traditions they revered, missing the glorious freedom offered by the new wine. The ultimate meaning, as I understood it, was that the gospel was the new wine and the new wineskin and the old wine and the old wineskin represented the traditional teachings of Judaism.
This understanding served me well and seemed to mesh with all of the other commentaries I studied until this week, when I was left confused and confounded once again. I was reading this passage in the New Interpreter's Study Bible (which I had bought as a required text for a class this summer) and found a completely different interpretation of this passage. In fact, it was exactly the opposite of what I had come to believe and what the other commentaries taught. The NISB interpreted this passage by saying that Jesus was teaching that the old wine was good and that the Pharisees were forcing a new religion onto the ancient purpose of God. The NISB reads, "Unlike Jesus, they have introduced new patterns of religion that are incompatible with the ancient ways of God. Against such a backdrop, Jesus' message may seem innovative, but it is nothing other than the outworking of God's ancient plan."
I can understand this interpretation, but it leaves me confused and concerned. Why is this interpretation from the NISB so far removed from the other commentaries I read and from the understanding that I derived from the text? Which is correct? While they both seem accurate, can they both be true? Is this a case of isogesis versus exegesis?
So, since I am sure there are more astute biblical scholars than I in the blogosphere, I pose this question: How do you exegete and understand these parables? How would you approach this text?
Usually I try to handle these texts like the pastor who was preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. He preached on verse 16. Then he got to verse 17 and said, "Now, this is one of the most difficult verses in the Bible." Then he skipped it and went to verse 18.