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John 15, the Vine and the Branches, and an Example of Cultic Scripture Twisting Provided by Martin Smart, One of Jehovah's Witnesses

(To listen to a discussion of this passage, see www.straitgate.com/jw123000.ram)

 


James White

One of the most disturbing tendencies of modern believers is the ease with which they can be shaken by the mere appearance of what looks like an argument against their position.  Rather than examining the arguments of unbelievers in the context of the calm assurance that comes from a thorough knowledge of the faith, many today have drunk deeply at the well of modernism, and secretly believe that “no one can really know” the truth in the realm of “religious topics.”  A recent series of e-mail articles/arguments by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Martin Smart, illustrates this problem with great clarity.  Mr. Smart, like most Internet apologists for the Watchtower, fills his posts with citations from recognized, scholarly sources.  This alone is enough to shut down the critical thinking skills of many post-modern Christians, for the idea is, “Well, if it cites scholarship, it must be right.”  The great possibility that 1) scholarly sources can be misused, or 2) you can cite scholarship to prove points that are utterly irrelevant to the actual debate, does not seem to present itself to the thinking of many today. 

            Recently Mr. Smart began promoting his understanding of John 15:2 as decisively refuting the Reformed understanding of salvation.  This is not, in itself, unusual, as Arminians have been using John 15 to deny the perfection of Christ’s work of salvation for generations.  But it is the way he has gone about it that provides us with a useful example of why we must think clearly about apologetic issues and arguments.

            We first present a basic, brief, but hopefully helpful discussion and exegesis of the passage, focusing upon the essential elements of Jesus’ words.  Then we will provide links to Mr. Smart’s messages.

(John 15:1-8)  "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. [2] "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. [3] "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. [4] "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. [5] "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. [6] "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. [7] "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

            The most important element of any meaningful exegesis comes from recognizing the context and purpose of the passage.  Ignoring context is the chief reason for errors of interpretation.  Making lists, as Mr. Smart did, of a phrase and then assuming the phrase is not impacted by its context is a good example of this kind of error.

            John 15 comes in the heart of Jesus’ ministry to the Apostles on the night of His betrayal.  It likewise is sandwiched in the middle of an extensive dialogue that, importantly, discusses the role of the Spirit in the Christian life.  Jesus is preparing the disciples for the crucifixion, resurrection, and His ascension into heaven, and the coming period of the Spirit’s work amongst them.

            In these particular verses the Lord uses a common means of illustration: horticulture.  It is obvious this was one of His favorite means of communicating great truths, as his audience would surely be able to relate personally to the application.  There are many parallels, as we shall note, between Jesus words to His disciples here in John 15 and the parable of the soils (Mark 4:2-20) and other Synoptic passages (Mark 11:12-14, 19-21).  The same points Jesus made there to the crowds are made in this passage to His disciples in an even more intimate and vital context.

            Finally, it should be noted that Jesus intended His words to bring joy to the heart of the disciples.  He said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”  The intention of the passage is to bring joy to the disciples, especially in light of the events they were about to witness, the sorrow they were about to bear. 

John 15:1-8 breaks naturally into two sections: 1-3, the introduction of the analogy to be used, that of the Vine, the Vinedresser, and the Branches, and 4-8, the discussion of abiding in Christ and bearing fruit.  With these things in mind, let us look closely at Jesus’ words.

Point First: The Vine, the Vinedresser, the Work of the Vinedresser      

Verse 1:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”

            The first words from the Lord’s mouth remind us of the prevalence of the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  I am the light, I am the bread of life, and here, I am the true vine.  John 15 flows naturally with the rest of the gospel, repeating in a fresh way themes struck throughout.

            Next, the Lord claims to be the true vine.  There have always been false Messiahs and pretenders.  But there is only one true vine, one true source of spiritual life and nourishment.

            The allegory of a vine and a vineyard was not unknown.  Isaiah recorded just such an illustration seven centuries before:

1  Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.

 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones.

 3 "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard.

 4 "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?

 5 "So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.

 6 "I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it."

 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

            The next issue, often overlooked (except by those who spend a lot of time speaking to Oneness Pentecostals!) is the clear distinction of the Father and the Son here, both as to identity and function.  The Son is the Vine to whom the disciples are joined in vital union.  The Father is the Vinedresser, the one who lovingly cares for the branches and assures growth and purity.  There is no room for modalistic confusion here!

            The vinedresser, in the ancient context, was responsible for the care of the vine, always seeking to produce maximum fruitfulness.  This involved the examination of the branches, pruning, cleaning, etc.  The duties of the vinedresser are laid out in the next verse.

