Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 1st, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
John 10

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Jesus is Love (John 10:1-42).


The Good Shepherd, who giveth His life for the sheep (John 10:1-20).


The discourse at the Feast of the Dedication (John 10:22-38).

The true sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:22-30).

The charge of blasphemy shown by their Scriptures to be groundless (John 10:30-38).


Rejected in Jerusalem, Jesus goes away beyond Jordan).]

Verse 1

(1) At the Feast of Tabernacles there was a practice, one of those which witnessed to a feeling wider than that of those who acted in it, of offering up seventy oxen for the seventy nations of the world, the number being taken partly from the list in Genesis, and partly from a vague idea of its sanctity. The number seventy was thus brought before the people with the recognition of the heathen world as within the hope of salvation, and the minds of men were prepared for the mission of the Seventy, which followed at no long interval.

Verse 2

(2) John 10:16 of this chapter finds the commencement of its fulfilment in this mission. The appointment of a new body of disciples, whose very number is symbolical of a wider work, was the first step in the bringing in of the “other sheep.” The Twelve answered to the number of the tribes of Israel; but the Seventy represent the nations of the world. The directions for this work to each body are nearly identical, but the restrictions laid upon the Twelve are not laid upon the Seventy.

Verse 3

(3) The reference in Luke 10:3 to the wolves among whom they would be as lambs, throws light upon John 10:12. He who would lay down His life for them would expose them to the wolves because He as the Good Shepherd would save them from the wolf.

And it was at Jerusalem.—Better, And the Feast of the Dedication was being held at Jerusalem.—Although St. John gives no hint that our Lord had left the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, this specific mention of the city implies a return from a distance, for the words would be out of place if He had continued there during the interval since John 10:21. They cannot be restricted to the feast, which was not confined to Jerusalem, but was universally observed by the Jews.

The reference in the margin warns us against the error of understanding “the Feast of the Dedication” as a feast in honour of the dedication of Solomon’s or Zerubbabel’s temple. We know of no annual festival connected with these dedications, and the statement that this feast was “in the winter” makes it almost certain that it was the feast instituted, B.C. 164, by Judas Maccabæus, in commemoration of the cleansing of the Temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes (1Ma. 4:52-59). It extended over eight days, beginning on the 25th of the month Kisleu, which answers to parts of our November and December. It is still called “Chanuca,” the Dedication, while St. John’s Greek name for it, which was adopted by the Vulgate (Encœnia), is familiar to English ears in connection with another commemoration. In this, as in other rejoicings, illumination was a prominent feature, and it was sometimes called the “Feast of Lights.” The Temple and private houses were illuminated, and it was customary in the houses of the more wealthy and pious Jews to have a light for each member of the family, increasing by an additional light for each evening of the feast. The illumination has been sometimes traced to the discovery in the temple by the Maccabees of a vial of oil, sealed with the high priest’s ring. This, it is said, was sufficient for the lamps for one evening only, but was miraculously multiplied so as to suffice for eight evenings, which was therefore devoted to annual illuminations in remembrance of this gift of God (Talmud, Shabbath 216).

And it was winter.—Better, It was winter. These words should then be connected with the following verse. Our division breaks the sense.

Verse 4

(4) And when he putteth forth his own sheep.—The majority of the better MSS. add the word “all.” The tense is past. We should read, therefore, when he has put forth all his own sheep. The addition is important as marking the care of the shepherd to count his flock and see that none is missing. The word “put forth” is stronger than “lead out,” in the previous verse, and represents the details of the action as it took place in the sheepfold. The shepherd would call each sheep by name, and when it answered to its name would drag it outside the fold. Though it knew its shepherd, it would be unwilling to separate itself from the whole flock. One by one, then, he calls his sheep, and places them outside the fold.

He goeth before them, and the sheep follow him.—This is one of the incidents in the management of an Eastern flock, which strikes all who see it for the first time, and is abundantly illustrated in books of Eastern travel. The details are here given with minute accuracy. When the last sheep has been brought out the shepherd places himself at their head, and the flock together follow him.

For they know his voice.—The word is stronger than the one in John 10:3, “and the sheep hear his voice.” It expresses the familiar knowledge which the little flock has of the voice of their own shepherd who leads them day by day.

