Reasons Why One Should Accept the Traditional Authorship of the Gospels

The Four Gospels are the primary documents that describe the life and teachings of Jesus. Traditionally since the earliest times of the church, the Evangelists[1] have been ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Modern critical scholarship has been more critical of the traditional authors. Many scholars will claim either that the Gospels were pieced together by various writers, or that the writings were pseudonymous but given the names of the Four Evangelists to propel their apostolic authority.

Despite the cynicism of critical scholarship, good reasons exist to hold to the traditional view of authorship for the four canonical Gospels (that is, that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Four Evangelists). This article will provide five such reasons.

 Internal Evidence of Authorship.

 Within the four Gospels, one will find internal evidence of authorship. That is, the Gospels give clues who the writers were within the text itself. For instance, Matthew was a tax collector who was called by Jesus while sitting in the tax collector’s booth. The First Gospel notes that “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at a tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).[2] Matthew’s Gospel goes into more detail on his calling (Matthew is called Levi in the other Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel provides a great deal of monetary details. Even if Matthew did borrow material from Mark’s Gospel (which would make sense since Mark obtained his information from Simon Peter), there is no reason to deny Matthean authorship to the First Gospel.

Mark’s Gospel, who wrote down the words of Simon Peter, provides internal evidence that one who closely knew Simon Peter wrote the Second Gospel. Peter’s life experiences with Jesus is the prime focus of the Second Gospel.

Luke writes a detailed biography of Jesus in the Third Gospel. Luke was not an eyewitness as admitted in the opening verses of the Gospel. The detail and level of complexity in the Greek validates that a highly-educated man wrote the Third Gospel. Luke was a physician. Thus, it stands to reason that Luke was the author of the Third Gospel.

The Fourth Gospel provides great internal evidence that John the apostle wrote (or at least dictated to another) the text. Strewn throughout the text, one will find the beloved disciple passages. The Fourth Gospel indicates that the author was an apostle (1:14; 2:11; 19:35), one of the Twelve Disciples (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and John the son of Zebedee is associated as the beloved disciple who accompanies Peter (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23). The evidence is so strong for Johannine authorship that I feel like I am taking crazy pills when someone denies that John wrote the Fourth Gospel.

External Evidence of Authorship.

External evidence for traditional authorship is quite strong. The early church unanimously accepted traditional authorship for the Four Gospels. Matthew is accredited with the First Gospel by Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (c. A.D. 120) and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. A.D. 175). John Mark is accredited with the Second Gospel, Luke is credited with the Third, and John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Papias and preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 260-340).[3] In addition, John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies.[4] The church unanimously accepted Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors. If one is to claim otherwise, there should be a great deal of evidence.[5] No such evidence exists outside of modern skepticism.

Expense of Documents.

 Interestingly enough, documents the size of the Gospels were quite expensive in antiquity. John Walton and Craig Keener note the following:

  “Writing material was expensive; for example, a copy of the Gospel of Mark may have required the equivalent early twenty-first-century buying power of $1000-$2000 U.S…Works as large as these were major literary undertakings, requiring so much papyrus that in terms of early twenty-first century buying power the larger Gospels may have been worth thousands of dollars of U.S. dollars…Normally in antiquity readers knew who produced such major works, whether by information on the outside of the scroll or by knowledge circulated only by word of mouth. In a work this size [speaking of the Gospels, mine], authorship would be one of the last details forgotten.”[6]

If Mark is noted to have cost around $2000, then larger works like Matthew, Luke/Acts, and John were probably around $4000 (Luke and Acts could have been $6000 a piece). This would have been a major undertaking. No one is going to forget the writers of the Gospels in the early church, especially if the early leaders request the works. It should be rightfully assumed that the church must have raised the funds in order to have the canonical Gospels written.

Early Manuscript Attestation.

 It has been noted that nearly all early manuscripts would have the authors name written on the first page or the exterior of the text (see footnote #6). Thus, the authors’ names would have followed the text. There are reasons to believe that the names were associated with early manuscripts. Thus, here is another reason to hold to traditional authorship.

