Stories have been used to teach and inspire throughout the ages. For example, the ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, used stories about things in nature, called fables, to portray moral lessons about life. The Bible also uses many different story forms to teach God’s people: prose, verse, song. While the Bible is full of stories, I want to focus on a particular story form today, the parable. The word “parable” comes from the Greek word “parabole” (par-ab-ol-ay) and refers to a fictitious narrative comparing one thing to another in an effort to explain a specific doctrine. Jesus favored the parable in many of His teachings. Because His teaching is so full of these types of stories, I felt that it would be beneficial to study these parables and see if we could come up with some modern stories to help make the older teachings relevant to our times.
I have compiled a list of about 55 different parables written in the New Testament gospels. We probably won’t go through all of these, but maybe we can learn some tools to use when studying the other stories on our own. I would like to first, introduce the parable; second, offer a more “modern” (and hopefully not horrible) version of my own crafting; and then, attempt to explain the parable as best as I can. Please do NOT take my opinion for granted, but please study every concept offered for yourselves so that you can be sure of the truth. Model yourselves after the Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11 NASB).
The first parable I would like to examine today is found in Matthew (9:16-17), Mark (2:21-22), and Luke (5:36-39) and is actually two-fold, two versions of the same story:
And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough’.” (Luke 5:36-39 NASB)
Here is a possible modern equivalent to this story:
No one takes machine parts from a new model and puts them into an old machine; otherwise he will ruin both the part and the machine. Likewise, no one takes the old parts and puts them in the new machine expecting them to work well. And no one installs new software on an out-dated computer, or neither will run well, just as no one will install out-dated software on a new computer and expect it to run well. Oftentimes, no one using the old software wants to upgrade because they believe what they have is sufficient.
Before I actually explain the parable, I’d like to offer some background surrounding the parable. Jesus was invited to a banquet at the house of a tax-collector (read “rich person with a some-what low reputation”) named Levi (also called Matthew, one of the apostles). Many other tax-collectors were eating at the table, and other people were there including the Pharisees (teachers of the law) who were observing. How would you like your preacher or elders of your church standing over you while you ate, watching your every move and judging your actions! The Pharisees started confronting Jesus and His disciples about some of the traditional practices that were not being observed by Jesus or His disciples. Jesus explains His and His followers’ behavior with the above parable (as well as one other found in the verses just before this parable).
The meaning of the parable is actually found in one of the reasons Jesus came to the earth: to fulfill the old covenant (the Law) and establish the new covenant (grace). As the ambassador of the new covenant, Jesus is explaining that there are going to be a lot of new concepts in the new covenant that do not mesh well with the old Law. Some things may actually seem like contradictions if looked at from the old perspective (and vice versa). If one is bound by the old covenant (represented in the parable as the old garment/wineskin), they will be hard-pressed to accept all that is offered in the new covenant (represented in the parable as the new cloth/wine). In order to accept the new, the container has to be changed, it, also, has to be made new.
I hope that this explanation gives you some insight and that you will join me in the next post as we continue to study the teachings of Jesus.