Recently I was watching a video from a major discipleship network conference. The video was a devotion given to the attendees, mostly pastors. The Pastor from a very large discipleship church in the Midwest, was teaching on the first several verses of John 15 “The Vine and the Branches”. His premise was to give validity to the need for better discipleship and to not give up on people because of what it doesn’t say in verse 2. You heard that right. What it doesn’t say! He was making a plea to reinterpret the words “take away” Greek AIRO, to the preferred “Lift up” so that one would understand that the branch is to be nurtured and lifted off the ground so that it might bring forth fruit. This sounds very promising and convincingly he made the point with examples of mid-eastern vineyards that still hold to ancient methods of training vines. The problem as I see it, is that it is completely erroneous from a Biblical point of view.
Those who are changing the meaning of the Greek "airo" translated here as take away, and if not changing, bringing doubt to the translation adopted throughout the centuries by astute linguist of the ancient languages, are doing the church a disservice. They are adopting the less used and spurious, "lift up" to attempt to assuage the conscience of so called nominal Christians. 138 times the New Testament uses this Greek term in some varying form, yet contrary to what is being purported by some, the translation "lift up" is not very common, and in fact it is not actually even used in the English Bible to translate airo except when airo is used with the preposition epi (epairo). The different nuances of translation occur contextually. It should also be noted that not one of the top English Bibles translates airo as "lift up" in John 15:2.
John 15:2 (NKJV) 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:2 (NASB95) 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:2 (ESV) 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:2 (NLT) 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
John 15:2 (NIV) 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
John 15:2 (NCV) 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. And he trims and cleans every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.
John 15:2 (KJV 1900) 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
John 15:2 (HCSB) 2 Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.
Theologically speaking, the context of John 15 demands "takes away" as the proper translation, because what Jesus says in verse 5 is the key. Branches that abide in Christ bear fruit! there is always at least a little fruit, and the Father prunes away that branch until it brings forth much fruit. a branch in Christ that bears no fruit is dead, thus God takes it away and it is discarded (Burned in the fire). This is not indicative to loosing one's salvation but a clear indication of one who was never born again (because we do not keep our salvation but "He that has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" Phil.1:6). The parable of the sower is helpful here, as it clearly shows this relationship of intent on the part of those who receive His word (the seed), but is either, choked out, have no depth in themselves, snatched away by the devil, etc. There are many in the church today and have always been those who are unregenerate (see Matthew 7:23) They are dead wood, branches with no fruit. I believe the misconception comes from this easy believe-ism that is so prevalent among Evangelicals today. Because someone said a prayer, was sincere, and believes in Jesus, they are on their way to Heaven. But James said regarding those who believe in God, that even the devils of hell believe and tremble (James 2:19). This idea that one can call themselves a Christian and have no fruit is inconsistent with scripture and the nature of salvation. Jesus clearly taught that you would know the genuine believer from the imposter by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Even "the bad tree brings bad fruit," He said. Are we to believe that a branch in Christ that has the life of the vine flowing into it would be without fruit? The only conclusion to draw is that a branch with no fruit is dead. Analogies to vines with leaves and green bark, etc. have no bearing upon the metaphor. Our Lord Jesus uses the simple example of a vine to show the contrast between life and death.