Oddity of the Four Writers.

 It seems somewhat bizarre that if the early church were going to make up four writers for the Gospels that the four writers that we were given were chosen. John the apostle would make sense as he was one of the inner circle disciples. Yet, John did not hold the prominence of a Simon Peter or James. Even more bizarre is the choice of Mark. Mark is an odd choice as he does not appear in the Gospel story, except for a possible odd inclusion in Mark 14:51-52. If John Mark had nothing to do with the Gospel and only served as an amanuensis, why not attribute the Gospel to Peter? The acknowledgement of Mark verifies the early church’s focus on getting the information correct.

Luke is an oddity also. For one thing, Luke was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. So, why have Luke as the author if one is merely passing authority onward? Second, it is possible that Luke could have been a Gentile, or at least half-Gentile. If this were the case, it makes it even more bizarre that the church would invent Luke as the writer of the Third Gospel.

Lastly, Matthew is an extremely bizarre choice. “Wait!,” one may postulate, “wasn’t Matthew one of the apostles? Would that not make his claim all the more probable if the church were to invent an author?” Not really. Matthew was a tax-collector. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Tax-collectors were considered the lowest of the low. In other words, they are loved as much now as they were back then. Tax-collectors were notoriously known for charging far more than what the government required so that they could pocket the additional revenue. Furthermore, Matthew is a fairly obscure disciple. He is not one of the inner circle disciples.[7] If the church were to invent an author for the First Gospel, why not accredit it with James or Andrew? Why Matthew, an obscure disciple with a former hated occupation?

Conclusion

The early claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Evangelists only make sense if in fact they were the writers of the Four Gospels. It is possible that Matthew, Luke, and John dictated their Gospels to appointed disciples (particularly John). Well and good. But that does not demerit the claim that they were the authors. If a person is going to dismiss early testimony to the authorship of the Gospels, that person had better possess strong reasons to overturn such a claim. While critical scholars have every right to believe as they wish, the data does not support their claim. This article has demonstrated five strong reasons to hold to the traditional authorship of the Four Gospels. While I appreciate the works of critical scholarship, the data strongly supports the claims of the early church. Until it can be proven otherwise, this writer will continue to adhere to the testimony of the early church as it pertains to the identity of the four canonical Evangelists.

 

© November 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] That is, the authors of the Four Gospels.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[3] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.14-16.

[4] See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.2.

[5] To the degree of evidence needed to overturn a touchdown in the NFL.

[6] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, “Introduction to the Gospels and Acts,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1603.

[7] That being Peter, James, John, and perhaps Andrew.

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of John

When most people think of Christmas, they think of the Christmas stories found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew, one finds the genealogy on the father’s side—albeit, the adopted father; the visitation of the angels to Mary and Joseph; the visitation of the wise men; the flight to Egypt; and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod.

In Luke’s Gospel, one finds the foretelling and birth of John the Baptist; the foretelling of Jesus’ birth; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Mary’s song of praise; the birth of John the Baptist; Zechariah’s prophecy; the birth of Jesus; the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds; and Jesus’ presentation before the Temple.

Unbeknownst to many, John’s Gospel holds a Christmas story as well. While John does not provide many of the historical details that Matthew and Luke do, John provides a deep Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

What does John’s Christmas story tell us? Seeing that Christmas is really a celebration of the incarnation of Christ, John tells at least three things about Christmas.

John’s Christmas Story introduces the divine nature of Jesus.

First, John addresses the true nature of Jesus. John boldly proclaims that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).[1] John describes the divine nature of Jesus in this passage. D. A. Carson notes that

Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ’, it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, ‘Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.’[2]

That is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all acknowledge the beginning of Jesus’ life at his birth. John takes Jesus’ beginning back to the vast realm of eternity.

A person cannot escape the divine nature attributed to Jesus in John chapter 1. Jesus is described as being eternal with God, being in the nature of God. John also describes Jesus as the Creator by noting that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made hat was made” (1:2). John also notes that Jesus is the source of life in 1:4-5. But, John’s Christmas story does not only include the divine nature of Jesus, he also includes information about Jesus’ mission on earth.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the interactive mission of Jesus.

