The Vine and the Branches
1 “I am the true vine#sn I am the true vine. There are numerous OT passages which refer to Israel as a vine: Ps 80:8-16, Isa 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ezek 15:1-8, 17:5-10, 19:10-14, and Hos 10:1. The vine became symbolic of Israel, and even appeared on some coins issued by the Maccabees. The OT passages which use this symbol appear to regard Israel as faithless to Yahweh (typically rendered as “Lord” in the OT) and/or the object of severe punishment. Ezek 15:1-8 in particular talks about the worthlessness of wood from a vine (in relation to disobedient Judah). A branch cut from a vine is worthless except to be burned as fuel. This fits more with the statements about the disciples (John 15:6) than with Jesus’ description of himself as the vine. Ezek 17:5-10 contains vine imagery which refers to a king of the house of David, Zedekiah, who was set up as king in Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah allied himself to Egypt and broke his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar (and therefore also with God), which would ultimately result in his downfall (17:20-21). Ezek 17:22-24 then describes the planting of a cedar sprig which grows into a lofty tree, a figurative description of Messiah. But it is significant that Messiah himself is not described in Ezek 17 as a vine, but as a cedar tree. The vine imagery here applies to Zedekiah’s disobedience. Jesus’ description of himself as the true vine in John 15:1 ff. is to be seen against this background, but it differs significantly from the imagery surveyed above. It represents new imagery which differs significantly from OT concepts; it appears to be original with Jesus. The imagery of the vine underscores the importance of fruitfulness in the Christian life and the truth that this results not from human achievement, but from one’s position in Christ. Jesus is not just giving some comforting advice, but portraying to the disciples the difficult path of faithful service. To some degree the figure is similar to the head-body metaphor used by Paul, with Christ as head and believers as members of the body. Both metaphors bring out the vital and necessary connection which exists between Christ and believers. and my Father is the gardener.#tn Or “the farmer.” 2 He takes away#tn Or “He cuts off.” sn The Greek verb αἴρω (airw) can mean “lift up” as well as “take away,” and it is sometimes argued that here it is a reference to the gardener “lifting up” (i.e., propping up) a weak branch so that it bears fruit again. In Johannine usage the word occurs in the sense of “lift up” in 8:59 and 5:8-12, but in the sense of “remove” it is found in 11:39, 11:48, 16:22, and 17:15. In context (theological presuppositions aside for the moment) the meaning “remove” does seem more natural and less forced (particularly in light of v. 6, where worthless branches are described as being “thrown out” – an image that seems incompatible with restoration). One option, therefore, would be to understand the branches which are taken away (v. 2) and thrown out (v. 6) as believers who forfeit their salvation because of unfruitfulness. However, many see this interpretation as encountering problems with the Johannine teaching on the security of the believer, especially John 10:28-29. This leaves two basic ways of understanding Jesus’ statements about removal of branches in 15:2 and 15:6: (1) These statements may refer to an unfaithful (disobedient) Christian, who is judged at the judgment seat of Christ “through fire” (cf. 1 Cor 3:11-15). In this case the “removal” of 15:2 may refer (in an extreme case) to the physical death of a disobedient Christian. (2) These statements may refer to someone who was never a genuine believer in the first place (e.g., Judas and the Jews who withdrew after Jesus’ difficult teaching in 6:66), in which case 15:6 refers to eternal judgment. In either instance it is clear that 15:6 refers to the fires of judgment (cf. OT imagery in Ps 80:16 and Ezek 15:1-8). But view (1) requires us to understand this in terms of the judgment of believers at the judgment seat of Christ. This concept does not appear in the Fourth Gospel because from the perspective of the author the believer does not come under judgment; note especially 3:18, 5:24, 5:29. The first reference (3:18) is especially important because it occurs in the context of 3:16-21, the section which is key to the framework of