Verse 2:

“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.”

            This verse describes the standard work of the vinedresser, in this case, the Father.  What is described would be known to anyone who had ever stopped for even a moment to observe the worker in the vineyard.  The vinedresser engages in his work so as to increase the productivity of the vine.  Without the vinedresser, the vine would become wild, and its productivity would decrease greatly.  There is a purpose in the work of the vinedresser that is paramount.

            The Vinedresser attends to only one vine, the true vine.  Because of this singularity and particularity, the only branches to which the Vinedresser’s attention is turned are those related to this one vine.  The Vinedresser does not tend to many vines, but just one.

            The Vinedresser engages in two activities here.  First, fruitless branches are removed.  Fruitful branches are pruned or cleansed, and that for a purpose: more fruit-bearing.  Both actions, in reality, promote more fruit-bearing, as a fruitless branch is, by definition, worthless and useless.  Some have suggested that “take away” may simply mean “to lift up,” so that it may have more opportunity to bear fruit. But this is not the meaning of the text.  The issue is the work of the Vinedresser, and the Vinedresser removes “deadwood” from the vine for the betterment of the vine and branches.  Throughout Jesus’ parables a branch or plant or tree that is without fruit is abnormal, defective, and does not indicate spiritual life.  Note, for example:

(Mark 11:12-14, 19-21)  On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. [13] 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. [14] He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples were listening....When evening came, they would go out of the city. [20] As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. [21] Being reminded, Peter said^ to Him, "Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered."

(Mark 4:2-20)  And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, [3] "Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; [4] as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. [5] "Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. [6] "And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. [7] "Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. [8] "Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." [9] And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." [10] As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. [11] And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, [12] so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." [13] And He said^ to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? [14] "The sower sows the word. [15] "These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. [16] "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; [17] and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. [18] "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, [19] but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. [20] "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold."

In both parables, the plants that appeared to have life but had no fruit are consistently shown to be false, and those represented by these plants, to be false professors.  The parable quoted above explains to the apostles why they saw so many who would follow for a while, but then would fall away.  These were the seeds that fell upon ground that would not produce living plants that produce fruit.  The fact that the Lord Jesus utilized this kind of imagery cannot be ignored in interpreting John 15.

There is a very important play on words in verses 2 and 3 that cannot be brought into English with clarity.  In verse 2 the unfruitful branches are ai[rei; the fruitful branches are kaqaivrei; that is “pruned” with the root meaning of “cleansed,” and then in verse 3 Jesus says to the disciples that they are already kaqaroiv because of the word He has spoken to them.  We will see that this is a vital element of the interpretation, giving us a key interpretational element.

Verse 3:

(John 15:3)  "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

            At this point Jesus steps out of the language of a parable for just a moment, using the play on words just noted above.  He specifically applies the parable to the disciples, and in doing so, makes it clear that he is addressing only those who are truly disciples indeed, those who are “clean,” i.e., the fruitful branches the Vinedresser prunes to make more fruitful.  “You” is plural.  “Clean” means “pure” as in “blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).  This is the same term Jesus used earlier in John 13:10-11.  Here, though, he says not all of them are “clean” because Judas was still present.  Judas was an unfruitful branch...lots of leaves, no fruit.  He was “taken away” by the Father.  Obviously, the “son of perdition” was a pretender, not a true disciple.  It follows, then, that all the fruitful branches are “clean,” and only the fruitful branches are “clean.”  That means only fruitful branches are Christians, for the means of the cleansing is the speaking of the Word, which is the very means of regeneration and salvation (John 17:17). “because of the word which I have spoken to you.”  The means of the cleansing of the apostles was the preaching of the Word of God by the Lord Jesus.  Paul spoke of the same concept in Ephesians 5:26, where, speaking of the Church, he wrote, “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”  Jesus therefore identifies the Apostles as clean, fruitful branches, but they are so because of what Jesus has done for them, not because of what they have done in and of themselves.  The “word” which the Lord Jesus spoke to them was not His own, but was the Father’s (John 12:49, 14:10).  Hence, the Father has, through the Word, “pruned” these branches, making them fruitful.  In the same way, the Father has “taken away” the unfruitful branch, Judas.

            So at this point we can already see in the words of the Lord Jesus that the issue of the fruitless branches has been decided: they are not Christians at all, for they were never “cleaned” by the Word.  They are false professors, surface-level disciples, the shallow or rocky or thorny soil of Mark chapter four.

