Bridegroom, Garments & Wine: What Do They have to do with “Not Fasting”? (Part 2)

WHAT DOES “PATCHING” A “NEW CLOTH” ON AN “OLD GARMENT” HAVE TO DO WITH “NOT FASTING”?  In the first part of this series, the disciples of John have come to Jesus and asked Him, “Why don’t Your disciples fast?”  Their concern here is not just with “biblical fasting,” but with the fact that God has called Israel to be “A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exodus 19:5), and so by them “not fasting,” these disciples of John feel that Jesus and His disciples are not following the way of HOLINESS, nor are they keeping the PURITY LAWS, formed by large extent, the PHARISEES and, by a much lesser extent, the ESSENES.

So to answer their concern, Jesus first tells them the parable of the Bridegroom, and explains to them that since He, the Bridegroom, was now there, it was not the time for them to fast; however, there would come a time soon when they would begin fasting.

A PARABLE ABOUT GARMENTS

This now brings us to the second parable about the “new cloth” and the “old garment.”  In understanding this parable, it is extremely important that we pay attention to the details of the parable AND to correctly identify what is the “new cloth” and the “old garment.”

A LITTLE COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

Matthew 9:16 Mark 2:21 Luke 5:36
“No man puts a piece of new cloth onto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up takes from the garment, and the tear is made worse.” “No man also sews a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up takes away from the old, and the tear is made worse.” “No man puts a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new makes a tear, and the piece that was taken out of the new agrees not with the old.”

In all three Synoptic Gospels, the accounts agree on the following points:

  • No man puts a new cloth on an old garment;
  • this action takes away from the old garment; and
  • it makes the tear worse.

In other words, the “new cloth” ruins “the old garment.”  This suggests that the “old garment” has great value, and the last thing the owner wants to do is to ruin it by putting the “new cloth” on it.   But in addition to this, the account in Luke states that there’s really two problems by doing this:

  • it makes the tear worse; and
  • the new doesn’t agree with the old.

Elaborating a bit more on this, the writer of the “Pulpit Commentary” found on the Christian website, Biblehub.com, provides the following explanation for this verse (Mark 2:21):

An old garment, if it be torn, should be mended by a patch of old material; for if a patch of new material is used, its strength or fullness takes away from the old garment to which it is sewn; the old and the new do not agree, the new drags the old and tears it, and so a worse rent is made. (biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/2-21.htm)

Notice that if an “old garment” is torn, the recommendation is that the “patch” used should be made of the same “old material” since it will be equally flexible.  However, if the “patch” is made of “new material,” then “its strength or fullness” will NOT better support the “old material” since the “new cloth” will be more “rigid” and “inflexible,” and it will “take away from the old garment,” making the “rent” or tear worse.  Why?  Because the “old and the new DO NOT AGREE,” resulting in “THE NEW” dragging against “THE OLD” and “TEAR[ING] IT.”

THE PROBLEM WITH CHRISTIANITY’S TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION

Consequently, then, from this explanation, we learn that “no man” will sew a “new cloth” on an “old garment,” because it will only further damage the “old garment” and NOT fix or improve it.   The “new cloth” is still rather “rigid” and “inflexible;” whereas, the “old garment” having gone through the process of “wear and tear” is much more “flexible.” When we consider what is being said here, then the traditional Christian interpretation that the “new cloth” represents the gospel, or one’s new life in Christ, or, even, the New Testament is clearly erroneous since this does not fit the facts of the parable at all.

Not only have Christians traditionally misidentified the “new cloth,” but their traditional interpretation also invert the two images.  In their explanation, they have the “old garment” (the Old Testament law) ruin the “new cloth” (one’s new life in Christ) which is the exact opposite of what is actually taught in the parable.  In the parable, it is the use of the “new cloth” that ruins the “old garment,” NOT the other way around.

