Saturday, April 25, 2020

Figurative Speech with a Twist!

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding John 10:1-10, the revised lectionary reading for the fourth Sunday of Easter. I think this reading is an interesting, even curious, study in figurative speech, with a real twist!

1 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ μὴ εἰσερχόμενος διὰ τῆς θύρας εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν τῶν προβάτων ἀλλὰ ἀναβαίνων ἀλλαχόθεν ἐκεῖνος κλέπτης ἐστὶν καὶ λῃστής:
Amen amen I say to you, the one who does not enter through the gate into the pen of the sheep but goes up another way that one is a thief and a bandit.
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, to speak, to say
εἰσερχόμενος: PMPart nsm, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
ἀναβαίνων: PAPart nsm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  1b) to rise, mount, be borne up, spring up 
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The terms “thief” and “bandit” are interesting.
A. κλέπτης is the root of the transliterated “klepto-maniac.” It will appear 2 more times in this pericope and is used by John to describe Judas (12:6).
B. λῃστής is the term used in Matthew and Mark to identify the two persons crucified with Jesus. It is also the term used in the Synoptics when Jesus is arrested and asks why they came out for him as if for a thief. It is also how the Synoptics describe Jesus’ overturning of the temple because it had become a “den of thieves.” In John, it is how Barabbas is described (18:40).

2 ὁ δὲ εἰσερχόμενος διὰ τῆς θύρας ποιμήν ἐστιν τῶν προβάτων.
But the one who enters through the gate is a shepherd of the sheep.
εἰσερχόμενος: PMPart nsm, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Chapter 10 is the only place where the word “shepherd” appears in John’s gospel (vv.2, 11, 12, 14, 16). It is an image that the early church had of Jesus, but it does not seem to be a primary image and none of the images – as far as I can tell – are a reference to the 23rd psalm. (Sorry.)
2. The word “Shepherd” does not have a definite article, so “a shepherd,” not “the shepherd.” (Not sorry for tis one.)

3 τούτῳ ὁ θυρωρὸς ἀνοίγει, καὶ τὰ πρόβατα τῆς φωνῆς αὐτοῦ ἀκούει, καὶ τὰ ἴδια πρόβατα φωνεῖ κατ' ὄνομα καὶ ἐξάγει αὐτά.
To this one the gatekeeper opens, and the sheep hear in his voice, and his own sheep he calls by name and goes out to them.
ἀνοίγει: PAI 3s, ἀνοίγω, 1) to open
ἀκούει: PAI 3s, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear 
φωνεῖ: PAI 3s, φωνέω, 1) to sound, emit a sound, to speak
ἐξάγει: PAI 3s, ἐξάγω, 1) to lead out 
1. I am translating ὁ θυρωρὸς as ‘the gatekeeper’ to keep it consistent with translating τῆς θύρας as ‘gate.’ This role is the porter or doorkeeper, such as the young girl who was keeping the door at the chief priest’s hall in c.18 (vv.16f) after Jesus’ arrest. I’m under the impression this is a walled-in sheep pen, not one with a split rail fence or low-lying stones. The sheep that are there are all of the sheep in that particular cooperative, not just this particular shepherd’s sheep. They build the wall and hire the porter to mind the gate and keep an eye out for predators, etc. Then the shepherd comes, calls his sheep and they hear his voice and he goes to them. The difference between entering the gate via the gatekeeper and scaling the wall is a difference of legitimate access for good or for evil.
2. τὰ ἴδια is means “one’s own” and by itself often means “one’s people.” We retain that meaning to some extent when we speak of idiom or idiomatic speech as a speech pattern peculiar to a specific people. I don’t know if the word “idiot” is directly related, but I do wonder if the ‘idiot’ is the one whose own manner of thinking and communicating is so particular that nobody else can make sense of it. If that is the root of the word “idiot,” then it does not mean that the person makes not sense, but that his/her communication only makes sense to him/her.
3. The use of τὰ ἴδια in this verse shows the relation between the shepherd and the sheep, as opposed to the one scaling the wall where the sheep are. This is a peculiar (might I say ‘idiomatic’) way of speaking about the whole occupation of shepherding. It is not just a consumer-trade, where the sheep are natural resources to be exploited. There is a relational component to the trade. Maybe that is why the image of the shepherd seems so endearing.  

