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John 15:3 (NASB)

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoke to you.

The cleanliness here refers to Jesus speaking about branches being cleaned (pruned) to bear more fruit in verse 2. With that context, how are the disciples already clean because of the word Jesus has spoke to them?

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After the last supper, Jesus spoke in John 15:

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes

καθαίρει (kathairei)
Strong's 2508: To cleanse, purify, prune. From katharos; to cleanse, i.e. to prune; figuratively, to expiate.

so that it will be even more fruitful. 3a You are already clean

καθαροί (katharoi)
Strong's 2513: Clean.

As noted by the OP, the two Greek words are related. Also there is a bit of a pun here.

Verse 2 specified 2 steps:

  1. God cut off every branch that attached to Jesus that bear no fruit.

  2. For the good branches, God prune-cleaned.

The disciples in John 15 had already been cleaned, i.e., they had passed steps 1 and 2.

How are the disciples already clean because of the word Jesus has spoke to them?

John 6:

63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

The Spirit had acted on them to change their thinking and behavior.

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How are the disciples clean through Jesus’s word?

While I realize this is not the popular view, we are cleansed when we are "born again" in water baptism. Here are some additional passages that relate directly to this cleansing, or "being made clean":

     Mk. 16:16          Jn. 3:5,4:2          Rom. 6:3-6    Tit. 3:5
     Acts 2:38,  8:12,  8:16, 8:36, 10:48,   16:15, 16:30, 19:3-5, 22:16
     1 Pet. 3:21        Eph. 5:26,           Gal. 3:27
     1 Cor. 1:13-14,    6:11, 12:13, 15:29     

For example, in the apostle Peter's First Letter we read:

Acts 22:16: “Arise and be baptized… and wash away your sins” (emphasis added).

When we are baptized, we are "cleansed"; we put on the wedding clothing as stated in the parable of the marriage feast:

Matthew 22:11-14: " “But when the king [of the wedding feast] came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’" (emphasis added).

Everyone who follows the plan of salvation is wearing these "wedding clothes":

Galatians 3:27: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

Henceforth, whenever God looks at us, He sees His Son. Here is another passage that refers to the effects of baptism:

Colossians 2:12: “[Having] been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

The illustration of baptism to Christ's death, burial and resurrection is illuminated for us in the Letter to the Romans:

Romans 6:3-7: "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin."

Baptism is described as a death, burial (immersion in pure water), and resurrection (emerging from the water in newness of life). Hopefully, what I have written will not be viewed disfavorably.

Dr. Jerry Jones once stated in a debate with Baptist minister, Dr. Gordon Lewis:

Because of one’s faith and belief in Jesus Christ, he turns away from his sins (the Bible calls this “repentance”), he acknowledges that Christ is the Son of God [the confession], and upon baptism – according to Romans chapter 6, he’s brought into union with the death of Christ.

You see, it’s the death of Jesus Christ that saves us, and it’s baptism that brings us into union with Him. Therefore, the death of Christ may be appropriated to our lives.

Passages         Texts
Mark 1:4,      and,
Luke 3:3       refer to baptism of John “for remission of sins”;
Acts 2:38:    “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, for the remission of sins”;
Acts 22:16:   “Arise and be baptized… and wash away your sins”;
Mark 16:16:   “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved..”, and 
1 Peter 3:21: “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you…”

Every time you find the words “baptism” and “salvation” (or their equivalent terms) in the New Testament, baptism always comes first: there are no exceptions.

This is how we, as disciples of Christ, are made "clean." Then, we must live lives of godliness, walking in the Light, to be continually cleansed of all sin (1 Jn. 1:7) and all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).

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  • 2
    I agree with you, but I think you could make a better biblical and contextual case that baptism is what Jesus was referring to.
    – Austin
    Aug 24 at 1:08
  • @Austin Thanks for that! I was just noticing that you are correct. I also believe this response if very poorly formatted. I will try to address this when I have more time.
    – Xeno
    Sep 2 at 6:36
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"The cleanliness here refers to Jesus speaking about branches being cleaned (pruned) to bear more fruit in verse 2... With that context, how are the disciples already clean because of the word Jesus has spoke to them?"

Thanks for asking this question. I hadn't previously connected the two words, καθαίρει, from verse 2 and καθαροί from verse 3.

2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [καθαίρει], that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean [καθαροί] because of the word that I have spoken to you. -John 15:2-3

In verse 2, the cleansing by purging or pruning, καθαίρει, describes an ongoing process as the branch grows. This purging refers to the cleansing of dead work or sin that is carried out by The Father, The Vinedresser, on all who produce fruit (the good works that God desires).

