By keeping the commandments, does our fruit finally become Good (ἀγαθὸν) - reflecting attributes of God?

[Matthew 7:17] οὕτως πᾶν δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖ τὸ δὲ σαπρὸν δένδρον καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖ

Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

[Matthew 19:17]
ὁ δὲ εἰπεν αὐτῷ Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθον οὐδεὶς ἀγαθός· εἰ μὴ εἷς ὅ Θεός. εἰ δὲ θέλεις εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν τήρησον τὰς ἐντολάς

So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם

  • Happy Sabbath to you too!
    – Dottard
    Jul 9 at 21:19

The best answer to this question is provided by the other instance where Jesus used the same metaphor of a tree and its fruit to teach about good works as per Matt 12 -

33 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. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. 35 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. 36 But I tell you that men will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In both Matt 7 and Matt 12 Jesus uses the metaphor of the tree and its fruit with the following meanings:

  • the tree represents a person
  • the fruit represents the actions or works/deeds of a person.

We are told (Matt 7) that by a person's fruit (=deeds) we can know if a person is good or bad. In Matt 12, Jesus states the important principle (V33) -

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.

That is, changing the fruit by legalistic keeping of commandments does not make the tree good - making the tree good by a divine transformation of character is what makes the fruit good. Paul states this other places as well

  • 2 Cor 3:18 - And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
  • Eph 2:8-10 - For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.

To state the obvious - works are the fruit of character not the root!

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    By thinking "divine transformation of character" demonstrates love for God & your neighbor, why would the joyful desire to abstain from stealing/lying/etc. remain legalistic behavior? - By being reborn in Christ the 10 commandments are no longer commandments but natural instincts, correct? Jul 10 at 0:14
  • @חִידָה - it was Martin Luther who said, "Love God and do as you please".
    – Dottard
    Jul 10 at 3:11
  • I agree with this answer and see no need to respond with another answer. I want to add this point, the fruit is good because it’s His righteousness, not our own. If the fruit were our own, then it wouldn’t be good. It cannot be good. It has to originate in God. Jul 10 at 5:10
  • @חִידָה the commandments remain commandments. The believers in the new covenant do not become super-believers. Luther preached sin all the more and make the devil your friend and ask him "what commandments?" so that grace may abound (Letter to Jerome). Nihil, Jesus commanded: unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the corrupt believers, you cannot obtain heaven.
    – Michael16
    Jul 10 at 16:01

The scriptures need to be read with integrity and honesty. This is the essence of exegesis.

We can't ignore the clear meaning of a passage in order to resort to pure pattern matching based on the same sequence of letters appearing in one passage as in another. That is the essence of bad exegesis. If you follow this approach, you will be lost in a web of foolishness, unable to follow even a simple cooking recipe, let alone understand the law, or even the gospels.

The idiom "good Teacher" - as in this passage -- was an Aramaic honorific, meant to praise the listener as belonging to a special class of people who began to call themselves "rabbis" that was forming around that time. That is a very different thing than when someone says "That's a good idea" or "This is a good apple" or "You have good point". This class of rabbis was claiming a special position as intermediaries between the people and God and claimed to command special authority. That is very different meaning than talking about a "good meal".

Christ condemned the very idea of the "good teacher" - or this emergent rabbinical class -- by pointing out that all men are sinful and no one can claim the position of a good teacher. This equalizes people and is an attack on the Pharisees.

Such a condemnation is not in conflict with the enjoyment of fruit.

  • That's irrelevant conjecture, coz Christ never demanded and asserted the good teacher title but the others did to him. He never taught that all are sinful, but that the righteous needs no doctor, he came for the sinner. You cannot turn everything he taught into sarcasm. He did not condemn the adoration title, but merely showed humility in denying his goodness compared to God, like any righteous man or prophet would do.
    – Michael16
    Jul 10 at 11:38

Our fruit becomes good by the grace of the only Source of all good, not by our own power. And it becomes good in the sense in which we must also become perfect, AS OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT (see Matthew 5:48).

In the absolute way, by Nature, God is the only perfect Being. Yet, by grace, we are commanded by the Lord to become as He is: perfect.


17 Οὕτως πᾶν δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς ⸉καλοὺς ποιεῖ⸊,* τὸ δὲ σαπρὸν δένδρον καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖ. 18 οὐ δύναται δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς πονηροὺς ⸀ποιεῖν οὐδὲ δένδρον σαπρὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ⸁ποιεῖν.* 19 πᾶν ⸆ δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται.* 20 ἄρα γε ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς.* (Matt. 7:17–20, NA28)

Actually ἀγαθὸν goes with δένδρον meaning healthy tree. καλοὺς goes with καρποὺς; the normal way of saying good tasting (pleasing) fruit. If ἀγαθὸν were to go with καρποὺς, it would mean pure or healthy (good for you) fruit. However, what is unusually is a σαπρὸν δένδρον (sickly tree) produces καρποὺς πονηροὺς (evil fruit) instead of καρποὺς κακοὺς (bad tasting fruit). However, The Hebrew/Aramaic Jesus spoke probably didn't make these distinctions (it's worth studying to see). It's how Matthew interpreted what Jesus said.