4 ὅταν τὰ ἴδια πάντα ἐκβάλῃ, ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν πορεύεται, καὶ τὰ πρόβατα αὐτῷ ἀκολουθεῖ, ὅτι οἴδασιν τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ:
When he may drive his own out, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice;
ἐκβάλῃ: AASubj 3s, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out  1a) with notion of violence  1a1) to drive out
πορεύεται: PMI 3s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 
ἀκολουθεῖ: PAI 3s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes
οἴδασιν: PerfAI 3s,
1. This is a peculiar connection of words. ἐκβάλλω means ‘to drive out’ (literally ‘to throw out’) and often has a sense of violence or at least coercion – like Jn. 2:15 when Jesus ‘drives out’ the sheep and the oxen and the persons selling in the temple. Here, the shepherd ‘drives out’ the sheep, but by going before them and calling them and they hear his voice and follow. So far, signs of legitimate shepherding is to enter by the gate under the view of the porter; to be in relation to the sheep; and to lead as they willingly follow.
2. John uses φωνέω in v. 3 instead of λέγω – both of which could be translated ‘to speak’ or ‘to say.’ I suppose that is because of the connection between φωνέω and φωνὴν (voice), in vv. 3, 4 and 5. It may also signify some kind of unique sound that the shepherd makes, as opposed to simply saying, “C’mere, sheep!”

5 ἀλλοτρίῳ δὲ οὐ μὴ ἀκολουθήσουσιν ἀλλὰ φεύξονται ἀπ' αὐτοῦ, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδασιν τῶν ἀλλοτρίων τὴν φωνήν.
yet to a stranger they will not follow but will flee from him, because they have not known the voice of strangers.”
ἀκολουθήσουσιν: FAI 3p, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes
φεύξονται: FMI 3p, φεύγω, 1) to flee away, seek safety by flight
οἴδασιν: PerfAI 3s, εἴδω, ἴδω, an obsol. form of the present tense, the place of which is supplied by ὁράω; to perceive.
1. I’m seeing ἀλλοτρίῳ (a stranger) as opposition to the shepherd and τὰ ἴδια (his own) sheep; the relatedness v. the strangeness.
2. John’s use of the perfect tense in this verse – ‘they have not known’ instead of ‘they don’t know’ – is a little jarring. It speaks to a long relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, cultivating familiarity with the sound of his voice. εἴδω is a favorite use of John’s for knowing or seeing and is often in the perfect tense.   

6 Ταύτην τὴν παροιμίαν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς: ἐκεῖνοι δὲ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν τίνα ἦνἐλάλει αὐτοῖς.
This figure of speech Jesus said to them: But they did not understand what the things were which he was speaking to them.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, to speak, to say
ἔγνωσαν: AAI 3p, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐλάλει: IAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak 
1. The word παροιμίαν (which I follow others in translating as “figure of speech”) here, is sometimes misleadingly translated ‘parable’ (misleading because it is not the customary word for ‘parable’). It has this definition from something by or on the way, a wayside discourse, or a wayside illustration, lessons drawn from actions of ordinary life, and from objects and processes in nature; also, an out-of-the-way discourse; hence, an enigmatic speech, a dark saying (in opposite to παρρησίᾳ λαλεῖν, to speak openly or plainly).  It is used 4x in John (here, in 16:25 [2x], and 16:29), then only one more time in the NT (II Peter 2:22, with reference to a proverb).
2. The latter part of this verse sounds very awkward because I am trying to honor all of the verbs in it. The ἦν is particularly curious to those of us who are grounded in English grammar because it is odd to say “the did not understand ‘what the things were’ that Jesus was speaking….” But, since Jesus is using a ‘figure of speech,’ comprehension of what he is saying requires connecting the spoken words to the things that they signify. Those who were listening were not making that hermeneutical connection.
3. By the way, who are ‘those who were listening.’ Who is the ‘them’ of this verse? The NIV inserts “the Pharisees” because at the end of c.9 Jesus was addressing them. However, by the end of this chapter is it more generally “the Judeans” (v.19) who are processing what Jesus is saying.

