"Lift up" or "Take Away" in John 15:1-6?
William Arnold III
I lift up · I take away
The gospel writer John records our Lord Jesus speaking of a vine and a vinedresser and also about certain branches which do not produce fruit (John 15:1-6). He says that these branches are either lifted up or taken away (v. 2). The meaning of "lift up" has been suggested by those who believe in unconditional eternal security, and the meaning of "take away" by those who believe that it is possible to lose your salvation. Both views would seem to fit the use of this particular Greek word (airo). I will attempt to give the reasoning and evidence for each view then try to arrive at a conclusion.
I lift up
What Jesus is here trying to tell us is that those branches which are not producing fruit God will lift up to where they will be able to be fruitful. He will strengthen them and bring them up to where they can receive the light and sustenance. This is supported by Johnís use of this word elsewhere. In 5:8, when Jesus told the lame man to "lift up your bed and walk," itís obvious that he wasnít telling him to take it away from this place as if bed is what needed to be moved. He was telling him to lift it up from the ground, because he wasnít going to be lying around anymore. When the Jews "took up" stones to stone Jesus (8:59), they didnít take the stones away anywhere, they lifted them up off the ground. Also when Jesus "lifted up His eyes" in 11:41, He didnít take away His eyes, He looked up toward heaven. If John had wanted to signify specifically that God would "take away" these branches there were other words that would have better suited his purpose such as: apairo Ė I lift off, or exairo Ė I take away.
Now the meaning of "take away" can be included in the broad meaning of "lift up," but the reverse is not true. In other words, a word meaning "lift up" can be used to speak of taking away something, but a word meaning specifically "take away" cannot be used in reference to simply lifting up. The general covers the specific, but not vice-versa. Therefore, since this word has the broad meaning of "lifting up," it can carry a more narrow meaning at times but only when context demands it.
In this context, Jesus is speaking of the Father strengthening the drooping branch. When we are down and need strength, God comes along and "lifts us up." His point is that God works on both the fruitful and unfruitful branches, so that all may be very fruitful. Notice in verse 16 Jesus tells the disciples that He is the one who chose them and appointed them to go and bear fruit. So since it was not their choice anyway, they have no say in the matter of bearing fruit. God is the one that put them in the vine and God is the one who brings out the fruit.
I take away
What the question really comes down to is not what a word can mean, but what it does mean in this particular context. It is easily demonstrated that John uses airo in ways that can only mean "to take away." For example, in Johnís first use of this word (1:29), Jesus did not strengthen or "lift up" the sins of the world, He took them away. When he commanded that the stone in front of Lazarusí tomb be "taken away," He wasnít telling them to lift it up in the air, He was telling them to remove it. Also, when Mary Magdalene asked if she could "take away" the body of Jesus (20:15), it is not that she wanted to physically lift up Jesus, she wanted to take Him away from where they had put Him.
Now in this context we can see that the same thing is meant. Jesus urges the disciples to "remain" (meno) in Him. He uses this word 12 times in this chapter alone. Why would He even suggest such a thing unless their existed the threat of their being "cut off?" In verse 5 He says, "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." The use of a conditional statement here suggests that it is possible not to remain in Him. Furthermore, he gives them the consequences of being "apart from" Him. In verse 6, He likens a person that does not remain in Him to a branch that is thrown away. Jesus is expounding throughout this chapter on His original statement in verse 2.
In summary, Jesusí point is that if we are not producing fruit we will be taken away. Now although this may be uncomfortable to some, this is the meaning of this verse. I consulted 15 different translations and none of them translated this passage as "lift up." This is why Jesus so strongly stresses the need to abide in Him. Elsewhere He said that, "every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 3:10). It is not that we stay saved by doing good, but that genuine faith will manifest itself outwardly (James 2:18). We can only tell if the tree is good by the fruit it produces (Luke 6:44).
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