Verse 5

(5) And a stranger will they not follow.—The “ stranger” is any one other than their own shepherd, and the term is not to be limited to the “thief” and “robber” of John 10:1. The thought is of the flock following the shepherd to the pasture. On the road they would meet other persons whom they would not follow. Some would, as thieves and robbers, seek to lead them away, calling them by their names and imitating their shepherd’s cry; but they have, by long usage, got to know his voice, and will not follow a stranger.

But will flee from him.—A strange word is a source of alarm to them. With the known tone of the shepherd’s voice they have learnt to associate protection, guidance, food. His voice recalls these associations. A stranger’s voice is something unknown, and therefore feared. It is as the voice of a plundering Arab who has called the flock before, or as the cry of a wild beast who has broken into the fold at night. The associations with unfamiliar words are only of things which are evil.

Verse 6

(6) This parable spake Jesus unto them.—Better, this allegory spake Jesus unto them. The word rendered “parable” is the wider word (παροιμία, paroimia) which includes every kind of figurative and proverbial teaching, every kind of speech, as the etymology reminds us, which departs from the usual course (οῑμος, oimos). St. John nowhere uses the word “parable.” The word paroimia occurs again in John 16:25; John 16:29, and once besides in the New Testament; this is in 2 Peter 2:22 (“according to the true proverb”), in a quotation from the Greek version of Proverbs 26:11, where the Hebrew word is mâshal. (Comp. Note on Matthew 13:3, and Trench On the Parables, pp. 8-10.) The discourse of this chapter differs from the true parable, which is a story in which the outer facts are kept wholly distinct from the ideal truths that are to be taught; whereas here the form and the idea interpenetrate each other at every point. It is so in the other so-called “parable” in this Gospel (John 15:0). Strictly speaking, neither the “Good Shepherd” nor the “True Vine” is a parable. Both are “allegories,” or rather, they are, as there is every reason to think, allegorical interpretations of actual events in the material world, which are thus made the vehicle of spiritual truths. It will follow from this that the interpretation of every point in the history of the material facts (e.g., “the porter” in John 10:3) is not always to be pressed. In the parable the story is made to express the spiritual truth, and with greater or lesser fulness every point in it may have its spiritual counterpart. The outer facts which are allegorised exist independently of the spiritual truth. The fact that they express it at some central points is all that is necessary for the allegory, and greater caution should attend the use of any addition to the interpretation which is given.

But they understood not what things they were . . .—They of course understood the outer facts, then passing before their eyes, or, in any case, well known to them. What they did not understand was the spiritual truths underlying these phenomena. They must have known His words had some spiritual meaning. They were accustomed to every form of allegorical teaching, and they could not have thought that He was simply describing to them the everyday events of the shepherd’s life. But they who think that they see (John 9:41) are spiritually blind, and cannot understand the elements of divine truth.

Verse 7

(7) Then said Jesus unto them again.—Better, Therefore said Jesus again, the words “unto them” being of uncertain authority. He says what follows because they did not understand what He had said before. It is not that a new allegory begins at this place. He spake in the beginning of the door and of the shepherd (John 10:1-2). He now proceeds to unfold the meaning of both.

Verily, verily, I say unto you.—Comp. Note on John 10:1.

I am the door of the sheep.—Taking these words in connection with John 10:1-2, they seem to mean not “the door for the sheep,” but “the door to the sheep,” “the door into the sheep-fold.” Our Lord returns to the words, and explains them more fully, in John 10:9.

Verse 8

(8) All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers.—Comp. Note on John 10:1. The Sinaitic MS. and several of the early versions read this verse without the words translated “before Me,” but the balance of authority is strongly in their favour; and the fact of their being hard to understand, or having been misunderstood, is the probable reason of their omission. Retaining them, as we seem bound to do, we are also bound to give them their ordinary temporal meaning. There can be but one rendering which suggests itself to the unbiassed mind, and that is the rendering of our version. The Greek words and the English words are equally plain, and other renderings are due to the exigencies of interpretation.