the entire Fourth Gospel and which is repeatedly alluded to throughout. A similar image to this one is used by John the Baptist in Matt 3:10, “And the ax is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Since this is addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to John for baptism, it almost certainly represents a call to initial repentance. More importantly, however, the imagery of being cast into the fire constitutes a reference to eternal judgment, a use of imagery which is much nearer to the Johannine imagery in 15:6 than the Pauline concept of the judgment seat of Christ (a judgment for believers) mentioned above. The use of the Greek verb μένω (menw) in 15:6 also supports view (2). When used of the relationship between Jesus and the disciple and/or Jesus and the Father, it emphasizes the permanence of the relationship (John 6:56, 8:31, 8:35, 14:10). The prototypical branch who has not remained is Judas, who departed in 13:30. He did not bear fruit, and is now in the realm of darkness, a mere tool of Satan. His eternal destiny, being cast into the fire of eternal judgment, is still to come. It seems most likely, therefore, that the branches who do not bear fruit and are taken away and burned are false believers, those who profess to belong to Jesus but who in reality do not belong to him. In the Gospel of John, the primary example of this category is Judas. In 1 John 2:18-19 the “antichrists” fall into the same category; they too may be thought of as branches that did not bear fruit. They departed from the ranks of the Christians because they never did really belong, and their departure shows that they did not belong. every branch that does not bear#tn Or “does not yield.” fruit in me. He#tn Grk “And he”; the conjunction καί (kai, “and”) has been omitted in the translation in keeping with the tendency in contemporary English style to use shorter sentences. prunes#tn Or “trims”; Grk “cleanses” (a wordplay with “clean” in v. 3). Καθαίρει (kaqairei) is not the word one would have expected here, but it provides the transition from the vine imagery to the disciples – there is a wordplay (not reproducible in English) between αἴρει (airei) and καθαίρει in this verse. While the purpose of the Father in cleansing his people is clear, the precise means by which he does so is not immediately obvious. This will become clearer, however, in the following verse. every branch that bears#tn Or “that yields.” fruit so that it will bear more fruit. 3 You are clean already#sn The phrase you are clean already occurs elsewhere in the Gospel of John only at the washing of the disciples’ feet in 13:10, where Jesus had used it of the disciples being cleansed from sin. This further confirms the proposed understanding of John 15:2 and 15:6 since Judas was specifically excluded from this statement (but not all of you). because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Remain#tn Or “Reside.” in me, and I will remain in you.#tn Grk “and I in you.” The verb has been repeated for clarity and to conform to contemporary English style, which typically allows fewer ellipses (omitted or understood words) than Greek. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself,#sn The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it remains connected to the vine, from which its life and sustenance flows. As far as the disciples were concerned, they would produce no fruit from themselves if they did not remain in their relationship to Jesus, because the eternal life which a disciple must possess in order to bear fruit originates with Jesus; he is the source of all life and productivity for the disciple. unless it remains#tn Or “resides.” in#tn While it would be more natural to say “on the vine” (so NAB), the English preposition “in” has been retained here to emphasize the parallelism with the following clause “unless you remain in me.” To speak of remaining “in” a person is not natural English either, but is nevertheless a biblical concept (cf. “in Christ” in Eph 1:3, 4, 6, 7, 11). the vine, so neither can you unless you remain#tn Or “you reside.” in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains#tn Or “resides.” in me – and I in him – bears#tn Or “yields.” much fruit,#tn Grk “in him, this one bears much fruit.” The pronoun “this one” has been omitted from the translation because it is redundant according to contemporary English style.sn Many interpret the imagery of fruit here and in 