New Wine for New Wineskins: It’s Not What You Think (Luke 5:33–39)

Interpretation of Jesus’s sayings in Luke 5:36–39 and its parallels (Mark 2:21–22 || Matt 9:16–17) is frequently done without sufficient appreciation for the context of the sayings (Luke 5:33–35 || Mark 2:18–20 || Matt 9:14–15). This leads to conclusions that these sayings are about the incompatibility of the religious practices of the new covenant and the religious practices of the new covenant (e.g., in the commentaries of Marshall and Fitzmyer and the articles by Synge and Rice, or the ESV Study Bible note on the passage). But such an interpretation is untenable in Luke’s gospel, due to the saying in Luke 5:39, despite attempts to read this statement ironically (as many commentators suggest, including Marshall, Fitzmyer, Nolland, and Stein). In contrast, in this paper, I argue that Luke 5:33–39 is best read as a unity in which the main idea is that Jesus is the bridegroom, and thus it is absurd to solicit the Lord when he is already present.
I demonstrate this claim by presenting an exegesis of Luke 5:33–39. Specifically, I argue that (1) boundary markers indicate the passage should be read as a unit; (2) the purpose of fasting and prayer in Jesus’s day was to appeal to the Lord to restore Israel; (3) fasting was considered inappropriate for weddings; (4) the logic of Jesus’s answer indicates that he is the bridegroom; (5) Jesus’s claim to be the bridegroom is at least a divine claim, if not a messianic claim; (6) the restoration of Israel has thus begun with Jesus; (7) the sayings in Luke 5:36–39 support this claim rhetorically by citing three other things that are just as inappropriate and foolish as fasting at weddings, namely, tearing a new garment to patch an old one, putting new wine into old wine skins, and preferring new wine to old wine.
The chief contribution of the paper is the way in which its interpretation provides a more plausible interpretation of Luke 5:39 than the common interpretation does. This in turn allows for the main point of the passage, that Jesus is the Lord who has come to restore Israel, to take center stage, without being overshadowed by questions about the compatibility of the new covenant and the Sinaitic covenant which are foreign to the context. Jesus’s point is not that fasting is inappropriate because it was a religious practice of the Sinaitic covenant, but because it is inappropriate to the joyous arrival of his kingdom.