John notes that the “true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:9-10). Perhaps the most important truth that John provides pertaining to Jesus’ interactive ministry in the world is that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Kenneth Gangel emphasizes this point in saying,

“This may be the most important verse in the Bible on the doctrine of the incarnation. John went back to verse 1 to pick up one of his favorite themes, the Word. God became human; God showed us his glory; God offered us grace and truth; God literally “tabernacled” among us.”[3]

The core truth of Christmas is that God came and dwelt among us. The very God who gave us life came and became one of us. What should this tell us? It should tell us that God is concerned about the human race. God is a loving and caring God who was not willing to leave humanity as it is, but desires to save it.

Which brings us to the final point.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the transformative gift of Jesus.

John demonstrates that God came to dwell among us. John uses the illustration of the tabernacle where God’s glory would reside in the holy of holies. In this manifestation, one finds the fulfillment of the law.

John states quite succinctly that in Jesus one finds “grace and truth” (1:17). Grace is unmerited favor. Nothing within us says, “I am worthy of God’s love and mercy.” Rather, God gives us something that we do not deserve—salvation.

While many will be inundated with the commercialism that surrounds Christmas, it is a good practice for us all to remember God’s grace during this time. We don’t deserve the love of God. But since God is loving, he came to save us from ourselves. He came to help us understand the true meaning of love. In Christ, we find the full expression of God’s love.

The world could use a great refresher course when it comes to the true meaning of love.

Love is not selfish. Love does not seek to hoard. Love seeks to give.

Conclusion

John’s Christmas story provides a poignant, yet profound statement… “the Word became flesh” (1:14). That’s the point in celebrating Christmas. Often, we become obsessed with finding the accurate date of Christ’s birth. We spend countless hours discriminating between those things that appear pagan in our celebrations, while failing to ponder on the most important truth behind Christmas.

God left the portals of heaven and dwelled in a physical body among us. He came to save us. He came to love us. He came to show us the truth. Will you be willing to focus on the core essential truth of Christmas this season? If so, you might want to camp in the midst of John’s Christmas story this year.

 

© December 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

 Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Volume 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 114.

[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 13.

Jesus–the Barrier Breaker

Recently, I heard the racial remarks made by a principal of a private school during the graduation ceremonies in Georgia. The most troubling matter, to this writer, was not only that a principal allowed herself to spout forth racial comments during what was supposed to be a celebration, but it was that this episode occurred in a church with a big bold cross standing behind her. One may question what all transpired during the meeting. But the episode proves that unfortunately, racism is alive and well in our modern times—much more than individuals would like to presuppose.

However, when an individual evaluates the life of Christ Jesus, one will find that Jesus was a barrier breaker. Jesus consistently broke barriers. In John’s Gospel, one will find a particular episode where Jesus spoke with a woman at the well. In this case, Jesus broke at least five barriers.

1.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Race.

The apostle John denotes that Jesus “came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well” (John 4:5-6a).[1] John also reports that “It was about noon” (John 4:6b, NIV).[2] Then, “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink’” (John 4:7). The woman then said to Jesus, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman” (John 4:9)?

The woman asked why Jesus would even address her. Why? The woman inquired this of Jesus because there existed racial tensions between Jews and Samarians. Jews remained purebred, whereas the Samaritans stemmed from a mixture of Jewish and Assyrian bloodlines. Many Jews did not have any dealings with Samaritans because of this great racial divide. Jesus, however, demonstrated that He is no respecter of persons, meaning that “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Jesus does not distinguish between a person who is of a darker and/or a lighter complexion. As the children’s song states, “Jesus loves the little children—red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” If Jesus makes no distinction between races, then why in the world should we???

2.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Religion.

