I used to think that Mat 12:33 talks about how we discern false teachers: by examining his deeds/works.

Either assume the tree to be good as well as its fruit good, or assume the tree to be bad as well as its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.

But as I read the next verses, seems like Jesus is not talking about deeds there. Let's see them:

Verse 34:

...express any good things? For the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart....

Verse 36:

for every careless word that people speak, they will give an account of it on the day of judgment...

Verse 37:

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

So, we discern Bible teachers by studying their teaching and see if the Bible confirms them, yes?

  • Teachers speak; that is their deed/work. As you stated further on, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (However, their words aren't their only deeds. Sometimes their words about Scripture can be full of truth and insight, but their hearts/minds go to dark places as well, and we must judge by other deeds.) – anongoodnurse Jun 15 at 1:02

The parallel teaching in Matthew 7 is instructive:

20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

This certainly does not rule out the importance of words, as noted in the OP, but it looks like works remain decidedly in scope as well.

Jesus does point out that words & works give evidence of what is in the heart, and as in Mark 7:20-23, that the "heart" or what we might call today the "innermost intentions and priorities" is what defines a person's trajectory.

God looks upon the heart and cares very much about what is there (see 1 Samuel 16:7); we cannot see what is in the heart, but words & works can help us discern true teachers from false ones.


Words and works are both "fruit".

Fruit is what a plant produces, and because fruit bears seeds, fruit determines what a plant leaves behind long after it is gone.

In this sense, "fruit" encompasses words & works specifically, as noted in these verses, but also effects more generally. One's fruit is the effects one leaves behind.

I think Jesus' point is much more general than "discern Bible teachers by studying their teaching and see if the Bible confirms them":

  • The Bible did not exist at this time
  • The Bible is nowhere mentioned in these verses
  • Intense theological disagreement today demonstrates that it is possible to draw differing interpretations of Biblical passages. Not saying that's a good thing, just pointing out that it's a real thing.

Jesus is speaking about truth, which includes but is not limited to truths recorded in scripture.

  • I wonder though. How does this apply to unbelievers who do good things like promoting scientific research, building hospitals, providing free educations and other things beneficial to society? Certainly they have "good fruits" too? Hmmm... – anta40 Jun 15 at 2:41
  • @anta40 I cannot see what is in another person's heart. God can. I believe 1 Samuel 16:7 puts it very well. Who I am to say that someone who doesn't believe what I believe doesn't have their heart in the right place? But in Matt. 7 "by their fruits ye shall know them" is about discerning true prophets from false, not judging the standing of another person's soul. – Hold To The Rod Jun 15 at 3:38
  • Yes agree Mat 7 is talking about false teachers (obviously stated in verse 15). Interestingly, on NASB translation at biblegateway.com, Mat 12:33 is under a pericope titled "Words Reveal Character". Hmm... – anta40 Jun 15 at 12:35
  • @anta40 I have no disagreement with you there; words say an awful lot about character. – Hold To The Rod Jun 15 at 12:58

There is the fruit of the Spirit. This internal fruit affects both our words and actions:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22–23, ESV)

This fruit of the Spirit in believers demonstrates who we are with both words and actions.

Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Rom. 8:9, ESV)


The Greek noun καρπός (karpos) is mainly used in two different ways in the NT:

  1. Literally - fruit of a tree or other plant such as Matt 12:33, 21:19, Mark 11:14, Luke 6:44, 13:6, etc.
  2. Metaphorically - outcome of one's actions whether by word or deed.

The latter use is just as common as the former.

Words as fruit of the person

  • Matt 12:33-37 - Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. ... The good man brings good things out of his good store of treasure, and the evil man brings evil things out of his evil store of treasure. But I tell you that men will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Deeds/actions as fruit of a person

  • Matt 3:8 - Produce fruit, then, in keeping with repentance [ie, do good works]
  • Matt 7:21-23 - Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’
  • Gal 5:22, 23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
  • Eph 5:9 - for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness [= right doing], and truth.
  • John 15:5 - I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. [It is also possible that this could be classified in the next heading as well.]
  • Phil 1:11 - filled with the fruit of righteousness [= right doing] that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
  • James 3:18 - Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
  • Heb 12:11 - And all discipline indeed for those being present, does not seem to be of joy, but of grief; but afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those having been trained by it.

Growing the Kingdom of God as Fruit

  • Matt 21:43 - Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

This is not a complete list but demonstrates the breadth of meaning of the "fruit" metaphor.


Speaking words is an action: they can hurt, harass, denigrate, spread falsehoods (and worse: half-truths).

Conversely, they can enlighten, soothe, enrich and speak truth.


If we consider the context of the verse in question (Mt 12:22-37), a contrast can be seen between the good deeds of Jesus and the evil words of the Pharisees. In this passage, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man who is mute and blind. When people in the crowd speculate that Jesus could be the Messiah, the Pharisees react by claiming that Jesus “casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (v 24).

Jesus points out that it makes no sense for “Satan to cast out Satan” (v 26). The implication is that something inherently good cannot come from that which is evil. “The good person brings out of his good treasure good things; and the evil person brings out of his evil treasure evil things” (v 35). Jesus is the good person who brings forth good deeds out of the goodness and love in his heart. In contrast, the Pharisees’ evil words reveal the evil intentions that are in their hearts, “for the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart” (v 34).

The work of Jesus is to heal and gather, whereas the words of his opponents injure and scatter (v 30). The actions and words of each reveal the heart of each. God, "who judges righteously," looks beyond the external appearances and tests “the heart”:

And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let’s destroy the tree with its fruit, And let’s cut him off from the land of the living, So that his name will no longer be remembered.” 20 But, Lord of armies, who judges righteously, Who puts the feelings and the heart to the test; – Jeremiah 11:19-20

The imagery of fruit and tree seems to have layers of meaning. The fruit could refer to the words and deeds of a person. It could also refer to the fruit of those words and deeds. The fruit of Jesus’ words and work is the healing of those who are sick and the gathering of those who are lost. In contrast, the work and words of those who are against him mislead and harm, potentially causing injury to both “the tree with its fruit,” or to both Jesus and his work.

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