The words Jesus used were very likely in Genesis 2:17, וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֨עַת֙ טֹ֣וב וָרָ֔ע (MT); Matthew used the same words for good and evil fruit as the Septuagint (LXX), ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ ξύλου τοῦ γινώσκειν καλὸν καὶ πονηρόν, apparently describing the fruit of knowledge on the tree, but a different word for tree. The Hebrew word can mean bad as well as evil.

"...but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Gen. 2:17, JPS)

But δένδρον ἀγαθὸν is a bigger problem since the trees represent good people. We can understand this with the passages.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 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. (John 15:1–6, ESV)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21, ESV)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:10, ESV)

... for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13, ESV)


So, it is Christ in the Christian making the good tree and producing the pleasing fruit. Also note ἀγαθός teacher means a pure and truthful teacher while with a tree it means a healthy fruit bearing tree.

Appendix: Matt. 19:16-22

Keeping the 10 Commandments weren't the issue with the young man. He still felt he lacked something.

The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matt 19:20, ESV)

Keeping Christ's command was the issue:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34, ESV)

 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matt. 19:21–22, ESV)

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    Added likely reason for Matthew's wording.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 10 at 0:42

The Law can not produce any ‘good’ fruit. Paul makes that abundantly clear ...

ROMANS 7:8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.

Romans 7 expounds on how the Law was given to subdue the flesh, but how that’s impossible - your ‘flesh’ can not produces anything that’s ‘good’.

ROMANS 7:18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

Prior to being ‘born again’, the ‘root’ [heart] of man is unrighteous - the result of man’s ‘spirit’ being separated from God via the Fall. (Genesis 3). This is ‘a bad tree’ - and a ‘bad tree can not produce good fruit’. However a reborn ‘spirit’, one reunited back to God through Christ, is a ‘good tree’, and therefore can produce ‘good fruit’ - as it is (re) united (joined) back with God - and only God can produce (source) what is good.

  • Interesting. - Would every action/behavior of a reborn spirit joined to Christ be considered Good? - Do these reborn Christ-like actions/behaviors NOT resemble whole-heartedly loving YHVH, honoring father & mother, not lying/stealing/etc.? Jul 10 at 0:04
  • ‎@חִידָה Every ‘action’ [prompting] of the reborn spirit would be ‘good’. But, every ‘prompting’ of the ‘flesh’ would not be ‘good’. As to which of those you (The believer) listens/respond to is choice. The ‘spirit’ is strengthened by [reading/hearing] the word, so can make the ‘choice’ clearer. So, not everything a ‘believer’ does ‘is good’. It depends on the ‘source’ (flesh or spirit).
    – Dave
    Jul 10 at 1:49

By keeping the commandments, does our fruit finally become Good (ἀγαθὸν) - reflecting attributes of God?

Obedience or the righteous works don't make our fruits good, obedience itself is the good fruits. The comparison of these commands with the reply of Jesus where he refused to be called good is superficial. Matt 19:17 does not show a total depravity or inability doctrine as taught by Augustine, else God wouldn't have sent prophets and commanded man the way of life. Jesus merely showed humility to this stranger, who praised him by calling him a good teacher. No righteous man would proudly accept the praises of others, saying, "Yes, I know how good I am", but rather give all credit and glory to God alone. The reply does not mean that Jesus was not good, but it was an idiomatic saying like "do not call anyone Rabbi, teacher, master, father". Sabbath from the Ten Commandments have been abrogated with the law, the believers are to follow the commandments in spirit, not in the discipline of the law. (Galatians 3)

ESV Matthew 23:8–12 ​But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. ​And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. ​The greatest among you shall be your servant. ​Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.


The horticultural analogy of the tree and its fruit reveals important spiritual truths. As any gardener would know, if you want to have good fruit, care must first be given to the health of the tree. And though other factors may impact the outcome, the harvest is ultimately dependent on the rain, the soil, and the sun. Likewise, each person is dependent on God, who alone is good and the source of all goodness (Mt 19:17, Jam 1:17). It is through our connection to God that we receive the nourishment necessary to produce good fruit.

With regard to the OP’s question, Jesus said, “Do not presume that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Through his obedience and his teachings, Jesus fulfilled God’s commandments by illuminating the full meaning of the law and the will of God upon which the commandments were founded (e.g., Mt 5:17-48).

“Behold, I have come; It is written of me in the scroll of the book. I delight to do Your will, my God; Your Law is within my heart.” I have proclaimed good news of righteousness in the great congregation; Behold, I will not restrain my lips, Lord, You know. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your mercy and Your truth – Psalm 40:7-10

Jesus also revealed God’s will for each one of us:

“Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” – Mt 5:48

And he taught us the means by which we can fulfill God’s will, something that cannot be achieved on our own. As the metaphor of the tree and its fruit illustrates so well, we cannot produce good fruit unless we remain firmly rooted in God and abandon ourselves to his care.

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