Vine and Vineyard: A New Perspective

Modern Greek (Neohellenic) is of great significance in the interpretation of many parts of the New Testament text. While many New Testament words may show retention of their Classical Greek meaning, a good number of them may possess an added dimension or some distinct new nuance that is preserved in Greek today. Here is a quick glance at two key terms in John 15 traditionally understood as branches and vine respectively.

In an article titled “Is Jesus the Vine or the Vineyard?”[1] Caragounis takes the reader on a fully documented journey from Aesop (7th–6th c. BC) through classical, Hellenistic, Byzantine, and modern times to show how these words were used at different stages in their evolutionary spectrum, especially in New Testament times. By the end of the journey the reader realizes that what has traditionally been understood as κλήματα [klimata][2] branches (disciples) and ἄμπελος [ambelos] vine (Jesus) is to be understood instead as κλήματα vines (disciples) and ἄμπελος vineyard (Jesus). This “new” (and correct) interpretation of κλῆμα and ἄμπελος is based not on the “modern” usage of these words, but on their New Testament usage preserved in Modern Greek.

While this “revised” meaning of κλήματα and ἄμπελος in John 15 does not change the fundamental import of Jesus’ imagery (nor the relation between Jesus and His disciples), it does nevertheless paint a very different picture that reveals profound new truths. Indeed, if we, as individual vines (disciples), remain planted in the true and sure ground of the vineyard (Jesus) (v. 5), with God the Father being the γεωργός [jeorɣos] (lit.) groundworker (v. 1), we will produce much fruit (v. 5). It is by remaining planted in the ground that each individual vine can receive the necessary nutrients and thus live to produce fruit (v. 4). Not planted securely in the ground, a vine cannot survive and is therefore removed (v. 2).

Thus, if the disciples were to be viewed in the traditional sense as “branches,” then the earnest instruction to remain in the vine would be an unnecessary redundancy, for that is what a branch does naturally by being a part of the main stock. And if Jesus were to be understood in the traditional sense as the vine, then He Himself would be the object of pruning (v. 2). Clearly, then, Christians are the vines and Jesus is the vineyard where the vines are planted.

The New Testament meaning of the words κλήματα vines and ἄμπελος vineyard had been in place before the writer of the Fourth Gospel. After the Christian era, their meaning, having found a mighty shelter in the ecclesiastical language of Byzantine Greek, traversed through the centuries and has been preserved in Modern Greek to this day.

Philemon Zachariou is a native Greek and retired Greek professor. He currently develops New Testament Greek instructional material, is an adjunct professor of English at Northwest University, and a BibleMesh Greek tutor.

[1]  Chrys C. Caragounis, The Development of Greek and the New Testament: Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 247–61.

[2]  Rendered in the Historical Greek Pronunciation by the use of International Phonetic Alphabet symbols.