The woman at the well challenged Jesus with another barrier that existed between her people and the Jews. She said, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20, NIV). Jesus corrected this problem by noting that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Often different religious spectrums and backgrounds create barriers. However, in this case, Jesus breaks this barrier with truth. Various denominations focus on varying aspects of the faith. Nevertheless, one needs to understand the essential truths that comprise mere, or basic, Christianity. It seems to me that the time has come where Christians need to lower their minor denominational differences and elevate the core beliefs that comprise the Christian faith.

3.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Socio-economics.

It is reasonable to posit that this woman was in many ways an outcast. The woman, as noted in John 4:17-18, had been married multiple times. She was probably an outcast in her society. The woman probably barely made it by on the funds that were provided to her. However, Jesus did not come to the most respected person of Sychar. Rather, Jesus came to one of the more despised of Sychar to preach the message of grace and truth to her. When accused of befriending those who were not the best and brightest of society, Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (John 9:12, NIV). While some only associate with the wealthiest and most successful, Jesus breaks such a barrier.

4.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Gender.

When the disciples returned, John denotes that the “disciples…were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27). Why were they amazed that Jesus would speak with a woman? It was due to the custom of the day. It was not proper for a man to speak with a woman in public. Yet, Jesus was not concerned about the traditions as much as He was concerned with the spiritual condition of the woman in question. Christ loves men and women. Salvation is not for men alone. Neither does this promote feminism—a thought process that tends to occasionally exclude men. Rather, Jesus is concerned with the spiritual condition of all people. It is for this reason that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 5.     Jesus: the Barrier Breaker of Sin.

Jesus did not “beat around the bush.” Jesus directly focused on the woman’s problem—sin. Jesus intentionally said to the woman, “Go and call your husband and come here” (John 4:16). The woman responded and said, “I have no husband” (John 4:17a). Jesus retorted, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (John 4:17b). How’s that for political correctness? Jesus exposed the problem. The woman repented, accepted a new life found in Christ’s grace and truth, and was even used as an spokesperson who helped bring the community to faith. Jesus broke down the barrier of sin, but He ultimately broke down the barrier of sin when He died upon the cross for the sin of the world. The apostle Paul notes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). Paul also denotes that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus broke these five barriers—and many more at that. Why then should a disciple of Christ seek to rebuild the barriers that Christ has torn down? Is such a one truly acting as a disciple of Christ? It behooves the Christian believer to tear down barriers of racism, expose the truth found in Christ (apologetics) and thereby tearing down the barriers of doubt and cynicism, to demonstrate impartiality to those more and less fortunate than ourselves, to keep from misogynist and feminist motifs that create unneeded strife between the sexes (note that egalitarianism and complementarianism issues are not being addressed here), and furthermore live with integrity and to preach the saving message of Christ. Like Jesus, we should be barrier breakers.

© May 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

Exegesis of John 15:1-11: The Vine and Branches

Disclaimer: This paper is the exclusive work of Pastor Brian Chilton.  This paper may not be copied and reused as one’s own work under any circumstances.  Quotations used from the paper are permissible so long as the quotations do not constitute the majority of one’s overall text.  Quotations used within this text must be given credit to the due author as established in “Turabian’s Manual for Writers.”  Any student who copies and turns in this work as his or her own is subject to the plagiarism penalties set forth by one’s institution of learning.  This paper serves as a reference and is for educational purposes only.

grapevine

INTRODUCTION

This paper will examine the pericope found in John 15:1-11.  The text presents a teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus presented Himself as a vine and Jesus’ followers as branches of the vine.  The pericope is divided into three sections: the discipline of unfruitfulness, in verses one through three; the source of fruitfulness, in verses four through six; and the results of fruitfulness, in verses seven through eleven.  The paper will first examine the discipline of unfruitfulness.

THE DISCIPLINE OF UNFRUITFULNESS

Jesus presents a metaphor comparing Himself to a vine and the disciples to the branches of the vine.  Jesus said, “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 it so that it may bear more fruit.”[1]  The image of the vine was well-known to the Israelites of the first-century as the vine demonstrated God’s relationship with Israel. Craig Keener writes,

The Old Testament and Jewish literature sometimes portrayed Israel as a vineyard (e.g., Is 5:7), or less frequently as a vine (e.g., Ps 80:8; Hos 10:1), and God as the vinegrower.  A golden vine in the temple symbolized Israel’s power, and Jesus may here portray the disciples as the remnant of Israel…The most basic point of the imagery is the obvious dependence of branches on the vine for their continued life.[2]

While Keener is correct, the vine held more symbolic impact for the first-century Jew.  The issue of judgment was also associated with the vine metaphor.

