Galatians 5:19-23 ESV

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Paul uses the word "fruit (karpos)" in reference to the Spirit but in reference to the flesh he uses the word "works (ergon)". Why was the distinction necessary? How to works and fruit differ from one another?

2 Answers 2


Because fruit is a metaphor for only the positive entities. Fruit of womb, vine etc. There are no fruits of flesh or sin, its outcome is unfruitfulness, faith alone, lawlessness. So only the works of flesh is suitable for (akarpos) unfruitful people in Paul's context.

The bad fruits of the false prophets or believers are actually fake fruits, not a poor quality apple, but thorns & thistles. The fruits are the practical, spiritual result of their works. The nature of context in Matt 7 suits bad fruits rather than "unfruitful" as it talks about verification through fruits, although the meaning is the same.

ESVMatthew 7:16-19: “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

ESVEphesians 5:9-11: “(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Matthew 13:22: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

Mark 4:19: “but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

1 Corinthians 14:14: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.”

Ephesians 5:11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Titus 3:14: “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”

  • Sayings Matthew 7 is discussing fake fruit and not bad fruit is reading into and not reading out of the text, since bad fruit is actually discussed and not fake fruit.
    – Austin
    Apr 30, 2022 at 17:13
  • @Austin, I mentioned because it is called or compared with thistles and thorns. The context requires good bad fruit, because it's about verification of the man. In the contexts of general fruitfulness, they talked only about tree not bearing fruit, and unfruitfulness.
    – Michael16
    Apr 30, 2022 at 17:27

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words helps us to understand the difference in Paul's words.

work - ergon (Strong's G2041)

Deed, Deeds:

denotes "a work" (Eng., "work" is etymologically akin), "deed, act." When used in the sense of a "deed or act," the idea of "working" is stressed, e.g., Rom 15:18; it frequently occurs in an ethical sense of human actions, good or bad, e.g., Mat 23:3; 26:10; Jhn 3:20, 21; Rom 2:7, 15; 1Th 1:3; 2Th 1:11, etc; sometimes in a less concrete sense, e.g., Tts 1:16; Jam 1:25 (RV, "that worketh," lit., "of work").

fruit - karpos (Strong's G2590)

Fruit (Bear), Fruitful, Unfruitful:

(II) metaphorically,

(a) of works or deeds, "fruit" being the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the "fruit" being evidence of the character of the power producing it, Mat 7:16. As the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into living union with Christ (Jhn 15:2-8, 16) produces "the fruit of the Spirit,"

So we can see that the "works of the flesh" are the actions that the individual produces from their sinful nature. The "fruit of the Spirit" are the qualities that dwell within us. And more beautiful, this "fruit of the Spirit" produces works of righteousness.

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