An encouraging look at John 15:2- the unfruitful branch
One of most frightening verses in the entire Bible, as translated into most English translations, is John 15:2. But when you look at the original Greek, one has to wonder why it has been translated the way we normally read it.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Christ is the Vine, and we are the BRANCHES on that vine (verse 5). Well, even the fruitful branches get pruned back, but if you’re an unfruitful branch, you’re “taken away”. KJV says “he taketh away”. CJB says “he cuts off”. Apologetics/Holman – “he removes.” Sounds very scary. Taken away, removed, cut off – how? Where to? Then what? In any case, it’s scary.
If you’re like me at all, you realize there are unfruitful “down” times in your life when you’re not bearing fruit and don’t even feel like bearing fruit is possible. Or am I the only one who feels that way at times? So am I to be cut off, removed, thrown away, and discarded to the trash heap? It certainly sounds that way. In Luke 13 there’s the story of the unfruitful fig tree – and that tree at least got an extra year reprieve where the gardener was going to work with it, feed it, dung it and do all he could do to help that poor fig tree produce fruit. But here, that poor unproductive branch seems like it is to be whacked off without mercy.
Or so it would seem. But not so fast.
When you look at the actual Greek word – it is “airo”, Strong’s #142. What I’m about to say is not original to me. I read something about this verse in a book some years ago ago, as well as having heard others speak on it. Plus I’ve talked to arborists who care for vineyards.
The Greek word is airo – and it primarily means “to take up, raise up, lift up” according to the Complete Word Study of the New Testament. When you search everywhere Strong’s word #142, Airo, is used, that is verified.
Apparently “airo” is also translated as “taken away” in several other verses. That is true. So it’s possible for it to be translated either as “taken away” or “lifted up”. For example, Col 2:14 speaks of the ordinances that were against us were “taken away”. John 20:1 speaks of the women coming to the tomb and finding the stone had been “taken away”. So apparently the word can be translated the way it is usually translated in John 15:2. But there’s more.
BUT, in most other instances that same word is used, it is translated “lift up, pick up, or raise up”. For example, in these following verses, the underlined words are the same Greek word “airo” – and look how it’s translated in these instances:
John 8:59 – the angry crowds lifted up, picked up, stones to throw at Jesus.
Mark 16:18 – they shall pick up deadly snakes and not be hurt
Mark 2:9; Matthew 9:6 – Arise, TAKE UP your bed and walk…
Matthew 15:37; Mark 6:43 – the disciples “picked up” the left-over food after the miracle of the loaves and fish
Matthew 16:24—let him TAKE UP his cross and follow me.
So WHY on earth would a vinedresser not just cut off an unfruitful branch? Because vine branches need space and air. Sometimes the lowest branches fall into the dirt – the domain of the Serpent (Genesis 3:14 – the Serpent – Satan – was told “on your belly you shall go and shall eat dust…”) We all get “down in the dumps” or wallow in the dust in discouragement and depression at times, and it’s hard to be productive at such times.
Consider who produces the fruit. Hint: it’s not us. It’s the Vine. Read the rest of John 15:1-8, especially verse 5. IF we abide in Him – the VINE –we WILL bear much fruit, for without Him we can do nothing spiritual (John 15:5). The fruit of righteousness is produced in us by Christ. Philippians 1:11 is very clear on that. John 15:6 does go on to say that if we don’t stay attached to Christ who is the Vine, then we will of course wither and be cast out at that point. A branch CANNOT bear fruit by itself, cut off from the vine. But it’s possible for a branch to stay attached to the Vine and still not bear fruit if it’s also stuck in the mud or dirt. I believe the correct translation of John 15:2 is that God – the Vinedresser (see verse 1) – lifts us up, encourages us, understands we can get down -- and puts us back where we can be supported by a trellis or the main vine (Christ) directly.
Now what? Now we can bear fruit! Our leaves are getting sunshine and air and we can grow and be productive. That branch (you) now have a fighting chance of producing fruit. Why? Because instead of being cut off, you were lifted up by God, encouraged, put back on to some support structure – and allowed to grow and thrive.
Hallelujah, praise our great God, who likes to raise us up in Christ, and give us life and produce the fruit of HIS spirit in us, by Jesus Christ.
No wonder Philippians 1:11 says this, at the end of a sentence:
“…being FILLED with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Of course. God, the vinedresser, raises us up to be supported by Christ, our VINE, who produces the fruit in us. (John 15:5). So lift up (airo) your eyes and see life, see Christ, see God and see hope. Praise Yah. Hallelujah.