15:2, 4 in terms of good deeds or character qualities, relating it to passages elsewhere in the NT like Matt 3:8 and 7:20, Rom 6:22, Gal 5:22, etc. This is not necessarily inaccurate, but one must remember that for John, to have life at all is to bear fruit, while one who does not bear fruit shows that he does not have the life (once again, conduct is the clue to paternity, as in John 8:41; compare also 1 John 4:20). because apart from me you can accomplish#tn Or “do.” nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain#tn Or “reside.” in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire,#sn Such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire. The author does not tell who it is who does the gathering and throwing into the fire. Although some claim that realized eschatology is so prevalent in the Fourth Gospel that no references to final eschatology appear at all, the fate of these branches seems to point to the opposite. The imagery is almost certainly that of eschatological judgment, and recalls some of the OT vine imagery which involves divine rejection and judgment of disobedient Israel (Ezek 15:4-6, 19:12). and are burned up.#tn Grk “they gather them up and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” 7 If you remain#tn Or “reside.” in me and my words remain#tn Or “reside.” in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.#sn Once again Jesus promises the disciples ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. This recalls 14:13-14, where the disciples were promised that if they asked anything in Jesus’ name it would be done for them. The two thoughts are really quite similar, since here it is conditioned on the disciples’ remaining in Jesus and his words remaining in them. The first phrase relates to the genuineness of their relationship with Jesus. The second phrase relates to their obedience. When both of these qualifications are met, the disciples would in fact be asking in Jesus’ name and therefore according to his will. 8 My Father is honored#tn Grk “glorified.” by this, that#tn The ἵνα (Jina) clause is best taken as substantival in apposition to ἐν τούτῳ (en toutw) at the beginning of the verse. The Father is glorified when the disciples bring forth abundant fruit. Just as Jesus has done the works which he has seen his Father doing (5:19-29) so also will his disciples. you bear#tn Or “yield.” much fruit and show that you are#tc Most mss (א A Ψ Ë13 33 Ï) read the future indicative γενήσεσθε (genhsesqe; perhaps best rendered as “[and show that] you will become”), while some early and good witnesses (Ì66vid B D L Θ 0250 1 565 al) have the aorist subjunctive γένησθε (genhsqe; “[and show that] you are”). The original reading is difficult to determine because the external evidence is fairly evenly divided. On the basis of the external evidence alone the first reading has some credibility because of א and 33, but it is not enough to overthrow the Alexandrian and Western witnesses for the aorist. Some who accept the future indicative see a consecutive (or resultative) sequence between φέρητε (ferhte) in the ἵνα (Jina) clause and γενήσεσθε, so that the disciples’ bearing much fruit results in their becoming disciples. This alleviates the problem of reading a future indicative within a ἵνα clause (a grammatical solecism that is virtually unattested in Attic Greek), although such infrequently occurs in the NT, particularly in the Apocalypse (cf. Gal 2:4; Rev 3:9; 6:4, 11; 8:3; 9:4, 5, 20; 13:12; 14:13; 22:14; even here, however, the Byzantine mss, with א occasionally by their side, almost always change the future indicative to an aorist subjunctive). It seems more likely, however, that the second verb (regardless of whether it is read as aorist or future) is to be understood as coordinate in meaning with the previous verb φέρητε (So M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek §342). Thus the two actions are really one and the same: Bearing fruit and being Jesus’ disciple are not two different actions, but a single action. The first is the outward sign or proof of the second – in bearing fruit the disciples show themselves to be disciples indeed (cf. 15:5). Thus the translation followed here is, “that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.” As far as the textual reading is concerned, it appears somewhat preferable to accept the aorist subjunctive reading (γένησθε) on the basis of better external testimony. my disciples.
