A Question on the Fruit of the Spirit
August 29, 2023, 11:47 AM

Question: In Galatians 5:22-23, why is the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” singular and not plural?

Answer: Thank you for your question. The simple answer to your question is because in the original Greek, the word "fruit" (karpos) is in the singular form. However, I suspect you are looking for something a little deeper than that.

In English, the word "fruit" is a word that is both "countable" and "uncountable." What I mean by that is it's a word that can be used in its singular form ("fruit") to refer to a collective. For example, you might say, "I like to eat fruit." By that, I would understand you like to eat a variety of fruit, such as apples, bananas, grapes, etc. You can also say, "There is a lot of fruit in the bowl." Again, I would understand by that there is a variety of fruit in the bowl. You can also use the word "fruit" in its countable sense, which would be in its plural form ("fruits"). For example, I might say, "My favorite fruits are bananas, strawberries, and apples."

In Greek, there is no such ambiguity as each noun as both singular and plural forms (karpos, karpoi). Our English translations will then attempt to translate in such a way as to make the most sense in English. Thus, you will see both the singular collective form of "fruit" for the Greek plural (Matthew 7:17 NKJV) and the plural form of "fruit" for the Greek plural (Matthew 3:8 NKJV).

But even with this, I can sense this doesn't adequately answer your question. If we consider what the Apostle Paul is doing in Galatians 5, we might come to a better answer. Paul is defending the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone in the Book of Galatians. He begins by lamenting the Galatians apparent abandonment of the gospel in Galatians 1:6-9. He drives the greater theological point home in Galatians 2:11-21, with the main point being expressed in v. 16: No one is justified by works of the law, but by faith in Christ. In chapters 3-4, Paul shows how this has always been the way of salvation, even in the OT. Then in chapter 5, Paul begins to lay out the applications of this. He begins by announcing the freedom we have in Christ and that we ought not let anyone put us back under a yoke of slavery to man-made rules and traditions.

When you get to Galatians 5:16-26, Paul is making his great distinction between "works of the flesh" and "fruit of the Spirit." The "works of the flesh," Paul says, are evident, and he spouts off a list of some of the vilest behavior known to man. This is what people do who are not "led by the Spirit." If you're trying to earn justification by works of the law, you will not succeed, for the only thing the flesh can do is what we see in vv. 19-21. The contrast is made in vv. 22-23. Those who are "led by the Spirit" produce (or better "have produced in them") the "fruit of the Spirit." The fruit (taken in its collective singular form) is a by-product of someone who has spiritual life.

I always like to compare Galatians 5:22-23 with John 15:5, where Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5 NKJV). If you have a vital, organic connection to Jesus, the True Vine, you have life and you will bear much fruit. Going back to Galatians 5:22-23, the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit are all the qualities that are produced in our lives by virtue of our union with Christ. In a phrase, it's being conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2).

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl

Post a Comment