We are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where recently we revealed the startling Scriptural fact that the majority of the billions of people who have ever lived will not walk the narrow road of Salvation simply because God chooses not to extend His mercy on them. Now it is time to sort the good guys from the bad guys.
In an email debate with a friend of mine, he once added as evidence of divinity that Jesus' parables were perfect in their teachings. Listening to the masterful sermons of pastors like Charles Swindoll and Dr. David Jeremiah, it is easy to arrive at such a conclusion. Yet if you take on the parables yourself and try to apply them real life, they often crumble like dry, fallen leaves under foot.
For example, let us look at the rather short parable, so short that it is not even normally recognized as a parable. It is a mere para-parable, but I digress. Let us look at the (for lack of a better name) the “Parable of the Fruit” in Matthew 7:15-20 and Luke 6:43-45.
The Matthew version begins with a warning, defining the parable's meaning. In Matthew 7:15 Jesus warns that false prophets are like wolves in sheep's clothing. If you remember back to a recent study, you recall that it is God who establishes false prophets as a means of testing people (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
In contrast, the Luke version does not mention anything about false prophets, and instead gives the parable a more general meaning. Perhaps the writer of Luke was uncomfortable conveying God's entrapment strategy.
Moving on through the parable, in Matthew 7:16-18 (and similarly in Luke 6:43-44) we read:
“By their fruit you will recognize [false prophets]. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” NIVEither a plant is completely good or completely bad, and so a person is either completely good or completely bad. Binary code. 1. 0.
The problem is that binary does not match reality. Good oranges come from bad thorny shrubs. Good raspberries come from bad brier plants. Bad (poisonous) horsechestnuts come from good shade trees.
Similarly, some priests who have faithfully shepherded their congregations for decades have also turned out to be pedophiles. Some prosperity preachers who live lavish lifestyles of mansions and private jets have also run programs to help orphans and widows. Even career criminals can still be good parents of law-abiding children.
The truth is that good trees bear bad fruit and bad trees bear good fruit quite regularly. This is one of those cases where Shakespeare's knowledge again trumps that of God's, as we read the more-realistic words from Henry V:
“Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the arbitrement of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers.”If you favor Jesus' words over Shakespeare's, your discernment becomes seriously impaired. If you see someone do anything good, you have to assume that they are completely good. Likewise, if you see someone do anything bad, you have to assume that they are completely bad. That is not consistent with the real world.
Perhaps this is only supposed to be applicable to false prophets, as Matthew 7:15 suggests? No. Matthew and Jesus close that door of interpretation in Matthew 12:33-37, making this same parable apply more broadly; consistent with Luke's version. So Jesus renders His own words inept.
Officially, this study is complete, but keep reading if you want to see more fruity logic exposed by an illegitimate technique.
Fruit is a repeated theme in the New Testament, such as where Matthew 3:8-10 and Luke 3:8-9 say trees not producing good fruit will be cut down, and where Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, and Luke 20:9-19 speak of fruit in the Parable of the Tenants.
The oh-so-troublesome Gospel of John contains absolutely no parables! However, it does contain some extended metaphors, including one with regards to a fruiting vine in John 15:1-17. Strictly speaking, this is off limits to drawing comparisons with the studied verses above, as a slightly different premise is used in this text from the text from the Sermon on the Mount, but humor me as we take a deeper look.
In John 15:1, Jesus calls himself the true vine. John 15:4-5 say that you are branches, and unless you remain in Jesus, you will produce no fruit. None. Zero.
Now circle back to Matthew 7:16-18, where good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. There is a bit of incongruity between these verses. How can bad trees (bad people) produce any fruit if they are not attached to Jesus?
If you cannot produce fruit without being in Jesus, then both good and bad fruit come from people who are in Jesus. If a good tree only produces good fruit and bad tree only produces bad fruit, then we must conclude that Jesus is some hybrid mix of both good and bad.
Clearly, I have gone too far? Not according to the Bible. Remember that God is the one responsible for raising up and empowering false prophets as a means to test His believers (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). God is a double agent.