Point Second:  Abiding in Christ, Bearing Fruit

Verse 4:

(John 15:4)  "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

            “Abide” is in the imperative mode.  It is a command, not a suggestion. Yet, the verb would be carried into the second half of the clause, “and I in you.”  How can the normal meaning of the imperative follow here?  Is this a command to do something?

            Daniel Wallace notes the use of the Aorist Imperative, Constative (Wallace, pp. 720-721).  This use of the aorist imperative emphasizes the importance, urgency, and priority of the command, which is a general precept.  Hence, the sense is, “It is vital and fundamental that you abide in Me and I in you, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”  Jesus is not saying, “I command you to exercise your greatest effort to abide in me, and if you don’t, you’re dead meat.” We are in Christ Jesus only because of the work of God in placing us in Him (1 Cor 1:30).

The branch’s ability to do what it is designed to do (bear fruit) is completely and totally contingent upon another, that being the vine. The life-giving sap flows from the vine to the branch, resulting in the creation of fruit.  In the same way, the believer who bears fruit never does so on “his own,” but only as grace flows from Christ into his or her life.

To be able to “do” anything as a Christian requires intimate union with Christ.  True fruit--not just foliage without fruit--comes only from the life that is in close intimate union with Christ.  Only as God’s grace produces fruit do we truly glorify God. 

Verse 5:

(John 15:5)  “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.”

Verse five summarizes the preceding verses and makes the clear application.  He is the Vine, we the branches.  A promise is given here that determines the categories in which verse 6 must be read.  Jesus specifically asserts that the person in whom He abides, and who abides in Him, bears much fruit. This is the positive assertion: if you are in Christ, fruit is the inevitable result.  Hence, unfruitfulness indicates not being in Christ in the first place, unless this promise is null and void!

The negative aspect is found in the last clause: apart from Christ, there is no fruit.  Nothing.  We can do nothing apart from Him.  Obviously, therefore, any work that is done to the glory of God is done through the grace and power of Christ.  We can take no credit, no glory, for it is all done in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Verse 6:

(John 15:6)  "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.

If there is no vital union with Christ (which is what abiding means, note the absence of the term in verse 2) there is no spiritual life.  The term translated “dries up” is the exact same term found in the parable of the soils in Mark 4:5-6:

(Mark 4:5-6)  “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. [6] And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”

In the parable in Mark this term is used by the Lord of the growth found in the “rocky soil.”  Jesus’ own interpretation of His words is, “and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”  Hence, the Lord indicates two things about these people: they have no “root” and they do not “abide in the vine.”  These, therefore, have not been “pruned” by the Father, they bear no fruit, and are hence those described by John in 1 John 2:19:

(1 John 2:19)  They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The doom of the false professors, while not in any way supporting the idea that salvation is contingent upon what we do rather than upon what Christ has done, is not by this consideration lessened in the slightest.  It is vital that we examine ourselves and not ever engage in haughty pride, but in humility of mind serve the Lord Christ.  

Verse 7:

(John 15:7)  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

This is a conditional sentence, with the conditions being expressed in the first two clauses. The first condition is abiding in Christ, the second having His words abiding in us as well.

It is not insignificant that Jesus here introduces the element of doctrine, subsumed under the term “words.”  He speaks of the indwelling of God’s truth within our hearts.  These very words are the means of our cleansing, as seen in verse 3, and they are “spirit and life.”

The believer who does not feast upon the words of Christ has no basis upon which to claim the promise of this verse.  What we “wish” for will be conditioned upon our continuously abiding in Christ, and upon the impact His word has in changing our hearts, our minds, and our priorities.  John the Apostle, who recorded for us these words in John 15, provides us with his understanding of them when he writes in 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  We know the will of Christ by abiding in Him and having His word abiding in us.

But the promise then is, if we are abiding in Him, and His word abides in us, He shall grant the desires of our hearts!  This is not a blank check with which we force God to do this or that.  Instead, it is a promise that God will fulfill His work within us.  That is, if we ask, “God, make me holy” He will do just that.  If we pray “God, make me like Christ,” and that is our desire, He will do it.  To even consider the idea that this means we can say, “God, give me more of the things of the world so I can be happier” is to completely miss the context in which these words were spoken.

Verse 8:

(John 15:8)  "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

Here we learn how to glorify the Father: bear much fruit.  It is often the prayer of Christians to live in such a manner as to glorify God.  Here we are given direct teaching as to how to do this.  Bearing fruit is the means of proving or displaying discipleship.  There is no meaningful way of demonstrating the reality of discipleship outside of our manner of life.  This is exactly the point of James in James 2:14-24: the demonstration of said faith by consistent actions.