7 Εἶπεν οὖν πάλιν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα τῶν προβάτων.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Amen amen I say to you that I am the gate of the sheep.
Εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, to speak, to say
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, to speak, to say
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. Surprise! It turns out that I “did not understand what the things were which he was speaking to them” either! I would have assumed that Jesus was the shepherd that enters the gate legitimately, or perhaps even the porter who grants access through the gate. As it turns out, he is the gate itself. Didn’t see that coming. And, frankly, I’m not sure that I can make sense of it still.

8 πάντες ὅσοι ἦλθον [πρὸ ἐμοῦ] κλέπται εἰσὶν καὶ λῃσταί: ἀλλ' οὐκ ἤκουσαν αὐτῶν τὰ πρόβατα.
All of those who entered [before me] are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not hear of them.
ἦλθον: AAI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
εἰσὶν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἤκουσαν: AAI 3p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear 
1. An early scribe has edited this text to include the words “before me.” I’m wondering if that scribe also “did not understand what they were which he was speaking to them.” To say ‘before me’ is to make the figure of speech temporal, when it seems like it ought to be spatial. The thieves and bandits do not come off-time, but off-site – they scale the wall instead of entering the gate. Perhaps “through me” would have been a better insertion.
2. I think ἤκουσαν αὐτῶν means ‘hear of them’ more than ‘hear/listen to them’ (which would be the dative case, wouldn’t it?).  “Listen to” seems to make more sense, though.
3. Thieves and bandits, again (see v.1).

9 ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα: δι' ἐμοῦ ἐάν τις εἰσέλθῃ σωθήσεται καὶ εἰσελεύσεται καὶ ἐξελεύσεται καὶ νομὴν εὑρήσει.
I am the gate; through me anyone who may enter will be saved and will come in and will go out and find pasture.
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
εἰσέλθῃ: AASubj 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
σωθήσεται: FPI 3s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
εἰσελεύσεται: FMI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
ἐξελεύσεται: FMI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs
εὑρήσει: FAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with 
1. Okay, I’m genuinely getting tangled up in the thicket of metaphors here, but here is where my mind is:
- Lest we think we misheard Jesus the first time, he is indeed the gate, not the porter or the shepherd that enters via the gate (at least not yet).
- The gate swings in 2 directions: in for safekeeping from thieves and bandits; out for gaining access to pastures for nourishment.
- The word for ‘pasture’ can also be translated ‘eating.’ It is a nourishment term.
- While the phrase ‘will be saved’ evokes notions of eternal salvation from the fires of hell, here the threats are strangers or false shepherds who are thieves and bandits.
- I wonder if the narrator has persons like Judas or Barabbas in mind as those who would lead the people wrongly, who do not enter through Jesus and whom the sheep should refuse to follow.
2. I know we want to make this a “Jesus only” kind of text, but if the metaphor is that Jesus is the gate, the sheep do not enter and exit at will. In addition to the gate there is a shepherd. To this point, the pericope is about whether the shepherds are legitimate or illegitimate. The shepherd either enters through the gate to save the sheep or the thief/bandit scales the wall to steal or destroy.

