November 17: John 15:16 (4)

John 15:16, continued

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“and (that you) should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain”
kai\ karpo\n fe/rhte kai\ o( karpo\$ u(mw=n me/nh|

Picking up on our discussion from the previous note, the idiom of bearing fruit (vb fe/rw + obj karpo/$), as it applies to the disciple of Jesus, refers principally to the fulfilling of the mission given to the disciple. As I discussed, in the Gospel context, this means the continuation (and extension) of Jesus’ own mission—the mission of the Son, for which the Father sent him from heaven (to earth). Within the framework of the Johannine theology, this mission is rooted in the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that Jesus has given to disciples/believers, which itself follows the duty that the Father gave to the Son. The two-fold duty is: (1) to guard the word(s) of Jesus (“remain in my word”, 8:31; 15:7), and (2) to show love to one another, following the example of Jesus (“remain in my love”, 15:9-10).

In the qualifying phrase that follows, here in v. 16, Jesus adds the purpose that the fruit the disciple ‘bears’ should remain (vb me/nw). This important Johannine keyword has been discussed repeatedly in prior notes; it is especially prominent in the Vine-passage (15:1-17), where it occurs 11 times (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). It defines the believer’s fundamental identity, as belonging to the Son (Jesus), and of being/staying in union with him. The verb, with its basic meaning “remain, abide, stay”, carries both the sense of residing and of enduring.

The Johannine use of the verb entails both sides of the believer’s relationship with the Son: the believer remains in the Son, and the Son remains in the believer. This aspect of reciprocity is very much emphasized in the Vine illustration—see esp. the formulations in vv. 4 and 7:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you” (v. 4)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v. 7)

But what does it mean for the believer’s fruit to remain? There are two references elsewhere in the Gospel that may shed some light on this question. The first is the statement by Jesus in 4:36:

“The (one) harvesting receives a wage, and gathers together fruit unto (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life], (so) that the (one) sowing and the (one) harvesting might rejoice as one.”

This verse was examined in an earlier note, where I pointed out the eschatological background and orientation of these harvest illustrations in the New Testament. The time of harvesting, indeed, serves as a natural image for the end of the current Age. The expression “into/unto the Age” refers to this eschatological perspective (viz., the ushering in of the coming New Age), while the related expression “(the) life of the Age” ([h(] ai)w/nio$ zwh/) refers to the Divine/blessed life that the righteous will experience in the Age to Come.

The Gospel of John retains this eschatological point of reference, but gives to it a deeper theological and spiritual meaning. Now, the “life of the Age”, or simply the shorthand term “life” (zwh/), refers to the life (and life-giving power) that God Himself possesses, and which is communicated to believers through the Son (Jesus). The Son possesses the same life that belongs to God the Father, it being given to him by the Father (cf. 3:34f; 5:26; 6:57); the Son, in turn, is able to give the life to believers. This happens even in the present, prior to the end-time Judgment—the one who trusts in Jesus has already passed through the Judgment, and now holds eternal life (see esp. 5:24).

The passage 4:31-38 shares with 15:16 (and with the Last Discourse as a whole) the theme of the disciples (believers) sharing in the mission of Jesus, and continuing it. Through the proclamation of the Gospel message, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, believers serve as a witness to who Jesus is—viz., the Son sent by God the Father, who makes the Father known. The Gospel is rooted in Jesus’ own words (in the Discourses, etc) regarding his identity, and by the witness of the earliest disciples (and subsequently, by other believers) that confirms his word. Believers who are faithful to this witness thus “remain in his word”. It is a message—the word of Jesus—that leads to eternal life for those who trust in it.

The second reference of note is the opening declaration of the Bread of Life Discourse (chap. 6):

“You must not work (for) the food th(at is) perishing, but (for) the food th(at is) remaining [me/nousan] unto (the) life of the Age [i.e. eternal life], which the Son of Man shall give to you” (v. 27)

The motif of ‘food that remains’ is clearly parallel to that of ‘fruit that remains’. Thus, there is good reason to conclude that this abiding fruit, like the abiding food, refers to the eternal life that the Son (Jesus) gives to believers. This life is possessed (“held”) by believers even in the present, but only if one remains in the Son will this life remain.