Whitacre writes, “Most of these texts include the theme of God’s judgment against Israel; the vine has not proved fruitful in that Israel has been unfaithful.  The same use of these images is continued in the Synoptic Gospels…The image of the vine is thus almost always associated with the contrast between God’s ideal for his people and their falling short of it.”[3]  This would certainly be the case as Jesus later said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.”[4]  The ideal is broken in individuals that do not bear fruit.  The process of fruit-bearing is later described in the text.  Jesus also identifies Himself as the true vine as opposed to a false vine.  Fruitfulness was important to a vine-keeper as it was a means of financial support.  Watson describes the importance of the oenologist as he writes, “Wine could be make from pomegranates…, raisins…, apples, dates, honey, herbs and figs.  However, wine from grapes predominated…Wine was consumed at daily meals…Wine could be used for medicinal purposes…Wine is usually associated with feasting and celebration.”[5]  Therefore, a vineyard owner would be greatly concerned with the fruitfulness of one’s vines.  Likewise, God would be interested in the fruitfulness of God’s vineyard to an even greater degree.  So, how does Jesus identify Himself with the vine?

The Greek text reads, “Egw eimi Jh ampeloV Jh alhqinh.”[6]  The term “alhqinh”, or “alhqinoV,” means “words that conform to facts true, correct, dependable…what conforms to reality genuine, real, true…persons characterized by integrity and trustworthiness true, dependable.[7]  Therefore, Jesus is identifying Himself as the embodiment of the vine.  The nation of Israel would no longer be considered the vine of God.  Jesus would now assume that role.  The access to the Father and the gateway to life would be through Jesus.  Borchert writes, “In this metaphorical description the Father is still portrayed as the gardener, but Jesus is the Vine, not Israel, and the disciples, the followers of the way of God, are pictured as branches…Jesus, the Vine, appears to stand between the vineyard keeper/gardener and the branches as a kind of “mediator” of life and sustenance.”[8]  If Jesus was the vine that gave life and the ability to produce fruit, or traits of a virtuous life, what would happen to a branch that did not produce fruit?

Jesus did not tolerate unfruitfulness.  Mark records the following instance, “Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening.”[9]  In the present passage in John, Jesus shows forth that unfruitful branches would be taken away.  Certainly, the fig tree cursing would have come to their mind.  What did this pruning entail?

It would seem that the pruning of branches would be the removal of those who were not producing fruit.  Barker and Kohlenberger write, “The means by which pruning or cleaning is done is the Word of God.  It condemns sin; it inspires holiness; it promotes growth.  As Jesus applies the words God gave him to the lives of the disciples, they undergo a pruning process that removes evil from them and conditions them for further service.”[10]  But, what constitutes the need for pruning?  It would appear that since Jesus is the link to life and the Father that a life lived outside of the body of Jesus would result in this pruning process.  Tasker would seem to agree, “The verb kathairo translated purgeth in verse 2 is better rendered, as in RSV, ‘prunes’.”[11]  In verse six, Jesus would go back to the topic of unfruitfulness.  Jesus shows the end result of unfruitfulness, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”[12]  Borchert states, “The downside of the mashal here reaches its epitome.  Failure to produce fruit brings a severe warning concerning the end of unfruitfulness.  Employing the indefinite pronoun tis (“anyone, someone”), the evangelist separates any unfruitful person from the faithful, persevering, fruitful disciples/branches and indicates that such a person is thrown away and withers.”[13]  This would seem to be the case.  Fruit only comes from a branch’s healthy connection to a healthy vine.  When the branch’s connection is lost, no fruit can grow.  The illustration is pertinent and forthright.  When a kudzu-branch wrapping around a tree loses the connection with the root, the branch withers, dies, and falls from the tree.  The branch can then be removed and disposed.  This is the image presented by Jesus of the one who has no solid connection with the vine.  In contrast, a healthy connection produces fruit as will be seen in the next section.