In verse 3, the idea of clean, καθαροί, relates not to the continual ongoing cleansing act performed by God, as previously discussed, but instead to the actual clean state or status of the individual disciples previously obtained.

When Jesus says that they are clean διὰ the word that he spoke to them, I understand him to mean that they were clean through what Jesus had already discussed. Essentially, Jesus had already told them that they were clean and the means by which they were clean.


Now we could ask, when did Jesus tell them they were clean and the means by which they were clean?
To determine when he did this, we only need to look back towards the beginning of this extended conservation only a couple of chapters earlier in John 13:8-11.

8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”
11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
-John 13:8-11

The word for clean in verse 10 & 11 is basically the same word used in John 15:3. Here I understand Jesus to essentially say that the disciples were completely clean because they had previously been bathed. Bathing relates to washing the entire body.


Now it is natural to ask, when were the disciples previously bathed, the entire body washed, such that the disciples were, at that point, completely clean?
The answer takes us even further back in the narrative to John 3:22,26;4:1.

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.
26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),...
-John 3:22, 26, 4:1-2

Here we see the disciples were baptizing and being baptized under the authority of Jesus. Baptism means to immerse. When a person is immersed, their whole body is plunged beneath the water and is so rinsed. This seems to be the bodily washing that we are looking for, but let's analyze this further.

Concerning the cleansing that occurs by washing, the physical act of being baptized is associated with salvation and being cleansed of our sins when done by the name (authority) of Jesus, calling on the name of the Lord, and making our appeal to God.

16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ - Acts 22:16
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, - 1 Peter 3:21
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. - Acts 2:38

We could also notice here that Jesus made disciples through baptizing them under his authority. Jesus later commanded his disciples to make all other disciples by baptizing them and instructing them to observe all that Jesus had commanded.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20

Baptism is how disciples in Jesus Christ are made. It's how disciples are initially brought into the saving relationship with Christ. Indeed Jesus himself did not begin his ministry until he submitted himself to baptism to fulfill all righteousness and receive his anointing. (Matthew 3:13-16, Acts 10:38)


So with all this in mind, the state of being clean in verse 3 must refer to the initial baptismal purification under the Authority of Jesus Christ - the inaugural act bringing the apostles into a cleansing and saving relationship in Christ - The Vine. What we see in verse 2 referred to as pruning is the continual act of cleansing done on the disciples (the branches in the vine analogy). This is the ongoing purification done by the Father for those who abide in Jesus, The Vine, by continuing to produce his fruit.

We could also note that verse 2 helps to explain why the betrayer in John 13:10,11 was not considered clean along with the rest of the disciples: The betrayer did not produce the fruit desired by God, but was focused on producing his own fruit and was removed from the saving relationship that is found only in The Vine.

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How are the disciples clean through Jesus’s word?

Literal vine branches must remain attached to the trunk in order to be alive and productive. Likewise, Jesus' disciples must remain in union with him to be clean, spiritually, and productive.

Jesus’ followers obey the truth of God’s Word, thus they remain attached to the trunk and so they become clean or sanctified:

1 Peter 1:22 NET

22 You have purified your souls by obeying the truth[b] in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart.

Suckers and dead wood have no place among those “clean” branches. That is why, in his parable, Jesus said to his faithful apostles:

John 15:1-3 NET

The Vine and the Branches

15 “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. 2 He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. 3 You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you.

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This question actually contains three implied questions.

1. What is "clean/pure"?

BDAG answers this question for the operative word in John 15:3, καθαρός (katharos)

pertaining to being free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin, eg, Titus 1:15b, John 13:10, 11, 15:3, Matt 5:8, Acts 18:6, 20:26, etc.

2. How does one become "pure/clean"?

  • Titus 1:5, To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.
  • John 15:2, 5 - the defining characteristic of who are pure and who need to be pruned (= made pure) is whether a person bears "fruit"

3. How does one become impure?

  • Rom 3:10-18, 23 says that all are sinful and guilty before God. we are born that way and have inherited our sinful human nature and so all desperately need the Savior, Jesus.

The Vine Metaphor

Let is follow Jesus' metaphor about the vine and branches in John 15:1-8. First, Jesus uses a word-play.

  • He uses the adjective καθαρός (katharos = clean/pure) to define a state
  • He uses the cognate verb καθαίρω (kathairó = prune, purge) to define an action

Jesus therefore says that:

  • impure branches/people are purged/pruned that does not bear fruit (V2)
  • the only way to bear fruit is to "remain in" Jesus (V4)
  • the one who "remains in" Jesus bears much fruit (V5) because with Jesus we can do nothing
  • Jesus Word is to "remain in" us is equivalent if us "remaining in " Jesus (V7, 4)
  • The fact that the disciples had received Jesus' word means that they were already pure/clean and thus did not need to be purged/cleaned/pruned (V3)

The mention of destruction by fire in V6 anticipates Paul's teaching on the same subject in 2 Thess 2 in the appendix below.

