4. Salvation by grace through faith, 8:1-9:34

iv] A question on fasting, 9:14-17


While still at the banquet (possibly at the home of Levi), Jesus is approached by some of John's disciples and is asked to explain why his disciples do not fast as they and the Pharisees do. Jesus answers by noting that the presence of the bridegroom prompts celebration, only his departure prompts mourning. Jesus then addresses the issue with two short sayings / parables on patches and wine skins.


The law has its place as a guide to the Christian life, but covenant righteousness, and thus the full appropriation of God's promised blessings, is a gift of grace through faith apart from the law.


i] Context: See 9:9-13.


ii] Structure: The question on fasting:

The issue of fasting, v14-15:

The question put by John's disciples, v14;

Jesus' answer, v15.

Two parabolic sayings, v16-17:

a new patch on an old coat, v16;

new wine in old wineskins, v17.


iii] Interpretation:

The issue of a proper application of cultic law raised by John's disciples is neither discouraged, nor encouraged, by Jesus. Jesus approaches the law pragmatically; there are times when it is suitable to celebrate, there are times when it is suitable to mourn. Jesus' approach to Sabbath observance is much the same. The law is but a guide to the Christian life; it cannot establish nor maintain covenant righteousness.


Old and new garments and wineskins. Given the immediate context,these two supportive illustrations are handled in similar ways by the commentators: "The new wine of Christianity, if contained within the wineskins of Judaism, will burst its bonds, and both will be lost", Cox; "the newness which Jesus brings ..... cannot be contained within the conventions of traditional Jewish piety", Hill; "the new teaching of the gospel cannot be fitted into the old teaching of Judaism", Argyle; "Jesus is the new reality in Israel that can be preserved only in new wineskins", Luz; "Jesus is not trying to patch up a worn-out Judaism", his "new approach could not be fitted into those old forms ... What he was teaching and doing were such that they could not be contained within the accepted Jewish system", Morris.

Yet, it is likely that this conventional approach to the two sayings / parables / illustrations is flawed. One can well imagine that in their original context they would have had an eschatological edge by proclaiming the immediacy of the coming kingdom. Dodd, in his work Parables of the Kingdom, states that "the ministry of Jesus is not to be regarded as an attempt to reform Judaism; it brings something entirely new, which cannot be accommodated to the traditional system. In other words, 'The law and the prophets were until John; from this time the Kingdom of God is proclaimed.'" Jeremias, in The Parables of Jesus, moves in a similar direction when he suggests that the parables make the point that "the old world's age has run out ..... the new age has arrived."


Are the old garments and wineskins completely replaced by the new? The clue lies with the intended meaning of kai amfoteroi sunthrountai, "and both are preserved / kept together. Hagner argues that the saying implies that new wine and new wineskins (not the old skins) are preserved, so also France, Carson, Blomberg, ... ie., they argue against the idea that the old is preserved along with the new. Yet, we are best to follow Luz who argues that the new wine and both wineskins are preserved; "the new does not need to be constrained by the old, .... in this way can the new be welcomed and the abiding value of the old be preserved", Nolland, so also Gundry, Beare, Fenton.

The issue of fasting in the immediate context has inclined commentators to interpret these two sayings / mini parables in the terms of the incomparability of Christianity with religious Judaism. Yet, Cope is surely on the right track when he argues that the dichotomy here is actually between Law-piety and mercy. Given Matthew's context and the problem posed by the Great Sermon, the dichotomy between old and new, is more likely between law and grace. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, not to destroy them, so the law abides / is "preserved", but only as a guide to the Christian life. Only grace, apart from law, issues in life (covenant life = the blessings of the kingdom). Law-obedience for blessing destroys the blessing, cf., Gal.2:21, 5:2, 5:1. Romans 7:6 may further serve to develop this idea: the old way of the written code and the new way of the S/spirit.

Text - 9:14

The question on fasting: i] The question and its answer, v14-15. John's disciples ask Jesus about the behavior of his disciples; "where is their religious zeal and moral rigor?" D&A. The apostle Paul faced the same type of question over his, and his followers, antinomian stance. Jesus' pragmatic response points to a righteousness that "exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees", a righteousness by grace through faith apart from works of the law, religious zeal and moral rigor.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb; probably a temporal link to the previous pericope / episode.