THE SOURCE OF FRUITFULNESS

Jesus showed that the source of fruitfulness was found in a relationship in Him which also connected one to the Father.  This connection, however, also brings forth a major theological question.  It is an age-old question that has divided Christian denominations for centuries.  What is this process of fruit-bearing?  Stamm writes, “Before we offer ourselves and our fruitbearing as a medium for God’s growing revelation we need to make sure that our wheat is not the cheat that springs up whenever the Christ of faith is severed from the Jesus of history. John recognizes that God’s revelation is conditioned by man’s ability, readiness, and willingness to receive the truth by doing the truth.”[14]  The last statement especially applies in this context.  The text indicates that it is the reciprocal nature of God’s relationship with an individual that produces fruit.  Yet, there is a larger theological question.  Can one sever this tie with God?

If a person could sever the relational tie with God after the relationship began, then some would argue that salvation could be defaulted.  Tasker writes, “Unwillingness, through a proud sense of self-sufficiency, to draw spiritual strength from Jesus, flow of this vitalizing power, renders the so-called believer a dead branch unable to bear fruit.”[15]  If Tasker is correct in the assessment that a dead branch relishes in the self, can one who claims to believe in Christ but remains totally depends upon the self be called an actual disciple of the Lord?  Is this a question of one losing salvation or an issue of one having never received the gift offered to the world through Christ Jesus?  One hint that is given to the reader is found in the use of the term “abide.”

The New American Standards translates verse 5 with, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”[16]  The New International Version translates the same verse with, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”[17]  The translators chose a different term in explaining this connection with Christ.  The New American Standard’s translators chose “abide” whereas the New International Version’s translators chose the term “remain.”  In the Greek text, the word “menwn” is used.[18]  “Menwn,” or “menw” is defined as “remain, abide”…in a more permanent sense dwell, live, lodge…of persons continuing on through time last, remain, continue to live.”[19]  The word “menw” does not necessarily help one in the interpretation of the theological problem.  In order to understand the context of the term, one must examine the understanding of the term in Jesus’ time.  Kynes writes of the term,

As a common translation of the Greek verb menein, “to abide” has rich theological associations in the Fourth Gospel where 40 of the 112 NT occurrences of the verb occur…It is used to communicate the enduring character of Christ, and more importantly, when used with the preposition “in” and a personal object, it points to the relationship of mutual indwelling of the Father, the Son and the believer…”Abiding in Christ” assumes the most intimate union possible.  The identification of Jesus with the true vine (15:1), a symbol of Israel (cf. Hos 10:1; Jer 2:21; Ps 80:9-12, 15-16; Is 5:7), in which the disciples are to abide, suggests a corporate dimension to his person that has important Christological implications.[20]

Keener writes, “Dead, fruitless branches of vines are obviously of no use for carpentry; their only possible value is for fuel.  Jewish teachers believed that God had awful punishments in store for apostates, because those who had known the truth and then rejected it had no excuse.”[21]  The question is; would this understanding have inclined the first-century listener to believe that salvation was dynamic or static in its application?  In other words, is salvation based upon the keeping of certain criteria or is the union full and complete?  There still remains some mystery as to how this would have been understood.  A strong case could be made that the text calls for an interpretation that would lend itself to the possibility of the loss of salvation.  However, this writer takes a different approach.