What, then, do the words mean? Their force seems to be all-inclusive; and yet they cannot contradict Christ’s own words, which have excluded Abraham, Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, from any possibility of such thoughts. (See John 4:22; John 5:33; John 5:39; John 5:45; John 7:19.) They cannot, on the other hand, be limited to false Christs, who did not come before but after our Lord. (Comp. Note on John 5:43.) Here, as often, the true meaning seems for the most part to have been overlooked because men have sought it elsewhere than in the words themselves, and in their place among other words. The thought which precedes and which follows is that Jesus is Himself “the door.” “All that ever came before Me” is in immediate contrast to this thought, and the sense is, “all professing to be themselves the door, to be the means by which men enter the fold, to be the Mediator between man and God.” The Old Testament teachers cannot be meant, because they witnessed to the true door. But there had been growing up since the return from the Captivity, and the close of the Old Testament canon, a priestly caste in the place of the prophetic schools, and these men had been in practice, if not in word, claiming for themselves the position of door to the kingdom of God. There were Hillels and Shammais, heads of parties and of factions, whose word was to their followers as the word of God; there were Pharisees then standing round Him who had solemnly decreed that any one who should confess Him to be the Messiah should be shut out from Temple and from synagogue, and that they themselves would in God’s name pronounce a curse upon his head (John 9:22). As “thieves” were they, and as “robbers;” wolves in sheep’s clothing, stealing into the flock of Christ and rending those who were the true sheep. (Comp. the analogous language of Luke 11:52.) The lawyers closed the door and plundered and oppressed those whom they kept outside.

Attention should be paid to the present tense of the verb “are” in this sentence, which seems in itself to suggest that the words which follow find their application in the case of the persons then actually living.

But the sheep did not hear them.—Read again John 10:3-5. What is true of the sheep and the voice of the stranger is true also of man and of every voice which is not of God. The heart of the child answers to the voice of the Father; it trembles at any voice which is unknown. The conscience of mankind knows the voice of God; but it will not hear the voice of the devil, nor the unreal voice of man claiming to speak in God’s name. It will not call bitter, sweet; nor sweet, bitter; darkness, light; nor light, darkness. It will not accept the false, the impure, the wrong, for it is the God in man which ever is, and ever must be true and holy and right. So it was that the teaching of scribes and Pharisees never really influenced the masses of the people, for it was concerned with the externals of matter and form, and they wanted the living truth. So it has been that systems of error have had their day, but have had no principle of life, because they were not the voice of God speaking to the heart of man; and in so far as they have lived at all, it has been because the error has been but in the form, or has been in part only of the substance, which has also contained some germ of truth. So it has been in every age, and in every school of thought, that the men whom the sheep have heard have been men who have had in them the ring of the true, and have been as prophets uttering the voice of God. Witness Paul of Tarsus, and Francis of Assisi; Luther, and Savonarola; John Knox, and John Wesley; Charles Simeon, and John Keble.

Verse 9

(9) By me if any man enter in.—He returns to the thought of the door, through which every true shepherd must himself enter the fold. The thought is parallel to that of the “strait gate” and “narrow way,” in Matthew 7:13-14, and with St. Paul’s thought in Romans 5:2, and Ephesians 2:18. No one can really enter the fold and become a shepherd of the flock who does not seek to do so through the character and life and death of Christ—i.e., to devote himself in entire self-sacrifice to the sheep whom he seeks to lead; to live in unfailing prayer to and communion with God, whose the sheep are; to find for himself as for them “the access through Christ Jesus by one Spirit unto the Father.” We may not narrow the door to the fold, nor yet may we widen it. He is the Door. No shepherd may enter unless through Him.

He shall be saved.—The words refer primarily to the dangers without the fold from which he shall be delivered. (See the striking parallel in 1 Corinthians 3:15, and Note there.) But in the wider thought they include the salvation from sin which is in this life to be realised, and is a necessary qualification for the pastor’s work.

And shall go in and out, and find pasture.—The fold will ever be open to him who enters by the Door. He will have perfect freedom to enter, whenever storm or danger or night approaches. He will lead out and find pasture for his flock. In the devotion of his service, and in communion with God, he will daily have an increasing knowledge of truths new and old, and the truths which he learns he will give as food for the souls of men.

Verse 10

(10) The thief cometh not, but for to steal.—Comp. Notes on John 10:1; John 10:8. The description of the thief is opposed to that of the shepherd, who constantly goes in and out and finds pasture. His visits are but rare, and when he comes it is but for his own selfish purposes, and for the ruin of the flock. Each detail of his cruel work is dwelt upon, to bring out in all the baseness of its extent the corresponding spiritual truth.

I am come that they might have life.—More exactly, I came that they might have life. The pronoun should be emphasised. I came, as opposed to the thief. He does not further dwell upon the shepherd, but passes on to the thought of Himself, and thereby prepares the way for the thought of Himself as the Good Shepherd in the following verse. The object of His coming is the direct opposite of that of the thief, who comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. He came once for all, that in Him the sheep may have life. (Comp. John 6:50-51.) The Sinaitic MS. inserts the word “eternal” here—“that they might have life eternal.” The word is probably not part of the original text, and the thought is rather of the present spiritual life which every believer now hath, and which will issue in eternal life. But comp. Note on John 10:28.