“Who are the disciples of Christ?”  They are those who bear the fruit of righteousness to the glory of the Father.  Obviously, then, we observe again the fact that fruitless branches are not, by definition, disciples.  This is why they are taken away.

Summary of Exegesis:

            So what can we say regarding the teaching of the Lord Jesus in John 15?  And specifically, why should any Bible-believing person reject the idea that the words of the Lord, especially regarding fruitless, rejected, and burnt branches, lead us to believe that salvation is anything less than the perfect, infallible work of a Perfect, Infallible Savior (John 6:37-39)?

            The words of the Lord Jesus do not lead us to believe the branches which are taken away (v. 2) and burned (v. 6) are disciples.  In fact, one cannot maintain such an interpretation in light of the following considerations: 

1) Christ differentiates between those who are “clean” by the Word which is spoken to them and the branches that are taken away: there is no such thing as a true disciple who is not cleansed by the Word;

2) The Lord limits the realm of true discipleship to those who abide in Him.  The branches taken away in v. 2 and burned in v. 6 do not abide in Christ and hence are not disciples; 

3) Jesus gives no indication that there is a major exception to verse 5, where there are those who abide in Him and yet do not bear fruit (reinforcing the distinction inherent in the entirety of the passage);

4) the Lord defines fruit bearing as the only evidence of discipleship (v. 8).  Since the branches that are taken away and burned bore no fruit, it follows inevitably that they are not, by Jesus’ own definition, disciples;

5) Jesus spoke these words not to cause His disciples sorrow but to give them joy (15:11).  The centrality of the Father and Son in bringing out the fruitfulness of the Vine brings joy; interpreting these words so as to refer to true disciples losing their salvation does not;

6) the focus upon Christ as the source of all spiritual life picks up the same theme found in John 6 (as the Bread of Life).  It is completely backwards to take a passage that presents the work of the Father in glorifying Himself in bringing forth fruit in Christ’s people and see it as a passage teaching the opposite, that is, the Father’s failure to bring forth fruit and hence lose one-time true believers.

Now, with these things in mind, let’s turn to the writings of Martin Smart on this passage.  His attempt to turn John 15 against the truth of the perfection of the work of Christ as Savior is a wonderful example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially their unofficial apologists, can twist and distort the Scriptures, and especially, in his second installment, how they will often attempt to present themselves as masters of scholarly material, when in reality, they are using it to prove what is not in dispute:

http://www.egroups.com/message/apologetics/12612

You answered the question about eternal salvation and being in Christ the same way that James White answered it when I brought it up in his chat room (my nick was Arminian at the time.) When he found out who I was he was mad and thought I had mis-represented myself but I replied by asking just how my views differed from the Arminian position. I am interested in what you have to say on this. I think he was a bit peeved at me at the time because I had set him up with the same question that I asked you with regards to being "in Christ" and eternally saved and he did not have an answer for this. 

Now I will fill you in with where I am going with this.   An examination of all of the instances of  EN EMOI with respect to being "in Christ" is educational:

EN EMOI with respects to union with Christ

Matthew 10:32 "Everyone, then, that confesses union with me [EN EMOI] before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens;

Mark 14:6 But Jesus said: "Let her alone. Why do YOU try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me [EN EMOI].

Luke12:8 "I say, then, to YOU, Everyone that confesses union with me [EN EMOI] before men, the Son of man will also confess union with him before the angels of God.

John 6:56 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me [EN EMOI MENEI], and I in union with him.

John 10:38 But if I am doing them, even though YOU do not believe me, believe the works, in order that YOU may come to know and may continue knowing that the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with the Father."

John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI]? The things I say to YOU men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me [EN EMOI MENWN] is doing his works.

John 14:11 Believe me that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI]; otherwise, believe on account of the works themselves.

John 14:20 In that day YOU will know that I am in union with my Father and YOU are in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with YOU.

John 15:2 Every branch in me [EN EMOI] not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:4 Remain in union with me [MEINATE EN EMOI], and I in union with YOU. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, in the same way neither can YOU, unless YOU remain in union with me.

John 15:5 I am the vine, YOU are the branches. He that remains in union with me [hO MENWN EN EMOI], and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me YOU can do nothing at all.

John 15:6 If anyone does not remain in union with me [MENH EN EMOI], he is cast out as a branch and is dried up; and men gather those branches up and pitch them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:7 If YOU remain in union with me [MEINHTE EN EMOI] and my sayings remain in YOU, ask whatever YOU wish and it will take place for YOU.

John 16:33 I have said these things to YOU [EN EMOI] that by means of me YOU may have peace. In the world YOU are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world."

John 17:21 in order that they may all be one [hEN WSIN], just as you, Father, are in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me forth.

John 17:23 I in union with them and you in union with me [EN EMOI], in order that they may be perfected into one [EIS hEN], that the world may have the knowledge that you sent me forth and that you loved them just as you loved me.

The on I wish to focus on and which appears to be inconsistent with the views of 5-point Calvinism is the usage in John chapter 15.

John 15:2

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. (NASB

PAN KLHMA EN EMOI MH FERON KARPON AIREI AUTO KAI PAN TO KARPON FERON KAQAIREI AUTO INA KARPON PLEIONA FERH (GNT)

Please note that these ones to not merely claim to be "in Christ" but it is the Christ himself who claims they are EN EMOI.

That EN EMOI is in apposition to KLHMA is obvious when the whole section John 15:1-17 is taken into consideration. There are TA KLHMATA which remain and there are TA KLHMATA who are taken away. Before this sorting out takes place both classes of TA KLHMATA are EN EMOI.

The damage this does to the Calvinist position should now be obvious.

Sincerely,

Martin Smart

After posting this, Mr. Smart likewise forwarded a much expanded presentation to the same list, replying to an orthodox list user who replied to the above.  The reader will notice a proliferation of “scholarly references.”  But notice one thing in particular: rarely are the references actually relevant to the topic at hand.  This is a hallmark of the JW apologists on the Internet: they glory in providing reference after reference as if the possession of such resources means they are using them in a relevant fashion.  As we shall see, Mr. Smart does not make his case.

Kerry,

I understand that there are some commentators that take your view on this passage.  I think I can provide convincing evidence that their views are not based on the natural sense of the Greek language or the context of Jesus' parable but is purely driven by their theology.  Because of this I will not merely provide the opinions of commentators, but will also give the reasons why the Greek language cannot be interpreted the way you interpret John 15:2 by using leading Lexical and Grammatical sources and also prove that the elements of the parable should not be interpreted the way you interpret them. In short I believe these arguments are "special pleading."  

I had said:

John 15:2
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. (NASB) PAN KLHMA EN EMOI MH FERON KARPON AIREI AUTO KAI PAN TO KARPON FERON KAQAIREI AUTO INA KARPON PLEIONA FERH (GNT)

Please note that these ones to not merely claim to be "in Christ" but it is the Christ himself who claims they are EN EMOI.

Both the Greek of John 15:2 and the imagery of the vine prohibit the understanding that the branch that does not produce fruit was never "in Christ" to begin with.

Part of your analysis was to assume that the vine in Jesus' illustration was similar to a bean plant you encountered in Botany. This is not a good comparison; For more detail on this see the quotes below from the Translator's Handbook of the Gospel of John by Nida. It is likely that this vine is a grape vine because Jesus and his disciples had just finished with the Passover and also because a grapevine is pruned every season and produces fruit.  However, even if it was some other type of vine that fits the agricultural profile of Israel in Jesus' day it is clear that a branch by definition is part of (or in) the vine as a whole.  

The branch that does not produce fruit is as much a part of the vine as the branch that does produce fruit. Consider the Greek of John 15:2. The first mention of branch (PAN KLHMA) is the one that does not produce.  The second mention is actually an anaphoric reference to the first.  KLHMA is not repeated in the verse. Therefore the first occurrence of KLHMA applies to both types of branches. The branches are identical except for their productivity.  The very definition of a branch of a vine militates against the interpretation that it is not attached to the vine.  Since Jesus Christ is the one who says that both productive and non-productive branches are "in me" (EN EMOI) the natural and normal reading of this passage proves that these branches are not counterfeit branches.  The vine is a real vine and this includes the branches. This is supported by the leading grammatical and lexical resources for Koine Greek, see below.

KG: Your previous posting (of the other verses using en emoi) was indeed educational. As I figured, en emoi ('in me') changes meaning with context. En is a primary preposition which can carry several conntations depending on the context. I've included some extra scriptural occurences of En Emoi (which do not match your preconceived notions) in order to expand on the point:

Mt. 10:32 Then everyone who shall confess Me (i.e. a state of oneness 'in' or 'in relation to') before men, I will also confess him before My Father in Heaven. Usage: in (positional)

Mt 11:6 And blessed is the [one], whoever shall not be offended in Me. Usage: because of (instrumental)

Mark 14:6 But Jesus said: "Let her alone. Why do YOU try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me [EN EMOI]. Usage: toward (relational)

Lu 22:37 For I say to you that this that has been written must yet be fulfilled in Me: "And He was numbered with the lawless." [Isa. 53:12] For the things concerning Me also have an end. Usage: in relation to (relational) *note: 'for the things concerning Me' actually clarify the meaning of 'in me' in this passage.

Joh 6:56 The [one] partaking of My flesh and drinking of My blood abides in Me, and I in him. Usage: in (relational)

MS:
After the comments I received from the first poster I went back and re-compiled the list and this time focused on just the gospel of John. This does not mean that I do not consider then as signifying unity. It just means that I will focus on John's usages. John used the phrase EN EMOI 14 times in his gospel. In 13 of the occasions he uses it with reference to believers (Jn 6:56; 10:38; 14:10,11,20; 15:2,4,5,6,7; 16:33; 17:21,23) and in one instance he uses it of Satan with the negative particle OUK. (Jn 14:30)  The leading lexical and grammatical sources view the instances in question differently than you do.  BDAG further notes that John and Paul both use EN EMOI or EN XRISTWi in a consistently "technical" sense which has a different meaning that the one that you posit for John 15.  These sources also specifically mention John 15 as having this meaning which is different that the one you propose.
Lexical Evidence
Considering that most of the examples are from John, it seems reasonable to focus on John because Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon (BDAG,3rd edition, 2000) states in the entry for EN, on page 327 that it has a particular sense in both John and Paul.  See the entry below.

You categorize EN EMOI in John 6:56 as "relational" with a different sense than does BDAG.  BDAG considers this sort of "relation" to be a category of being "in Christ" which is indeed a "close personal relation."

BDAG, page 327C defines the major category #4 as a "marker of close association with a limit, in." Therefore all the categories below are examples of in something defined by what follows EN. Underneath entry number 4 is found

a. fig., of pers. to indicate the state of being filled or gripped by somth: in someone = in one's innermost being ... abides J 6:56

b. of the whole, w. which the parts are closely joined. MENEIN EV TH AMPELW remain in the vine J 15:4

g. Esp. in Paul or Joh usage, to designate a close personal relation in which the referent of the EV-term is viewed as the controlling influence... and of Christians 1J 3:24; 4:13 15f; .. be or abide in Christ J14:20; 15:4f ... 1J 2:24 - in Paul ... EV XRISTWi.

There are other categories of EN listed in BDAG, however one cannot accurately exegete a text by taking the smorgasbord approach and selecting the definition that fits one's theology.  BDAG has a category (#8) that appears to be how you interpret John 6:56 and the examples in John 15 which they call "in connection with."  I am willing to consider any reputable Lexical source which supports your view, however until you supply the reference I will assume that none exists.  If you wish to employ your lexical definitions, the burden of proof is upon you to provide them.
Grammatical Evidence
Wallace
, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 175, 4. Dative After Certain Prepositions - b. Significance states: "When a dative follows a preposition, you should not attempt to identify the dative's function by case usage alone. Rather, consult BAGD for the specific usage of that case with that preposition."  Therefore Wallace supports the views I quoted with respect to EN EMOI in BDAG.

In addition, A Translator's Handbook of the Gospel of John (Barclay M. Newman and Eugene M. Nida) page 481 Nida takes John 6:56 as "in union with."  In addition on page 479 it says regarding John 15:2:

Some scholars contend that the Greek term translated vine really means "vine stalk," and that the vine stalk must be clearly distinguished from the branches. However, most exegetes understand this term to include both stalk and branches, since the branches can be regarded as part of the vine, in the same way that believers may be regarded as part of Christ; that is, they are in him even as he is in them.
   Every branch in me must be rendered in some languages "every branch that is a part of me" or "every branch that is attached to me." However if it is necessary to explain the relation of in me by a separate clause, the structure may become relatively complex, for example, "He breaks off every branch that is a part of me that does not bear fruit."  (e.a)

Commentary
I place commentary in the last position on purpose.  It is the least valuable and most theological driven evidence that one can use in exegesis.  
The Gospel of ST John, BF Westcott, page 217

Every branch in me* that beareth not fruit he taketh away. [*in me - Even the unfruitful branches are true branches. They also are "in Christ" though they draw life in him only to bear leaves (Matt. xxi. 19)]

KG: Now we deal with John 15:2. You write:

MS: That EN EMOI is in apposition to KLHMA is obvious when the whole section John 15:1-17 is taken into consideration. There are TA KLHMATA which remain and there are TA KLHMATA who are taken away. Before this sorting out takes place both classes of TA KLHMATA are EN EMOI.

