Sunday, April 18, 2021

Good, Life-giving Shepherd of Many Pastures

John 10:11-18 

11Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός: ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλὸς τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ τίθησινὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων: 
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his psyche 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
1. The word ψυχὴν is often translated ‘soul,’ but in this verse is typically rendered as ‘life.’  I will leave it transliterated ish as ‘psyche.’ In the end, ‘life’ may be the better choice, but it is interesting to at least explore what it means to lay down one’s psyche on behalf of one’s charges. 

12ὁ μισθωτὸς καὶ οὐκ ὢνποιμήν, οὗ οὐκ ἔστιντὰ πρόβατα ἴδια, θεωρεῖτὸν λύκον ἐρχόμενονκαὶ ἀφίησιντὰ πρόβατα καὶ φεύγεικαὶ ὁ λύκος ἁρπάζειαὐτὰ καὶ σκορπίζει
The hired hand who is not also a shepherd, who is not the sheep’s own, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees and the wolf 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
1. The word “leaves” (ἀφίημι) is the word that is often translated “forgive.” That’s all. 
2. 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.  

13ὅτι μισθωτός ἐστινκαὶ οὐ μέλειαὐτῷ 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. 
1. Perhaps we can stop blaming Millennials for inventing job apathy now. 

14Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός, καὶ γινώσκωτὰ ἐμὰ καὶ γινώσκουσίμε τὰ ἐμά, 
I am the good shepherd, and I know my [sheep] and my [sheep] 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
1. τὰ is a definite article, which usually accompanies a noun and is translated as “the ….” Here, it is operating substantively; that is, it is not followed by an object, but by possessive pronoun ἐμὰ, which can be something like ‘mine.’ Put together, they could be translated ‘the things of mine’ or ‘my things.’ Or, one could assume the previous plural things as an antecedent – in this case ‘sheep’ – and translate it “my sheep.” 
2. I think the antecedent is not really in question and that the curious construction puts the emphasis on the possession – that the good shepherd’s sheep are not someone else’s sheep under his charge, as in the case of the fleeing hireling, but his own. 
3. It may seem problematic for Jesus to use such language regarding the sheep, if this whole discourse is an analogy about his relationship to his disciples. I’m thinking of the critique that Karl Marx raised against tendencies toward ‘thingification,’ (reification, objectification, perhaps commodification) which turns subjects into objects. Within this verse, though, is a relationship that is subject to subject, not subject to object/thing. Jesus signifies it with the verb γινώσκω (to know). Not only does that verb imply that one is influenced by knowing the other, Jesus specifically calls it a mutual knowing. The next verse expands on that thought. 

15καθὼς γινώσκειμε ὁ πατὴρ κἀγὼ γινώσκωτὸν πατέρα: καὶ τὴν ψυχήν μου τίθημιὑπὲρ τῶν προβάτων. 
Just as the father knows me and I know the father; also I lay down my psyche 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
1. There are two conjunctions in this verse, which seem to shape its meaning. It begins with καθὼς, which can be translated “just as” (NIV, ESV, NRSV), “as” (KJV), or “accordingly” (YLT). The interpretive question is whether it points backward or forward. If it points backward, Jesus is using the mutual knowing relationship between himself and the father to explain the relationship between himself and the sheep from v.14. If it points forward, Jesus posits his relationship with the father in order to compare it to something that follows.  
2. The second conjunction in this verse is the καὶ in the middle. καὶ is translated a zillion times in the NT simply as “and,” but it could be “even” or “also.” If it weren’t for this καὶ, followed by the second half of this verse, the obvious answer to the question in note 1 would be that Jesus is using his relationship with the father to explain what he meant by his relationship to his sheep. But, with the καὶ, it seems that the original καθὼς could be pointing forward – “καθὼς … καὶ”  could be “Just as … also ….” 
3. If the “καθὼς … καὶ” construction means that the second half of this verse is an extension of the first half’s meaning, we can see that ‘knowing’ is not simply a matter of mental familiarity. It means commitment, even to the point of dying on behalf of the other. 
4. If we don’t see the “καθὼς … καὶ” as a meaningful construction (and it’s not clear to me that it is treated as such in most translations), then the second half of this verse seems to be interpreted as Jesus simply circling back to a previous thought (v.11) and repeating himself before moving on. The NRSV goes so far as to make them two separate sentences. 
5. Isn’t it more interesting to imagine the possibilities of the “καθὼς … καὶ” meaning something, and the “καθὼς pointing forward? 

