Perpetual Error

IMG_7930Those of us who grew up in church have more than likely heard a message at some point about “producing fruit,” and what the speaker thinks “producing fruit” should look like. It usually is presented as a certain system of morality or church attendance that the person feels should be applied to all those who claim Christianity (Never mind the fact that “producing fruit” simply means that you love God and love others as yourself, then act on that love). Usually the message will include a warning about how the Bible teaches that those who do not produce fruit will be “cut off” from Christ. This message is based on two verses in John 15.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” 

-John 15:1-2

The problem is…

that verse you just read, much like any shred of Scripture supporting the notion of a rapture, doesn’t actually exist. Without getting into a lengthy discussion on Greek vs English word meanings and various translations, here’s what those verses actually say when translated properly:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He lifts up every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he cleans so that it will be even more fruitful.”

-John 15:1-2

“Lifts up” and “cleans” versus “Cuts off” and “prunes.” It’s a pretty big discrepancy, and I’m not the first person to point it out. It’s a complete difference in mentality and approach. I either believe that God will cast aside and destroy those who are weak, or I believe that God comes to the aid of those who are weak by putting them in a better position in which they can “bear fruit” according to his purpose. If I want to control the actions of others through threats of damnation, I would love the “cuts off” mistranslation. However, if I want an understanding of scripture that aligns with the rest of Jesus’ message, I’d prefer the correct “lifts up” translation (which also makes the rest of the surrounding verses actually make sense).

Christians have faith in a God who, according to John 3:16-18 (just a few chapters earlier), sent his son into the world “not to condemn” those who believe in him. It’s a glaring contradiction to John 15:1-2, if we can somehow adhere to the thought that God condemns those who believe in him, but are in a time of weakness… especially when just a few chapters earlier, Jesus is recorded as stating that those who believe in him are not condemned.

It’s a flaw in the English translation. Doctrines based on an ignorant understanding of Scripture’s meaning, context, and intended recipients plague modern western churches. It has resulted in too many churches somehow thinking they are in the business of behavior modification, rather than the business of loving people.

It’s no wonder that modern intellectuals struggle to accept Christianity.

Thankfully, Christians have faith in a God who does not cast aside, but provides strength through weakness. He lifts us when we can’t lift ourselves, and puts us in a better position to accomplish our mission on earth: to love people.

5 thoughts on “Perpetual Error

  1. How do you explain verse 6 with this interpretation? Yes the geek can mean cut off or lifted up, but reading the verse in context makes it pretty clear which is more likely correct. Branches lifted up, the gathered up and burned doesn’t make any sense, where as branches cut of, gathered up and hurned, makes sense logically.

    Not sure why you go “just a few verses earlier” (actually back 12 chapters) for context, but ignore a verse in the same discussion almost immediately folowing the ones in question.

    Chapter 15 isn’t about a moment or time weakness, or a person struggling, its about someone proclaiming their faith, but not truly living it

    1. Hi Dan!
      First, “verses” should have been “chapters.” Thanks for catching that.
      Second, I’m glad you asked this, I wanted to address it, but thought it would push the post to be a little too long. The difference between verse 6 and verses one and two is the fact that one is described as being in Christ and one is not in Christ. The one who is in Christ, but is not bearing fruit is “lifted up” for healing and to enable the “bearing of fruit.” The one who “does not remain in me” is already withered and is lying on the ground, due to already being in a state of death vs already being in a state of life. That is why they are “gathered.” They are already dead and lying on the ground to be gathered. They are not individuals who have been “cut off” or somehow thrown to the side.

      Thanks!

    2. Thanks for the ongoing discussion. I still disagree for a couple reasons.
      1, the metaphor is to growing fruit, a farmer does doesn’t lift up non producing branches, he cuts them off. Doesn’t make sense to compare it to farming, then say it it doesn’t compare to what farmers do.
      2, the whole layout of the discussion is to contrast thing one with thing two. And it specifies the result of option two. Your argument seems to be that the verse say if you don’t produce fruit you’ll be lifted up to produce fruit, but if you do produce fruit you’ll pruned to produce fruit…

      It’s like going to a fastfood restaurant and you can get combo meal 1, or you can get Combo meal 2 that come with a free cookie, do you assume combo meal 1 also has a cookie?

      I agree that God will carry you through times of weakneas, and not simply cast you out for a failure, but I disagree that these verses are the ones that support this idea. These verse are more in agreement with, and along the lines of Rev 3:16, and being vomited out of His mouth

      1. Just quickly…
        1. Researching the practice of that time in Palestine is actually part of what brought me to the conclusion. It was customary for a vine to be lifted and place on some kind of trellis or stake if it were still alive, but not yet producing fruit.
        2. I agree that it is to contrast two things. The contrast is between one who has faith in Christ and is on the vine, and one without faith who is withered on the ground to be collected. The word “prune” is actually solely dependent on “cut off.” That word is actually better translated as “cleaned.” Which was also a customary practice of the time in vineyards. The vine was cleaned of bugs, so that it would remain healthy.

        I don’t understand the cookie analogy, but I think it’s because we’re viewing the contrast as two completely different things. The withered vine in verse 6 is not the same as the vine that is not producing fruit. The withered vine is not “in Christ,” while the non-producing vine is “in Christ.”

        That is the contrast.

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