Can a good tree produce bad fruit?

Tenth in a series of short answers to questions about the New Testament.

Consider Matt. 7:17-19 – [E]very good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit…. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

So, isn’t it at least possible for a good tree to produce bad fruit once in a while? Or a bad tree good fruit? What about trees that are not fruit-bearing? Does every tree with an off season deserve the fire? What does Jesus mean by all this talk about husbandry?

Jesus, of course, is using hyperbole to illustrate a biblical truth. He is contrasting His faithful witnesses with false prophets, whose fruit — that is, their doctrine or teaching — is bad. Just as a wise husbandman destroys bad trees to make room for good trees, and to keep the bad trees from stealing sunlight and soil from the good ones, the Lord will deal personnaly with false prophets.

All Christians should be able to identify false prophets by their teachings, which typically deny:

  • The full deity and humanity of Christ.
  • His sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross.
  • His physical resurrection from the dead.
  • His future physical and visible return to earth.
  • Salvation by grace through faith.
  • Security in Christ, by whose power we are kept.
  • The exclusivity of Christ for salvation.
  • The reality of heaven and hell as eternal states.

If a good gardner knows how to recognize a worthless tree, shouldn’t Christ’s followers know how to spot a false prophet?