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In John 15 Jesus uses an example from agriculture to illustrate the relationship between Himself and His disciples:

ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ὑμεῖς τὰ κλήματα ὁ μένων ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ οὗτος φέρει καρπὸν πολύν ὅτι χωρὶς ἐμοῦ οὐ δύνασθε ποιεῖν οὐδέν

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 NASB)

This is normally understood as Jesus saying the disciples are branches of the vine (Himself); when they abide/remain connected to the vine (Jesus), they will bear (bring forth) much fruit.

In the natural world, the example is a little awkward as vines generally produce fruit not branches and branches are normally associated with trees not vines.

According to Strong's 5342, the word translated “bears” (φέρει) means to bear, carry, or bring forth.

In the context of what Jesus is saying, seeing the word as “bring forth” means the branches must be connected to the vine to “bring forth” fruit.

The other meaning also fits the context. “Bear” or “carry” would mean the disciples are branches which support (bear or carry) fruit (which was produced from the vine). That means the disciples are branches connected to a tree and a (separate) vine is growing onto the branches. This is more in line with the natural world where vines are usually supported and kept off the ground to produce fruit. This also fits the teaching of the passage. A disciple can “carry” vine fruit (from Jesus) or “bring forth” their own “branch fruit.” Branches will be pruned (of branch fruit) and thus will be able to carry a greater amount of vine fruit. A branch which is continually pruned will not use any growth to produce fruit; instead all its resources will go to becoming a stronger branch and will be able to carry more vine fruit. The vine wraps around the branch as the disciple abides in Jesus.

Does the Greek favor “bring forth” over “carry”?

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As you point out, the word φέρω can mean either "carry" or "bear". I think the traditional understanding as "bear" is well supported. I will address the contextual issues that have led you to wonder if it might not mean “bear" in the sense of “produce."

Objection #1

OP: Branches are normally associated with trees not vines.

True. However, κλήματα are often associated with (indeed, offshoots of) vines. I think it’s pretty clear from the context of the analogy drawn in John 15:1ff that the entity in question is an offshoot of the vine.

τὸ κλῆμα οὐ δύναται καρπὸν φέρειν ἀφ᾿ ἑαυτοῦ ἐὰν μὴ μένῃ ἐν τῇ ἀμπέλῳ
the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine

The preposition ἐν + dat. used in a locative sense generally conveys an idea similar to the English “in”, even more so after the verb μενω. That would be strange language for a separate plant.

The term κλῆμα is only used in the NT in this metaphor. If you would like further corroboration that the meaning is most often an an offshoot of a vine, the LXX has plenty. For instance, also metaphorically, Ezekiel 17:6:

ἀνέτειλεν καὶ ἐγένετο εἰς ἄμπελον.....τὰ κλήματα αὐτῆς ἐπ᾿ αὐτὴν...
It sprouted and became a vine....its branches (κλήματα) were upon it...

Objection #2

OP: Vines [not branches] generally produce fruit.

Also true. However, κλήματα produce fruit. For instance, Numbers 13:23:

καὶ ἔκοψαν ἐκεῖθεν κλῆμα καὶ βότρυν σταφυλῆς ἕνα ἐπ᾿αὐτοῦ...
and they cut down from there a branch (κλῆμα) and one cluster of grapes upon it...

The word for the sort of branch you’re thinking of us is κλάδος. This is the word used to describe the branches of the olive tree in Romans 11 (vv. 16-21), the synoptic Parable of the Fig Tree (Matt 24:32 // Mark 13:28) and the description of the branches of the mustard plant/tree on which the birds make their nests in the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matt 13:32 // Mark 4:32 // Luke 13:19). English just doesn’t have two different words that the translators thought adequately distinguished between κλάδος and κλῆμα, so it is "leveled" (link needed) in the NASB, as in many translations.

The verb itself
Φέρω has a very broad range. However, when it’s used with a botanical subject capable of producing fruit, particularly if said fruit is its object, it generally carries the idea of “bearing”. Sticking with John’s gospel (12:24):

ἐὰν μὴ ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου πεσὼν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀποθάνῃ, αὐτὸς μόνος μένει· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ, πολὺν καρπὸν φέρει.
unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Wheat doesn’t do much carrying apart from the fruit1 that it bears.


All English ESV; all Greek NA28.

1. Here obviously used in a sense that stretches the English meaning of the term.

| improve this answer | |
  • Which is a shame because English does have such a word which any vintner knows: "canes". – fumanchu Jul 7 '15 at 14:10
  • I thought "shoot" would work, but I can see why they didn't choose it. – Susan Jul 7 '15 at 14:28

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