Church Write-Up: The “Other Sheep” (John 10:16)

At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church’s Bible study this week, the pastor was talking about John 10, in which Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.  In v 16, Jesus states:

“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (KJV).

Who are the “other sheep”?

I first encountered this verse when I was thumbing through the TV Guide back when I was a child.  There was an advertisement for the Book of Mormon, and it was saying that the “other sheep” were the followers of Jesus in the Americas around the first century C.E.

A friend of mine said that the “other sheep” were people in other religions.  This was his personal solution to the theological problem of non-Christians going to hell: that there were people in other religions who heard Christ’s voice, even if they may not have known explicitly about Christ.

At some point, my conclusion was that the “other sheep” would be the Gentiles, who would be included into the church alongside Jewish Christians.  In the Word Biblical Commentary, George Beasley-Murray argues that such an interpretation coincides with themes in the Gospel of John:

“If salvation is ‘of the Jews’ (4:22), it must first come to the Jews, and then proceed from them to the nations (significantly it was in that context that Jesus was described by Samaritans as the Savior of the world, 4:42). So here, in the context of Jesus as the Shepherd of God’s flock and in conjunction with his intention to lay down his life for the sheep, we learn that he has sheep of other folds than Israel’s. The death of the Shepherd embraces all people (cf. 11:50–52, also 3:16; 6:51; 12:20, 24, 31–32)…The mission to the nations is that of Jesus, continuing his mission to Israel’s fold. As he was sent by the Father on mission to Israel, so he will conduct his mission to the nations through his disciples (so 20:21; the thought is embodied in Matt 28:18–20, ‘Go, and make disciples of all nations … See, I am with you always …’; similarly in terms of action, in the longer ending of Mark at 16:20).”

At Bible study, the pastor shared two other interpretations.

One view states that Jesus is speaking about believers outside of Jerusalem, which may be where Jesus is when he speaks John 10:16.  He may mean believers in Galilee, for example.  My problem with this view is that John 10:16 states that the sheep WILL hear Jesus’ voice.  The believers in Galilee already heard it.

Another view is that John is countering isolationism within the church at Ephesus, where he pastors.  There may have been division among Jewish and Gentile Christians, in which case John is encouraging unity; this interpretation would coincide with the idea that Jesus is speaking about the inclusion of Gentiles into the church in John 10:16.  Alternatively, the Ephesian church may have wanted nothing to do with other churches.  The pastor said that the Missouri Synod Lutheran church rejects such isolationism, in that it recognizes the baptisms of other Christians: in short, a person who wants to join LCMS and was baptized already as, say, a Methodist does not need to be rebaptized.

There are limits to this policy, however.  On its web site, the LCMS states that it does not recognize the baptisms of people in non-Trinitarian churches; there, it was talking about the former Worldwide Church of God, but what it said would presumably include Jehovah’s Witnesses, or oneness Pentecostals.  A person wanting to join LCMS, after having been baptized in those churches, would need to be rebaptized.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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