Viticulture and John 15:1-6 -- By: Gary W. Derickson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:609 (Jan 1996)
Article: Viticulture and John 15:1-6
Author: Gary W. Derickson

Viticulture and John 15:1-6

Gary W. Derickson

[Gary W. Derickson is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Western Baptist College, Salem, Oregon.]

Few Bible students today can point to having an agricultural background or having lived on a farm. This has led to a distinct lack of familiarity with all or most aspects of agriculture, including viticulture.1 Since the culture of the Bible was principally agrarian, this modern unfamiliarity may contribute to misunderstanding some portions of Scripture. When interpreting difficult passages, such issues as context and lexical meanings are certainly important. But the proper use of historical and cultural data may also inform one’s understanding of key terms and concepts, thereby clarifying what might otherwise be obscure or confusing in a biblical passage.

The problem of John 15:1–6 is made apparent by the variant and disparate interpretations given this passage. Debate continues concerning the meaning of αἴρει and καθαίρει in verse 2 and whether verse 6 describes a believer’s or an unbeliever’s destiny. Some of the confusion can be clarified with an adequate understanding of the viticultural practices of the first century. This article seeks to describe key viticultural practices in first-century Palestine and then use them as a basis, though not the sole basis, for answering questions concerning the fate of the unfruitful branches. This will be accomplished by first introducing the debate between the “lordship” and “free grace” views on John 15:1–6.2 Then a discussion of cultural practices will be detailed,

followed by analysis of the passage with the relevant data in view.

Interpretive Options

At least three interpretations of the passage exist: (a) the unfruitful branches of verse 2 and burned branches of verse 6 represent Christians who lose their salvation, (2) they represent professing “Christians” who never had salvation, or (3) they represent unfruitful Christians who are cared for by God and then eventually are disciplined by means of death.3 The second and third views, both arising within Calvinism, are the focus of this article. They are represented by men such as Laney and MacArt...

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