9 “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain#tn Or “reside.” in my love. 10 If you obey#tn Or “keep.” my commandments, you will remain#tn Or “reside.” in my love, just as I have obeyed#tn Or “kept.” my Father’s commandments and remain#tn Or “reside.” in his love. 11 I have told you these things#tn Grk “These things I have spoken to you.” so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this – to love one another just as I have loved you.#sn Now the reference to the commandments (plural) in 15:10 have been reduced to a singular commandment: The disciples are to love one another, just as Jesus has loved them. This is the ‘new commandment’ of John 13:34, and it is repeated in 15:17. The disciples’ love for one another is compared to Jesus’ love for them. How has Jesus shown his love for the disciples? This was illustrated in 13:1-20 in the washing of the disciples’ feet, introduced by the statement in 13:1 that Jesus loved them “to the end.” In context this constitutes a reference to Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf; the love they are to have for one another is so great that it must include a self-sacrificial willingness to die for one another if necessary. This is exactly what Jesus is discussing here, because he introduces the theme of his sacrificial death in the following verse. In John 10:18 and 14:31 Jesus spoke of his death on the cross as a commandment he had received from his Father, which also links the idea of commandment and love as they are linked here. One final note: It is not just the degree or intensity of the disciples’ love for one another that Jesus is referring to when he introduces by comparison his own death on the cross (that they must love one another enough to die for one another) but the very means of expressing that love: It is to express itself in self-sacrifice for one another, sacrifice up to the point of death, which is what Jesus himself did on the cross (cf. 1 John 3:16). 13 No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life#tn Or “one dies willingly.” for his friends. 14 You are my friends#sn This verse really explains John 15:10 in another way. Those who keep Jesus’ commandments are called his friends, those friends for whom he lays down his life (v. 13). It is possible to understand this verse as referring to a smaller group within Christianity as a whole, perhaps only the apostles who were present when Jesus spoke these words. Some have supported this by comparing it to the small group of associates and advisers to the Roman Emperor who were called “Friends of the Emperor.” Others would see these words as addressed only to those Christians who as disciples were obedient to Jesus. In either case the result would be to create a sort of “inner circle” of Christians who are more privileged than mere “believers” or average Christians. In context, it seems clear that Jesus’ words must be addressed to all true Christians, not just some narrower category of believers, because Jesus’ sacrificial death, which is his act of love toward his friends (v. 13) applies to all Christians equally (cf. John 13:1). if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you slaves,#tn See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51. because the slave does not understand#tn Or “does not know.” what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything#tn Grk “all things.” I heard#tn Or “learned.” from my Father. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you#sn You did not choose me, but I chose you. If the disciples are now elevated in status from slaves to friends, they are friends who have been chosen by Jesus, rather than the opposite way round. Again this is true of all Christians, not just the twelve, and the theme that Christians are “chosen” by God appears frequently in other NT texts (e.g., Rom 8:33; Eph 1:4ff.; Col 3:12; and 1 Pet 2:4). Putting this together with the comments on 15:14 one may ask whether the author sees any special significance at all for the twelve. Jesus said in John 6:70 and 13:18 that he chose them, and 15:27 makes clear that Jesus in the immediate context is addressing those who have been with him from the beginning. In the Fourth Gospel the twelve, as the most intimate and most committed followers of Jesus, are presented as the models for all Christians, both in terms of their election and in terms of their mission. and appointed you to go and bear#tn Or “and yield.” fruit, fruit that remains,#sn The purpose for which the disciples were appointed (“commissioned”) is to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains. The introduction of the idea of “going” at this point suggests that the fruit is something more than just character qualities in the disciples’ own lives, but rather involves fruit in the lives of others, i.e., Christian converts. There is a mission involved (cf. John 4:36). The idea that their fruit is permanent, however, relates back to vv. 7-8, as does the reference to asking the Father in Jesus’ name. It appears that as the imagery of the vine and the branches develops, the “fruit” which the branches produce shifts in emphasis from qualities in the disciples’ own lives in John 15:2, 4, 5 to the idea of a mission which affects the lives of others in John 15:16. The point of transition would be the reference to fruit in 15:8. so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 17 This#tn Grk “These things.” I command you – to love one another.
