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John 15a – Nine Reasons Why John 15:2a and 6 (Probably) Refers to Unbelievers

John 15:2a Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away (all Scripture in ESV)

John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

 

This morning’s sermon focused on the difference between a believer (someone who bears fruit) and an unbeliever (someone who does not). I briefly examined why I believe those who do not bear fruit are unbelievers, as opposed to a believer who loses his/her salvation or a believer who loses his/her life or rewards. Here is a more detailed presentation defending my view.

And by the way, this is about as alliterative as I’ll ever get J

 

  1. Contrast – Notice how “every branch in me that does not bear fruit” is contrasted with “every branch that bears fruit” (vs 2). A contrast implies that one thing is not like the other. If 15:2b clearly refers to believers, the most natural way to take the contrast would be to see it referring to unbelievers (rather than “professing-yet-false believers”).

 

  1. Comparison – 15:2a tells us what happens when a person does not “bear fruit.” 15:6 tells us what happens when you don’t “abide” in Jesus. Are these verses referring to the same thing? Verse 4 gives us the answer: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” We see that “to abide in Jesus” = “to bear fruit.” Therefore, the opposite is true as well. Comparing vss 2, 4 and 6 indicates that verses 2a and 6 are talking about the same thing. Since the language in verse 6 appears to be judgmental and referring to Hell, this must mean that vs 2a refers to the same thing.

 

  1. Clean – The word “clean” in 15:3 should remind the reader of 13:10-11 where Jesus says all the disciples are clean, except for Judas. This was the last time “clean” was used in John, and Jesus’ act of footwashing begins the discourse that extends from chapters 13-17. If the word is used in the same way here in 15:3, that means that Judas is definitely not part of the ones Jesus calls “already clean.” In this passage, those “already clean” are those in the good category of fruitful branches, rather than branches to be thrown away/burned. Therefore the allusion in 15:3 to 13:10-11 indicates that Judas is a 15:2a kind of person. Since Judas is clearly an unbeliever, 15:2a refers to unbelievers, not wayward Christians.

 

  1. Caution – 15:6 literally reads “like the branch” in the Greek text. The definition article points to a definite person as a comparison to caution readers not to turn out like him. The most obvious choice of this article’s referent is Judas, who was an unbeliever.

 

  1. Character – Judas’ departure just took place in John’s Gospel. His departure fresh on the minds of the disciples, it would make sense for him to be an example of 15:2a and the disciples an example of 15:2b, which verse 3 clearly indicates.

 

  1. Context – We are in the Gospel of John, not a letter of Paul. For Paul, “in Christ” (and similar phrases) is used as a technical term for a Christian. John doesn’t necessarily have the same rigidity to these terms.   Context determines meaning. Here, “in me” (vs 2a) could refer to a disciple who was with Jesus from the beginning, but still wasn’t a believer. In that sense, Judas was “in Jesus” as part of the gang, but not “in Jesus” in a Pauline sense of the phrase.

 

  1. Cross-Reference – Matthew 3:8-10 reads, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John the Baptist uses similar terminology as in John 15 to speak to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who are certainly not depicted as believers in any of the Gospels. They are threatened to be “cut down” and burned since they are unfruitful. In context here, fruitfulness and repentance are connected. This cross-reference may be a helpful support for the proposed view of John 15.

 

  1. Condemnation – If 15:2a and 6 are interpreted as believers getting judged (either by losing rewards or premature death), then this would be at odds with other statements in the Gospel of John that indicate there is no condemnation for believers (see 3:18, 5:24, 29). Though it is true that believers can suffer consequences such as loss of life or rewards (1 Cor 3:11-15, 11:27-32), this is not an emphasis in John’s Gospel. In John, true believers persevere to the end (cf. 6:37-40, as well as 1 John).

 

  1. Choice Words – Some say that the Greek word airō can mean “lift up” instead of “take away” (vs 2a), making it an agricultural, positive usage of the word (a gardener propping up a plant to make it more fruitful, as opposed to removing the dead branch). While this is true, John uses the word in both ways in his Gospel (positive “lift up” in 5:8-12, 8:59; negative “take away” in 11:39, 48, 16:22, 17:15). Therefore, context will determine the meaning of the word here, and the contrast between 15:2a and 2b shows that the negative meaning is more likely here.

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