And that they might have it more abundantly.—Better, and that they might have it abundantly. The word “more” is an insertion of the English version without any authority, and it weakens the sense. It is not that a greater is compared with a less abundance, but that the abundance of life which results through Christ’s coming is contrasted with the spiritual wants and death which He came to remove. This life is through Him given to men abundantly, overflowingly. We are reminded of the Shepherd-King’s Psalm singing of the “green pastures,” and “waters of rest,” and “prepared table,” and “overflowing cup”; and carrying all this into the region of the spiritual life we come again to the opening words of this Gospel, “And of His fulness did we all receive, and grace for grace” . . . “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Verse 11

(11) I am the good shepherd.—The central point of the allegory has now passed from the “Door,” through the last verse as the connecting-link, to the “Good Shepherd.” If we think that the whole discourse was suggested by a scene actually occurring (comp. Note on John 10:1), then the prominence of an actual shepherd passing before them would suggest the turn which it now takes.

The word “good” means that which is fair, and is in a physical sense that which is in its own nature excellent, and in a moral sense that which is beautiful and noble. St. John uses the word only in John 2:10, of the “good wine,” and in this chapter here and in John 10:14; John 10:32-33. (Comp. Note on Luke 8:15.) The passage of the Old Testament referred to above has prepared our minds for this thought of Christ, especially Psalms 23:0; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11-16; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24. He is the Shepherd who is ideally good, fulfilling every thought of guidance, support, self-sacrifice that had ever gathered round the shepherd’s name. No image of Christ has so deeply impressed itself upon the mind of the Church as this has. We find it in the earliest Christian literature, as in Tertullian (Works, vol. i., p. 371, in Ante-Nicene Library), or Clement of Alexandria (Works, vol. i., pp. 149, 462, A.N. Lib.). We find it in the very earliest efforts of Christian art, in painting, embroidery, and even statuary. (See Kugler’s Handbook, Italian Schools, Lady Eastlake’s Trans., 4th Ed., pp. 5 and 6.) It comes to us naturally in our hymns and prayers. The pastoral staff is the fit emblem of the Bishop’s work, and the Pastor is the name by which the humble way-side flock thinks of him who in Christ’s name is appointed to be their guide.

Giveth his life for the sheep.—This was true of the actual shepherds, of whose devoted bravery many instances are told. A striking one is that of David himself who rescued the lamb of his father’s flock from the mouth of the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-37). That self-sacrifice that would lead the shepherd to risk his own life for that of his flock has its ideal fulfilment in Him who is the Good Shepherd, and will give His life for mankind. The word rendered “giveth is life,” should be almost certainly layeth down His life. They are found only in St. John’s writings. The other passages are John 10:15; John 10:17-18; John 13:37-38; John 15:13; 1 John 3:16 (twice).

Verse 12

(12) But he that is an hireling.—The Greek word occurs again in the New Testament only in the next verse and in Mark 1:20. It implies a lower position than the household servant, and is more nearly what we should call the tramp-labourer. The thought follows from that of the good shepherd who in the time of danger will give his own life for the sheep. The hireling has no interest in the sheep, and cares for them only as far as to secure his own hire. This want of interest is strongly expressed in the double statement, “not the shepherd,” “whose own the sheep are not.” In the interpretation we are not to think of the hierarchy, who have been already, in John 10:8, designated as “thieves and robbers,” breaking into the fold, but of all persons who from any other motive than love for humanity, and by any other way than the door which is Christ, or by any other call than that of the Holy Spirit, take upon themselves the office of shepherds of the flock. The hour of danger will distinguish between the shepherd and the hireling. The one, loving the sheep, will give even his life for them. The other, caring only for the hire, in whatever form it comes, will flee and leave the sheep as a prey to the wolf.