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[22]  In 2 Peter, it is written, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”[23]  Therefore, is the issue about the loss of salvation of the believer or the pruning process of those who were intended to come to salvation, but refused the grace of God offered to them?  It would seem that Judas was being referenced in the teaching of Jesus as Judas would have been in attendance when this message was given.  But this begs the question, was Judas ever truly a follower of Jesus or was he a follower in name only?  Jesus said in another text, “‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’  Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.”[24]  It would seem that Judas was never truly part of vine.  Therefore, it is in this writer’s opinion that the true believer is assured of one’s status in the Lord.  As Paul writes, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”[25]  John also writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”[26]  Once a believer receives the salvation of the Lord, the believer is grafted into the vine of God and is given assurance of that connection.  Those who never allow God’s grace to graft them into the vine of God are left to wither and die although the intention was for the individuals to join.  This certainly does not answer all the questions in the debate, but offers one possible explanation.  For the final section in this Johannine pericope, the results derived from having a fruitful relationship with Christ will be addressed.

THE RESULTS OF FRUITFULLNESS

Verses seven through eleven of John chapter fifteen presents the reader with three particular results that arise from having a fruitful relationship with Christ.  In verse seven, the first result of a fruitful relationship is found.  The result of an intimate prayer life is found as Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”[27]  There is an intimacy found in this passage as Jesus shows that the disciples can ask anything from Jesus.  Borchert brings up a good point about the absence of praying in Jesus’ name as Borchert wrote, “The way of stating the ‘asking’ is phrased differently in the previous chapter, but the actual implications are quite similar.  Here it is unnecessary for a repetition of the discussion on asking ‘in my name’ because if one is abiding in Jesus, it would be virtually impossible to pray in any other way than that of representing the nature of Jesus.”[28]  Robertson agrees with this rendering as he wrote, “This astounding command and promise (γενησεται [genēsetai], future middle of γινομαι [ginomai], it will come to pass) is not without conditions and limitations. It involves such intimate union and harmony with Christ that nothing will be asked out of accord with the mind of Christ and so of the Father.”[29]  Just as communication is important for marriages and other relationships, so prayer is important for the believer in Christ.  Another result of a fruitful relationship exists in the text.

The next result originating from a fruitful relationship with Christ is found in verse eight.  That result is the glorification of the Father.  Jesus said, “My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”[30]  “Edoxasqh” is the term translated “glorified.”[31]  The stem is “doxazw” and means “as giving or sharing a high status glorify, make great…, as enhancing the reputation of God or man praise, honor, magnify…, as putting into a position of power and great honor, especially in the future life glorify.[32]  Examining the various definitions for “doxazw,” the definition of “honor” fits the context of this verse the best.  Therefore, the text states that the Father is honored and magnified when a person enters this divine, Father-Son relationship.  There is a third result that emanates from a fruitful relationship with Christ.

The third result from a fruitful relationship with Christ is love as found in verse nine and ten.  The text states, “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”[33]  “Agaph” is the term translated “love.”[34]  Agaph is a term that many, if not most, students of the Bible have studied to some degree.  The term infiltrates many important passages in the New Testament even that of John 3:16.  Agaph is defined as, “love; …especially as an attitude of appreciation resulting from a conscious evaluation and choice; used of divine and human love.[35]  The concept of agaph love saturates the Gospel of John.  Borchert writes,

In this verse the focus turns again so that the theme of abiding merges into the crucial Johannine theme of love….They are as follows: the Father loves the Son…, and the Son obediently loves the Father…; the Son loves his followers, and they are to love and obey him…; loving and obeying the Son means being loved by the Father…; being loved by the Son also implies loving one another…; God not only loves the disciples but loves the world and gave his Son for its people…; but many in the world love darkness and do not do the will of God.[36]

Jesus made this agaph love the prime focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus, as Morris writes, “…brought into the world a new emphasis on love which he demonstrated in his own life and which he made clear he expected his disciples to produce too.  For him love depends on the nature of the lover rather than that of the beloved.”[37]  The theme of agaph love is second only to the themes of abiding and fruitfulness in this passage.  One could make an argument that it would be due to agaph love that the abiding and fruitfulness processes were initiated in the first place.  For this loving friendship with Jesus, the true vine, brings forth an abiding, fruitfulness.  Later, Jesus tells the disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you.”[38]  This relationship between humanity and God is deepened in Christ.  Keener writes, “In tannaitic parables, Moses appears as God’s friend four times, Israel three times and a few others, including Abraham, one each.[39] This is probably a primary background for the ‘friends of God’ image in John 15:15, especially because in John 1:14-18 the disciples are compared with a new Moses to whom God revealed his glory in Jesus, the embodiment of Torah in flesh (cf. 2 Cor 3:6-18).”[40] Therefore, the disciples could be called friends of God by the relationship that the possessed with God the Father through God the Son.

