The Fruits Of The Holy Spirit Explained

One of the key passages in the New Testament comes via Paul's Letter to the Galatians, and specifically, Galatians 5:22-23. In the passage, Paul (or perhaps a later editor or compiler) tells the audience "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." The passage is important for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it provides the reader with a series of ideals to which to strive. 

Similarly, much like the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 ("Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, etc."), this bit of doctrine is presented in list form, making a deep theological concept slightly more accessible to the reader. Finally, to make his point even more clear, the writer of the passage contrasts the fruit(s) of the spirit with those of the flesh, which he identifies, among others, as sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery.

What is the holy spirit?

For millennia, Christians have deemed the existence of the Holy Spirit, and its presence in the life of the believer, as a key point of Christian dogma. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is mentioned several times in the New Testament, and Christendom has since deemed that the Spirit is one of three "persons" of God (along with God the Father and Jesus, God the Son) of the Holy Trinity, as mentioned in the Nicene Creed (via the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

Evangelical question-and-answer website Got Questions describes the Holy Spirit as a sentient being that inhabits the believer, intercedes on the believer's behalf, and indeed, can even be offended. "As God, the Holy Spirit can truly function as the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus promised He would be," the writer notes. Similarly, writing in Bible Study Tools, Pastor Luis Ángel Díaz-Pabón also describes the Holy Spirit as a person, who provides a comforting and guiding role in the life of the believer.

The fruit of the holy spirit and the gifts of the holy spirit

As it turns out, the Holy Spirit is the subject of not one, but two lists in the New Testament. Over in 1 Corinthians 12, the writer, likely the Apostle Paul but possibly with additions from a later editor or compiler, lays out gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the believer. Those gifts include abilities such as to prophesy, the ability to lay hands on the sick and heal them, and "speaking in tongues" the believer has never learned or studied, among others.

By comparison, as noted by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the fruit of the Spirit are evidence of the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer, as visible by how they live their lives. "Their [deeds] demonstrate the change of sanctification that is at work in their hearts." Similarly, writing for the Church of St. Laurence O'Toole, the unidentified writer compares the two concepts to a plant, writing, "The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the roots of the tree, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are the fruits of the tree."

Are there 9 fruits or 12?

The Bible did not simply manifest, fully-formed, at a singular point in history. What's more, the original pages on which the writers wrote their original words are lost to history, and instead, the Bible we have now is the result of compilation and editing of copies of copies of copies over the course of several thousand years, as Desiring God explains.

This is mentioned because, when it comes to the fruits of the Holy Spirit, there are either nine of them or 12 of them, depending on manuscripts and source. To make a very long story short, Protestants generally point to the nine fruits mentioned at the beginning of this article. Catholics, according to Aleteia, claim that this passage originally contained 12 fruits; the discrepancy is the result of differences in source manuscripts. The additional three (or missing three, depending on your point of view) are modesty, generosity, and chastity.

However, the Aleteia writer notes that the exact number is not at issue here; rather, it's the fact that the believer, when imbued with the Holy Spirit, should demonstrate "much fruit that is shown through our thoughts, words and deeds."

Is it fruits or fruit?

On the subject of the compilation and assembly of the Bible, it appears that the discussion of this aspect of the Holy Spirit is marred, somewhat minimally, by a translation issue. As you may have picked up on by reading this article, the words "fruits" (plural) and "fruit" (singular) have been used interchangeably. Using the plural makes sense from a literary standpoint, as the writer of the original list used multiple different nouns (nine or 12 of them, depending on your doctrine) to lay out his point. However, as pointed out by Aleteia, in the original Greek in which the text was written, the writer collectively wrote of the fruit (singular) of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking about this concept via the lens of modern English, both the Aleteia writer and Pastor Clint Hogrefe both point to the same general concept: In the believer, these manifestations of the Holy Spirit should be recognized and strived for collectively, not unlike how a farmer's yield consists of multiple individual specimens (apples, ears of corn, etc.) but one collective crop.

Extending the agricultural metaphor

Meanwhile, the use of the word "fruit" (as in, an outcome or a crop) of the Holy Spirit works even more deeply as an agricultural metaphor, posits Kathy Howard, writing in Crosswalk. She notes that, not unlike a crop of apples or tomatoes or any other "fruit," the fruits of the Holy Spirit need time to grow — they don't just suddenly manifest in the life of the believer. 

Similarly, they must be cultivated and fed, on a daily basis. Further, in much the same way that a farmer battles weeds that could potentially choke out the plants and deny them the opportunity to produce fruit, so, too, must the believer be on guard against spiritual weeds that could choke out the fruit of the Holy Spirit. "We must constantly work to rid our lives of the 'weeds' of our old sin natures that want to choke out the work of the Spirit," she wrote.