NEW WINE AND OLD WINESKINS
The wisdom of old age is the fruit of a lifetime of living a moral
life and practicing the discipline of a religious path. However, the
effort which it takes to realize the fulness of spiritual wisdom should be
undertaken from one's youth. Strength and adaptability are required, and
once old age has drawn nigh, it becomes too difficult to practice and too
late to change. Old age is a time to manifest either the wisdom gained as
the fruits of that effort or the decrepitude of a wasted life.
Jesus said to them, "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does,
the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will
be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
"And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, 'The old is
Christianity. Luke 5.37-39
Elisha ben Abuya said, "If one learns as a child, what is it like? Like
ink written on clean paper. If one learns as an old man, what is it like?
Like ink written on blotted paper."
Rabbi Jose ben Judah said, "He who learns from the young, to what is he
like? To one who eats unripe grapes, or drinks wine from the vat. And one
who learns from the old, to what is he like? To one who eats ripe grapes,
or drinks old wine."
Rabbi Meir said, "Look not at the flask, but at what it contains: there
may be a new flask full of old wine, and an old flask that has not even
new wine in it."
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.25-27
Luke 5.37-39: The first saying speaks to the fact that a new teaching is
more readily learned by the young, whose minds are still open and
impressionable. The old person, being full of concepts and
long-established habits of mind, cannot easily learn new things.
Furthermore, since Jesus' words were challenging to the conventional
wisdom, they could hardly be received by people bound to the traditions of
the past: see Luke 9.60, p. 583; 9.62, p. 742; 14.16-24, p. 674.; Qur'an
43.33-35, p. 673. The second saying, conversely, praises the wisdom of
the elder who is well-versed in faith, wisdom, and life experience. Abot
4.25-27: The first two sayings have meanings which correspond to the New
Testament passage above: that the young are better learners and the old
are better teachers. The third saying, that one cannot judge a book by
its cover, may be a retort by a young teacher to Rabbi Jose's saying.
You can only coil a fish when it is fresh.
African Traditional Religions. Nupe Proverb (Nigeria)
The Master said, "Respect the young. How do you know that they will not
one day be all that you are now? But if a man has reached forty or fifty
and nothing has been heard of him, then I grant there is no need to
Confucianism. Analects 9.22
At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet
upon firm ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At
fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them
with a docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own
heart for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.
Confucianism. Analects 2.4
If the hair has become white, a man does not on that account become old;
though a man may be young, if he is learned the gods look upon him as old.
Hinduism. Laws of Manu 2.136
You cannot prolong your life, therefore be not careless; you are past help
when old age approaches.
Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 4.1
You have gathered nothing in your youth; how can you find anything in your
Christianity. Sirach 25.3
The man of little learning grows old like the ox. His muscles grow but
his wisdom grows not.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 152
He is not thereby an elder merely because his head is gray. Ripe is he in
age; "old in vain" is he called. In whom are truth, virtue, harmlessness,
restraint, and self-control, that wise man who is purged of impurities is,
indeed, called an elder.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 260-261
Yuan Jang sat waiting for the Master in a sprawling position. The Master
said, "Those who when young show no respect to their elders achieve
nothing worth mentioning when they grow up. And merely to live on,
getting older and older, is to be a useless pest."
Confucianism. Analects 14.46
Nupe Proverb: A person can only be educated when he is young and flexible.
Analects 2.4: Confucius' own growth in wisdom, described in this passage,
could be a model for all wise people who apply themselves to learning and
spiritual discipline throughout life. Cf. Analects 16.7, p. 928.
Dhammapada 152: Cf. Qur'an 91.7-10, p. 715.
Before the gray descends on your cheek,
the wrinkles plow your chin,
and the body becomes a cage of bones;
Before the teeth fall off from your mouth,
the back bends to the earth,
and you become a burden to others;
Before you hold a stick in one hand
and lean heavily with the other on your knee;
Before age corrodes your bodily beauty
and you feel the pangs of death;
Adore our Lord Kudala Sangama!
Hinduism. Basavanna, Vachana 161
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days
come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, "I have no pleasure in
them"; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are
darkened and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers
of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease
because they are few, and those that look through the windows are dimmed,
and the doors on the street are shut; when the sound of the grinding is
low, and one rises up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of
song are brought low; they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors
are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself
along and desire fails; because man goes to his eternal home, and the
mourners go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, or the
golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the
wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Judaism and Christianity. Ecclesiastes 12.1-7
Ecclesiastes 12.1-7: This passage describes in metaphorical language the
body's deterioration in old age.