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Figs in the Bible

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The Fig Tree and its fruit the fig is mentioned several times in the New Testament, and in the Old Testament as well; but as more than just the common Mediterranean fruit tree, the Common Fig, it is also a symbol or type, subject to various interpretations.

Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)

File:Tree leaf, Matson Photograph Collection, ca 1925-1946.jpg

The first named plant of the Bible other than the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve used its leaves to sew garments when they realized they were naked.Genesis 3:7 It was one of the food produced by the promised land Deuteronomy 8:8-10

In 1 Kings 4:25 it was listed as a great accomplishment: During Solomon's lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree. This wonderful situation was later turned around during the reign of Hezekiah as 2 Kings 18:5-7 testify: Hezekiah trusted Jehovah, the God of Israel, there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah either before or after him. He held fast to Jehovah and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands Jehovah had given Moses, and Jehovah was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the King of Assyria and did not serve him.

The Assyrian commander addressed the people and said, "Do not listen to Hezekiah, this is what the King of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat from his won vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own...." 2 Kings 18:31-32 Of course Jehovah was fond of Hezekiah and his people and the Assyrian invasion was not successful this time.

Proverbs 27:18 likens tending a fig tree to looking after one's master. Of course there was a fig tree in the garden of the Song of Solomon. In the year of love the tree formed its fruit earlySong of.

The Fig Tree and figs are featured in the Book of Jeremiah.

Another species of ficus, the Egyptian Sycamore Fig is occasionally mentioned as well, for example 1 Kings 10:27 (and Luke 19:4 in the New Testament).

Parable of the budding fig tree

The Parable of the budding fig tree is found in Matt 24:32–36, Mark 13:28–32, Luke 21:29–33 as part of the Olivet discourse.

Parable of the barren fig tree

The Parable of the barren fig tree is a parable of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke 13:6–9. A vinekeeper holds out hope that a barren fig tree will bear fruit next year.

Jesus and the withered fig tree / clearing the temple (false advertising)

Mark 11:12–20 includes an account of Jesus withering a fig tree / clearing the temple (false advertising)==:

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.

14 Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: " 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'[c]? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'[d]" 18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. 19 When evening came, they[e] went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

      • The purpose of the cursed fig tree analogy is the Isrealites in the temple bearing no fruit, but instead making a 'show' of the temple like the fig tree without fruit made a 'show' or 'false advertising' with its leaves.


A parallel is found in Matthew 21:18–22. In Mark 11:20-24, the next day, Simon Peter notices that the cursed fig tree has withered. In Matthew, the fig tree withers immediately and is noticed at that time by the disciples.


The incident with the fig tree occurs in Mark 11 immediately before and then after the incident at the Temple. The cursing of the tree displays Jesus' power and the power of prayer coupled with full belief in God. Mark, placing the fig tree before and after the incident at the Temple, may be using the fig tree as a metaphor, as Jesus himself might have, for what he sees as the barrenness of the priests (technically, the Temple priests were the Sadducees) and the withering of their teaching and authority due to their lack of true faith. As Jesus hoped to find fruit on the fig tree, Jesus hoped to find "fruit", the fruit of true worship of God, at the Temple. The Temple, Herod's Temple, like the fig tree, is cursed. See also Jeremiah 8:13.

Simon Peter observes that the tree withered. Jesus responds that anyone can make a mountain throw itself in the sea, if he truly believes his command will be obeyed. A similar statement is also mentioned in the much earlier Pauline Epistles, where the First Epistle to the Corinthians argues that faith can move mountains.

A different statement is found in the Gospel of Thomas. Instead of referring to a lack of doubt, Jesus advises that mountains can be moved if two people make peace with each other in a "single house."[1] The early Gnostics interpreted this statement as referring to the paths that lead to gnosis [2].

In the Synoptic Gospels, the fig tree is revisited as a parable within the Olivet discourse. Jesus says that when the fig tree puts forth leaves one can tell that summer has arrived. Jesus continues that when this has happened the kingdom of God will be at hand. This is almost always interpreted metaphorically, and is usually considered in contrast to the earlier tree withering.

Most modern Christians interpret the parable to suggest that the tree's withering meant the teachings of the Sadducees and Pharisees were far from the truth, and that this poverty of teaching was the source of Jesus' anger at the lack of fruit. At some point the fruits of Christianity will come forth and then an eschatological kingdom of God arrive.

The Jewish Encyclopedia[3] states that the fig tree is a symbol of the coming of the Mashiach:

The simple meaning of these parables, however, was lost later on, and they were taken to be allegories and mysteries, especially when they alluded to the Messianic expectations, about which it was not safe to speak in public, as they assumed the end of the kingdom of Satan (Rome; comp. Mark 4:11, Mark 4:34; Matt 13:1-52, especially Matt 13:35 and Matt 13:39). Thus "the parable of the fig-tree" (Mark 13:28; see Wellhausen, who is at a loss to explain it) is actually a "symbol" of the Messianic advent, according to the Midrash (Cant. R. ii. 13), but was no longer understood by the evangelists, either as an allegory or as a sign of Messianic success or failure, in the story of the blasted fig-tree (Mark 11:13-14, Mark 11:20-23).

