John 12:24 23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

Someone asked me, in reference to John 12:24, "Does a grain of wheat actually die? Or does it just present that image metaphorically because it is buried in the ground?"

I know the seed is considered dormant. So I wondered in what way the grain dies?

Can die be interpreted any other way linguistically or do the manuscripts shed any light on this passage linguistically ?

related question in Bio-SE

  • 2
    Yes, a grain of wheat can biologically die, but it will not then produce a crop. Only a dormant grain will. Without any specific knowledge, I read this as "Unless a dormant kernel of wheat falls into the ground and is transformed, losing its existence as 'grain', and becoming something else entirely, it remains by itself alone." Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 15:42
  • 2
    Although, here's a different biological reading: "unless a dormant kernel of wheat falls into the ground (and then grows into a plant, produces seed,) and dies, it remains (dormant and alive, but) by itself alone. But if it dies (after growing and producing seed), it produces much grain." Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 15:46
  • 1
    I got to thinking about this last night. I concluded that if Jesus said, "Most assuredly I tell you" or "Very truly" then it must be true. So I shifted my thoughts to consider in what way the grain dies. I realized that the grain must die in order for the germ to live. Thus there must be a distinction between the grain and the germ. Anyways, I am confident that the germ will not grow so long as the grain is alive.
    – user2027
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 20:57
  • 1
    You concluded "it must be true" because "Jesus said so"? That hardly seems like a critical approach.
    – jarlemag
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 21:40
  • 2
    Depends on where your faith is! Many scholars put more faith in much less!
    – user2027
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 22:00

3 Answers 3


Let's not forget that one of the tasks of a thorough hermeneutic is to consider Jesus' original audience and how they would interpret the metaphor. His audience was not composed of plant biologists but mostly non-scientific-types who had actual experiences with growing wheat to make bread, the "staff of life" back then.

Combine this piece of the hermeneutic puzzle with another piece regarding the most common method of burial back then (viz., burial in the ground), and your notion of metaphor--perhaps, more strictly, analogy--begins to make sense. I cite your sentence,

"Or does . . . [John 12:24] just present that image metaphorically because . . . [the grain of wheat] is buried in the ground?"

In other words, what Jesus was saying to his audience was this:

"As long as a grain of wheat keeps on being a kernel in the head of a stalk of wheat, it remains just that: a lone kernel of wheat among many such kernels. Only when it is detached from the head and buried into the ground by a farmer does it have a chance of producing more grain."

In like manner, Jesus is saying,

"If you want to be productive in my kingdom, you must die to yourself. Only when you do that will you have the opportunity to be fruitful in my kingdom. Moreover, you have me as an example. I was equal to God, but I did not count my equality something to be grasped and held onto; rather, I emptied--died to--myself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men. In other words, I humbled myself by becoming obedient to the Father, even though by doing so I was writing my own death sentence."

I just paraphrased liberally the kenosis (the "self-emptying") passage in Philippians chapter 2, especially vv.6-11. In effect, Jesus was also saying,

"I am willing to die to myself because one day the Father will reward me by exalting me and bestowing on me a name above all names, so that at my name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that I am Lord. Then my Father will be glorified."

For Jesus, there was nothing pleasant about dying to himself, and his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane tells us he would rather have had the bitter cup of Calvary taken from him. Jesus, however,

"for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and . . . [is now seated] at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2 NASV Updated).

What Jesus was saying to his audience in John 12 was that only when you die to yourself, refusing to live life autonomously but in service to me and others, will you be amply rewarded in eternity.


John 12:24--In what way does the grain of wheat die?

Jesus who was aware that he was about to die in a few days time, says to his apostles, Andrew and Philip .

John 12:23-24 (NRSV)( Bold insert in the verse is mine.)

23 “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, (as a seed buried in the ground and germinates ) it bears much fruit.

Jesus compares himself to a grain of wheat, which when it dies in the ground,as a seed, it germinates and eventually produces a stalk of wheat. Likewise he will die and be buried, figuratively as a single grain and because he was faithful to the end, he will become the means of giving life to many .Romans 6:23 reads:

" For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.who exercise faith in him. "(NRSV)

  • Five years ago today. Your +1 for a solid answer is long overdue. :)
    – Steve can help
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 20:27

my answer is exactly that you must die to yourself. When can there be any type of metamorphosis without their first being a death and a falling away of the outer husk, which represents the sin in our lives, or our harden hearts or our attitude or nature. Agronomic when a seed is placed in the ground the hard protective shell around what's on the inside falls away in deterioration that is taking place after the outer shell dies completely what remains is a seed that produces new life and that's what takes place when we truly come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior even as the Word of God says, if we walk after the flesh we shall die but we through the spirit do modify the days of our bodies we may live.and in living all I'm saying is that when we completely loose sight of ourself and sell out to God's nature, His will, His desire and His ways we no longer represent the us that our mothers had but, old things pass away and all things become new. We become a living epistle written and read of men. we take on the nature and mind of God and we become his beloved. Now that's a beautiful death. Because what remains is new life that begets others! Now can you understand except the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone! :-)


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