Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good, Life-giving Shepherd of Many Pastures

Below is my rough translation with some notes of the gospel reading from John 10:11-18. There is a lot to digest here and I'm just getting started. Your comments are welcomed.

John 10:11-18

11 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός: ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ τίθησιν ὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων:
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep;
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
τίθησιν: PAI 3s, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down
The word "life" (ψυχὴν ) is often translated 'soul' and is transliterated into English as psyche.

12 ὁ μισθωτὸς καὶ οὐκ ὢν ποιμήν, οὗ οὐκ ἔστιν τὰ πρόβατα ἴδια, θεωρεῖ τὸν λύκον ἐρχόμενον καὶ ἀφίησιν τὰ πρόβατα καὶ φεύγει καὶ ὁ λύκος ἁρπάζει αὐτὰ καὶ σκορπίζει
The hired hand who is not also a shepherd, who is not the sheep’s own, sees the thief coming and leaves the sheep and flees and the thief snatches them and routs them. 
ὢν: PAPart nsm, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔστιν: PAI 3s εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
θεωρεῖ: PAI 3s, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold  1a) to view attentively, take a view of, survey
ἐρχόμενον: PMPart asm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
ἀφίησιν: PAI 3s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife
φεύγει: PAI 3s, φεύγω, 1) to flee away, seek safety by flight   2) metaph. to flee (to shun or avoid by flight) something   abhorrent, esp. vices   3) to be saved by flight, to escape safely out of danger
ἁρπάζει: PAI 3s, ἁρπάζω, 1) to seize, carry off by force  2) to seize on, claim for one's self eagerly  3) to snatch out or away
σκορπίζει: PAI 3s, σκορπίζω, 1) to scatter  1a) of those who, routed or terror stricken or driven by some other  impulses, fly in every direction
The word “leaves” (ἀφίημι) is the word that is often translated “forgive.” That’s all. 
The word “snatch” (ἁρπάζω) shows up again in this chapter in vv. 28-29, when Jesus declares that no one will be able to snatch the sheep out of his hand or out of God’s hand. 

13 ὅτι μισθωτός ἐστιν καὶ οὐ μέλει αὐτῷ περὶ τῶν προβάτων.
Because he is a hired hand and does not care about his sheep. 
ἔστιν: PAI 3s εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
μέλει: PAI 3s, μέλω to care.

14 Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός, καὶ γινώσκω τὰ ἐμὰ καὶ γινώσκουσί με τὰ ἐμά,
I am the good shepherd, and I know my things (or “mine” as in ‘me and mine’) and my things know me. 
γινώσκω: PAI 1s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know
γινώσκουσί: PAI 3p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know
The τὰ is a plural neuter substantive definite article, which is followed by the possessive pronoun ‘my/mine.’ Because there is no noun with the article, it could be translated ‘the things of mine’ or ‘my things.’ Or, it could assume the previous plural things as an antecedent – in this case ‘sheep’ – and be translated “my sheep.” 

15 καθὼς γινώσκει με ὁ πατὴρ κἀγὼ γινώσκω τὸν πατέρα: καὶ τὴν ψυχήν μου τίθημι ὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων.
Just as the father knows me and I know the father; also I lay down my life for the sheep. 
γινώσκει: γινώσκω, PAI 3s, 1) to learn to know, come to know
γινώσκω: γινώσκω, PAI 1s, 1) to learn to know, come to know
τίθημι: PAI 1s, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down

16 καὶ ἄλλα πρόβατα ἔχω ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τῆς αὐλῆς ταύτης: κἀκεῖνα δεῖ με ἀγαγεῖν, καὶ τῆς φωνῆς μου ἀκούσουσιν, καὶ γενήσονται μία ποίμνη, εἷς ποιμήν.
I also have other sheep which are not out of this pasture; it is necessary for me to lead them also, and they hear my voice, and they shall become one flock, one shepherd. 
ἀγαγεῖν: AAInf, ἄγω, 1) to lead, take with one  1a) to lead by laying hold of, and this way to bring to the  point of destination: of an animal
ἀκούσουσιν: FAI 3p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
γενήσονται: FMI 3p, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
The word αὐλῆς, translated often as ‘sheepfold’ refers to a place, not a breed or flock. 
The words flock (ποίμνη) and shepherd (ποιμήν) are differentiated by their accent.