10 ὁ κλέπτης οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ: ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν.
The thief does not come except in order that he may steal and kill and destroy; I came in order that you may have life and you may have abundance.  
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
κλέψῃ: AASubj 3s, κλέπτω, 1) to steal  1a) to commit a theft  1b) take away by theft i.e take away by stealth
θύσῃ: AASubj 3s, θύω, 1) to sacrifice, immolate  2) to slay, kill  2a) of the paschal lamb  3) slaughter 
ἀπολέσῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 
ἦλθον: AAI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἔχωσιν: PASubj 3p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἔχωσιν: PASubj 3p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. The word περισσὸν is listed as an adjective, therefore many translations make it modify ‘life’ or add a pronoun ‘it’ to read, “… that you may have life and have it abundantly.” I am treating it like a substantive adjective (abundance) because the verb is repeated. That may not be the best alternative.

If one ends the reading at v.10, and does not include vv.11ff, then Jesus is not the Good Shepherd. Someone else is the good shepherd; Jesus is the gate which is the legitimate entry for those shepherds who will do well and not for those thieves who will do violence or harm. One hermeneutical question for vv.1-10 is, who is the shepherd and who is the thief?

But, of course, v.11 does indeed identify Jesus as the “good shepherd.” Another interpretive question, then, is whether we stop at v.10 or not. I believe the lectionary committee is correct in ending the pericope with v.10 because v.11 starts a new thought that is not easily reconciled with vv. 1-10. Being the ‘gate’ and being the ‘good shepherd’ are different things. One implication that keeping vv.1-10 as the pericope has is that a sermon title this week ought not to be about Jesus as the “good shepherd.” It should be about the less endearing “gate.”

While the language of ‘shepherd’ was adopted before long to mean ‘pastors,’ I would lean toward ‘the church’ being the shepherds and the sheep being the world, who are subject to abuse and destruction; or who might be loved and led.


  1. just two; and they are from a real amatuer (teaching myself Greek with your help, like kids in Waldorf schools)...ok...Ekballo...haven't you said that Ballo means to cast aside without caring where "it" goes...and Ek is a may it be that this driving out is Not violent or without care...(and of course that would apply to the driving out of the money changers, too)...2. the fugue idea in music is of two themes running around each application, just a thought running through my head...
    thank you for your work; i look forward to your blog each week, and have often been rewarded with thoughts that allow me to look at the scripture "out of the box." blessings

  2. and another...perhaps it might be "around me" versus the "before me" added by the monk of long ago...does that work?

  3. Hey, BC: Yes, defines βάλλω as throwing something without regard for where it falls (among other possibilities). But ἐκ is not a negative. It is a prefix meaning 'out.' So, ἐκβάλλω would mean to cast out or drive out. It is used for expelling demons from people's lives.

    ... and 'around me' might be possible - at least 'around' keeps the spatial sense of the flow, as opposed to adding a temporal term to it.

    Good to hear from you. Blessings,

  4. why is v.9 always translated "if anyone enters through me"... is the greek accurate to say goes out through me also??? come in or out??? really just pass through me... it changes the meaning entirely... and unites the two parts of the metaphor.... the sheep are already penned up safe... god's people... jews... jesus calls HIS flock out of all of the sheep in the sheepfold... they know his voice and follow... out through the gate... out of the walls... into the pasture... out of safety of the temple, into the pasture where they will have life (eternal life) abundant, where life is not safe, they are following the shepherd... they will face danger but if they follow they will know his care... maybe this isn't all about closing ourselves in as christians, but getting out please tell me this isn't heretical! preferably before i wrap a sermon around it :)

    1. This is how I'm reading and preaching it too, KK! Must be something in the air (Holy Sprit, I pray!)

    2. Kitty and Jenny,
      Whether you are heretical or not is not something I'm ready to endorse or condemn. When in doubt, my philosophy is to go for it, but that's not a recommendation either.
      The phrase καὶ εἰσελεύσεται καὶ ἐξελεύσεται sure looks to me like it means both 'go in' and 'go out.' That gate seems to swing both ways.
      Your suggestion that the sheep within might be the Jews and the sheep led out might be the Christian flock is very interesting. I was leaning more toward how sometimes people need the shelter of the pen; sometimes they need the nourishment that can only come from leaving the pen and finding green pastures.
      I also continue to be struck at how - if Jesus is the gate - we may be called to be the shepherds that enter legitimately; as opposed to those who have entered illegitimately and therefore are destructive to the sheep.
      I hope your sermon goes well!