KG: 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

KG: John 15:4-6's usage of the passage clarify John 15:2. The meaning is relational, not positional. To expand on Jesus' parable- the branches must, by their nature, stay 'in relation' to Christ. Even non-believers who keep a 'Christ centered life' (playing church) talk the talk about being blessed and actually ARE- usually by nature of the fact that the principles of the Christian life 'work'.

MS:
Nida quotes John 15:4 as "Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you" and goes on to say:


And I will remain united in you may also be understood as a comparison "as I remain united with you," since the Greek conjunction kai may mean either "and" or "as."  If the clause is interpreted as a comparison, then the first clause is most appropriately understood as an imperative, for example, "continue to be a part of me even as I am a part of you" or "continue to be joined to me even as I will remain joined to you."  However if the second clause is not to be considered a type of comparison, in most languages a conditional relation would be more appropriate, for example, "If you remain joined to me, I will remain joined to you."
 Most translations are literal, maintaining the imagery either of "living in" or "abiding in."  This meaning is essentially that of 6.56 ("to live in fellowship/union with").  Since the spatial concept of one person living in another person may be difficult, it is better to follow TEV and translate "remain united with me."  (Nida 481 e.a.)

Therefore Nida states unequivocally that "living in" is the literal rendering and that this is equivalent to "union with."  Nida's view is also supported by BDAG.

KG: Your assumption that en emoi is used in a strictly soteriological instead of relational sense here is unwarranted by the context and in light of other passages.

MS:
The parable employs the phrase EIS PUR (into the fire). Every instance of EIS PUR in the GNT has the sense of the destruction (consumed by fire) of the wicked.  The use of  PUR with KAIW at John 15:6 proves that the fire is not for the purpose of refining but for destruction.  This can also be seen by the use of EIS KAUSIN (related to KAIW) at Hebrews 6:8 where the unrepentant former Christians are consumed by fire.

The lexical evidence supports this view.  Note that BDAG speaks of the fire at John 15:6 as one that consumes the branches.  This is not a cleansing, but a complete destruction.

KAUSIS  - BDAG  <file:///D:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Administrator/My%20Documents/My%20Webs/Lexicon/references.html#BDAG> 536A (s. KAIW ) ... burning h`j to. te,loj eivj kau/sin its (the land's) end is to be burned over Hb 6:8

KAIW - BDAG 499C 2  to cause someth. to burn so as to be consumed, burn (up) ... Mt 13:40 v.l. (for KATAKAIETAI, s. KATAKAIW) J 15:6  

This is completely different that when the preposition DIA  (through) is used with PUROS as in 1 Co. 3:15 and 1 Pet. 1:7 where fire is used for the refining of the Christian for the DOKIMION THS TISTEWS. Here DIA is used as opposed to EIS PUROS.

Therefore, this complete destruction (EIS PUR) can only mean the final complete judgment at the end.

KG: This is further buttressed by the remaining context of the passage:

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (v. 7-11)

MS:
The usage of "remain in me" cannot be ignored and the lexical evidence for MENW also strongly refutes your position. BDAG, page 630 gives two basic meanings to MENW. One is "Remain, stay, intr a. a pers or thing remains where he, she, or it is. (...) EN TWi AMPELW remain on the vine, i.e. not be cut off 15:4b ... b. intransf. sense, of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere" remain, continue, abide ... of Christians in their relation to Christ J J6:56; 15:4 ac, 5-7 ... of Christ relating to Christians Jn 15:4a,5

Thus, the second use of MENW lexically has the sense that Christians choose to remain in Christ.  This applies to 15:4a and 5-7.   Nida, in the quote I provided above concurs.  If the clause is comparative it is an imperative.  If it is not comparative it is conditional.  What you quote above is translated as conditional because of the word "if" in "If you remain in me."  This proves that it is not a given or predestined in any way that the branch that is in Christ will stay.  The conditional is also repeated in "If you obey my commands."  Thus Nida's grammatical analysis which is to be used as a guide for translators agrees with the lexical entry for BDAG.

It is clear that Jesus does not teach the doctrine of predestination here, in fact he refutes it!


