The Unfruitful Branches in John 15 -- By: Charles R. Smith

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 09:2 (Spring 1968)
Article: The Unfruitful Branches in John 15
Author: Charles R. Smith

The Unfruitful Branches in John 15

Charles R. Smith

Professor of English Bible and Theology
Miami Bible College


The text of John 15 has been one of the historical battlegrounds of doctrinal interpretation. Perhaps only the passage in Hebrews 6 has been the scene of more battles between the Calvinistic and Arminian schools of interpretation concerning the matter of eternal security. Not only has this text provided the field for many battles between these two schools of theology, but there have also been a great many skirmishes within the two camps upon this same battlefield. Particularly among Calvinists there has been disagreement as to the interpretation of this passage.

Though there are other important problems in the parable of John 15:1–8, the most significant question concerns the identification of the unfruitful branches mentioned in the parable.

Arminians have generally understood the unfruitful branches as representative of true believers who, because they become unfruitful, lose their salvation and consequently are ultimately cast into the fires of hell.

Calvinists have been divided as to the identification of these branches. Some have taught that they represent true believers. Most have taught that they represent unbelievers who profess to be believers. Still others have taught that two kinds of unfruitful branches are discussed: professing Christians, and true Christians who do not produce the fruits of Christianity.

Though Arminian views will be rebutted briefly, the primary purpose of this study is to investigate the major interpretations of the passage that have been suggested by Calvinists and to determine, by a careful study of the text and its context, wherein these interpretations have departed from the intent of the Speaker. The identification of the unfruitful branches will be the principal concern.

The Occasion and Background for the Parable

The parable of John 15:1–8 is part of a very lengthy series of instructions given by our Lord on the last evening before His crucifixion. The scope and significance of the revelations

given by Christ on that evening have never been exceeded. On no other single occasion has so much of God’s revelation been given to man. Christ knew that His crucifixion was near and every moment was spent in imparting important information to His disciples. Since the time was so short only vital matters were discussed. The fact that the parabl...

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