The Sheepfold Gate Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 July 2022

John 10.1-10.

A lot of reference materials claim Jesus only shares parables in the synoptic gospels, and that there are no parables in the gospel of John. Seriously, a lot of them. I grew up hearing it all my life. And it turns out it’s rubbish, because John straight-up states,

John 10.6 KJV
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.

It’s not a mistranslation either. True, John didn’t use the word παραβολή/paravolí, the word from which we literally get our word “parable.” He used παροιμίαν/parimían, which literally means “nearly like it.” But that’s what a parable is: It’s an analogy. A comparison. Something which is nearly like something else, so you can slip people some wisdom in a memorable format.

Other bibles have rendered parimían as “figure of speech” (ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “illustration” (NKJV, NLT). But again: Parables are figures of speech and illustrations. This is a parable. I suspect the translators were hesitant to use “parable” because it’s so widely believed and taught that John contains no parables. I still call rubbish. This is obviously a parable, and you gotta go through some weird logical gymnastics in order to claim it’s not.

It comes up in John 10, right after Jesus cured a blind man in John 9—whereupon the local Pharisees put the newly-cured guy on trial for heresy and excommunicate him. Jesus calls ’em blind. That’s a figure of speech; this next bit is a parable.

John 10.1-10 KWL
1 “Amen amen! I promise you,
one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,
but goes over it some other way:
That one is a thief, a looter.
2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s shepherd.
3 The gatekeeper opens up for this shepherd.
The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice.
He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.
4 Whenever the shepherd drives out his own sheep,
they go in front of him, and the sheep follow him,
because they’ve known his voice.
5 The sheep won’t follow a stranger,
but will flee from him:
They’ve not known the stranger’s voice.”
6 Jesus tells them this parable,
and they don’t know what he’s telling them,
7 so again Jesus says, “Amen amen! I promise you,
I’m the sheepfold gate.
8 Everybody who goes over me is a thief and looter.
But the sheep don’t heed them.
9 I’m the gate. When anyone goes through me, they’ll be saved.
They’ll enter and exit, and they’ll find pasture.
10 A thief won’t come in—
unless it’s to steal, murder, and destroy.
I come so they might have life,
and might have superabundance.”

So. At the end of chapter 9 he was speaking of blindness; now he speaks of sheep? But it’s not a total non-sequitur. Blind or not, people oughta be able to identify their master by voice. The sheep don’t need to identify their shepherd by sight: They can hear. And strangers aren’t gonna sound right.

And yeah, Jesus is also the shepherd, and a good shepherd. But that’s actually another analogy, in the next few verses. We’ll get to it; it’s another of the parables in John. Yep, there are a few of ’em. I’ll get to them all. Meanwhile, in today’s passage, Jesus is the sheepfold gate.

Nope, Jesus doesn’t nullify the Old Testament.

Too often I’ve heard preachers use this passage to claim Jesus did away with the Old Testament. It’s because they’re quoting the King James Version, then reinterpreting it to fit their ideas.

John 10.8 KJV
All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.

I should point out when Jesus says πρὸ ἐμοῦ/pro emú, which the KJV renders “before me”: These two words are a textual variant. They appear in some of the oldest copies of John—but not all. They’re absent enough times for today’s Greek New Testaments to put them in brackets. Maybe they were in the original; maybe not.

And if Jesus said them, they don’t mean he’s speaking of the teachers and prophets who came before him chronologically. He’s interpreting the parable. He just talked about people who go over the gate (i.e. him) some other way: Over it, under it, or through a break in the fence. The Greek preposition pro properly means “superior to,” and ordinarily it’d be translated “in front of” or “over” or “before.” In context, it likely means people who climb over the gate. Not people who precede Jesus in history.

But if you’re promoting the idea Jesus cancels out everything and everyone before him, of course you’re gonna stretch this verse to fit your idea. Context? Who needs context? You got an axe to grind. You wanna do away with the Old Testament’s prophets and teachers, whom you figure taught God wrong, incompletely, or inadequately. Whereas Jesus explains him fully and properly, so we don’t need to read the Prophets anymore. Don’t need to obey the LORD’s old instructions any longer.

Others claim “all that ever came before me” is limited to those who recently precede Jesus; the Hebrew denominations which cropped up in the previous 500 years. That’d be the Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Qumranis, Essenes, and other sects which cropped up after northern Israel was destroyed by Assyria and southern Israel by the neo-Babylonians. That’s why these sects don’t have any books in the bible: They’re wrong. Jesus is right. And how we know those sects are wrong, is ’cause they weren’t above using theft, murder, and destruction to achieve their goals.