And the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.—The words “the sheep” are not found in the majority of the better MSS., and their insertion makes the sentence awkward, because the pronoun “them” has been immediately before used for the same sheep. Adopting the better reading (see Note on next verse), we have, and the wolf catcheth them, and maketh havoci.e., seizeth individual sheep, and maketh havoc in the flock. Under the general image we are to understand all the spiritual foes which destroy individual souls and rend the Church of Christ. The wolf is the natural enemy of the sheep, and the fit emblem of all evil persons, who are the natural enemies of the sheep of Christ’s fold. He spake of “false prophets” as “ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He sent forth the Twelve “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16), and the Seventy, whose mission, we shall see (comp. Note on John 10:22), was connected with the teaching of this chapter, “as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). St. Paul foresaw that in the very city from which St. John wrote this Gospel, “after his departing, grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). These are the only passages in the New Testament where the word occurs, and from them we may gather that while wolves represent all false teachers and foes to truth, “the wolf” represents him who is the source from whence they come. As all shepherds are related to the Good Shepherd, so are all wolves to the wolf whose work they do.

Verse 13

(13) The hireling fleeth.—These words are again an addition to the text, and should he omitted with the great majority of the best authorities. If we omit them this verse must be immediately connected with that which precedes, the last clause of which is a parenthesis—“But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth (and the wolf catcheth them, and maketh havoc), because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” The sense is not affected by the omission, and the words were apparently added as a gloss to make the meaning clear. The thought of the hireling is repeated to express the nature of the man, and to strengthen the contrast with the Good Shepherd which immediately follows.

Verse 14

(14) And know my sheep, and am known of mine.—Better, and know those who are Mine, and those who are Mine know Me. The thought of the Good Shepherd is repeated to show that it expresses the closest communion between the shepherd and the sheep. It is not simply that the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice, but they partake of His nature, and the solemn form in which He expresses this union is in likening it to that between His Father and Himself.

Verse 15

(15) As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father.—Better, . . . and I know the Father. Our version, by its rendering, and by the division of verses, fails to give the full meaning, and there is thus, indeed, no reason for the assertion of the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son. But connecting the words with those of the previous verse, we have, “I am the Good Shepherd, and know those who are Mine, and those who are Mine know Me, even as the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father.” This deeper sense of union between the human spirit and Himself, and the wondrous likening of it to the union of Himself and the Father, is present to His mind as the close of His work on earth draws near. We find it again in John 14:20; John 15:10; John 17:8; John 17:21. It is bound up with the thought of the love which lays down His own life for them. This is repeated here and again in John 10:17-18.

Verse 16

(16) And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold.—The words recall to the mind a question which the Jews had asked at this very feast, “Will He go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?” (John 7:35). They asked it in the bitterness of scorn. He asserts that among the Gentiles—who are not of the Jewish fold—He already possesses sheep; just as He says to Paul concerning Corinth, “I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:10). The Old Testament prophets had foretold this coming of the Gentiles, as e.g. Isaiah 52:13 et seq.; Isaiah 53:10 et seq.; Micah 4:2; and it is present to our Lord’s mind here as the result of His laying down His life for the sheep. (Comp. Notes on John 11:52; John 12:32.)

Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice.—The bringing in of the Gentiles was in the Divine counsel part of the Messianic work which He must therefore needs do. It would result from His being lifted up that all men should be drawn unto Him, and would be accomplished in the mission-work of the Church. These scattered sheep shall hear His voice, for the conscience which knows the voice of God is the heritage of all men; they shall hear it, as the words seem to imply, while the sheep now in the fold refuse to follow it. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 8:11 and Romans 11:17.)

And there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.—Better, There shall become one flock, and one shepherd. The word here rendered “fold,” is quite distinct from that which occurs in John 10:1, and in the earlier clause of this verse. It should be, beyond all doubt, rendered “flock”; but the reader may prove this for himself by comparing the only other passages where it is found in the New Testament—Matthew 26:31; Luke 2:8; 1 Corinthians 9:7 (twice). In each of these passages we have “flock”; but here our version has followed the Vulgate and the Great Bible in giving “fold,” whereas both Tyndale and Coverdale had rightly given “flock.” But even “flock” and “shepherd” fail to catch the expressiveness of the Greek, where the words are closely allied, and of nearly the same sound, “There shall be one poimne and one poimèn.” Luther’s German can exactly render the verse. “Und Ich habe noch andere Schafe, die sind nicht aus diesem Stalle. Und dieselben muss Ich herführen, und sie werden meine Stimme hören, und wird eine Herde und ein Hirte werden.”

It is not uniformity which is promised, but unity. The distinction is not merely one of words, but upon it depends a wide and important truth. It is not unity of fold which is regarded as the future of the Church, but unity of flock. There will be many folds, in many nations, in many ages, in many climes. But for all Christians there will be one true Shepherd who layeth down His life for the sheep, and all these differing folds shall, through living unity with Him, make one vast flock.

