Q: #222. Why does (Gal 5:22-23) say "fruit of the Spirit" and not "fruits" when 9 traits are listed?
By: Steve Shirley
A: First let's look at the verses. (Gal 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), gentleness, goodness, faith (faithfulness), (23) meekness, temperance (self-control): against such there is no law.
Theories abound as to why "fruit" is singular and not plural. Some scholars use the plural when describing these verses (i.e. Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew Henry, some Reformed scholars). One source mentioned the use could be just like we sometimes use "fruit" in the plural today (i.e. She bought fruit at the store.). I am not sure this possibility can be ruled out entirely because as far as I can tell, the same Greek word "karpos" that is used for "fruit" in (Gal 5:25) is also used for "fruits" (plural) in other verses such as (Mt 7:16,20). "Karpos" is used in (James 3:18) for the "fruit" of righteousness and in (Phil 1:11) for the "fruits" of righteousness.
However, it is my opinion that it is "fruit" singular for a reason. In explaining this, I believe is is important to notice the preceding verses. In (Gal 5:19-21) Paul gives us a list of "the works (plural) of the flesh." "Flesh" in these verses refers to the sinful nature of humans, which is in contrast to those who are in the "Spirit" (saved by Christ)(Gal 5:16-17)(Also see: Rom 8:1-13). Every human in the history of this planet (save for Jesus) has lived "in the flesh" (Eph 2:3). I think it is safe to say that we have all exhibited one or more of the traits in (Gal 5:19-21) in our lives. (If not, there is even more lists of "fleshly" traits that can apply. See: Rom 1:28-32, Eph 4:25-32.)
These sinful "works of the flesh" can be produced by any person. In contrast, the 9 traits that make up the "fruit of the Spirit" can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. So "works" (plural) by anyone, "fruit" (singular) by only one person the Holy Spirit. This is my interpretation for why "fruit" is singular.
I would add that this fruit can only produced by the Spirit when we abide in Christ. Jesus addresses this in (Jn 15:1-11) titled "Jesus, the true vine." (Jn 15:4-5) makes this point clearest: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. (5) I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."
In other words, as we "abide" ("to remain stable or fixed in a state" - Webster's Dictionary) in Jesus, we will "bringeth forth much fruit." We will become more like Jesus, as we remain in Jesus. Jesus is the complete embodiment of all that we want to be. The Bible tells us that we should strive to become more and more like Jesus (Eph 4:13)(Phil 3:12-14)(2 Cor 3:17-18)(Rom 8:29). His life is a picture of fruit in complete fullness.
So, using my interpretation above for why "fruit" is singular, and adding it to everything else, let me put this together. When we are born again (in Christ), we receive the Holy Spirit. In turn, we are given the "fruit of the Spirit," which can only be given by the Spirit, and is in complete contrast to those traits we have in our natural state or "flesh." These 9 traits are given to all believers. As we abide in Christ, and become more Christ-like, these traits will grow and bring forth more fruit, and the fruit that was given to us at birth (right after being saved) as little buds will grow to maturity.
One more important point to make is that this growing of the fruit to maturity is not a passive process, but rather, an active process. We cannot do nothing and expect the fruit to grow. Yes, as we abide in Jesus, the fruit will grow, but the Bible shows us that action on our part is required to become more and more like Jesus. We must cooperate with the work the Holy Spirit is doing is us, as one of His jobs is to help us become more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:17-18). Many of the 9 traits of the "fruit of the Spirit" are listed elsewhere in the Bible as commands from God that the believer is to "DO." For example, "love" is a "fruit of the Spirit" and we are commanded to "love" (Mt 22:37-39). "Joy" is a "fruit of the Spirit" and we are commanded to be "be joyful" (1 Thess 5:16). We are to: "pursue peace" (2 Tim 2:22), "walk with longsuffering" (Eph 4:2), "follow after gentleness" (1 Tim 6:11), "do good to all men" (Gal 6:10), "stand fast in faith" (1 Cor 16:13), "show meekness" (Titus 3:2), have temperance (self-control)(1 Cor 9:25-27).
Some of the traits of the "fruit of the Spirit" are found in other lists in the Bible and are also "active" commands. We are to "put on" (or clothe yourselves with) "kindness," "meekness," and "longsuffering" (Col 3:12). We are told to "add to your faith" - "temperance," "patience," and "kindness" in (2 Pet 1:5-8).
We do receive all of these traits of the "fruit of the Spirit" at salvation (and more as this in not a complete list, i.e. Eph 5:9 says "the fruit of the Spirit is also goodness, righteousness, and truth). However, they may grow at different rates (i.e. we may find it easier to have peace than patience), but as we die to ourselves and what our "flesh" wants (Gal 5:24)(Col 3:5)(Eph 4:22) and allow the Spirit to work in us, our fruit will mature, even in those areas we are weak in (patience for me ).
*** Note: My interpretation of the "fruit of the Spirit" is but one of many. There are some other good theories out there as well. However, ultimately, no one knows for sure if "fruit" should be singular or plural and why.