The World’s Hatred
18 “If the world hates you, be aware#tn Grk “know.” that it hated me first.#tn Grk “it hated me before you.” 19 If you belonged to the world,#tn Grk “if you were of the world.” the world would love you as its own.#tn The words “you as” are not in the original but are supplied for clarity. However, because you do not belong to the world,#tn Grk “because you are not of the world.” but I chose you out of the world, for this reason#tn Or “world, therefore.” the world hates you.#sn I chose you out of the world…the world hates you. Two themes are brought together here. In 8:23 Jesus had distinguished himself from the world in addressing his Jewish opponents: “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” In 15:16 Jesus told the disciples “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you.” Now Jesus has united these two ideas as he informs the disciples that he has chosen them out of the world. While the disciples will still be “in” the world after Jesus has departed, they will not belong to it, and Jesus prays later in John 17:15-16 to the Father, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” The same theme also occurs in 1 John 4:5-6: “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us.” Thus the basic reason why the world hates the disciples (as it hated Jesus before them) is because they are not of the world. They are born from above, and are not of the world. For this reason the world hates them. 20 Remember what#tn Grk “Remember the word that I said to you.” I told you, ‘A slave#tn See the note on the word “slaves” in 4:51. is not greater than his master.’#sn A slave is not greater than his master. Jesus now recalled a statement he had made to the disciples before, in John 13:16. As the master has been treated, so will the slaves be treated also. If the world had persecuted Jesus, then it would also persecute the disciples. If the world had kept Jesus’ word, it would likewise keep the word of the disciples. In this statement there is the implication that the disciples would carry on the ministry of Jesus after his departure; they would in their preaching and teaching continue to spread the message which Jesus himself had taught while he was with them. And they would meet with the same response, by and large, that he encountered. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed#tn Or “if they kept.” my word, they will obey#tn Or “they will keep.” yours too. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of#tn Or “because of.” my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.#tn Jesus is referring to God as “the one who sent me.” 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.#tn Grk “they would not have sin” (an idiom).sn Jesus now describes the guilt of the world. He came to these people with both words (15:22) and sign-miracles (15:24), yet they remained obstinate in their unbelief, and this sin of unbelief was without excuse. Jesus was not saying that if he had not come and spoken to these people they would be sinless; rather he was saying that if he had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of the sin of rejecting him and the Father he came to reveal. Rejecting Jesus is the one ultimate sin for which there can be no forgiveness, because the one who has committed this sin has at the same time rejected the only cure that exists. Jesus spoke similarly to the Pharisees in 9:41: “If you were blind, you would have no sin (same phrase as here), but now you say ‘We see’ your sin remains.” But they no longer have any excuse for their sin. 23 The one who hates me hates my Father too. 24 If I had not performed#tn Or “If I had not done.” among them the miraculous deeds#tn Grk “the works.” that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.#tn Grk “they would not have sin” (an idiom). But now they have seen the deeds#tn The words “the deeds” are supplied to clarify from context what was seen. Direct objects in Greek were often omitted when clear from the context. and have hated both me and my Father.#tn Or “But now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.” It is possible to understand both the “seeing” and the “hating” to refer to both Jesus and the Father, but this has the world “seeing” the Father, which seems alien to the Johannine Jesus. (Some point out John 14:9 as an example, but this is addressed to the disciples, not to the world.) It is more likely that the “seeing” refers to the miraculous deeds mentioned in the first half of the verse. Such an understanding of the first “both – and” construction is apparently supported by BDF §444.3. 25 Now this happened#tn The words “this happened” are not in the Greek text but are supplied to complete an ellipsis. to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without reason.’#sn A quotation from Ps 35:19 and Ps 69:4. As a technical term law (νόμος, nomos) is usually restricted to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT), but here it must have a broader reference, since the quotation is from Ps 35:19 or Ps 69:4. The latter is the more likely source for the quoted words, since it is cited elsewhere in John’s Gospel (2:17 and 19:29, in both instances in contexts associated with Jesus’ suffering and death). 26 When the Advocate#tn Or “Helper” or “Counselor”; Grk “Paraclete,” from the Greek word παράκλητος (paraklhto"). See the note on the word “Advocate” in John 14:16 for discussion of how this word is translated. comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he#tn Grk “that one.” will testify about me, 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.