It is possible, I think, to isolate three distinct strands of meaning that inform the motif of bearing “fruit that remains” in v. 16:

    • It is an extension of the broader concept of the believer remaining in Jesus, and Jesus in the believer. Through this abiding union with the Son, believers are also united with the Father, realizing their/our identity as His offspring (1:12-13, etc).
    • In particular, it refers to the eternal life from the Father that is granted to believers through the Son, being communicated by the Spirit.
    • It also relates to the discipleship-theme of believers’ role in continuing the ministry of Jesus—witnessing to the message (the words and example) of Jesus that leads to eternal life for all who trust in him.

October 31: John 15:8

John 15:8

“In this my Father is given honor: that you should bear much fruit, and should come to be my learners [i.e. disciples].”

The first section (vv. 4-8) of the exposition/application of the Vine illustration (vv. 1-3) concludes with this declaration by Jesus. God the Father (i.e., the land-worker of the illustration, v. 1) is given honor (e)doca/sqh) when the branches of the vine bear “much fruit”. The verb doca/zw (“give/show honor”) is an important Johannine keyword in the Gospel, occurring 23 times, compared with 14 in the Synoptics combined (Luke 9, Matthew 4, Mark 1). It tends to be used in the second half of the Gospel, being concentrated in the Last Discourse and the Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17. It features in the opening of the Last Discourse (13:31-32), repeating the earlier announcement by Jesus in 12:23 (cf. also v. 28):

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be given honor” (12:23)
“Now the Son of Man is given honor, and God is given honor in him;” (13:31)

The second clause of 13:31 is precisely parallel to the statement here in 15:8:

    • “God | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in him [e)n au)tw=|]”
    • “the Father | is given honor [e)doca/sqe] | in this [e)n tou=tw|]

Before examining this parallel in more detail, let us consider 13:32, in which Jesus gives us an exposition of the statement in v. 31:

“[(and) if God is given honor in him,] (then) also will God give him honor in Him(self), and will straightaway give him honor.”

The words in square brackets are missing from a significant range of witnesses (Ë66 a* B C D* L W X P f1 al), and thus may not be original; but, as Brown (p. 606) notes, “it is easier to explain why it may have been lost than why it would have been added”.

Also problematic is the precise meaning (and referent) for the second dative pronoun au)tw=|: “…God will also give him honor in him [e)n au)tw=|]”. The pronoun is apparently being used in a reflexive sense (i.e., “in himself”), but is the reference to God the Father or Jesus the Son? Is the promise that God will give Jesus honor in himself, or in Himself (i.e., the Son in the Father)? The emphasis in the Gospel on the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son makes the latter more likely. If the Father is given honor in the Son, then the Son will be given honor (by the Father) in the Father (“in Him[self]”).

The verb doca/zw properly means “recognize”, usually in the sense of giving recognition to someone—i.e., treating them with esteem or honor; sometimes it can include the idea of raising someone to a position of honor. In the Gospel of John, the verb tends to be used in the specific context of the exaltation of the Son (Jesus). The process of exaltation begins with the suffering and death of Jesus, includes his resurrection from the dead, and then concludes with his return to the Father in heaven. This is clearly the context in which the verb is used in 7:39, 12:16, and here in 12:23 and 13:31-32. The Son’s mission on earth brings honor to the Father (11:4; 14:13; 17:4), and the Son is also given honor (and raised to honor) in the process (11:4; 17:1, 5, 10); ultimately it is God the Father who gives honor to the Son (8:54; 12:28; 17:1ff).

This helps us to understand the parallel between 15:8 and 13:31. The Father is given honor “in this” —believers becoming true disciples of the Son—just as He is given honor in the Son himself (“in him”). Believers, as disciples of the Son, continue the mission of the Son.

By continuing the Son’s mission, and following his example, the disciples (i.e., believers) are part of this same dynamic—bringing honor to the Father, and being honored in return (17:10, 22, 24; 21:19). In 15:8, it is clearly stated that, by bearing “much fruit”, the disciples will bring honor to the Father; implicit is the idea that the disciples (believers) are doing this in (e)n) the Son, indicating that they/we take part in the same relationship between Father and Son. This is very much the message in the chapter 17 Discourse-Prayer, and is an overarching theme throughout the Last Discourse (and elsewhere in the Gospel as well). Consider, for example, the statement in 17:10:

“Indeed, all the (thing)s (that are) mine are yours, and all the (thing)s (that are) yours are mine, and I have been given honor [dedo/casmai] in them.”