This is a curious verse that lends itself to many interpretations. My own inclination is to see it as part of a universalizing tendency in John. The tension between “God loved the world in this way …” (3:16) and the more limited sense of God’s people being the people of Israel is a huge issue for 1st century Jewish Christians and their Jewish counterparts. This verse, in that context, raises the issue of inclusion v. exclusion, the wideness of God’s mercy, etc. A question today is whether or not this verse raises the issue of whether other religions or other forms of spirituality can be valid paths to God, or simply ‘other pastures’ where Jesus’ sheep may be. The vision of this verse, then, would be a day when (in the future tense) “they shall become one flock, one shepherd.” 

17 διὰ τοῦτό με ὁ πατὴρ ἀγαπᾷ ὅτι ἐγὼ τίθημι τὴν ψυχήν μου, ἵνα πάλιν λάβω αὐτήν.
By this the father loves me because I lay down my life in order that I may take it up again.
ἀγαπᾷ: PAI 3s, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly  2) of things  2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
λάβω: AASubj 1s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it

18 οὐδεὶς αἴρει αὐτὴν ἀπ' ἐμοῦ, ἀλλ' ἐγὼ τίθημι αὐτὴν ἀπ' ἐμαυτοῦ. ἐξουσίαν ἔχω θεῖναι αὐτήν, καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχω πάλιν λαβεῖν αὐτήν: ταύτην τὴν ἐντολὴν ἔλαβον παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου.
No one lifts it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again; this command I took up from my father. 
αἴρει: PAI 3s, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up
τίθημι: τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down
ἔχω: PAI 1s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand,
θεῖναι: AAInf, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down
λαβεῖν: AAInf, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it
ἔλαβον: AAI 1s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it
The word λαμβάνω means ‘to take up,’ but has a variety of possible meanings, depending on the context. It is used twice in this verse as λαβεῖν and ἔλαβον, so I’ve kept the uses consistent. Most translations translate the final ἔλαβον as ‘receive,’ as in “this command I received from my father.” I suppose this seems a more appropriate way of speaking about Jesus and his relationship to his father, to say that he ‘received’ this command, as opposed to saying that he ‘took it up’ by his own authority. But, what does it mean for Jesus to say that he has the authority to take up or lay down his life, then to say that he ‘received this command’ from his father. If he has received a command – at least in my way of understanding what it means for someone to receive a command – then it would not seem that he has the authority to choose whether to lay his life down or to take it up. So, while it seems odd or impertinent for Jesus to say that he ‘took up’ this command from God, it might be better to put it that way than to say that he ‘received’ the command. The point seems to be that while this is God’s will, it is one in which Jesus freely participates.  

The point that ought not to be missed, given the controversial ways that v.16 can be translated, is that Jesus’ way of being the good shepherd lies in his willingness to lay down his life for the sheep. He freely takes this ‘command’ from God and God loves him for it. And, it is by this willingness to die that Jesus will gather the sheep from other pastures into one flock as the one shepherd. 

In some ways, this is the beautiful eschatological vision from John, which is reflected in the prayer in John 17, “that they may be one.” (It is certainly a different vision than the violent ‘us v. them’ vision from the writer of the book of Revelation.) 


  1. One of the more interesting aspects about reading the story of Jesus in the gospel of John is that we have a tendency to forget that he was just a guy; even if, as John suggests, there's some pretty cosmic dimensions to his humanity. In remembering this, your comments about "taking up" make perfect sense. That is, we all "receive" God's grace and commands (Luther's law and gospel), but it is the appropriation of such receptions that characterize our journey. The agency of Jesus, the guy, can never be bypassed for the agency of Jesus, the God...if it ever is, well, then his use to me becomes somehat suspect, as I am much more guy than God. Thanks as always.

  2. Lukon seems to be wolf, not thief?

  3. the command that God gives Jesus could also be seen as the exousia/power to place (tithemi) his psyche/life and take it up again. Tension: if you can't place your life, you just float. If you can't take it up again, you've 'lost your soul.' You've become dependent on that to which you've given yourself. The freedom/responsibility to place and take up is the commandment.

  4. The "authority" thing, in relation to laying down one's life, is interesting. I think maybe we don't generally have authority to give up or take our own lives, although we're given authority to do so in the name of Christ.


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