How is John 15:2 to be understood? By Jack Kettler
In this study, what does “He takes away” mean? Is John speaking of a believer or someone who claims to be a Christian?
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; [airei] and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
An introduction to two differing interpretations:
At a recent service, this writer heard a view of John 15:2, never encountered before. Upon some research, others were found that had similar views as the pastor listed below.
Joe Smith Ordination Service Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church in Colorado
8/12/2022 (FRIDAY) Bible: John 15:1-8
Pastor David Hanson
Hanson notes that airei “takes way” can be translated “to raise, lift up.” If so, the meaning of John 15:2 would change dramatically.
Consider Strong's Lexicon:
He cuts off
Verb - Present Indicative Active - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's Greek 142: To raise, lift up, take away, remove.
Others who support this interpretation:
In the following citation, Joseph C. Dillow translates or interprets airei as “lifts up” in John 15:2. The apostle John uses this translation on more than one occasion. The same term is used with the sense of lifting, and not in a judgmental way. Dillow argues that the text in John deals with fellowship, which can be broken, and not salvation, which cannot. Similarly, Pastor J. O. Hosler argues for the same interpretation.
Abiding Is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6 by Joseph C. Dillow:
“The beautiful and profound analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15:1–6 has encouraged believers throughout the centuries. It has also become, unfortunately, a controversial passage regarding the eternal security of the saints.
Three approaches have been taken to the passage. Some say the person who “does not bear fruit” (John 15:2a) cannot be a Christian because all true Christians bear fruit. Others say the branches “in Me” that are taken away refer to Christians who lose their salvation. In this view when a believer stops producing fruit, he forfeits justification. Others say John 15:2a and 6 refer to Christians who do not produce fruit and who will therefore experience divine judgment in time and loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ.
The Meaning of “Every Branch in Me”
Most evangelicals agree that the branches that “bear fruit” and are pruned to bear more fruit (15:2b) are true believers. But what about the branches “in Me” (i.e., in Christ) that do not bear fruit? Some say that those who do not bear fruit are not true Christians. They claim they are saved but are not. Smith argued that “in Me” refers to people being in the kingdom in only a general sense. He notes that the future millennium and the present form of the kingdom include a mixture of true and false believers.1 As Ryle put it, “It
3. Airei Means “Lift up,” not “Remove”
Dillow identifies R. K. Harrison’s interpretation of airei as “lifts up”
in v 2 and notes that in at least 8 out of its 24 occurrences in John it is
used in that sense. 40 He then responds to Laney by noting that Harrison
reported how fallen vines in Palestine “were lifted ‘with meticulous care’
and allowed to heal.” 41 Further, in a footnote Dillow remarks that Harrison states that airei has airo„ (“to lift”) as its root rather than aireo„ (“to
catch, take away”). 42 Dillow then points to his own personal observation
of vinicultural care, 43 concluding that if “lift up” is the meaning, “then a
fruitless branch is lifted up to put it into a position of fruit-bearing.” He
adds that this interpretation does not contradict v 6, but that it rather Viticulture
and John 15:1-6 suggests “that the heavenly Vinedresser first encourages the branches
and lifts them in the sense of providing loving care to enable them to
bear fruit. If after this encouragement, they do not remain in fellowship
with Him and bear fruit, they are then cast out.”44 This casting out is
from fellowship, not salvation.” (1)
Do Fruitless Branches Go to Hell? The Vine and The Branches: What It Means to Abide In Christ by Pastor J. O. Hosler:
“a. They are lifted up and encouraged: R.K. Harrison points out that the
word translated “takes away” (airo) is best rendered “lifts up.”
i. It is used this way in at least 8 of its 24 occurrences in the
Gospel of John (5:8-12; 8:59; 10:18, 24).
ii. R. K. Harrison says that fallen vines were lifted “with
meticulous care” and allowed to heal. If that is the meaning,
then a fruitless branch is lifted up to put it into a position of
iii. This does not contradict verse 6, which states that the branch
that does not abide is “thrown away,” literally “cast out”.
iv. This would suggest that the heavenly Vinedresser first
encourages the branches and lifts them in the sense of
providing loving care to enable them to bear fruit.” (2)
The advantage of translating John 15:2 this way is that it would agree with the following:
“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he finds it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18: 10–14)
The above translation of the Greek word and new interpretation fits nicely with God’s benevolence and care for His people.
