Those 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.”
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.”
“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.