Thing is, Jesus has been around since the beginning, Jn 1.1-2 remember? He didn’t become the gate in the first century; he’s always been the gate. There was never a time he wasn’t the gate. So how can anyone possibly enter the sheepfold before him? It’s not logically consistent with what this very gospel tells us about Jesus.

So “before me” is perhaps better translated “over me”: People are trying to get around the gate. They don’t wanna get to Jesus’s people through Jesus: They’re sneaking in, hoping to plunder the flock instead of care for it. Or join it illegitimately, but their inconsistent allegiance and lifestyle ruins us from within.

It’s about Christianists and Mammonists and nationalists; corrupt Christian leaders, false teachers and prophets, and other spoilers of Jesus’s church. They existed in antiquity, and still exist. Today. There are still a lot of people trying to jump the fence. Watch out for them!

Likewise there are plenty of us Christians who consider ourselves devout… who imagine there are circumstances where we don’t really have to submit our decision-making to Jesus. He doesn’t need to be involved in our economic choices. Our political views. What we wear, what we eat, what we choose to watch or read; we can have great big segments of our lives where Jesus is not Lord. Anything we consider “secular” instead of sacred.

Whether we mean outright frauds, or we ourselves who are trying to practice any form of end-run around Jesus: These people and ideas will lead us astray.

If they can. See, Jesus sounds mighty confident his true followers are gonna do pretty well against such people. Notice he says these thieves and predators don’t lead his flock astray. ’Cause we know our shepherd’s voice. Strangers might hop the fence, but we won’t follow them; we won’t listen to them; we know better. The LORD is our shepherd, and we aren’t gonna fall for any fake god, illegitimate teacher, conniving politician, or con artist who tries to scam us.

The devil likes to play God. So lots of Christians like to use Jesus’s “steal, murder, and destroy” line Jn 10.10 to describe Satan—even though Jesus doesn’t specifically identify this sheepfold invader as Satan. Any phony might steal, murder, and destroy. But solid Christians, Jesus’s true flock, know the difference between fakes and God.

Now, here’s the challenge: Are we striving so hard to follow Jesus, we know the difference between God’s voice and frauds?

I admit I’m not quite so infallible. I’ve paid attention to teachers whom I later discovered don’t know what they’re doing or saying, whose relationships with Jesus were rubbish. If my own relationship with Jesus were worse, I’d easily fall for any fake god, fake Messiah, antichrist, heretic, or pagan who tried to teach me something I found appealing. Humans are too easily swayed by intriguing new ideas.

Even when we claim we’re totally not—’cause look at all the “liberal ideas” we oppose! But let’s not confuse political conservatism with theological conservatism. They aren’t the same thing. Neither is political and theological liberalism. A lot of “liberal ideas” shunned by conservative Christians, once you look ’em up in the bible, are actually taught in the scriptures… but because they run afoul of political conservatives, theological conservatives get suckered into rejecting them too. And in so doing, oppose Jesus. Watch out for that too!

We don’t wanna get suckered into any form of “Christianity” which doesn’t actually follow Jesus’s voice; which prioritizes fundamentals and orthodoxy over loving our neighbors, bearing good fruit, and grace. Jesus’s sheep know the difference. This being the case… are you one of his sheep?

So we might have superabundance.

Ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν/zoín ékhosin ke perissón ékhosin, “[they] might have life, and [they] might have superabundance” is often translated “might have [it] more abundantly.” Jn 10.10 KJV Of course the KJV added the word “it,” because its translators assumed Jesus means abundant life. But Jesus never limited what he means. Superabundance can refer to any and every good thing we currently have. Whatever you think Jesus grants us, as wonderful as it might be, he actually has much more and much greater in mind.

Superabundant life tends to be equated with eternal life—as if Jesus only offers us infinite quantity… and not necessarily quality. Superabundance usually implies more stuff, as if Jesus offers us nothing more than a bigger pile of possessions. But you should know better than to imagine Jesus is trying to promote Christian materialism. There’s more than enough Mammonism mixed up with Christianity as it is.

What do you imagine Jesus offers you? Well our imagination is flawed and limited—and a little twisted sometimes. Some Christians imagine heaven is gonna consist of some pretty carnal delights. (Or, if they know better, they grudgingly allow heaven might have better things than they currently enjoy… but worry it really won’t. Hence all those horny teenage Christians begging Jesus to not return yet, ’cause they wanna experience sex first.) Really, we can’t imagine the great things God has in store for us, 1Co 2.9 the real depth of his riches. Even “superabundance” is too limited to describe it.

But life and superabundance is what Jesus came to offer us. Tell everyone!