The Identity Of The Branch That Does Not Bear Fruit -- By: William E. Arp

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 12:2 (Fall 2008)
Article: The Identity Of The Branch That Does Not Bear Fruit
Author: William E. Arp


The Identity Of The Branch That Does Not Bear Fruit

William E. Arp

Professor of New Testament and Greek
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

Jesus’ analogy of the vine and branches (John 15:1–8) pictures the necessity of the disciples abiding in Jesus to bear fruit. By means of this analogy Jesus encourages the disciples who are bearing fruit to abide in him so that they can continue to bear fruit. As part of the analogy Jesus tells his disciples about the destiny of a branch that did not bear fruit. The analogy focuses on the fruitful branches and is directed toward the disciples. The description and destiny of the unfruitful branch does not have direct application to the disciples.1 However, some interpreters have focused instead on the branch which does not bear fruit and have debated the referent of this branch and the implications of its destiny.

Interpreters debate whether the unfruitful branch refers to a believer or an unbeliever. If it refers to a believer, does its destiny imply loss of salvation? Some have concluded that the unproductive branch does not refer to true Christians, but to “people being in the kingdom in only a general sense,”2 or to a “professing member of my [Jesus’] Church, a man joined to the company of my [Jesus’] people, but not joined to me [Jesus.]”3 For these interpreters the apparent destiny of this branch does not pose a problem since this branch does not refer to a Christian.

Others, however, suggest that this branch refers to a “true Christian” who is “not bearing fruit because of sin or spiritual immaturity,”4 or to a true believer who is in Christ and “yet afterwards separates himself from him [Christ],”5 or professing Christians who “are severed from superficial connection with Christ.”6 For these interpreters the apparent destiny of this branch does pose a problem because it seems to picture loss of salvation since they think this branch refers to Christians.

This problem arises because many interpret the branch that does not bear fruit in a generic sense rather than specifically identifying it according to its function in the context. This type of interpretation points to Judas as the referent of the unfruitful branch. If the unproductive branch refers to Judas, the concern about e...

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