If this interpretation is correct, why have people not heard of it?
A contrary or traditional approach to John 15:2 is from Barnes' Notes on the Bible:
“Every branch in me - Everyone that is a true follower of me, that is united to me by faith, and that truly derives grace and strength from me, as the branch does from the vine. The word "branch" includes all the boughs, and the smallest tendrils that shoot out from the parent stalk. Jesus here says that he sustains the same relation to his disciples that a parent stalk does to the branches; but this does not denote any physical or incomprehensible union. It is a union formed by believing on him; resulting from our feeling our dependence on him and our need of him; from embracing him as our Saviour, Redeemer, and Friend. We become united to him in all our interests, and have common feelings, common desires, and a common destiny with him. We seek the same objects, are willing to encounter the same trials, contempt, persecution, and want, and are desirous that his God shall be ours, and his eternal abode ours. It is a union of friendship, of love, and of dependence; a union of weakness with strength; of imperfection with perfection; of a dying nature with a living Saviour; of a lost sinner with an unchanging Friend and Redeemer. It is the most tender and interesting of all relations, but not more mysterious or more physical than the union of parent and child, of husband and wife Ephesians 5:23, or friend and friend.”
“That beareth not fruit - As the vinedresser will remove all branches that are dead or that bear no fruit, so will God take from his church all professed Christians who give no evidence by their lives that they are truly united to the Lord Jesus. He here refers to such cases as that of Judas, the apostatizing disciples, and all false and merely nominal Christians (Dr. Adam Clarke).”
“He taketh away - The vine-dresser cuts it off. God removes such in various ways:
1. by the discipline of the church.
2. by suffering them to fall into temptation.
3. by persecution and tribulation, by the deceitfulness of riches, and by the cares of the world Matthew 13:21-22; by suffering the man to be placed in such circumstances as Judas, Achan, and Ananias were such as to show what they were, to bring their characters fairly out, and to let it be seen that they had no true love to God.”
4. by death, for God has power thus at any moment to remove unprofitable branches from the church.
“Every branch that beareth fruit - That is, all true Christians, for all such bear fruit. To bear fruit is to show by our lives that we are under the influence of the religion of Christ, and that that religion produces in us its appropriate effects, Galatians 5:22-23. Notes, Matthew 7:16-20. It is also to live so as to be useful to others, as a vineyard is worthless unless it bears fruit that may promote the happiness or subsistence of man, so the Christian principle would be worthless unless Christians should live so that others may be made holy and happy by their example and labors, and so that the world may be brought to the cross of the Saviour.”
“He purgeth it - Or rather he prunes it, or cleanses it by pruning. There is a use of words here - a paronomasia - in the original which cannot be retained in the translation. It may be imperfectly seen by retaining the Greek words “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away αἴρει airei; every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it καθαίρει kathairei; now ye are clean καθαροί katharoi,” etc. The same Greek word in different forms is still retained. God purifies all true Christians so that they may be more useful. He takes away that which hindered their usefulness; teaches them; quickens them; revives them; makes them purer in motive and in life. This he does by the regular influences of his Spirit in sanctifying them, purifying their motives, teaching them the beauty of holiness, and inducing them to devote themselves more to him. He does it by taking away what opposes their usefulness, however much they may be attached to it, or however painful to part with it; as a vine-dresser will often feel himself compelled to lop off a branch that is large, apparently thrifty, and handsome, but which bears no fruit, and which shades or injures those which do. So, God often takes away the property of his people, their children, or other idols. He removes the objects which bind their affections, and which render them inactive. He takes away the things around man, as he did the valued gourds of Jonah Jon 4:5-11, so that he may feel his dependence, and live more to the honor of God, and bring forth more proof of humble and active piety.” (3)
John 15:6 provides important context that cannot be ignored that supports the traditional interpretation:
“If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6)
John 15:6 seems to support the idea that verse two is not talking about fellowship but the salvation of someone who claims to be a Christian but is not.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. “Abiding is Remaining in Fellowship: Another Look at John 15:1-6,” Joseph C. Dillow, Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (Jan-Mar 1990): 44-53.
2. Napier Parkview Baptist Church Bible Studies Page Pastor J. O. Hosler, Th.D.
4. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, John, Vol. 1 p. 1303.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. Jack Kettler .com