Fruit, pruning

Image of grapes available through Creative CommonsFruit is used positively in the Bible as a literal and metaphorical symbol of life, abundance and biological reproduction, but can also be associated with temptation (‘forbidden fruit’) and the consequences of sin. Among the specific fruits most frequently mentioned are grapes (used to make wine), figs and olives (used to make oil).

Pruning, whereby parts of a plant are removed in order to promote health, growth and/or the production of fruit and flower, is used as a biblical metaphor for some of the ways in which God deals with human beings.

Creation and Fall

The creation accounts in Genesis emphasise the ‘fruitfulness’ – that is, the ability to reproduce – of plant life Genesis 1:11-12 and animal life Genesis 1:20-25. When God makes human beings, he commands them to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’. He also gives them, for food, the literal fruit (and seeds) produced by the plant life he has made Genesis 1:26-30.

However, he makes one exception: Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat from the tree of knowledge ‘of good and evil’ Genesis 2:16-17, which grows in the Garden of Eden Genesis 2:8-9. The serpent tempts Eve to disobey this commandment with the promise that eating the fruit will make herself and Adam ‘like God’ Genesis 3:4-6. However, their rebellion causes them to be banished from the garden and denied the fruit of the tree of life (which also grows there) Genesis 3:22-24.

According to Revelation, the tree of life, bearing `twelve kinds of fruit’, also grows in the New Jerusalem — the beautiful and holy city where God’s people will one day dwell in his presence Revelation 22:1-2.


An abundance of fruit and other food produce is celebrated as a blessing and a sign of God’s favour Deuteronomy 30:9, correlating with the closeness of a person’s relationship with God (e.g. Psalms 1:1-3).

Eroticism - The Song of Songs

The settings for the love poetry of Song of Songs include the garden, the vineyard and the nut orchard, and their fecund imagery is applied to human passion. For example, the female of the couple is attributed with cheeks like halves of a pomegranate Song of Songs 4:3, breasts like clusters of the palm tree Song of Songs 7:7, and breath scented like apples Song of Songs 7:8.

Cultivation and pruning

God’s relationship to his people is frequently depicted as a farmer who carefully tends his plants, anticipating a fruitful crop. In the New Testament Jesus declares himself to be ‘the true vine’, belonging to which makes believers fruitful. In the analogy, God the father is like a vine-dresser:

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:2  ESVUK

Paul takes up the gardening theme in Romans 11:17-20. He describes his gentile readers as wild olive branches which God has grafted onto a cultivated plant (the children of God who had thus far been exclusively Jewish).

Character and behaviour

The word ‘fruit’ is used to describe the visible outward behaviour which reveals someone’s character and priorities. John the Baptist urges his hearers to ‘bear fruit in keeping with repentanceMatthew 3:8 and Jesus recommends discerning between false and true prophets according to the fruits that they bear Matthew 7:15-20.

Paul uses the phrase ‘fruit of the Spirit’ to describe the outward evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in a person’s life, in contrast to the sinful and destructive ‘works of the flesh’:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23  ESVUK

Fruit and pruning in literature

  • George Herbert’s 1633 poem The Collar laments a ‘fruitless’ life of restraint and service to God. The temptation to reach out and grasp the fruits of pleasure-seeking is tempered by a fresh realisation of God’s father-like love
  • The poem A Poison Tree from William Blake’s Songs of Experience (1794) tells of a re-pressed anger which grows into a gleaming but deadly apple, symbolising murderous ac-tion
  • Although promoted as a ‘children’s poem’, Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem Goblin Market (1859), about a woman tantalised by forbidden fruits, is rife with sexual imagery and generally understood to be an allegory about ‘fallen women’
  • In Tom Sawyer (1876), Mark Twain’s protagonist ingeniously manoeuvres a friend to give him an apple in exchange for the ‘privilege’ of taking over his fence-painting chore!
  • William Carlos Williams’ imagist poem This Is Just To Say (1934) is an ‘apology’ for eating some plums which were much enjoyed
  • In Blackberrying (1960), Sylvia Plath describes picking blackberries in a lane on the way to the sea. The poem hints towards death and decay, especially in the way the oozing over-ripeness of the fruit has attracted crowds of flies. Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry Picking (1966) echoes the theme of transient pleasure provided by a hoard of fruit
  • In The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis (1955), Digory takes one of the healing apples back from Narnia to save his mother
  • The protagonist of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic James and the Giant Peach (1961) escapes a cruel home life in an enchanted fruit. After a surreal cross-Atlantic voyage, he settles in New York, where the remains of the peach is consumed by the city’s children.


  • The novelty song Yes! We Have No Bananas (Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, 1922) became popular again during World War II rationing. Greengrocers would display the slogan in their shop windows.

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