Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Thought on John 15
12/29/2006 - Colin SmithOne of the dangers of studying and practicing exegesis is getting so caught up in the minutiae of grammar and vocabulary that you don't see the forest for the trees. In other words, it is easy to become so consumed with eliciting the meaning of words and phrases that you can forget to place these words and phrases within their context and allow the context supreme authority over meaning. This morning I was reading John 15 (particularly verses 1-8), and I am convinced that this passage has suffered in the hands of some because of contextual neglect.
In the passage, Jesus refers to Himself as the true vine, and the Father as the farmer, the one who has responsibility over the vine (a picture, by the way, of the functional subordination of the Son to the Father). Every branch in the farmer's vine has to bear fruit; if it doesn't, it is cut off. The only way for a branch to bear fruit is to remain in the vine.
For some, this either demonstrates that one can be saved and then lose one's salvation because of a lack of fruit (i.e., backsliding into one's former ways), or it shows that one can be a member of God's covenant people (through infant baptism, perhaps) and then lose that standing later in life because of a failure to live up to one's covenant obligations.
However, if you read this passage in its entire context and see the overarching point Jesus is trying to make, it is clear that it was not His intention to teach any such thing. Jesus knew His disciples were about to face a test of their faith like they have not had to face before. They were about to see their Lord and Master, the One they had proclaimed as Messiah and Son of God, strung up on a cross and left for dead. He knew that the three days after Calvary were going to be a trying time for them, and they needed hope, reassurance, and comfort. Further, it is not unreasonable to consider that Jesus looked beyond the immediate context, knowing that those who would later come to faith as a result of the testimony of the disciples (those He prays for in John 17) would have the added difficulty of never having seen Him face-to-face, and suffer ridicule and persecution as a result.
If we now place the words of John 15 into this context, we see them as an appeal from Jesus to His people to remain in Him. The only way they could hope to bear fruit is to stay attached to the vine. Branches that don't bear fruit are recognized for what they are: worthless to the Father and good only for the fire. In farming terms, such branches are cut off for their lack of fruit and bundled together for burning. Certainly there are those in churches today that would claim to be attached to the vine, but their fruit, or lack thereof, will bear them out. When times of trial come and the faith of the saints is tested, it will be evident who are truly attached to the vine, and who are not.
Primarily, however, this is not a message for the baptized infant, or for the backslidden. In fact, I see Jesus' words in John 15-17 as being among His most "pastoral" in the Gospels: His heart's concern is for the faith and life of His people. He is not trying to teach them covenant theology; He is exhorting them to stay the course and remain true, to remain in Him, to remain in His love, and not to worry about the world and its hatred of them.
This passage is for the faithful believer desirous to be effective for the Kingdom: if you want to be fruitful, if you want to be of benefit to the Kingdom of God, if you want your life to glorify God, then remain in Christ. Without Him, you can do nothing. As far as addressing the issues of infant baptism and eternal security, I would suggest looking elsewhere for passages that are far more relevant to those discussions.