Thus, the disciples and all who accept Jesus "word" or teaching about eternal salvation and act upon it "remain in" Jesus and bear much fruit and so do not need to be purged/pruned and thus are already "pure/clean".

APPENDIX 2 Thess 2:7-10 - destruction of those who refuse to receive the love of the truth

7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one who now restrains it will continue until he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of His mouth and annihilate by the majesty of His arrival.

9 The coming of the lawless one will be accompanied by the working of Satan, with every kind of power, sign, and false wonder, 10 and with every wicked deception directed against those who are perishing, because they refused the love of the truth that would have saved them. See also 2 Thess 1:8-10.

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To answer this adequately the related verses in John with ὁ λόγος related to this meaning follow at the end. A verse that has something similar is "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17, ESV) The word in these verses definitely includes the Gospel, but includes more. Noteworthy is the verse:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. (John 17:20, ESV)

Their word implies the Bible. Some of the verses below have the word used for passages in the Old Testament. That is also consistent with Psalm 119.

  How can a young man keep his way pure? 
  By guarding it according to your word. 
                                  (Psalm 119:9, ESV)

        I have stored up your word in my heart, 
  that I might not sin against you. 
                                   (Psalm 119:11, ESV)


  My soul clings to the dust; 
  give me life according to your word! 
                                    (Psalm 119:25, ESV)


  My soul longs for your salvation; 
  I hope in your word. 
                                    (Psalm 119:81, ESV)


  Your word is a lamp to my feet 
  and a light to my path. 
                                    (Psalm 119:105, ESV)


  The sum of your word is truth, 
  and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. 
                                    (Psalm 119:160, ESV)

Quick look at the Greek

ἤδη ὑμεῖς καθαροί ἐστε διὰ τὸν λόγον ὃν λελάληκα ὑμῖν· (John 15:3, NA28)

At the risk of oversimplifying:

 μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί = abiding in Jesus' words

κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν = the indwelling Holy Spirit

List of verses in John

But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:21–22, ESV)

 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:41–42, ESV)

Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. (John 4:50, ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:24–29, ESV)

 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:38-40, ESV)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying [ὁ λόγος]; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words [τὰ ῥήματα] that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (Jn 6:60–63, ESV)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32, ESV)

 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:37–38, ESV)

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (John 8:43, ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51, ESV)

But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (John 8:55, ESV)

Scripture

so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: (John 12:38, ESV)

 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:48, ESV)

God's word was Christ's word.

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words [τοὺς λόγους]. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24, ESV)

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. (John 15:3–5, ESV)

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:20, ESV)

Scripture

But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:25, ESV)

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6, ESV)

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14, ESV)

Sanctifying

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:17–18, ESV)

Christ's word became his follower's word

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. (John 17:20, ESV)

 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” (John 18:8–9, ESV)

This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 18:32, ESV)

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What is the meaning of "filthiness" and "purity"? It cannot be bodily cleanliness, for then Roman patricians bathing themselves in Roman bathes would be cleanest of all then existing people; or ritualistic cleanliness, for then pharisees observing ritualistic cleanings of hands and vessels would be the cleanest.

No, the Lord speaks about another sort of filthiness and cleanliness, which He expressly states in Mark 7:15: "nothing that enters man defiles him, but what comes out of man does defile him"; which is to say, "adultery, theft, greed, envy etc" (Mark 7:21-22).

But what makes, thus, man pure? Of course following of the Lord's commandments that are to overpower in us those sinful inclinations and transform them to inclinations towards eternal things - for only eternal, i.e. uncreated things are good per se - which things are sourced from the Lord. Those 'things' are divine operations, called also 'grace' in a less technical language. Thus, inclination to adultery should be overcome by inclination towards purity and holiness ("be holy for I am holy" /1 Peter 1:16/), inclination towards lying, by inclination towards truth, etc.

Eternal things, the divine, uncreated operations are like fire and soul that catches this fire becomes fiery and is burned like the bush in Exodus 3, without being destroyed, but rather being transformed.

Thus, "becoming pure by word of the Lord" means that the uncreated divine energy or operation of the Lord will start operating and burning inside us like a purifying fire, or fire consuming our sinfulness (cf. Hebrews 12:29), ontologically changing us, recreating us from fleshly beings to spiritual beings (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14-16), to the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) that will fit in the Heavenly Kingdom.

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