“You Will Know Them By Their Fruits”

bowl-of-fruit-1857One of the most often-used phrases in the Christian tradition is, “You will know them by their fruits,” which is found in the Book of Matthew:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20, NKJV)

Usually, the occasion for using the phrase is assessing what a person does, what his or her deeds are.

In other words, a person’s works.

Why? To know if someone is a true follower of Jesus or not. “Good” fruits indicates an affirmative answer. “Bad” fruit indicates the person is likely not a true follower, or has backslidden.

However, there’s a hook in applying the verse that way: it requires making a judgment.

For example, by what standard are a person’s deeds or works determined to be good or bad? Saying the Bible is one’s standard is fine, except…

Does one use a Catholic interpretation? A Baptist one? A Presbyterian one? A Charismatic one? Which Bible translation provides the standard? King James? New King James? New International Version? English Standard Version? New American Standard version? How about a paraphrase like The Message? Or the Phillips Translation?

Are the standards to judge “good” fruit from “bad” derived from a literal interpretation of the Bible? Or a more relaxed, perhaps even mystical, interpretation?

Do they depend on the region of the United States in which one lives? For example, those who live in the Bible Belt might have a different set of standards by which to judge one’s “fruits” than people who live in, say, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles – or Peoria, for that matter.

Are the standards consistently applied? Are they applied without taint from Continue reading