When speaking of “all the (thing)s”, Jesus is referring principally to the disciples/believers, as is clear from v. 9: “…the (one)s whom you have given me”, saying of them, “that they are yours”. Believers belong to God the Father, and the Father has given them to the Son, so they also (equally) belong to the Son. Moreover, they are in the Son (and the Son is in them), and thus the honor given/received is shared by both. This relationship of unity is indicated in 14:13, as Jesus tells his disciples:

“And whatever you should request (from the Father) in my name, this I will do, (so) that the Father should be given honor [docasqh=|] in the Son.”

The same emphasis on prayer, with the promise of answered prayer, occurs in the immediate context here (v. 7, discussed in the previous note). The bond of unity is realized through the presence of the Spirit; see, for example, how this relates in 16:14, where Jesus says of the Spirit:

“That (one) will give me honor [e)me\ doca/sei], (in) that he will receive out of th(at which is) mine, and will give (it) forth as a message to you.”

In other words, through the Spirit, the ministry of Jesus continues in/through the disciples (believers), and this gives honor to the Son—and thus also to the Father, since, as it is again stated in 16:15, all things that belong to the Father also belong to the Son (“All [thing]s, as [many] as the Father holds, are mine”).

Returning to verse 8 of the Vine illustration, the Father is “given honor” when the disciples “bear much fruit”. An interpretative crux of the passage involves determining just what, precisely, it means for a disciple/believer to “bear (much) fruit”. We have discussed the matter, initially, in prior notes, but have yet to give it a thorough treatment. Here, however, Jesus himself (as the speaker) offers us a glimpse of the meaning, by effectively identifying the “bearing of fruit” with being a disciple:

“…that you should bear much fruit and should come to be my learners [ge/nhsqe e)moi\ maqhtai/]”

Some manuscripts read the future indicative genh/sesqe, rather than the aorist subjunctive (ge/nhsqe). This would give a slightly different emphasis to Jesus’ statement:

“…that you should bear much fruit, and (so) you will come to be my learners”

The noun maqhth/$ means “learner, one who learns”, but is typically translated as “disciple,” which is accurate enough; certainly, the noun is used in the New Testament almost exclusively for disciples/followers of Jesus. In two other places in the Gospel of John, Jesus (and also the Gospel writer) gives us an indication of what it means to be a true disciple:

    • “If you should remain in my word, (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples]” (8:31)
    • “In this all (people) shall know that you are my learners [i.e. disciples]—if you would hold love among (one) another” (13:35)

The Gospel thus gives two specific criteria for being a true disciple of Jesus—(1) “remaining” in his word, and (2) having love toward fellow believers (“each other”). And since, according to 15:8, “bearing fruit” is essentially the same as being a (true) disciple, then believers who fulfill/exhibit these two criteria are “bearing much fruit”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next portion of the exposition, vv. 9-11, which introduces a new theme—love and the ‘commandments’ —that very much relates to the line of interpretation discussed here. And exegesis of these verses will give us an even clearer understanding of what it means for the disciple/believer to “bear much fruit”.

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29A (1970).


October 26: John 15:5

John 15:5

“I am the vine, you (are) the broken (branche)s. The (one) remaining in me—and I in him—this (one) bears much fruit, (in) that, apart from me, you are not able to do anything.”

Verse 5 effectively summarizes the Vine illustration (vv. 1-3), including also the initial principle of the application, as expressed in verse 4 (cf. the previous note). As in verse 4, Jesus makes a central statement and then follows it with an exposition. The main statement reprises the opening of the illustration, building upon it:

    • “I am the true vine,
      and my Father is the land-worker” (v. 1)
    • “I am the vine,
      and you (are) the broken (branche)s” (v. 5a)

The emphasis on the relationship between the Son and the Father has been replaced by that of the relationship between the Son and believers. The qualifying adjective a)lhqino/$ (“true”) is not included here, but it certainly still applies; Jesus, as the Son of God, is still the true vine. Again, the illustration-emphasis is now on the disciples (believers):

you (are) the broken (branche)s”
u(mei=$ ta\ klh/mata

It is significant that, in verse 1, the verb of being (ei)mi) was explicitly present in both predicative statements—i.e., for both the Son (“I am”) and the Father (“He is”). In verse 5, by contrast, the verb of being is only used with regard to the Son, not believers. This point is totally obscured in most translations, since it is necessary to insert the verb of being in English, in both statements, for readability; however, its absence is important to note, and I have indicated this above by placing the verb of being (“are”) in parentheses. Within the Johannine theological idiom, the verb of being, when used in essential predicative statements, tends to refer specifically (if not exclusively) to a Divine subject—i.e., to God, or to Jesus as the Son of God.

