Matthew 12 ESV

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In this context, does being condemned by the words you speak conflict with salvation by grace? So if you're saved by grace, Jesus would step in and say, "he accepted my sacrifice, his sins are forgiven." Who would this message be for? Non-believers would go to hell if their words are good or bad.

  • 1
    I wondered this too Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 22:36

3 Answers 3


I think Jesus is trying to say a few things here.

  1. Given the context, I think he's warning against hypocrisy. He calls his listeners a "brood of vipers" - they are hypocrites for trying to sound good when, at the heart, they are evil. They are painting their bad fruit to look good.

  2. Watch your mouth. Like James, ("the tongue is a fire"), he warns that even a careless word of spite or a biting remark is a sin, a sin against a holy God, and as such it warrants punishment. On an eternal scale, sinful words are no different from sinful deeds.

  3. Heart ⇒ Mouth. What you say comes from what you think, which comes from who you are. Ultimately, evil or unkind words only come from an evil person.

So Jesus isn't contradicting salvation by grace; rather, he's proving its premise: depravity. Everyone says things they shouldn't, and if evil words really come from an evil hard, everyone is sinful at heart and deserves God's wrath and condemnation.

But grace offers a change of heart. Because Jesus had a perfect heart, he never spoke a wrong word. He always spoke good, and his record of righteousness is transferred to us. Not only do we get a clean record (so God looks at our words and sees Christ's), we also get a new heart so that we begin to speak without evil.

  • I agree, however it's specifically talking about condemnation, not wrath of God.
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:22
  • @DanAndrews isn't condemnation === wrath of God? Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:26
  • 1
    @DT Wrath of God isn't always condemnation. He does more than just send you to hell.
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:39
  • @DanAndrews I quite disagree. Care to discuss it in chat? Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:40
  • For those who missed the chat. We agree that God's wrath may or may not be condemnation after further research. Which leaves my question open.
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 12:55

But those who reject Christ, who curse him, for instance, would not be accepting his gift.

So there are two points:

  1. If it is as he says, out of the mouth the heart speaks, those who curse God with their words may be revealing that they do not accept him in their heart, which is to say, they do not accept the salvation that he offers them. This is directed at all people - particularly the Pharisees - who were supposedly holy people, but would curse Christ and condemn him to death. How could any of them claim to be holy if they were condemning God with their mouth? And furthermore, will God accept those who do not accept him?

  2. Even more subtly, the words you speak affect how you act; so one who speaks ill and curses all of his life will fill himself with evils and set his heart on wickedness. A person should not expect for themselves that they can live in such a way and then have a sudden turn around just in time to accept the thing they have been rejecting all of their life to fulfill their desires?

This appears to be addressed to all readers and hearers, but it is not to be applied by the reader or hearer to another person besides themselves.

  • You can blaspheme God and Jesus and still go to heaven. It's the Holy Spirit that you cannot blaspheme. Matt. 12:22-32. To me Matthew 12 isn't talking about rejecting Jesus, but the words from your mouth.
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:19
  • 1
    You're looking at it the wrong way. What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? It is not the words that matter but the state of the heart; if you reject the Holy Spirit you reject him who sent him, the Son, and if you reject the Son, you reject the Father. What I mean then is rejecting the Son ultimately amounts to blaspheming the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit who testifies to the Son and rejecting the Son is disregarding or gainsaying what the Spirit says, thus rejecting Him.
    – user304
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:24
  • Matthew 12:33-37 is specifically about words.
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:37
  • 1
    "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." ? It is actually about what is in the heart and words as a manifestation of that.
    – user304
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:39

Quick answer

This message is for the Pharisees, whom Jesus is rebuking for their self-righteousness. The Pharisees were very confused about their spiritual condition, so Jesus was trying yet again to show them their wickedness and need for a Savior. There is no conflict between this passage and salvation by grace.


The Context of Scripture

This might go without saying, but the spiritual truth that God is trying to communicate through scripture is a lot "bigger" and is very "different" than the way we generally think of things. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Throughout the Bible, I get the sense that God is continually trying to "explain it a different way..." or "in other words..." or "approach it from a different angle", in hopes that once we have seen truth from all of these different angles, we might finally have a clear picture of what reality actually looks like from God's perspective. (e.g. Hebrews 1-2)

For this reason, I think it is important to seek "God's meaning" by careful study of all of the relevant passages, rather than focusing too much on the details of word definitions, etc. (Matthew 4:1-8)

"Bad Tree!"

Jesus is clearly trying to make a point by drawing a contrast between "good trees" and "bad trees". He is talking to a very confused group of people (the Pharisees) who think that being "religious" is the same as being "good". Jesus, once again, is trying to explain that they are not "good". This time he is pointing out the wicked things that are coming out of their mouths, and indicating that they will be judged for every last one of them. (Consider the context of the passage - blaspheming the Spirit.)


Is Jesus teaching "salvation by words"? Not really. (Mark 7:6-7, James 2:14-17) If He was, we would all go to Hell. (James 3:2, 2:10) We should understand this passage in the same way that we understand the law... it is the perfect standard of God, which we should all live up to, but which no man actually does live up to, and which we will all be judged by... (James 2:10-11, Matthew 5:48) ...unless we return to Him and are cleansed from our sin by His gracious gift of salvation via the sinless sacrifice of Christ. (Romans 3:19, Galatians 5:18)

Judgment Day

I may be wrong in this, but to me it looks like "judgment day" is reserved for the wicked, and the "righteous ones" aren't there for that event... (Revelation 20:4-6, 11-15, 2 Peter 3:7, John 3:18)

  • Nice answer. It leads to another question: If "judgement day" is reserved for the "wicked", what are they being judged for? What is the reward or punishment of the judging?
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 2:51
  • I think from Revelation 20:11-15 we can see that they are being judged for their deeds, words, thoughts, etc. (which are really all sinful outside of a relationship with God), and the punishment is Hell. (No reward.)
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 4:22
  • So if you are judged, you can only go to hell? What about grace?
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 16:11
  • You are either under the law or under grace - not both. (Romans 3:19, 6:14-15, Galatians 5:18, Colossians 2:13-14.)
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 16:56
  • Agreed. If the "wicked" go to hell for not accepting Grace, then what's the judgement for?
    – user1054
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 20:35

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