John 15:1-8: A Brief Interpretation

I. The Genre:

There are two genres that could be considered for this passage – an overarching genre and a sub-genre. The overarching genre, because of the passage’s placement within the Gospel of John, is that of Biblical Gospel, or the presentation of the good news of Christ. The flavor of John’s gospel, in contrast to the other three gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), is its chiefly concern with making known Christ’s incarnation as the incarnation of deity. This is made explicit in the oft quoted opening remarks of John, John 1:1-15.

The second genre that could be applied, as a sub-genre to John’s account, is that of metaphor. There is a transfer from Biblical narrative, beginning in John 14:27, that changes to metaphor, beginning in John 15:1, and continues to John 15:17.

II. Generic Conceptions:

The generic conception (of the whole paragraph, John 15:1-17) is:

As Christ abides in God the Father by keeping his commands, so we must continue to abide in Christ by keeping his commands. And it is in keeping these commands that we express our love to Christ, as Christ expressed his love to the Father. The verse I would point towards as encapsulating the paragraph’s generic conception would be John 15:9,

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”

The generic conception of the passage (John 15:1-8) is:

We cannot bear fruit unless we not only abide in Christ but also continue in ongoing faithfulness to Christ. If we do not abide in Christ and continue in faithfulness, we will be unable to bear fruit and the Father will cast us out. The verse I would point towards as encapsulating this passage’s generic conception would be John 15:4:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”

III. Observation about the Passage:

a. Thought Structure:
It is interesting to note how the paragraph, or author’s thought, is framed from verses 1 to 17 in chapter 15 of John. The opening verse of Chapter 15 establishes the role of Christ and the father, naming them in the metaphor. The metaphor is extended and intertwined with explicit comments until verse 15. At verse 16 we can notice the full completion of the thought: Here are the roles of Christ and the Father (v.1) and, as chosen of God, their authority bids you to bear much fruit (in their name) and if you abide in them and them in you, whatever you may ask will be given (v. 16). Verse 17 almost serves as the second round of, “let it be done”.

b. Supporting Points:
The case could be made that the concern of this passage is us abiding in Christ for the sake of good fruit. It is not merely the request that *if* we want good fruit, abide in Christ, but as a people called to bear good fruit we *must* abide in Christ and, if we do not we will be cut-off from God and “cast into the fire”.

v. 2 – Branches that bear no fruit are taken away; those that do bear good fruit will be
attended so as to make more fruit.
v. 3 –You are made clean through Christ’s word.
v. 4 –You cannot bear fruit apart from Christ, for Christ is the vine.
v. 5 – Christ is the vine, we are the branches, and in Christ we can bear much fruit.
Without Christ you cannot bear any fruit.

Note: Verse 5 appears to have a reversed, parallel presentation of verse 4. Perhaps for emphasis of the point.

v. 6 – Those who do not abide in Christ, and therefore without fruit, are cast into the
fire.
v. 7 – If you abide in Christ and Christ in you, whatever you ask will be done.
v. 8 – God is glorified in bearing much fruit, a calling of Christ’s disciples.

However, it should be noted that the writer’s thought is cut in half, as John 15:9-17 finishes his thought. The finishing thought could be, “What it means to abide in Christ and the expectations that come from it.” It brings a bit more clarification as to the particulars of John 15:18’s metaphor by articulating the fullness of Christ’s commands (v. 10-13), that we are not servants but friends of God (v.14-15), and that we ought to bear much fruit and we will be given what we ask as long as we abide in Christ and Christ in us (v. 16-17).

IV. Interpretation of the Passage:

The purpose of this passage seems to be to illuminate not only the roles of Christ and the Father within our lives, as both the vine and the husbandman (the gardener, or vine pruner), but also, ultimately, the role as Christ’s disciples in producing good works to glorify God the Father. In the latter point, we are provided both encouragement to do good works and a warning in failing to do so.

V. Application of the Passage:

The chief application, or the significance, that comes from this passage and its interpretation is that if we claim to abide in Christ, then in fulfilling Christ’s commands we must be concerned with doing good works so to glorify God the Father in heaven. Our love for Christ, as Christ’s love for the Father, is confirmed by our keeping of Christ’s commands towards the outpouring of good works in our lives.

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