What does Matthew 7:16 mean?
ESV: You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
NIV: By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
NASB: You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?
CSB: You'll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
NLT: You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
KJV: Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Verse Commentary:
Jesus has warned that false prophets may disguise themselves to look like sheep when they are in truth ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15). This is yet another example of how the Bible calls believers to sensible, informed, mature faith (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1). You can't judge a self-proclaimed prophet by their outward appearance. Appearing smart, authoritative, moral, or "nice" does not mean what they say is true. Rather than judging shallowly, Jesus commands believers to use right judgment (John 7:24). When it comes to self-proclaimed teachers or prophets, that means looking at what comes from their teaching and from their lives.

Grapes and figs were common fruit in the diets of Jesus' listeners. People learned early on to recognize that the little berries on thorn bushes were not grapes on grapevines; the flowers on thistles were different from the petals on a fig tree. Parallel to this, people may appear impressive at first glance. They may come across as very religious and holy. Time, however, will reveal that person's character. Do their actions match their teaching? Do they give care to others when nobody is watching? Are those who follow their teachings people of good reputation? In the case of a supposed prophet, do their prophecies come true? Do they fit with what is known from Scripture?

If the plant does not produce grapes, it is not a grapevine. Or, it is diseased, according to Jesus in the following verse (Matthew 7:17).
Verse Context:
Matthew 7:15–23 contains a two-sided warning about false believers. A religious leader may appear respectable and wise, but you must look at the fruit of his life in order to know if he truly represents God. In the same way, it's possible for a person to claim to follow Jesus, referring to Him as "Lord," when they are not true believers. Only those who do the will of the Father will be allowed into the kingdom of heaven—which Jesus defines as beginning with true belief (John 6:28–29). Our good works might fool other people, and might even fool ourselves, but they cannot fool God.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 7 is the last of three chapters that record what is now known as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus commands His hearers not to pronounce shallow or hypocritical judgment. He describes God as a generous Father eager to give good things to His children when they ask. He commands His followers to enter the narrow gate and walk the hard road to life. False prophets can be recognized by their fruit, meaning their actions and choices. At the same time, good deeds are not absolute proof that someone has true faith. To live by Jesus' teaching is like building the house of your life on a solid foundation instead of shifting sand.
Chapter Context:
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5, discussing the Beatitudes and the idea that inner thoughts are very much part of sin and righteousness. Chapter 6 denounced hypocrisy, modeled prayer, and opposed anxiety. Chapter 7 discusses the proper manner of judgment, including how to gauge the teachings of others. Jesus also warns against spiritual self-deception. He concludes with an analogy about foundations and storms. The crowd's amazement at Christ's teachings leads into the miracles and encounters of chapters 8 and 9.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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