    3. thank you, both of you... more research turned up ... v.16... i have other sheep not of this sheep pen!... and the thought that jesus moves his own sheep, the ones that listen to his voice and follow... to pasture but that there is there a pen as well... in this pen there is no gatekeeper... the gate then is the shepherd, jesus... he then is still our protection through the night... but away from the original sheep pen (temple and all that went with it)... oh and about being shepherds... i've always liked the thought that i am the sheepdog of the good shepherd... i'll pray they i'm following his whistle this morning

  5. Happy Easter! I'm so happy to see you back - I've missed you. It seems like, in some other verse, the shepherd would sleep in the entrance to the sheep pen, so that the sheep couldn't get out without his knowing; in this case, the shepherd could be said to be the gate. Seems to work for this, as Jesus being both the shepherd and the gate. Maybe?

  6. Thanks, Mimsey. I think that other verse you are referring to is actually this verse and how it has been explained over time. I think.
    Anyway, thanks for your kind note.

  7. I really appreciate your work and miss it when it is not here. So thanks.
    A couple of things. From other sources, and I think they are right, (this is a pet thing for me - we keep letting those chapter headings and editorial headings get in our way) we need to put this reading back where it belongs, with chapter 9. This is Jesus's discourse for healing the bling man. It continues his reply to the Pharisees about whether they are bling - after they cast this man out. I think that adds some flavour to this. The blind man is one of the sheep who heard Jesus voice and who is given abundant life.
    Secondarily, Kenneth Bailey in his book on the Good shepherd Tradition would suggest that that tradition starts with Psalm 23 and is reinterpreted and added to a number of times, including each of the Gospels. A major theme in this is God the good shepherd seeking out the lost sheep and bringing them home. A good shepherd would sleep across the enclosure they used or built while out away from home seeking pasture. Literally they are also gates. To get into the pen a predator or thief needs to get through the shepherd. shepherds die looking for and protecting their herd. We are about to hit the last supper, need I say more?

    1. Hi "Still Looking." Thanks for chiming in. Your google name makes me sing a U2 song to myself.

      I encouraged my Wed a.m. text study group to consider this teaching as a response to the 'sign story' of c.9 also. So, I agree with looking at it from that perspective.

      I don't know whether I'm quite buying into the Ps 23 roots of the Good Shepherd tradition or not. Maybe, but I think the references to the bad shepherds in Jeremiah and Ezekiel are more convincing roots of this story. Whether they are relying on their hearers being familiar with Ps.23 is another question, which I am not able to answer.

      It's worth thinking about and I am grateful that you raised it.

      Thanks again,

    2. Bailey, who rights from his experience living and teaching in the middle east, and using Aramaic commentaries among other sources, would say that Jeremiah and Ezekiel are all reinterpretations of that tradition in the new situations they found themselves in, just as the gospel writers, and by inference, Jesus, were also reinterpreting that tradition and situating Jesus within that tradition.

  8. I am glad you sing the song. I was singing it as I began my blog so many years ago.

  9. The "never read the comments" rule never applies to this blog! The idea of connecting this reading to Chapter 9 makes the whole idea of Jesus being the gate *work* in my mind.

    Thanks, as always, for all your hard work, Mark.

  10. Do you see a link to Numbers 27:16-17? "Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd." This is the turn from Moses to another who will lead the people into the 'promised land'. John may have pulled this forward as another indication of shifting from one style to another?

  11. Dear Mark, Missing you this week. Are you okay?


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