Terms and Meaning. Among the number of Hebrew words for fruit, fruit-producing, is peri, to bear fruit, be fruitful. The basic Greek word for fruit is karpos [karpov"], used literally of fruit, offspring, and figuratively of the consequence of physical, mental, or spiritual action; karpophoreo [karpoforevw], means to bear fruit or crops, and figuratively, bear fruit in the heart ( Luke 8:15 ); and akarpos [a [karpo"], means fruitless, as of unproductive, unregenerate lives ( Matt 13:22 ).
Physical Fruits and Their Spiritual Application. In his original creation God commanded the land to produce "vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds" ( Gen 1:11 ). Scripture refers to a number of the Near East plants, trees/bushes, and spices to teach or enhance a spiritual lesson (e.g., the grain seeds sown, Matt 13:1-9 ; the fig tree cursed, Matt 21:18-22 ; the grape vine likened to God's people, Jer 2:21 ; John 15:1-7 ). To make the spiritual point that God's disobedient people needed his mercy and saving power to heal them, Jeremiah effectively refers to the healing effect of the balm or gum oil of a well-known bush/small tree growing in Gilead.
Spices and unguents, the fruit of exotic plants, trees, and small bushes in the Middle East, frequently played an important role in enhancing one's social position or indicating one's respect, adoration, and devotion, particularly to God. Examples include myrrh (aromatic gum of the tree/bush of Arabia, Ethiopia, and Somalia), cinnamon (of the cinnamon tree), and olive oil for the sacred oil for the tabernacle ( Exod 30:22-33 ); the fragrant spices of gum resin (the aromatic myrrh gum), onycha (made from mollusk shells), galbanum (resin from plant roots), and frankincense (resin from a small tree/bush from Ubar, Oman) for the sacred fragrant tabernacle incense ( Exod 30:34-38 ); frankincense and myrrh given by the magi in their worship of Jesus ( Matt 2:11 ); the nard (perfume made from a Middle East plant) Mary poured out in worship on the feet of Jesus ( John 12:3 ); the seventy-five-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes (aromatic resin of a Near Eastern tree) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus used in wrapping up the body of Jesus ( John 19:39-40 ) and the spices and perfumes the women took to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus ( Mark 16:1 ; Luke 23:56-24:1 ).
Man, the Special Fruit of God's Creation. When God created man and woman ( Gen 1:26 ), endowing them with moral, intellectual, and spiritual power (cf. Eph 4:24 ; Col 3:10 ), he said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" ( Gen 1:28 ). This implies that Adam and Eve's progeny were not only to be the physical fruit of the pair but also to be endowed with moral, intellectual, and spiritual power, since they too, as descendants of the God-created pair, were made in "the image of God" ( Gen 1:27 ; cf. Gen 9:6 ; 2 Cor 4:4 ). The offspring of the human pair is called, from the woman's viewpoint, "the fruit of the womb" ( Deut 7:13 ; Deuteronomy 28:4 Deuteronomy 28:11 Deuteronomy 28:18 Deuteronomy 28:53 ; 30:9 ; Luke 1:42 ), and from the husband's standpoint, "fruit of his loins" ( Psalm 131:11, ; LXX Acts 2:30, ; Greek text cf. "the fruit of my body, " Micah 6:7 ).
A Figurative Meaning. Scripture speaks of eating "the fruit of your labor" ( Psalm 128:2 ), and defines the activities of the godly as "the fruit of the righteous" ( Prov 11:30 ). Those who reject God's wisdom are described as eating "the fruit of their ways . . filled with the fruit of their schemes" ( Prov 1:31 ; cf. Jer 6:19 ). "The fruit of the lips, " the blessing of one's speech, adds blessing to one's daily life ( Prov 12:14 ; 13:2 ; 18:20-21 ). John the Baptist and Jesus teach that the disciple is to produce fruit (good works) as evidence of true repentance ( Matt 3:8 ; Luke 3:8 ), and they explain that a good tree (the repentant individual) cannot produce bad fruit, that is, a life filled with wicked Acts, and a bad tree (an unrepentant person) cannot produce good fruit, that is, a life of godly works ( Matt 3:10 ; 7:16-20 ; Luke 3:9 ; 6:43 ).
To aid Christians in their walk before the Lord, God-given wisdom is made available to them, wisdom whose "fruit is better than fine gold" ( Prov 8:19 ), and the Holy Spirit develops within Christians the fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control" ( Gal 5:22-23 ). Thus, with the enablement of the Holy Spirit, the Christian can flourish "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season" ( Psalm 1:3 ).
W. Harold Mare
Bibliography. D. J. Burke, ISBE, 2:364-66; W. E. Shewell-Cooper, ZPED, 2:614-16.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Fruit'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".