CONCLUSION

This paper has evaluated the three themes found in the John 15:1-11 pericope.  The first theme in verses one through three was found to be that of the unfruitfulness that comes outside of having a proper, abiding relationship with God through Christ.  The second theme, in verses four through six, describes the source of fruitfulness.  Finally, the third theme, in verses seven through eleven, tells of the results that come from having a fruitful relationship with God through Christ.  In verse eleven, the pericope is finalized by the description of joy that comes from this relationship.  “Cara,” translated as “joy,”[41] is the result of this intimacy.  The reciprocal relationship of God and humanity through Jesus Christ brings joy to God and joy to the human participant.  It is a win-win situation when one enters a relationship with God through Christ Jesus.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Abridged Edition, New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Borchert, Gerald L. The New American Commentary: John 12-21, Volume 25B. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2002.

Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2005.

Johnston, R.M. “Parabolic Interpretations Attributed to Tannaim. Ph.D. diss., Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1977, quoted in C.S. Keener, “Friendship,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Keener, C. S. “Friendship,” Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, Edited by Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000.

Keener, Craig S.  The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993.

Kynes, W.L. “Abiding,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992.

Morris, I. “Love,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933.

Stamm, Raymond Thomas. “Preacher, the scholar, and the Gospel of John: the interpretation of the Gospel of John and the pulpit.” Interpretation 11, no. 2 (April 1, 1957): 131-154. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).

Tasker, R.V.G. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: John. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

 

The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, trans. Philip W. Comfort and Robert K. Brown, Edited by J.D. Douglas. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Watson, D.F. “Wine,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992.

Whitacre, R.A. “Vine, Fruit of the Vine,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992.


[1] All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), John 15:1-2.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 301.

[3] R.A. Whitacre, “Vine, Fruit of the Vine,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 867-868.

[4] John 15:2, NASB.

[5] D.F. Watson, “Wine,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 871-872.

[6] John 15:1, The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, translated by Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort, Edited by J.D. Douglas (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 383.

[7] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, “alhqinoV, h, on,” Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2005), 43.

[8] Gerald L. Borchert, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2002), 139.

[9] Mark 11:13–14, NASB.

[10] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 351.

[11] R.V.G. Tasker, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 175.

[12] John 15:6, NASB.

[13] Borchert, 144.

[14] Raymond Thomas Stamm, “Preacher, the scholar, and the Gospel of John: the interpretation of the Gospel of John and the pulpit.” Interpretation 11, no. 2 (April 1, 1957): 131-154. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013), 135.

[15] Tasker, 175.

[16] John 15:5, NASB.

[17] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), John 15:5.

[18] John 15:5, The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.

[19] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, “menw,” 258.

[20] W.L. Kynes, “Abiding,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 2.

[21] Keener, 301.

[22] John 3:16, NASB.

[23] 2 Peter 3:9, NASB.

[24] John 6:70–71, NASB.

[25] Ephesians 4:30, NASB.

[26] 1 John 5:13, NASB.

[27] John 15:7, NASB.

[28] Borchert, 145.

[29] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), John 15:7.

[30] John 15:9, NASB.

[31] John 15:8, The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.

[32] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, “doxazw,” 120.

[33] John 15:9, NASB.

[34] John 15:9, The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.

 

[35] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, “agaph,” 30.

[36] Borchert, 146.

[37] I. Morris, “Love,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 492.

[38] John 15:5, NASB.

[39] R.M. Johnston, “Parabolic Interpretations Attributed to Tannaim (Ph.D. diss., Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1977), quoted in C.S. Keener, “Friendship,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 385.

[40] C.S. Keener, “Friendship,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 385.

[41] John 15:11, The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.