Lisa & I caught a show on TV a while back with a guy Jim Fleming, who is an authority on Biblical Archeology (and a believer). He was explaining why it’s valuable for us to understand the culture of Jesus’ day so that we can have a better understanding of what Jesus meant by what he said.
Grape Vines in Bible Times
One of the examples he used was that passage about the vine in the beginning of John 15. Fleming shared that in vineyards in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus didn’t suspend wires above the ground like we do now (and they did when the KJV was translated). The vines just grew along the ground.
When a vine was in contact with the ground it had a tendency to set down roots at that point of contact. These new shallow roots weaken the vine and it won’t be as fruitful compared to being connected directly to the main, deep roots. To prevent the new roots from growing the vine dresser would put rocks under the vines to lift them up off the ground.
Then he pointed out that the same Greek word in John 15:2 can mean either “takes away” or “lifts up”. In fact the primary definition is “lifts up” according to Strong’s. Here’s the Strong’s entry for that Greek word.
g0142. αιρω airo;
- to lift up;
- by implication, to take up or away;
- figuratively, to raise (the voice), keep in suspense (the mind), specially, to sail away (i. e. weigh anchor);
You can see that “takes away” is an implied meaning, not the primary meaning of the word.
Different Agriculture, Different Understanding
Fleming said that because the English had a different way of tending vines (more like our modern way with wires up off the ground) than they did in Jesus’ day the translators chose “takes away”. To them it wouldn’t have made much sense to say “lifts up” because the vines were already lifted up on wires suspended above the ground. However, in the context of first century Jewish culture “lifts up” makes more sense.
And that paints a very different picture for that verse, now doesn’t it?
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He [ lifts up ]; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.— John 15:2
Makes you wonder what else in the Bible we might look at differently if we knew more about the culture Jesus lived in.