Iwannou (hV ou) gen. "John's [disciples]" - [the disciples] of john]. The genitive is adjectival, of relationship.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "asked" - [came to him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to come to", but it may be taken as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their coming to Jesus.

autw/ dat. pro. "him" - Dative of direct object after the proV prefix verb "to come to."

dia ti "how is it that" - because why [we and the pharisees fast]. This construction introduces a question seeking a reason; "why?"

polla adj. "[fast] often" - much. Here used as an adverb, "frequently." This variant is often read, but is likely an addition seeking to soften the implication that the disciples of Jesus did not fast, ie., they do fast, but not as often as the disciples of John and the Pharisees. It seems likely, given Jesus' response, that his disciples didn't fast.

de "but" - but/and [the disciples of you do not fast]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point, as NIV.


Jesus answers with an analogy; "wedding guests do not fast during the bridal celebrations. In like manner, Jesus' disciples cannot fast because they are in a time of celebration. .... Messiah Jesus is the bridegroom and while he is with his disciples they cannot mourn", D&A.

autoiV dat. pro. "[Jesus answered]" - [and jesus said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

mh "[how can]" - [the sons (relatives) of the bridal chamber are] not [able to mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them]. Serving to introduce a question expecting a negative answer; "The sons of the bridal chamber are not able to fast as long as the bridegroom is with them are they?" = "Is it conceivable that the friends of the bridegroom should be grieving while the bridegroom is still in their company?" Cassirer.

tou numfwnoV (wn wnoV) "[the guests] of the bridegroom" - [the sons] of the bridal chamber. The genitive is adjectival, relational, limiting "sons" = "relatives". A Hebraic phrase; "the friends and relatives of the bridegroom" = "the wedding guests."

penqein (penqew) pres. inf. "mourn" - [able] to mourn. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "are able."

ef o{son "while" - This construction introduces an indefinite temporal clause which references the same time as the main verb, as NIV. Both Luke and Mark have en w|.

met (meta) + acc. "with [them]" - Expressing association / accompaniment.

oJtan + subj. ""when" - [but days will come] when [the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast]. This adverb + subj. introduces an indefinite temporal clause, future time. As Hunter notes, this saying, likely to be early in Jesus' ministry, indicates that Jesus knows full-well that the cross lies before him.


ii] Two sayings / mini parables - a new patch on an old coat, new wine in old wineskins. The new and the old are incompatible; the old has its place but in cannot accommodate the new - see above.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional; indicating a step in the narrative / argument

rJakouV (oV) gen. "[unshrunk] cloth" - [no one sows a patch] of piece of cloth = of cloth [unshrunk, unmilled, unbleached = new]. The genitive "cloth" is adjectival, idiomatic / of material; "made out of cloth." "Unshrunk" is an attributive adjective, so "unshrunk cloth."

epi + dat. "on [an old garment]" - upon [an old garment]. Spacial; "upon".

gar "for" - for [it tears away the fullness / completeness of it away from the garment and a worse division becomes]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why a piece of unshrunk cloth is not used to mend an old garment, "because ......" The clause is somewhat complex. The subject of the main verb airei, "will tear away", is probably epiblhma rJakouV agnafou, "a piece of unshrunk cloth" = "the patch", as NIV. Steinhauser (see D&A, p113) suggests that plhrwma, "fill", is "the material and the thread with which the unshrunk cloth is sewn to the old cloak", ie., it is not the patch itself, but that part of the patch autou, "of it", which belongs to / attaches to the cloak and which is pulled apo, "away from", the cloak when it is washed so making the tear worse.


ei de mh ge "if they do" - [no one puts new wine into old wineskins] but if indeed not = otherwise [the wineskins are broken and the wine poured out and the wineskins are destroyed]. Expressing a "hypothetical result", Guelich; "what would happen if the proceeding statement were true", Culy. Classical idiom, ei de mh, "otherwise". The addition of ge, commonly found in the gospels, was probably added for emphasis; see Thrall p9.

oinon (oV) "wine" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to throw" = "put". As a matter of interest, this word is used for alcoholic wine / fermented grape juice. Unfermented grape juice is trux.

alla "but" - but [they put new wine into new / fresh wineskins]. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "no one ...... but ......"

kai "and [both are preserved]" - and [both are preserved]. Possibly consecutive, expressing result, "so that both are preserved." Mark does not record this statement, and Luke replaces it with "and no one after drinking the old wine desires the new wine, but says 'the old is good.'" Most commentators agree that the phrase "and both are preserved / kept together" is a redactional addition by Matthew, an editorial comment if you like, but it may well be part of Matthew's received tradition. For interpretation see "Issues" above.


Matthew Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]