In the Septuagint, the translation of Genesis 38:21 is: "And he asks the men of the place, saying, 'Where is the holy harlot that was by the wayside?'". In this context, the Greek preposition ἐπὶ (epi) is used to indicate the location of Tamar, who was "by the wayside". The preposition ἐπὶ (epi) has a broad meaning and can be translated in several ways, depending on the context. In Genesis 38:21, the preposition is used to indicate Tamar's proximity or position in relation to the path. It was visible or highlighted along the way, catching the attention of people passing by.

In the Septuagint's literal translation of 1 Kings 20:38, the preposition ἐπὶ (epi) is used in a similar manner to the example in Genesis 38:21, to indicate the position in the path. The correct and literal translation of the passage in question would be: "And the prophet departed and stood before the king of Israel in the way, and tied a handkerchief over his eyes." In Matthew 21:19, the description of the fig tree in Greek is as follows: "καὶ ἰδὼν συκῆν μίαν ἐπὶ τῆς ὁδοῦ." The translation of this verse would be: "And, seeing a fig tree by the wayside." In this context, the preposition ἐπὶ (epi) is used to indicate the location of the fig tree in relation to the path. It was near or by the wayside, being easily visible to travelers passing by. The idea is, that the fig tree was in a conspicuous and easily accessible place, where travelers could see its fruit, and, if they wished, eat it.

Jesus, being hungry, approached this fig tree, the fig tree that was full of leaves, indicating that it should have fruit. However, when he got close, he found that the fig tree had no more fruit, as they had already been eaten.

According to the biblical account in Matthew 21:19, Jesus saw a fig tree "by the wayside" or "by the wayside" (depending on the translation: Matthew in Hebrew of Shem-Tov) that was full of leaves. This indicated that the fig tree must bear fruit, as fig leaves normally indicate the presence of ripe fruit. However, upon approaching the fig tree, Jesus discovered that it had no fruit, as they had already been eaten or were not there.

Why did Jesus turn a productive fig tree into an unproductive one?

  • Codex Vercellensis, the Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Old Latin Gospels, and Codex Veronensis have as a variant respectively the phrase (non enim erat tempus ficus) and (non erat enim tempus ficuum) for Mark 11:13
    – Betho's
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 2:48
  • Does this answer your question? Why would Jesus look for figs out of season?
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 2:58
  • Duplicate and also opinion based. Lacking fruit means being unproductive. Leaf does not mean produce but fruits.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 2:58
  • 1
    To demonstrate the judgment of God to man by this example.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 4:02
  • 1
    Just search for the duplicates thoroughly before making a topic. The fruitless tree is cursed and punished,so will man.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 4:17

2 Answers 2


The whole point of the parable is that the tree was not productive. The fig tree produces some fruit in the spring (the early figs) and the main crop in autumn. The lack of the early figs indicates that the tree won't produce anything in the autumn.

A breba (or more commonly breva in Spanish, and sometimes as taqsh) is a fig that develops on a common fig tree in the spring on the previous year's shoot growth. In contrast, the main fig crop develops on the current year's shoot growth and ripens in late summer or fall. Breba figs of certain varieties don't always develop the rich flavor that the main crop has. Growers of those varieties frequently discard the brebas before they ripen to encourage growth of the main crop because the main crop is generally superior in both quantity and quality to the breba crop. Other cultivars such as Black Mission, Croisic, and Ventura produce good breba crops. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breba)

The generation of Jesus time was as useless and unproductive as in the time of Jeremiah, when the judgement and the destruction of the first temple was announced.

"I wanted to gather my people, as a farmer gathers a harvest; but they are like a vine with no grapes, like a fig tree with no figs; even the leaves have withered. Therefore, I have allowed outsiders to take over the land." (Jeremiah 8:13)

The temple was recently restored, the sacrifices were offered. Everything seemed just fine. But it was not what God was looking for. Like Adam and Eve, the people and the establishment were naked, desperately hiding it under the fig leaves.

Also compare this story to the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).

  • Your comment is pertinent and excellent, but it follows the second hypothesis allowed, that the fig tree is sterile. I'm starting from the assumption allowed in the context that it is productive.
    – Betho's
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 11:19
  • In the case of the fig tree recorded in Luke 13:6-9, it is possible that the vinedresser uprooted the figs in the first three years so that the commandments of the mitzvot (613) would not be broken.
    – Betho's
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 11:35

The lengthy preamble (about location) is only relevant if comparing the Matthew account with the one in Mark, where Jesus sees that fig tree from a distance as they were on the way to Jerusalem. Young's Literal Translation puts Mat. 21:19 as,"and having seen a certain fig tree on the way, he came to it..." His rendition of Mark 11:13 is, "having seen a fig tree afar off having leaves..."

Nevertheless, the location of that tree has no bearing on how to answer the question, "Why did Jesus turn a productive fig tree into an unproductive one?" The Bible accounts all agree that the tree in question had only produced leaves. Upon examination, when the foliage was moved to see if fruit was being hidden by the leaves, no fruit was found.

There is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that it had borne fruit which had been totally plucked off. It had produced leaves but there is no basis for assuming that it had first produced figs. If that assumption is made, then the question is very different to the question, "Why did Jesus turn that fruitless fig tree into an unproductive one?" But as that has not been asked, the assumption in the actual question requires substantiation. I cannot find any anywhere. Nor is it reasonable to assume that every fig tree that produces leaves must, of necessity, also produce figs prior to that. An unfruitful tree may produce leaves, but no fruit.

But I can see from the record a reason for withering up a fruit tree that had only produced leaves. The account goes on to show what Jesus thought of the religious state in Jerusalem, with many appearances of being 'fruitful' (spiritually speaking). To look at outward appearances, one would expect spiritual 'fruit' from such religiously observant people, but Jesus did not go by outward appearances. After reading the rest of Matthew chapter 21, note his parable of the vineyard owner who had workers tend to it. But when it came time to show the fruits of their labours, they ended up killing the owner's son. Here is how Jesus applied the parable, saying what the owner would eventually destroy those workers:

"...and the vineyard he will give out to other husbandmen, who will give back to him the fruits in their seasons... Because of this I say to you that the reign of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth its fruit... And the chief priests and the Pharisees having heard his similies, knew that of them he speaketh, and seeking to lay hold on him, they feared the multitudes, seeing that they were holding him as a prophet." Matthew 21:41-46 Y.L.T. [emphasis mine]

That is why Jesus turned that leafy tree into a shrivelled relic of a tree. It would serve as a visual reminder to all who heard what he said later in that chapter about lack of spiritual fruit God was entitled to expect.

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