The noun klh=ma denotes something that is “broken (off)” (vb kla/w, “break”); often, as here, it is used in the specific sense of a branch that is (or may be) broken off. Most translations simply render klh=ma as “branch” (plur. klh/mata, “branches”); however, in light of the important theme of pruning/cutting (of the vine) that is present in the illustration, I think it is important to preserve the verbal aspect of “breaking (off)”.

The exposition that follows in verse 5 explains this statement in terms of the prior statement in verse 4; consider how these relate:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you”
    • “The (one) remaining in me, and I in him…”

In the verse 4 statement, an imperative of the verb me/nw (“remain”) was used (“you must remain,” “remain!”), indicating something that the disciple/believer must do. Here in verse 5, a substantive participle (with definite article) is used. This syntax is very much typical (and reflective) of Johannine style, and is part of the Johannine theological idiom. It expresses an essential characteristic or aspect of identity that defines a person (or group)— “the (one/s) doing/being {such}”. The disciple/believer is required to remain in the Son; the true believer is one who is (regularly/continually) remaining in the Son.

This relationship of abiding is reciprocal: the believer is remaining in the Son, and the Son is remaining in the believer. As discussed in the previous note, this follows the pattern of the relationship between the Son and the Father (see, e.g., 14:10): the Son remains in the Father, and the Father remains in the Son.

As Jesus made clear in verse 4, only when the “branch” (i.e., the believer) is in the “vine” (Jesus), can it “bear fruit”. This is basic to the very idea of a grape-vine: fruit comes from the branches and tendrils that are part of the overall vine, being connected to its central stalk (and the other branches). Here, this concept is enhanced:

“the (one) remaining in me…this (one) bears much [polu/$] fruit”

The bearing of fruit is qualified by the adjective polu/$ (“much, many”). The closest parallel to this use of polu/$ occurs in 12:24:

“if the kernel of grain, (hav)ing fallen into the earth, should not die off, it remains [me/nei] alone; but if it should die off, it bears much fruit.”

I discussed this saying, with its agricultural illustration comparable to that of the chap. 15 Vine-illustration, in an earlier note. The similarities of thought and language are worth highlighting:

    • The parallel between the seed “dying off” and the branches of the vine being ‘cut off’; both motifs relate to the concept of death, and to the death of Jesus.
    • The use of the verb me/nw (“remain”); in 12:24, it is used in the opposite sense, referring to the seed that does not bear fruit (remaining alone).
    • The idea of the seed/branch being by itself (“alone” / “apart from me”); such a seed/branch cannot bear fruit.

Most notable is the phrase “it/he bears much fruit” (fe/rei karpo\n polu/n), which is identical (only differing in word order) in both references. Clearly, then, the statements by Jesus in 12:24 and 15:5 are closely related, both thematically and conceptually. Most striking is the implicit parallel between “remaining in” Jesus and the idea of the seed “dying off”. As the seed-illustration in 12:24 refers primarily to the sacrificial death of Jesus, the parallel would seem to imply that “remaining in” Jesus entails a participation in his death. At the very least, based on the discipleship-sayings that follow in 12:25-26, the true believer is expected to follow the example of Jesus, following him even to the point of death (i.e., willing to sacrifice one’s own life).

It is worth considering several additional contexts in the Gospel of John where the adjective polu/$ is used. Beyond its common/ordinary use in narrative, a deeper meaning would seem to be implied or alluded to in a number of references. I would group these as follows:

The last two categories can be combined together: the “many” things Jesus (the Son) says and does are from the Father, and are evidence of his abiding relationship with the Father; our previous discussion of 14:10 relates to this important Johannine theological principle. Thus the adjective polu/$, insofar as it has a distinctive theological connotation in the Gospel, can be interpreted according to the following two aspects of meaning:

    • The things Jesus says/does as the Son sent by the Father, manifesting God the Father, during his earthly ministry.
    • The people who come to trust in Jesus, as the result of this witness.

Both aspects, I believe, are quite relevant to an understanding of what Jesus means by the idea of bearing “much fruit”.