This is just one example of how determined some Christians are to prove that God’s Law is “so bad” for Christians, that it had to be “done away with,” “annulled,” or “nailed to the cross.”   They are so focused on trying to prove that law and grace are not to mix, that they take this text OUT OF CONTEXT and actually CHANGE and DISTORT the imagery in Jesus’ own teaching to prove the point. I don’t believe they do this maliciously; instead, I believe this point has been so ingrained into them that they don’t realize they’re distorting the actual meaning of the parable.  But in addition to this subconscious act, they are also misrepresenting Jesus and His teachings by their erroneous interpretation.

In addition, after spending many, many years of doing in-depth studies of the Scriptures, I am thoroughly convinced that there’s no evidence ANYWHERE in the Gospels or in the rest of the New Testament that Jesus ever saw God’s Law as being problematic, “legalism,” or “bondage.” What Jesus did have a problem with were people who added their own rules and restrictions to God’s Law, or even distorted or altered His teachings, and thereby made it harder for them and others to follow and observe what God taught in His Word.

PUTTING THINGS BACK INTO CONTEXT

So in order to properly understand the imagery here, and its relevance to the question that was asked, we need to put Jesus and His teachings back into their proper historical, cultural and religious context:  Israel’s Second Temple Judaism of the first century, A.D.  At that time, Christianity, as another religion, did not exist yet.

Yes, the Bible does tell us that “the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch” (Acts 11: 26).  But the word “Christian” is only used THREE TIMES in the whole New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; I Peter 4:16).   What most Christians don’t understand is that this term was not accepted by the followers of Jesus right away, because it was used to mock, slander, and poke fun of them, just like the term “Jesus Freak” was used for those in the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s and 70s in the United States.  So during the writing of the New Testament, the followers of Jesus were still considered to be “a sect” (called “THE WAY“) within mainstream Second Temple Judaism (see Acts 24:14).   Therefore, at that time, the word “Christian” did not mean a member of another RELIGION outside of Judaism.  The process of Christianity leaving Judaism and transforming itself into ANOTHER RELIGION took about TWO HUNDRED YEARS (from the second century, A.D., to the fourth century, A.D.) for this to happen.

Also, during the Second Temple period, a Jew could belong to TWO Jewish groups at the same time, and there were numerous examples of this: Jews who were Pharisees and Essenes, Pharisees and Zealots, and Pharisees, like Paul, who also belonged to “The Way.”
This is why we find Paul identifying himself as “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6; Acts 26:5), as well as a member of “The Way” (Acts 21:14), and apparently, the followers of “The Way” were also called “Nazarenes” (no relation to the Christian denomination of the same name), since Paul is called “the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” in Acts 24:5.   At this point, the word “Christian” had been around for about twenty years, and yet, notice that the Jewish opponents of Paul refer to him as a “Nazarene” and not by the term “Christian.”

SO WHAT IS THE “NEW CLOTH”?

So now that we understand that to correctly identify the “new cloth” and “old garment,” we must put Jesus and His two parables back into their proper context of Israel’s Second Temple Judaism of the first century, A.D., let’s examine two clues to identifying the “new cloth.”

THE FIRST CLUE:  According to the parable, the “new cloth” is intended “to be put in” and “fill up” the “old garment.”  This, of course, suggests “a hole,” “a gap,” or “a tear” in the garment.

THE SECOND CLUE:  According to the parable in Luke, the “old garment” was what was important and valued, and that the sewing of the “new cloth” on it only “ruined” it further since it “widened the tear” and “did not agree” with the “old garment.”

THE ANSWER

Based on the two clues, I believe that the “new cloth” was to a large extent the Oral Torah of the PHARISEES, and to a much lesser extent, the added Community writings of the Essenes.  Each group had their own added “teachings” that were used to “patch” the “holes” or “tears” that they saw within the written Torah (the first five books of the Bible) that was handed down by God and given to Moses and the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai.

