The Old Testament passages which use this symbol appear to regard Israel as faithless to Yahweh and/or the object of severe punishment. Ezek 15:1–8 in particular talks about the worthlessness of wood from a vine (in relation to disobedient Judah). A branch cut from a vine is worthless except to be burned as fuel. This appears to fit more with the statements about the disciples than with Jesus’ description of himself as the vine.
Ezek 17:5–10 contains vine imagery which refers to a king of the house of David, Zedekiah, who was set up as king in Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah allied himself to Egypt and broke his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar (and therefore also with God), which would ultimately result in his downfall (17:20–21). Ezek 17:22–24 then describes the planting of a cedar sprig which grows into a lofty tree, a figurative description of Messiah. But it is significant that Messiah himself is not described in Ezekiel 17 as a vine, but as a cedar tree. The vine imagery here applies to Zedekiah’s disobedience.
Is it a parable?
Several authors such as Barbara Reid, Arland Hultgren or Donald Griggs comment that "parables are noticeably absent from the Gospel of John". According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Parables: "There are no parables in St. John's Gospel" and according to the Encyclopædia Britannica article on Gospel of St. John: "Here Jesus' teaching contains no parables and but three allegories, the Synoptists present it as parabolic through and through." These sources all suggest that the passage is better described as a metaphor than a parable. However, some writers, notably John Calvin, referred to the passage by a Latin term that is typically translated into English as a "parable".
From John 15:1–6 (KJV) I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
- Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel by Charles H. Talbert 1999 ISBN 1573122785 page 219-221
- Barbara Reid, 2001 Parables for Preachers ISBN 0-8146-2550-9 page 3
- Arland J. Hultgren, 2002 The Parables of Jesus ISBN 0-8028-6077-X page 2
- Donald L. Griggs, 2003 The Bible from scratch ISBN 0-664-22577-2 page 52
- John Calvin's Commentary on John Volume 2
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