The final clause of verse 5 essentially repeats, with different wording, a key teaching from verse 4:

    • “the branch is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain in the vine”
      “so you are not (able), if you should not remain in me”
    • “apart from me, you are not able to do anything”

The teaching in verse 5 has been simplified and distilled. The concepts of “not remaining in me” and “from yourself” have been combined in the expression “apart from me” (xwri\$ e)mou=). The adverb/preposition xwri/$ means “separate, apart”, connoting the presence of space between two things. Here, in the context of the illustration, it refers to a separation between the branch and the vine. We might think that this would allude to the act of the land-worker (i.e., the Father) “taking away” (i.e., cutting off) the vine that does not bear fruit (v. 2); however, the implication here clearly is that the separation is the reason why the branch does not bear fruit. A certain kind of separation thus occurs, even before the branch is ‘taken away’.

The idea of “bearing fruit” is also generalized here by the common verb poie/w (“do, make”). The act of bearing fruit thus is understood as something that the branch actively does. This has important implications for an understanding of the fruit-bearing motif, and will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes.

October 25: John 15:4 (continued)

John 15:4, continued

The beginning of Jesus’ application of his vine-illustration (vv. 1-3) occurs here in verse 4. It consists of a central statement, followed by an exposition. The central statement, including its featured use of the verb me/nw (“remain”), was discussed in the previous note:

“You must remain in me, and I in you.”

How this statement relates to the vine-illustration is explained, at least initially, in the remainder of the verse:

“Just as the broken (branch) is not able to bear fruit from itself, if it should not remain in the vine, so also you are not (able) if you should not remain in me.”

The verb me/nw occurs twice, not as an imperative, but as a subjunctive, indicating a condition—viz., the condition required for bearing fruit. The condition is formulated from a negative standpoint:

“the branch is not able to bear fruit…
if it should not remain [mh\ me/nh|] in the vine”

The branch not remaining in the vine is qualified by the prepositional expression “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=). The branch needs to be in the vine in order to bear; it cannot bear fruit (“is not able,” ou) du/natai) on its own, separated from the vine. This principle, derived from the illustration, is then applied to the disciples (believers), using the syntactical configuration “just as” [kaqw/$]… “so also” [ou%tw$ + de/]:

“…so also you (are) not (able to bear fruit) if you should not remain [mh\ me/nhte] in me.”

Clearly, the disciples (“you”) are identified with the branches of the illustration, though this identification is not made explicit until verse 5.

As discussed in the previous note, the context of the illustration (within the Last Discourse) establishes the theological (and Christological) significance of the language used here in verse 4. The Son is (and remains) in the Father, and the Father is/remains in the Son (14:10). The intended relationship between Jesus (the Son) and believers is patterned after this relationship between Father and Son. The pattern extends even to the prepositional qualifier “from itself” (a)f’ e(autou=), as Jesus declares that he does not speak from himself (“from myself,” a)p’ e(mautou=):

“the utterances that I say to you I do not speak from myself, but the Father remaining in me [e)n e)moi me/nwn] does His works.” (14:10b)

This clearly is a close conceptual parallel with what Jesus is saying in 15:4. He remains in the Father (and the Father in him), and so he does not speak “from himself”; rather, the Father is the source of his speaking. This is expressed in terms of the Father doing (vb poie/w) work (e&rgon). As we shall see, this parallel is important for a proper understanding of the motif of “bearing fruit” in the Vine illustration.

In the next daily note, we will turn our attention to verse 5, as the application of the illustration to the disciples (believers) is brought more clearly into focus

October 16: John 15:2 (12:24)

John 15:2, continued

In considering how to interpret the idiom of “bearing fruit” (vb fe/rw + karpo/$) in the context of the Vine-illustration (cf. the previous note on v. 2), it is necessary to examine the use of this same terminology elsewhere in the Gospel of John. There are two relevant references: (1) 4:36, in the context of the discourse-illustration of vv. 31-38, and (2) the saying in 12:24. As the saying by Jesus in 12:24 is closer in form and substance to the statement in 15:2, we will look first at that reference.

John 12:24

“Amen, amen, I relate to you, (that) if the kernel of the grain, falling into the earth, should not die off, (then) it remains alone; but, if it should die off, (then) it bears much fruit.”