For example, there are things in God’s instructions, laws and commandments that are not “defined” or “explained.”  For instance, God said that we are not to “work” on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:10; Exodus 31:15: Deuteronomy 5:14), but God does not define exactly what He considers to be “work.”  Consequently, this “lack of definition or explanation” was considered to be “a hole,” “a gap,” “a tear,” or “an unknown” in God’s instructions and laws.  And to a much greater extent, the Pharisees and, to a much lesser extent, the Essenes, both came up with their own man-made rules on how to “fill in” or “patch” those missing pieces of information instead.

But I believe that God purposely left those “tears,” “holes,” “gaps,” or “unknowns,” so that people would come to Him with their questions, and then He could teach them about Himself and what to do with those “tears,” “holes” or “unknowns.”  Through these “purposed interactions,” I believe God was planning to use them to build and deepen His relationship with His people.  I mean, really, if everything in the Bible was “so simple” that we could understand it all the first time, the unfortunate reality would be that people would come once, say “Thanks,” and then not come back to God.   Therefore, He purposely put these “gaps” and “tears” in His Word.

Also, by people coming to God for His leading and instruction, it would allow for individual leading of the Holy Spirit in those areas where the Scripture is SILENT (i.e., “it has no instructions or explanations given on that topic or area”).  But instead, the Pharisees and Essenes created their own answers to these “holes,” “gaps,” or “unknowns,” placing themselves in the position that God wanted to fulfill in the lives of His people.

In addition, through their man-made rules, they changed and distorted what was supposed to be a KINGDOM (the “kingdom of God”) into a RELIGION, and then insisted on complete and total uniformity of all people within this NEW RELIGION (RABBINICAL JUDAISM) on every little detail in their life.  [IMPORTANT NOTE: In a KINGDOM, the KING [God] is in control, but in a RELIGION, people are, and Jesus was trying to bring people back into a “KINGDOM perspective,” not a “RELIGIOUS one.”  We should also remember that Jesus’ biggest opponents were the RELIGIOUS LEADERS, which is why it is so surprising that Christianity likewise moved away from KINGDOM and became a RELIGION.)

HOW DOES ALL OF THIS DEAL WITH FASTING?

All of this deals with “fasting” in that John’s disciples are not asking about “biblical fasting,” but about the “rules of fasting” that were part of the PURITY LAWS taught prominently by the Pharisees, but also to an extent by the Essenes and John the Baptist.  By giving this parable, Jesus is telling John’s disciples that their man-made PURITY LAWS do not help or “strengthen” God’s Word, but they are, in actuality, “weakening” God’s Word, and making “the tear” between God and His people “worse.”

 

Part 3:  We will finish up this series by examining Jesus’ parable regarding the “new wine” and the “old and new bottles”

 

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Bridegroom, Garments & Wine: What Do They have to do with “Not Fasting”? (Part 1)

“WHY DON’T YOUR DISCIPLES FAST?”   Can you imagine Jesus sitting there with His disciples, and they’re eating and having a good time,  and a small group of people walk up, and ask this question?   Obviously, they could see they weren’t fasting, but why the question?  Why is this issue so important to these people that they would take the time to walk up to Jesus and ask Him this question?  And rather than just giving them a straight-forward response, Jesus tells them three parables, and the last two seem to have no direct relevance to their question, or do they?

IN PROPERLY INTERPRETING ANY BIBLICAL TEXT, CONTEXT IS CRUCIAL!  To violate this rule, only opens the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  And yet, over the years, I’ve seen person after person violate this rule, take a passage out of CONTEXT, and twist it to say whatever they wanted it to say.   And until people are taught that there are RULES that we need to follow to PROPERLY INTERPRET any text, including the BIBLE, then we are not going to see an end to the erroneous ideas being circulated about what the Bible teaches.

A QUESTION ABOUT FASTING

To begin, let’s look at the question that initiates this discussion by comparing it in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Matthew 9:14 Mark 2:18 Luke 5:33
“Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples don’t fast?”