KG: The love of Christ and of the Father can be described as the daily nurturing and blessings a believer receives as a result of sustained contact with Christ and other believers. There are some professed believers who also receive these blessings, but do not bear any fruit. Instead, they try to soak up all they can get (i.e.- the Love of the Father). They will be pruned. The love of the Father in this passage has to do with the joy in the believer being complete, not with salvation.

MS:
As we have seen, this is no mere "contact."  Both branches are equally in the vine and given the same opportunity to produce fruit.  There are no branches that are not a part of the body of the vine which is the body of Christ.

KG: Further, in light of the parable of the sower, these 'branches' which get broken off are simply an example of the ground Christ spoke of which '...received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.' (Matthew 13:20-22, NIV)

MS:
You are mixing your parables. Seeds are not branches.

KG: They have a professed faith in Christ and receive similar blessings because of their relationship to the church (via other Christians around them- remember, it was told to the servant not to remove the weeds yet because in doing so, he may also accidentally remove the wheat!). The wheat and tares all continue alongside each other, but which is which is made evident in the end (Matt. 13). Weeds and chaff all grow alongside each other until the end. The Father prunes them from each other- and please note- the chaff 'wasn't once considered wheat' nor was the wheat 'wheat then chaff, then wheat'.

MS:
The true vine which is the Christ does not grow "weeds" mixed in with real branches.  They are all legitimate branches.  You are mixing your parables.

KG: In like fashion, there are branches which continue alongside those which are true branches that will be pruned because they will NOT produce fruit. Those branches that are not a part of the The True Vine will 'go out' from them (1John 2:19). If they were part of the True Vine, not just on 'out on a limb' (I made a funny! HA!), they would continue and abide.

MS:
The distinction between those who were not of the same sort as the loyal Christians is because they did not continue or remain with them.  The entries from Nida and BDAG show that in this sense it is the choice of the individual to remain or not.  This does not mean that they were not producing fruit in fellowship with Christ and the other believers when they first became a part of the body of Christ as a branch is to the vine.

[I also snipped your example of kidney bean, as it does not fit the profile of the vine in John 15] Nida, page 480 emphasizes that it is important to have the correct imagery when exegeting this passage.

There are several serious complications in translating vine. Some translators make the mistake of selecting a term which indicates merely a vining plant; for example, in one language the term selected identified a sweet potato vine, and in another the term identified a kind of rattan vine which grows in the jungle but does not produce edible fruit. In yet another language the term for vine simply meant a squash vine. Obviously what is necessary is an expression which will identify a plant which produces fruit and continues year after year.

I have given some reasons why I believe that this vining plant is a grape vine.  There is more evidence that what I have given and it is certainly impossible that Jesus was speaking about a bean plant.  Bean plants are not cultivated by having their branches pruned.  Grape vines, however, are very much a part of the Jewish life.

MS: The damage this does to the Calvinist position should now be obvious.

KG: No damage done, actually. Just a little extra work for me to track down some commentaries/do my own personal work on the topic. Thanks for the research opprotunity! More learned men than you have came past John 15:2 with no problem. John Gill's commentary and Matthew Henry's are two examples. For you to think that you can overturn a host of other verses with one passage of scripture is the height of arrogance.


MS:
I briefly looked at Matthew Henry but not John Gill. Matthew Henry did not go into the Greek at all and to me seemed to be very theologically driven. Also, I consider commentary to be inferior to lexical and grammatical sources, don't you?

In conclusion, the details of the parable, the relationship of the branch as part of the vine, the lexical meaning of EN EMOI, the grammar of EN EMOI and MENW, all combine to refute the Calvinist position on John 15. 

**************

Without any undue disrespect, Mr. Smart’s presentation is 98% smoke, and 2% dust.  In essence, proving that EN EMOI means EN EMOI (“in Me”) proves nothing.  The translation of the phrase is not at issue at all.  You can cite lexicons forever and never get to the point: that phrases appear in sentences which then form paragraphs, and the meaning of the passage is determined in context, not by isolating a phrase and insisting it must mean what you want it to mean.  Nothing in Mr. Smart’s presentation even begins to take Jesus’ words as a total teaching.  Instead, it breaks the text up into small sections and ignores how they are related to each other. 

This kind of eisegetical procedure is the hallmark of JW apologists.  They are so accustomed to focusing upon such things as John 1:1 and “a god” that they are oblivious to the need to read the language outside of mere words or short phrases.  Syntax and then exegesis are unknown areas to those who engage in the study of the text solely to defend something like the NWT.

 


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