This saying is part of the Discourse-unit of 12:20-36. The narrative introduction is established in vv. 20-22, describing the unusual circumstances of some Greek visitors to Jerusalem (for the Passover festival) who expressed an interest in seeing Jesus (“we wish to see [i)dei=n] Yeshua”). In the Gospel of John, the idiom of seeing (and the specific use of the verb ei&dw, along with other sight-verbs), has theological and Christological significance. To see Jesus means coming to know and trust in him. Thus, this short episode, occurring toward the close of Jesus’ public ministry (as narrated by the Gospel), likely is meant by the author as a foreshadowing of the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. At the historical level, the “Greeks” (or Greek-speakers) should probably be understood as Gentile converts (proselytes) or ‘God-fearers’ (such as Cornelius [cf. Acts 10-11]).

This allusion to the Christian mission is a sign that Jesus’ own mission on earth is nearing its end. This is the significance of the central declaration in verse 23:

“…the hour has come that the Son of Man should be shown honor [docasqh=|]”

Throughout the Gospel, the title “the Son of Man” (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) is used specifically in reference to the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Son sent by God the Father to earth.

The verb doca/zw essentially means “recognize”, typically in the sense of giving/showing honor to a person, sometimes by placing the person in an esteemed/honored position. It is one of several verbs in the Gospel used in the specific theological context of the exaltation of Jesus. Within the Johannine Christological narrative, the exaltation of Jesus involves a process that covers (and includes) Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ passion (and the passion narrative), preceding his death, marks the beginning of the process of exaltation. For other occurrences of the verb doca/zw with this meaning, cf. 7:39; 12:16; 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5; it occurs three more times in this passage (v. 28).

Thus, the immediate context of verse 24 is the beginning of Jesus’ exaltation, anticipating his impending suffering and death. As noted above, his death marks the end of his earthly mission, and foreshadows the beginning of the believers’ mission. This is the light in which we must read verse 24. The dying (vb a)poqnh/skw, “die off/away”) of the seed in the ground (or “earth”, gh=) clearly alludes to Jesus’ impending death. And yet, the proverbial and gnomic character of this saying suggests that it applies to the disciple of Jesus (i.e., believer in Christ) as well. The following verse 25 more or less confirms this point:

“The (one) being fond of his soul loses it, but the (one) hating his soul in this world shall guard it into (the) life of the Age [i.e., eternal life].”

This saying resembles comparable discipleship-sayings in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 8:35; Matt 10:39; 16:25; Luke 9:24; 17:33), and likely derives from the same underlying historical tradition(s). The implication is that the disciple must be willing to sacrifice his/her own life (“in this world”)—dying, if necessary—in order to obtain eternal life. This attitude of willing self-sacrifice follows the example of Jesus himself. In the Synoptics, this teaching is best expressed by the saying regarding the disciple “taking up his cross” and following Jesus; versions of this saying are preserved in both the Synoptic/Markan and “Q” lines of tradition (Mk 8:34 par; Matt 10:38 par). In the Gospel of John, this same principle is expressed primarily in terms of the “love command” (13:1, 14ff, 34-35; 15:12-13; cf. also 10:11-17). In both the Johannine and Pauline writings, we also find the idea that the believer shares/participates in Jesus’ death, and its life-giving power, through the Spirit, as symbolized by the rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The servant who follows Jesus in this manner, willing to share in his suffering and death, will be shown/given honor (same verb, doca/zw) by God the Father, just as Jesus (the Son) is exalted (v. 26; cp. 21:19).

It is in this context that we are to understand the motif of “bearing fruit”. Consider the short dialogue and exposition by Jesus that follows (vv. 27-36), in which he discusses further the nature and effect of the Son’s exaltation (beginning with his death). Here, in verse 32, an earlier Son of Man saying (3:14; 8:28; cp. in v. 34) is reprised, utilizing the verb u(yo/w (“raise/lift high”) to express the theme of exaltation:

“…and I, if I should be lifted high [u(ywqw=] out of the earth, I will drag all (people) toward myself.”

Most commentators translate the prepositional expression e)k th=$ gh=$ as “from the earth”; however, this misses the important connection with the agricultural imagery in verse 24. The seed, falling “into the earth” (ei)$ th\n gh=n), dies, and then produces new life/growth that comes up “out of the earth” (e)k th=$ gh=$). The “fruit” (karpo/$) motif, in this agricultural context, thus refers to the life that is produced through the death of Jesus (the Son), and which is then communicated to the world. This Divine/eternal life is made available to every one who trusts in him; so powerful is this source of life that believers find themselves dragged (vb e(lku/w) toward it. The qualifying idiom “much fruit” (polu/$ karpo/$) in verse 24 should be understood in relation to the idea of “all (people)” (i.e., all believers) being drawn/dragged to the eternal life that the Son gives.