16καὶ ἄλλα πρόβατα ἔχω ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τῆς αὐλῆςταύτης: κἀκεῖνα δεῖ με ἀγαγεῖν, καὶ τῆς φωνῆς μου ἀκούσουσιν, καὶ γενήσονταιμία 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 will hear my voice, and there shall be 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
1. The word αὐλῆς, translated often as ‘sheepfold’ refers to a place, not a breed or flock. It is used in v.1 of this chapter to begin this discourse. 
2. The words flock (ποίμνη) and shepherd (ποιμήν) are differentiated by their accent. 
3. The verb ἄγω is used quite often in John’s gospel and can be translated ‘to lead,’ ‘to bring,’ or ‘to go,’ depending on the context. If the second part of this verse means that those sheep from other folds and the sheep from the fold at hand are to be one large gathering of sheep, andone assumes that the present location is the final gathering spot for the sheep, then “it is necessary for me to bringthem also” is a good translation, per NIV, NRSV, KJV, ESV, etc. 
4. However, what if those assumptions are not necessarily the case? The interpretive question that bedevils translations and proclamations of this verse is who those other sheep are. But, even that question carries some troubling assumptions. 
- To translate ἄγω as ‘to bring’ means that the interpreter assumes her/his place to be the right location, ‘here,’ and the ‘other’ sheepfold to be a state of dislocation, ‘there.’ Is that assumption valid? What if we translate ἄγω as ‘to lead.’ Jesus leads this flock; Jesus leads that flock; and one day there shall be one flock with one shepherd. 
- Too many interpreters of this verse see it as an evangelism verse, but Jesus plainly says that the sheep from the other fold are alreadyhis sheep. And it is he who will lead/bring them; he is not commissioning other sheep to do so. It is not about making them sheep, good sheep, or sheep that belong Jesus. The emphasis here is about gathering various flocks into one flock with one shepherd. 
- Too many interpreters forget that if any flock is moving from one fold to another, it would be Gentiles moving into the fold of a flock led by a Jewish shepherd and initially populated by Jewish followers. Again, my sense is that readers and proclaimers of this verse seem to assume that their own location is the right location and that all others are the ones who need to move. 
5. The verb γίνομαι is the word that the KJV delightfully translates often as “it came to pass,” when it is in the past tense. Here, it is future tense. It can imply the general future state – “It shall be that ….” At times it can function more like the verb ‘to be,’ as “there shall be…” 
γίνομαι usually has a kind of ‘thisness’ about it, a statement about a condition, as opposed to a subject-verb statement about agency. It reminds me of a phrase like “it is raining,” as opposed to “I sprayed water.” In this verse, however, γίνομαι is future and third person plural, just like the verb ‘hear’ before it. To me, that implies that the implied subject is still those other sheep. Hmm… 

17διὰ τοῦτό με ὁ πατὴρ ἀγαπᾷὅτι ἐγὼ τίθημι τὴν ψυχήν μου, ἵνα πάλιν λάβωαὐτήν. 
By this the father loves me because I lay down my psyche 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
1. This verse begins with a preposition and pronoun, διὰ τοῦτό, which can be translated as ‘by this,’ ‘through this,’ ‘because of this,’ or something like that. Without that connective tissue, it might seem that Jesus is starting off on another discourse. 
2. With that connective tissue, Jesus is circling back to the v.11 language of laying down his psyche and connecting it to this expression of laying down his psyche and taking it up again. 

18οὐδεὶς αἴρειαὐτὴν ἀπ' ἐμοῦ, ἀλλ' ἐγὼ τίθημιαὐτὴν ἀπ' ἐμαυτοῦ. ἐξουσίαν ἔχωθεῖναιαὐτήν, καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχω πάλιν λαβεῖναὐτήν: ταύτην τὴν ἐντολὴν ἔλαβονπαρὰ 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.” 


  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?

    1. Yes, of course. I don't know what I was thinking, but I think I was in a hurry. I've corrected it. Thanks.

  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.

  5. I found the point about v11 having 'psyche' not 'zoe' to be really powerful. Not sure I've absorbed all the implications, except for a thought that it relates to Jesus giving up all that made him fundamentally himself. Also, because the LXX has 'psyche' for the second component of the Shema at Deut 6:5, he's giving up a fundamental part of his ability as an observant Jew to worship God. Really intriguing, would like to tease it out some more. (My sermon from today drawing on these topics is now online, if it's of interest.) Thank you very much!

    1. Magnus,
      I read your sermon and truly appreciate the message that you were able to offer from the use of psyche over bio in the text. Thanks for posting the sermon.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I wonder about a few things in this passage. I share your interest in how we understand 'psyche' (Latin uses 'anima' here). And I wonder about 'tithemi' - does it only have the 'lay down' idea? Why 'down'? It can simply mean to place or put, or to 'take off' like clothes etc. And the prepositions intrigue me. 'Hyper' can have the sense of 'for the benefit of' or 'to be on the side of' (the opposite is kata, against). And the 'apo' is used twice in v 18 but usually translated differently each time - does it need to be? And the only time 'love' is mentioned it is not the shepherd who loves but the Father who loves the Son. Interesting also is the response to what Jesus says (division as to whether Jesus is made or not, v19f). What is it that suggests spirit-madness is a possible explanation?

    1. Hi Rick,
      What would be the significance of translating τίθημι as "lay aside" rather than "lay down"?
      And what is the significance of noting that the only time 'love' is mentioned here, is with regard to the Father's love for the son, and not the shepherd for the sheep? In a few chapters Jesus will define laying down one's psyche as love (15:13).
      I'd love to get on board with your questions, but I'm struggling to see the point. Please help me out a bit.

  8. to take up from the father, is like a son choosing which of his dad's attributes to put into his own life...

    1. I suppose this is part of our experience. The other part in my life has been that moment when I say, "Wow, that was my dad speaking/acting/etc."
      Funny story: Less than a year into our marriage my spouse said very admiringly to me one day, "You are so much like my dad." Then, about five years into our marriage my wife said exasperatedly to me one day, "You are so much like my dad!"
      Same words, entirely different meanings.
      And now, back to the text!


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive