TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY ON JOHN’S GOSPEL
John 15: 1
(Jesus said) I am the real vine and my father is the farmer. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away; and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. Already you have been pruned by the teaching I have spoken to you. Be at home in me and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it dwells in the vine, neither can you, unless you dwell in me. I am the vine, you the branches. Whoever is at home in me and I in her bears lots of fruit, but outside me you can do nothing can do nothing.
If anyone does not dwell in me, she is thrown away like a branch and dries up; and the branches are collected, thrown into the fire and burnt. If you are at home in me and my words are at home in you, as whatever you want, and it shall be done for you. My father is honoured by this: that you bear lots of fruit as you become my disciples.
In this translation I have tried to convey the author’s use of the Greek verb “menein”, by the use of the English “dwell” and “be at home”. The KJV “abide” is perfect but not used in modern English although “bide” is used in Scotland and the North of England. Overtones of “house of God” language are present here along with the metaphor of the vine.
The Vine is a common image of Israel as God’s people, as in Isaiah 5. The author is therefore thinking of both a plant and a people. The image of pruning (literally, cleaning) comes from viticulture while the image of dwelling comes from Israel and its temple. The language continues to represent the intimacy of Jesus, the father and the disciples, but it also suggests that dwelling in Jesus means belonging to a particular people. The old racial identity of God’s people is replaced by an communal identity of allegiance and faith. There is strength and realism in this teaching but there is no toleration for anyone whose faith, or lack of it, takes her away from the community.
To belong to Jesus is to belong to the vine, the organic life of the believing community, where faith and love are put to the test by the rough and tumble of daily living and by the pressures the community faces from outside. The community keeps the teaching of Jesus, and Jesus himself is present as the real vine – not, that is, as some kind of spook within the community, but AS THE COMMUNITY, in its give and take. (St Paul’s teaching about the body of Messiah is similar.)
Being at home in Jesus is knowing him as the place of God’s presence; letting Jesus be at home in you, is knowing yourself as the place of God’s presence.
The life of the Community of Jesus is fruitful. In it believers can become as Matthew reports Jesus as saying “good trees who can bear good fruit”. Their lives are intimately nourished by Jesus’ life, as they continue to become disciples. Discipleship is growth not status.
But those who fail to dwell in Jesus the Vine are dried up, they have no sap, and must be “taken away”, “collected” “thrown” and “burnt. The words are deliberately severe, and have caused problems in the Christian community in different centuries, for example in the matter of how the church should treat people who denied Jesus in time of persecution and later wished to return. The truths which this author discovered through the life of his believing community are profound but not incontestable.