Cursing the fig tree

Cursing the fig tree
Byzantine icon of the cursing of the fig tree.

Cursing the fig tree is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. It is included in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, but not in Luke or John. In the Markan text it comes in two parts: in the first, just after the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem and before the Cleansing of the Temple, Jesus curses a fig tree for being barren; in the second part, presumably the next day, the tree has withered, prompting Jesus to speak of the efficacy of prayer.[1] Matthew presents it as a single event.


The text in Mark and Matthew

Mark 11:12-14 and 11:20-25[2]

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 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. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.


In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Matthew 21:18-22[3]

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Most scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel, and was used as a source for Matthew.[4] The differences between the incident as described in Mark, and the version given in Matthew, are explicable from the view-point of Markan priority, i.e. that Matthew revised the story found in Mark.[5]


Traditional Christian exegesis regarding these accounts include affirmation of the Divinity of Jesus by demonstrating his authority over nature. Traditional Reformed thinking states that this event was a sign given by Jesus of the end of the exclusive covenant between God and the Jews, see also Supersessionism. Under such an interpretation, the tree is a metaphor for the Jewish nation i.e. it had the outward appearance of godly grandeur (the leaves), but it was not producing anything for God's glory (the lack of fruit). This interpretation is connected to the parable of the barren fig tree.[6]

Since neither Matthew nor Mark explain why Jesus would have expected to find fruit on the tree after explicitly stating that it was not the season for figs, The Secular Web, the website of educational foundation Internet Infidels, presents this story as evidence of contradiction in the Gospels.[7] Charles Bradlaugh suggested that cursing a living tree is contrary to the character of a supposedly benign creator.[8]

F. F. Bruce states that fig trees produce 'taqsh' before the season if they are going to bear fruit in the season itself. Since this one didn't, it was a sign that it would not produce any fruit that year either.[9] Craig Keener has used these passages as a reason for an early dating for the Gospel of Matthew, saying only someone with a close knowledge of the Mount of Olives would have known that its fig trees come out in leaves around the Passover time of year.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Kinman, Brent (1995). Jesus' entry into Jerusalem: in the context of Lukan theology and the politics of his day. Brill. p. 123. ISBN 9789004103306. 
  2. ^ Biblegateway Mark 11:12–25
  3. ^ Biblegateway Matthew 21:18-22
  4. ^ Burkett, Delbert Royce, "An introduction to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity" (Cambridge University Press, 2002) p.143
  5. ^ Davies, William David, & Allison, Dale C., "Matthew 19-28" () p.147
  6. ^ Richard Whately, Lectures on Some of the Scripture Parables, John W. Parker and Son, 1859, p. 153.
  7. ^ Donald Morgan. "Bible Inconsistencies: Bible Contradictions?". Retrieved 2011-03-06. 
  8. ^ "Will you urge the love of Jesus as the redeeming feature of his teaching? Then read the story of the fig tree withered by the hungry Jesus. The fig tree was, if he were the all powerful God, made by him; he limited its growth and regulated its development; he prevented it from bearing figs, expected fruit when he had rendered fruit impossible, and in his 'infinite love' was angry that the tree had not upon it, what it could not have." --Charles Bradlaugh, Humanity's Gain From Unbelief, p. 82, Watts & Co., London, 1889
  9. ^ Bruce, Frederick, 1992, "Are The New Testament Documents Reliable?", ISBN 0802822193, p 73-74.
  10. ^ Keener, Craig, 1999, "A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew", ISBN 0802838219, p 504.

Further reading

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