|Volume 18 Number 7 July 2016||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
The task at hand is the consideration of John 10:16, which reads, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (NKJV). Generally, both denominational commentators as well as members of the churches of Christ correctly conclude that our Lord Jesus Christ was speaking to Jews and referring to non-Jews or the Gentiles as the “other sheep.”
However, some denominational people and even perhaps some non-biblically-minded members of the Lord’s church twist Scripture (2 Peter 3:16) to erroneously teach that the “other sheep” include denominational churches. Some even more progressive than that have little difficulty including world religions such as Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism among the “other sheep.” Anyone who affirms that the “other sheep” about whom Jesus spoke would include denominations or world religions besides Christianity is exercising himself in eisegesis rather than in exegesis of Scripture. Those of that type are more proficient in putting into the biblical text what is not there rather than extracting meaning from the Sacred Holy Writ that the Holy Spirit caused human penman to write.
Speaking of exegesis or exposition, let’s take a closer look at John 10:16. This verse appears in the context of Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 10:7-18). Focusing on verse 16, we want to look briefly at some of the primary words in it. The word “other” from the Greek allos appears in Galatians 1:6 where it is contrasted with a different word for “other” or “another” from the Greek heteros. There, allos means another of the same kind, whereas heteros means another of a different kind. Hence, the word “heterosexual,” for instance, refers to another person of a different sex – a man and a woman, in contrast to “homosexual,” which represents two males or two females.
Allos for the word “other,” then, in John 10:16 could mean another of the same kind or similarity. Robertson noted in his commentary that “other” in this verse represents “sheep, not goats.” We hasten to point out, therefore, that the “other sheep” about which our Lord spoke could not refer to unsaved persons. Denominations, generally, could not have been in the mind of Jesus when He spoke John 10:16 primarily for two reasons. (1) Denominations or manmade churches did not exist during the ministry of Jesus. (2) Most of the manmade denominations neither believe nor practice the procedure that Jesus Christ taught for one to be saved (Mark 16:16). The sheepfold about which our Lord spoke contained only the saved.
The word “sheep” needs no explanation, other than that the term was often used to represent the saved (Matthew 25:32-33). The affirmation of our Lord, “I have” carries with it the idea of a possession that one keeps. Jesus claimed to possess sheep nearby as well as He also possessed sheep elsewhere. The word “fold” represented the close location of the one set of sheep clustered in a sheep pen. Jesus purposed to combine the sheep from afar with the sheep at hand into a single flock under the oversight of a single Shepherd – Himself.
The voice of the Shepherd Jesus would draw the two flocks of sheep into a single flock. This reminds us of the fact that divine revelation and particularly the New Testament – one voice – draws those who would be saved together into a single spiritual flock – the church of the Bible. Just as there is one King of the spiritual kingdom (1 Timothy 1:17), one Head of the body and one Head of the church (Colossians 1:18), Jesus Christ is the one Shepherd of His flock of saved souls.
As distasteful as it seemed to the Jews for the Gentiles to share in spiritual blessings with them, it certainly ought not to have been of any surprise that God intended to extend His blessings alike upon Jews and Gentiles together. “Although Jonah was reluctant to preach to the non-Jewish world, Jesus came for the express purpose of saving those lost souls (John 10:16)” (Liddell 52). “That Jehovah would someday give full covenant membership to Gentiles should not have been such an unlikely thing to the Jews” (Butler 327).
Very nearly identical to John 10:16, an Old Testament verse predicts that “others” will be added to the Jews. “The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, ‘Yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him’” (Isaiah 56:8). Simply because they were the custodians of God’s law, the Jews imagined that they alone were to be the recipient of God’s spiritual blessings. However, it was never the case in the mind of God that only the Jews would be the beneficiaries of His grace and mercy. As an aside, we Christians today, who may well have a better grasp of Scripture, the church, salvation, etc. than many of our religious peers, need to be careful that we are not as smug as were the Jews and as unconcerned about “other sheep” as they were.
It was with great difficulty that the early church, which was comprised almost exclusively of Jews, as well as the apostles came to accept that the Gentiles had equal access to salvation and church membership as did the Jews (Acts 11:1-3, 18). This circumstance gave rise to widespread divisiveness in the first century perpetrated by Judaizing teachers (Acts 11:2-3; Titus 1:10). The apostle Peter slowly came to realize that God had accepted the Gentiles (Acts 10:10-20, 28, 34-35, 45).
It is astonishing that the Jews did not readily understand all along that the Gentiles would have equal access to God and salvation. The Old Testament is full of instruction that includes non-Jews or Gentiles in the same spiritual blessings that were prophesied and for which the Jews longed. Not only so, the Jews themselves had a God-given role to make non-Jews or the Gentiles aware of God’s blessings reserved for them, too. “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6).
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3; cf., Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Acts 3:25-26)
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. (Isaiah 2:2)
Indeed He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
The New Testament, likewise, abundantly establishes that God always intended that non-Jews or the Gentiles would be the recipients of the same spiritual blessings that were and are afforded to the Jews.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’ “Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:14-19)
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (Romans 10:12)
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.” …even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Romans 15:9-12, 24)
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:11)
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)
An exact counterpart to John 10:16 appears later in the New Testament from the pen of the apostle Paul to the Lord’s church at first century Ephesus.
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:11-18)
Even the so-called Great Commission provides for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the blessings of the Gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16). The Gospel of Christ is for everyone! “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” [“Gentile” NIV] (Romans 1:16).
“All through the Savior’s ministry there shines forth the grand truth that he is the Redeemer of the world, instead of a Jewish Messiah” (Johnson emphasis added). All mankind – Jews and non-Jews or Gentiles, according to the eternal plan of God (Ephesians 3:9-11), were to be united in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-18).
Under a subtitle of “A Unifying Savior,” Winfred Clark penned, “Here we see His desire to unify and also how He would unify. As men listen to His voice or teaching and follow Him, all are united” (Vol. 1 501). In another place brother Clark wrote, “His strong emphasis was upon the idea of unity. This is plainly taught in his saying, ‘and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd’ (John 10:16). In fact, he is showing the Jews that they will be in the same fold with Gentiles. There would not be one fold for the Jew and another for the Gentile. There would only be one fold. There would only be one shepherd” (Vol. 2 596)
What are some of the applications for people living today that we can glean from John 10:16? First of all, “No goats allowed!” Jesus Christ is Shepherd only over the sheepfold or flock in which are saved souls. The ramification of this is that people no matter how sincere they may be who do not subscribe to and have not implemented into their own lives the divinely given plan of salvation (1) are not responding properly to the voice of the Shepherd, (2) are not saved, and (3) members of other world religions and of manmade churches are not in Christ’s sheepfold.
On the other hand, everyone who responds properly to the voice of the Shepherd is saved from past sins, is a sheep and is in the flock of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Especially, racial or ethnic differences are no more to be obstacles to Christian unity than they were supposed to be hindrances between the Jews and the Gentiles in the first century. The Gospel truly is for all!
Butler, Paul T. Isaiah, Vol. III. Joplin: College P., n.d.
Johnson, Barrett Warren. The New Testament Commentary: John, Vol. III. Austin: WordSearch Corp., 2007.
Liddell, Bobby, ed. Sin and Salvation, Vol. 1. Memphis: Memphis School of Preaching, 2004.
Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Clark, J. Winfred. Expositions of “The Expositor,” Vol. 1. Michael R. McDaniel, ed. Memphis: Memphis School of Preaching, 2001.
- - -. Expositions of “The Expositor,” Vol. 2. Michael R. McDaniel, ed. Memphis: Memphis School of Preaching, 2001.