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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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1. The word in its literal sense.-Before considering the use of this term in spiritual metaphor it will be convenient to enumerate those passages in the apostolic writings where it is employed in its natural sense. (a) General.-These are James 5:7; James 5:18 (in illustration of patience and prayer), Acts 14:17 (God’s gift of rain and fruitful seasons), 1 Corinthians 9:7 (in support of the apostles’ right to sustenance; cf. 2 Timothy 2:6), Revelation 18:14; Revelation 22:2 -passages which, like some of the others, are on the borderland between the literal and the symbolic. Judges 1:12 compares the ‘ungodly’ of the day with ‘trees in late autumn when the fruit is past. In Acts 2:30 the word is used in its physiological sense.

(b) Specific.-References to specific fruits are not numerous. James 3:12 asks whether a fig-tree can yield olives or a vine figs. St. Paul in Romans 11:17 f. uses the curious idea of grafting a wild olive on to a good olive tree (‘contrary to nature,’ Romans 11:24) to illustrate the participation of the Gentiles in the promises made to Israel. Revelation 11:4 identifies the ‘two witnesses’ (perhaps St. Peter and St. Paul) with the ‘two olive trees’ of Zechariah 4; and Revelation 6:13 in its mention of a fig-tree casting her unripe figs in the spring tempests recalls Isaiah 34:4, Revelation 14:14-20 is a vision of the harvest and vintage of the earth when the grain and the grapes are fully ripe. St. Paul’s use of the grain or wheat in the great Resurrection argument of 1 Corinthians 15 is familiar to all, and is an echo of Christ’s word in John 12:24-25.

2. The term in spiritual metaphor.-We may begin our study of the spiritual lessons inculcated under the image of fruit with another passage from Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 the Apostle reminds his readers that they are ‘God’s husbandry,’ i.e. His ‘tilth’ or ‘tilled land.’ This recalls the Parable of the Vineyard spoken by Jesus (Matthew 21, Luke 20); Christian churches and lives are fields and gardens from which the owner who has spent love and time and care over them may reasonably expect good results, ‘fruit unto God’ (Romans 7:4). And those too who are His overseers, those who plant and water, naturally look for produce and the reward of their toil. Thus the Apostle hopes, as he looks forward to his visit to Rome, that he may ‘have some fruit among’ the people of that city as he had in Corinth and Ephesus (Romans 1:13). Two passages in Phil. may be glanced at here: (a) the difficult reference in Romans 1:22, which probably means that, though death would be gain, yet if continuance in living means fruitful labour (‘fruit of work’ = fruit which fallows and issues from toil), St. Paul is quite ready to waive his own preference; (b) Romans 4:17, where, thanking the Philippians for their kindly gift, he says he welcomes it not so much for himself as on their behalf; it is a token that they are not unfruitful in love, and it will, like all such evidences of Christian thought and ministry, enrich the givers as much as the recipient (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6).

(1) The way is now clear for a brief survey of the main topic-the fruits of the new life in Christ Jesus. The ‘fruit of the light,’ says St. Paul (Ephesians 5:9), ‘is in all goodness and righteousness and truth,’ and the more familiar passage in Galatians 5:22 speaks of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ as ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.’ Trees are known by their fruit, and the existence of these virtues in an individual or a community are the surest, if not the sole, signs that the life is rooted with Christ in God, that the branches are abiding in the True Vine. It was the Apostle’s greatest joy when he could congratulate a church like that at Colossae on its share in the fruit-bearing which the gospel was accomplishing wherever it was proclaimed and accepted (Colossians 1:6), when it bore fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10). The fruit of the new life is regarded in Romans 6:22 as sanctification. On the other hand, St. James (James 3:17) gives it as one of the characteristics of the ‘wisdom that is from above’-which is perhaps his way of speaking of the Spirit-that it is ‘full of … good fruits,’ by which he no doubt means ‘good works.’ In the next verse he says that ‘the fruit (i.e. the seed which bears the fruit) of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.’ The ‘fruit of righteousness’ is an OT phrase, and meets us again in Philippians 1:11 and Hebrews 12:11, where ‘righteousness,’ or conformity to the highest moral standard, is described as the ‘peaceful fruit’ of discipline patiently endured.

Returning to the locus classicus, Galatians 5:22, it is worth noticing that St. Paul introduces the nine virtues which he enumerates as one ‘fruit.’ Like the chain of graces in 2 Peter 1:5-7, they are all linked together as though to suggest that the absence of any one means the nullity of all. We need not press too heavily the suggestion that the nine fall into three groups describing (a) the soul in relation to God; (b) its attitude to others (this is to make ‘faith’ = faithfulness, and though St. Paul usually thinks of faith as the basis of Christian character, he was not so rigidly systematic as not to see in it, or at least in an increase of it, a fruit of the Spirit); (c) principles of daily conduct. There is more perhaps in the antithesis between the ‘works’ of the flesh (2 Peter 1:19) and the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit. Yet the dispositions enumerated show themselves in good works, though these are not expressly specified, being infinitely varied and adaptable to changing conditions. The list may be supplemented, for example, by Hebrews 13:15, where ‘praise’ is the fruit of a thankful heart expressed by the lips, and Romans 15:28, where the generosity of the Gentile Christians towards the Judaea n poor is the fruit of the spiritual blessing which St. Paul’s converts had received.

(2) The unfruitful.-The other side of the picture can be briefly dismissed. Those who walk in darkness are spoken of as unfruitful (Ephesians 5:11). ‘What fruit had you then in those things of which you are ashamed?’ asks St. Paul in Romans 6:21, though we might possibly translate, ‘What fruit had you then?-Things (gratifications of sense) of which you are now ashamed.’ In Romans 7:4 the Apostle describes the unregenerate life as producing fruit ‘unto death,’ and if we desire an enumeration of these poisonous products we shall find them in Galatians 5:19-21 (cf. Colossians 3:5-9). For the final harvesting we have the picture of Revelation 14.

(3) The time of fruit-bearing.-It is the will of Jesus that His disciples should bear ‘much fruit’; in His words on this theme (John 15) He does not seem to contemplate the possibility of bearing a little. It is much or none. The trouble is that churches and individuals only too often look like orchards stricken by a blight, and where a little fruit is found it is not so mellow as it might be. We need not be in too great a hurry to see the full fruit in young lives. There is a time for blossom and a time for ripe fruit, and the intervening stage is not attractive though it is necessary. There is a time for the blade and a time for the full corn in the ear, but before we get this harvest there is the period of the green and unsatisfying ear. We sometimes speak of a harvest of souls following on a series of revival or mission services; but it is only the blade pushing up into the light-the harvest is still far distant.

A day now and again with a fruit-grower on his farm will have much to teach the preacher as to natural law in the spiritual world. He will learn amongst other things how vital is the process of pruning, and how no stroke is made at random. He will learn how to guard the nascent life against frosts and chills, its need of nutriment from soil and sun and rain. The wonderful exploits of the Californian fruit-grower, Luther Burbank, will open up a whole universe of possibilities; the story of what irrigation and scientific culture have done in Australia will show how deserts may become orchards. And as palm trees are said to bear their heaviest clusters in old age, the life that abides in Christ may be confident of escaping the reproach or crabbed and withered senility-it shall bring forth fruit in old age. But it need not wait for old age-it shall be like the tree of life that bears its fruit every month-fruit that is for the delectation and the healing of the world.

A. J. Grieve.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fruit'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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