 

“And the disciples of John and the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples don’t fast?” “And they said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”

IDENTIFYING THE SPEAKER.  The first thing we need to do to understand a text is to identify who is speaking?  What I find interesting is that in comparing these three accounts, it is only Matthew who identifies the speaker as “the disciples of John.”  Mark and Luke do no identify the speaker at all, but they only refer to the speakers as “they.”

IDENTIFYING THE ONE THEY ARE ADDRESSING.  Secondly, we need to identify who they are addressing their question.  In all three accounts, it is agreed that they are addressing Jesus.

IDENTIFYING THE QUESTION.  Thirdly, we need to identify the question they are asking.  In two of the accounts (Matthew’s and Mark’s), the question is “Why do the disciples of John and those of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” Therefore, the focus of the question is on why Jesus’ disciples are not following the same practice of fasting like these other two groups?

But when we come to Luke’s account, there’s more to the question.  In his account, the question is, “Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?”  We are being told, it seems, that the disciples of John often fasted, and not only that, but they “make prayers.”  Does this simply mean that they spent much of their time in prayer, or does it mean that they formulated prayers for those times of fasting?  Also, we learn that whatever John’s disciples were doing, the Pharisees were also doing it as well.  But the focus of the contrast here is on wondering why Jesus’ disciples are spending their time “eating and drinking,” and not doing what these other two groups are doing?

RITUAL PURITY – THE REAL ISSUE

IDENTIFYING THE ISSUE.  Another important element we need to identify is the real issue underlying the question.   The real underlying issue here is NOT the lack of fasting, but the lack of HOLINESS AND RITUAL PURITY.   According to the Scriptures, God called His people to be “A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION” (Exodus 19:5).  Therefore, the belief in what constituted HOLINESS AND RITUAL PURITY were central concerns of both the ESSENES AND the PHARISEES.

Both these groups believed that they should meticulously observe the Law of Moses, keep the Sabbath and the feasts, practice circumcision, observe the dietary laws, fast, practice “ritual water immersion” (“water baptism”), but also that everyone should practice the PRIESTLY PURITY LAWS.  And although there were variations in what teachings received more focus or how they were to be practiced, each of these two groups had their own man-made teachings specifying the details on how these laws should be observed and practiced.

JESUS AND THE PURITY LAWS

Now although Jesus kept the biblical laws (as given by God), He and the Pharisees often conflicted when it came to these man-made rules regarding how one was to observe the various laws, such as the Sabbath and the PURITY LAWS.  These man-made rules, or what they called “the Oral Torah,” or what Paul called “the oral traditions,” were gathered and collected together by Judah the Prince in 200 A.D., and were then given the name “the Mishnah.”  Then between 200 A.D. and 500 A.D., the Mishnah became the focus of rabbinical study and commentaries, which were called the Gemara, and were added then to the Mishnah, formulating the Talmud.

An example of Jesus conflicting with the Pharisees in regard to the PURITY LAWS was in the need to “wash one’s hands before eating” (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).  Since the priests were to wash their hands before ministering at the altar (Exodus 30:19), the Pharisees taught that wherever one ate one’s food, it was equivalent to the altar, and therefore, everyone was to ritually wash their hands before eating (A PHARISAIC BELIEF, NOT A BIBLICAL TEACHING).  If the hands were not “ritually cleansed” via “washing,” the PHARISEES believed, then the hands were “unclean,” and therefore whatever they touched became “ritually unclean” (i.e., in this case, the food).   So then, if the “unclean” food was eaten, then the person became “unclean” and could not enter into the Temple (i.e., the Presence of God).  As a result, the complaint that Jesus’ disciples were not washing their hands was not about cleanliness and hygiene, but what the PHARISEES saw as a violation of HOLINESS AND RITUAL PURITY. (However, Jesus did not agree with their belief that “dirty hands” could cause food to become “unclean;” see Matthew 15:20.  And since the food was not “unclean,” Jesus and His disciples were not made “unclean” by it.)

