Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, April 24, 2023

One Example of the Passion Mistranslation (John 15:2)

I hesitate to blog on this verse again. When I did previously I was inundated with people driven more by their theological convictions than the text. But I came across a preacher preaching from The Passion Translation, and it was so egregious I decided to say something about this “translation.”

The text of John 15:2 says, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away (αἴρει), and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (ESV). All major translations say basically the same. The CSB and NRSV translate αἴρω as “removes.”

The point is straight forward. There are two types of people claiming to be disciples of Christ (“every branch in me”): those who bear fruit and those who do not. The fate of those not bearing fruit is destruction.

Carson concludes, “The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity…. There is a persistent strand of New Testament witness that depicts men and women with some degree of connection with Jesus, or with the Christian church, who nevertheless by failing to display the grace of perseverance finally testify that the transforming life of Christ has never pulsated within them (e.g. Mt. 13:18-23; 24:12; Jn. 8:31ff.; Heb. 3:14-19; 1 Jn. 2:19; 2 Jn. 9).”

What does it mean to “take away”? The following verse answers the question, albeit with the slightly different language of “abide.” “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (v 6). If a branch does not bear fruit, it is destroyed.

There is an argument that Jesus would never cut off a branch that was “in him”and was not bearing fruit. In other words, someone who says they are “in him” would never be cut off from the Lord even if they are spiritually unfruitful. The idea is that they are not “taken away” but rather are propped up off the ground so they will bear fruit (see additional Note in Carson). Of course, that is not what the context says. It says unfruitful branches are destroyed, and fruitful branches are pruned so they will be more fruitful. The only acceptable branches are fruitful branches.

To be fair, I should point out that the first definition of αἴρω in BDAG is “to raise to a higher place or position, lift up, take up, pick up,” but this does not fit the context which is one of being taken away to be burned. BDAG’s other definitions are “to lift up and move from one place to another, take away, remove..

But leaving aside the meaning of the passage, here is the Passion of verses 2 and 6. “He cares for the branches connected to me by lifting and propping up the fruitless branches and pruning every fruitful branch to yield a greater harvest…. If a person is separated from me, he is discarded; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned.

However, the text does not say “cares for” and the text does not say “prop up.” Those are theologically motivated additions to the text, pushing a novel interpretation that differs from every other major translation and makes the most obvious interpretation impossible to see.

My friend Dr. Andrew Shead wrote a paper on The Passion’s interpretive “translation” of the Psalms originally published in the journal Themelios 43.1 (2018): 58–71. You can download his paper here. His conclusions is, “Brian Simmons has made a new translation of the Psalms (and now the whole New Testament) which aims to ‘re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to the English reader.’ He achieves this by abandoning all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50% longer than the original. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture; by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.”

I agree.