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.”
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”