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S ESSENE CONNECTION

But what about the Essenes?  Why are they important in this conversation about the PURITY LAWS and FASTING?  Because according to many modern researchers, John the Baptist was raised by the Essenes of Qumran, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, after the death of his elderly parents.  In fact, not only was much of John’s ministry done near Qumran, but he ate the same type of food that they did as well.  Therefore, when this is considered, it’s not too hard to see the connection between the Essenes, their belief and practice of keeping the “PURITY LAWS,” including “water immersion” (or “water baptism”), John the Baptist, his ministry and his disciples.   So by understanding his Essene influence makes it easier for us to understand why his disciples now are asking Jesus this question about His disciples’ lack of fasting.

JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THEIR CONCERN

Now that we understand who is asking the question and what the real underlying concern is behind the question, now it’s time to examine Jesus’ response to the question.  In His response, Jesus follows the common rabbinical practice of giving two or three different parables as an answer to the question.  Why two or three parables?  Because it is a general principle of Scripture that “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, a thing is established” (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 8:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).   So although the parables deal with different topics, each one in some way is actually responding to the question and the underlying concern.

FASTING AND THE BRIDEGROOM?

To begin with, Jesus responds,

Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the Bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the Bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.  (Mark 2:19-20)

The term “bridechamber” refers to the room where the marriage ceremonies were held, and the “children of the bridechamber,” therefore, refers to the friends or companions of the Bridegroom.  Jesus is identifying Himself here as “the Bridegroom.”  And He’s telling John’s disciples that since He is here with them, this is a time for joy and celebration; it is not the time for fasting.  This, of course, alludes to Ecclesiastes 3,

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:… A time to weep, and a time to laugh a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)

With Jesus there with them, He said that this was their time of joy, laughing and dancing, but there will come the time, He said, when “the Bridegroom” [Jesus] will be “taken from them” [by His death, resurrection and ascension], and then, from that point on [“in those days”], it will be necessary for them to “fast.”

A CONTINUING PROBLEM WITHIN CHRISTIANITY

Over the centuries, Christians have traditionally misinterpreted the second and third parables.   They’ve “read into the text” their own personal or denominational thoughts, beliefs or values, or have practiced what’s called “EISEGESIS” (pron. “Eye-suh-jee-sus“).  This is an improper way of handling any written text, regardless of what it is, and this fallacious approach is still practiced by many Christians, even though it’s what often leads to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

Instead, we need to raise up more evangelists, pastors, teachers, and those in authority to teach believers the right way to handle any written text, which is to teach them about the importance of CONTEXT.  There are some who are doing this, but not as many as who are not.  We need to teach them how to —

  • Understand the text within its immediate context of the passage (what comes before it, what comes after it); and
  • To place the text back into its proper historical, cultural, religious and linguistic context as well.

Once we have done this and come to understand the meaning of the text within these “CONTEXTS,” then we check “the correctness” of that interpretation and understanding by examining to see if it fits with  —

  • the message and context of the chapter;
  • the message and context of the book;
  • the message and context of the entire Testament; and finally,
  • the message and context of the entire Bible.

If the “alleged interpretation” contradicts any of the Bible prior to that passage, then our interpretation and understanding is in error.  We need to remember that a biblical text will NOT mean anything differently today than it did the day it was originally written.

In fact, an effective way of really exploring the depth of Scripture is to view the New Testament from the perspective and understanding of the Old Testament, NOT the other way around.  This was the way Jesus and His early disciples understood their life and events – from the perspective and understanding of the Old Testament – and this has worked tremendously in giving me a much deeper knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.

Of course, this approach takes some time, research and study.  But as I said, once we understand the text within its proper CONTEXTS, then we want to bring that meaning forward into our situation today and see how it can be applied.  This is known as “EXEGESIS” (pron. “Ex-uh-jee-sus“), which is the proper way to handle any written text.  But unfortunately, again, what I’ve observed being practiced in many churches is EISEGESISNOT EXEGESIS.


PART 2 is scheduled to come out on Sunday, August 19, 2018, at 7:00am.   In that second part of the series,  we will look at Jesus’s parable about the “new cloth” and the “old garment”

 

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