In the noncanonical Apocalypse of Peter, Peter discusses the significance of the fig tree with Jesus, who says the fig tree represents "the house of Israel."[4]

In his 1927 essay Why I Am Not a Christian, Bertrand Russell argued that a divine figure would either know that the tree would not have figs or could have simply produced the figs by a miracle and thus finds the story illogical from a literal sense[5]:

Then there is the curious story of the fig tree, which always rather puzzled me. You remember what happened about the fig tree. “He was hungry; and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find anything thereon; and when He came to it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: ‘No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever’ . . . and Peter . . . saith unto Him: ‘Master, behold the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.’” This is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history.

Christian teaching on the 'Withering of the Fig Tree'

There are approximately 30 references to the The Fig tree in the Bible (depending on the translation) and approximately 50 references to a vine. Some are literal and some metaphorical. These are in the Gospels:

  • The cursing of the barren fig tree by Jesus (Matthew 21:18-22), (Mark 11)
  • The parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9)
  • The parable of the budding fig tree (Mar 13:28-29), (Mat 24:32-33), (Luke 21:29-31)
  • In chapter 15 of the gospel of John, Jesus says he is 'the vine'.
  • There are also references to 'the vineyard' in the Old Testament, believed to be related to Israel in the prophesies of Isaiah[6].

To understand in context the 'withering of the fig tree' it is important to see if Jesus' teaching elsewhere follows similar themes. We read in John 15 that Jesus says he is the true vine. John 15:6 (English Standard Version) says "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." [7]. The mainstream Christian view on Jesus' miracle was that Jesus was teaching the disciples that although Israel was God's chosen people (Israel was commonly represented by the fig tree [8])- if Israel or any other, claims to be of Christ (or have spiritual life) yet do not keep his commandments (as Christ says this is the sign of his followers) [9] then they shall not have salvation.[10] Many Christians believe that this miracle of Jesus echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah who prophesied the rejection of Israel [11] as having special spiritual significance. Isaiah says the reason for this withering or rejection is Israel's continual disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah refers to Israel as a choice vine planted by God[12] which has turned against her creator to become a 'corrupt wild vine'. Jeremiah also describes a vision of good and bad figs representing people of Judah conquered by Babylon, those good eventually returning to Jerusalem, those bad being exiled and punished in nations of the earth.[13]

Some say that Jesus responded harshly in such action (as the above mentioned Bertrand Russell). The significance of not bearing spiritual fruit means a branch or plant is spiritually dead and must be cut off.[14] This may be considered in a context of the Biblical definition of spiritual fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[15] As understood here, to have such fruit we must be grafted onto Christ, the true vine.[16]

The apostle Paul seeks to clarify the issue in Romans chapter 11,[17], correcting those who believed that Israel was rejected forever. There is difference of opinion on what Paul is actually referring to when he says 'all Israel will be saved'[18]. Dispensationalist theology maintains that Israel will be restored politically and spiritually as the people of God. Reformed theology teaches that Israel is representative of all of God's children in Christ and includes those who Paul referred to having been 'grafted in'[19]. These differences of interpretation reflect differing views of eschatology. A example of a popular dispensationalist theologian is Cyrus Scofield, while the views of Matthew Henry are those of a reformed theologian.

Matthew Henry comments on the Matthew 21 and Mark 11 passages but does not refer one to another, suggesting he thought they were two separate events

... Christ looked to find some fruit, for the time of gathering figs, though it was near, was not yet come; but he found none. He made this fig-tree an example, not to the trees, but to the men of that generation. It was a figure of the doom upon the Jewish church, to which he came seeking fruit, but found none...The disciples could not think why that fig-tree should so soon wither away; but all wither who reject Christ; it represented the state of the Jewish church. We should rest in no religion that does not make us fruitful in good works...".[20]


  1. Thomas 48
  2. Irenaeus On the detection and overthrow of the so-called Gnosis (also known as Adversus Haereses)
  3. New Testament: The Sayings
  4. Apocalypse of Peter
  5. Why I'm not a Christian
  6. Barrett ibid.; Brown ibid.; Behm 1964:342
  7. John 15:6
  8. Barrett ibid.; Brown ibid.; Behm 1964:342
  9. 15:14 31
  10. Jesus Calls the Disciples to Remain in Him, the True Vine, New Testament Commentaries by Intervarsity Press
  11. isaiah 5:1-7
  12. jeremiah 2:21
  13. Jeremiah 24
  14. John 15:2
  15. Galatians 5:22-23
  16. John 15
  17. romans 11
  18. romans 11:26
  19. romans 11:17-18
  20. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on Mark 11v12-26


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