October 14: John 15:2

John 15:2

“Every broken (branch) in me (that is) not bearing fruit, He takes it (away);
and every (branch) bearing fruit, He cleans it, (so) that it might bear more fruit.”

This pair of related statements continues the Vine-illustration, building upon the central (predicative) statement in verse 1. It relates to two particular aspects of that earlier statement: (1) the relationship between vine and worker (Son and Father), and (2) the specific work (e&rgon) that is done (on the vine) by the Father as land-worker (gewrgo/$).

In the context of the illustration, the work done relates specifically to the branches of the vine—that is, to the many shoots and tendrils that branch out from the rooted stalk at the center. Anyone who has had first-hand experience with tending a grape-vine knows well the importance of pruning back this growth, ideally each year, to keep the vine well-managed for optimal fruit-bearing. And, indeed, the theme of this portion of the illustration is the pruning of the vine.

It is interesting the way that this pruning is presented here in verse 2. The work (of cutting) is the same, but the condition of the branches involved is different, and this difference produces a clear contrast in the two (parallel) clauses of this statement. The contrast between the two types of branches is precise:

    • the branch “not bearing fruit” vs.
      the branch (that is) “bearing fruit”

The participial phrase (fe/ron karpo/n, “bearing fruit”) is the same, distinguished only by the use of a governing negative particle (mh/, “not”) in the first instance. And, in each instance, the same act of cutting (pruning) has a different result, indicated by the use of two different verbs:

    • the branch not bearing fruit is taken away (vb ai&rw)
    • the branch bearing fruit is cleaned (vb kaqai/rw)

Since, in the first instance, the branch is not bearing any fruit, the cutting of it simply removes it from the vine, without any effect on the vine’s fruit-bearing. In the second instance, the cutting of the branches “cleans (up)” the vine, making it more manageable and enabling it to bear more fruit; this last point is specified by the subordinate phrase/clause in v. 2b: “…(so) that it might bear more [plei/wn] fruit”.

How should we understand the illustration at this point, as applied to the person of the Son (Jesus) as the vine and God the Father as the worker? We can begin by looking at some of the specific words that are used, and their significance in a Johannine (theological) setting.

First, there is the use of the verb fe/rw (“bear, carry, bring [forth]”), in the form of a substantive verbal noun (participle), along with the object noun karpo/$ (“fruit”). Second, we have the pair of verbs ai&rw and kaqai/rw, which refer to the contrasting result of the worker’s act of cutting/pruning the vine’s branches.

Let us start with the verb fe/rw—both (a) its meaning and significance in the Gospel of John, and (b) the Johannine syntactical importance of the substantive verbal noun (participle) form.

The verb fe/rw occurs 13 times in the Gospel of John, but more than half (7) of these are found in the Vine passage (15:1-17). This leaves only six other occurrences. In five of these (2:8; 18:29; 19:39; 20:27 [twice]; cf. also 2 John 10), the verb is used in the general sense of bringing/moving (along) or carrying an object. Only in 12:24 do we find a contextual meaning comparable to its use in 15:2ff; the statement by Jesus in this verse is worth quoting:

“…if the kernel of the grain, falling into the ground [gh=], should not die off, it remains alone; but, if it should die off, (then) it bears much fruit.”

Here is another agricultural illustration that is comparable to what we have in 15:2ff. There is a rather clear conceptual similarity between the need for dying off (of the seed) and for the cutting off (of the vine’s branches)—both are required for the bearing of fruit (vb fe/rw + karpo/$).

When we turn to the noun karpo/$, it occurs 10 times in the Gospel, but eight of these are in our passage, along with the occurrence in 12:24 (cf. above). This leaves only one other reference—in 4:36, in an agricultural illustration that is part of a short Discourse-unit (vv. 31-38) within the larger chapter 4 Discourse (with the Samaritan woman, vv. 1-42).

What does it mean for the branches of the vine to “bear fruit”, or conversely, not to bear fruit? Here we must avoid reading into our passage other occurrences of the fruit-motif from elsewhere in the New Testament. It is important that our analysis focuses first and foremost on the Johannine usage of this terminology. Thus, it is necessary to present, in some detail, a comparative examination of 15:2 in light of 4:31-38 and the saying in 12:24. This we will do in the next daily note.