Verse 17

(17) Therefore doth my Father love me . . . For the meaning of this difficult verse, comp. Notes on John 5:17 et seq., and on Philippians 2:8-9. The thought is that in the relation between the Father and the human nature of Christ, the reason of the Father’s love is based upon the self-devotion of the Son. He who so loved the world that he gave His only-begotten Son to die for it, loves the Son who of His own will gives Himself to die. It is, if we might presume so to speak, as though the salvation of mankind had called forth a new relation of love between the Father and the Son.

That I might take it again.—This is given as part of the reason of the Father’s love; and the words admit of no other construction. At first sight they seem to us paradoxical, beyond and against common feeling. In acts of sacrifice, the fact that that which is lost will be certainly regained, seems to us to take away all value from the act; but here the fact that Christ will lay down His life, is stated to be in order that He may take it again; and this is the foundation of the Father’s love! The key to the meaning is in the truth that for Christ the taking again of human life is itself a further sacrifice, and that this is necessary for the completion of the Great Shepherd’s work. The scattered sheep during the whole of the world’s existence are to be gathered in by Him whose continued union with human nature makes Him at once the Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep, and the Door by whom we ever have access to the Father.

Verse 18

(18) No man taketh it from me.—It is better to leave the words in the greater width of the Greek, No one taketh it from Me, for it may be, indeed, that even the Father is included in the thought. The laying down of the life is absolutely self-determined, and therefore it is the reason of the Father’s love. Up to the very last moments of life He lays stress on the perfectly voluntary nature of His death. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit; and having said thus, He gave up the ghost.” (See Note on Luke 23:46.)

I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.—The words apply also to the human nature of our Lord, and the “power” spoken of is the authority derived from the Father. It is of His own will that He lays down His life and takes it again; but this, as the whole of the life of the Son, is in moral subordination to the Father. (Comp. Notes on John 5:19; John 19:10.) Hence it is that He speaks of taking His life again, while the general language of the New Testament speaks of His being raised by the Father. The taking again was under the Father’s authority, and was therefore itself the Father’s gift. (Comp. Note on 1 Peter 3:19.)

This commandment have I received of my Father.—Better, did I receive; pointing, probably, to the commission at the time of the Incarnation. He has asserted in fullest terms the entirely voluntary nature of His one sacrifice. He repeats in fullest terms the voluntary subordination of Son to Father, which is based upon equality of nature. Not only was the authority by which He would die and rise again derived from the Father, but both these acts were included in the decree which gave to Him the Messianic work. We should be on our guard against the mistake which is often made of understanding this commandment of the laying down the life only; it clearly extends also to the taking it again.

Verse 19

(19) There was a division therefore again . . .—The words carry us back to those of John 9:16, where a like division was noted.

Among the Jews.—The Pharisees are mentioned before, and they are the persons who have been present all through this discourse. (Comp. John 9:40.) The wider word is here, and in John 9:18, applied to them. They were identifying themselves with, and becoming leaders of, the party who were the enemies of Christ. (Comp. Note on John 1:19.)

Verse 20

(20) He hath a devil, and is mad.—Comp. Note on John 8:48. The words “and is mad” are explanatory of the possession by a demon.

Verse 21

(21) Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil.—We trace here again the presence of the better party among the Sanhedrin, which we found before (John 9:16). “His words,” they would say, “are words of calm teaching. The possession by a demon disorders, frenzies, makes the slave of madness. It is inconsistent with words like these.”

Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?—“Surely a devil cannot open the eyes of the blind? “is the form their question took. They go back from the teaching to the great sign which gave rise to it, and they find that work and word are alike opposed to the thought of being the result of a demon’s presence. Such a miracle had never before been known. A demon does not give the power to do a prophet’s work. (Comp. Notes on John 9:16 and Matthew 12:24.)

Verse 22

(22) Between the last verse and this there is an interval of time which may be roughly taken as two months. Wieseler has calculated that the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles was on October 19, and the Feast of the Dedication on December 20. (See Chron. Synops., Eng. Trans., p. 435; and comp. Note on John 7:2, and Chronological Harmony of the Gospels, p. 35) In this interval we may with great probability place the events and teaching contained in Luke 10:1 to Luke 13:21, with the parallels in St. Matthew. (Comp. Note on Luke 10:1.) The connection suggests several points of interest:—

Verse 23

(23) And Jesus walked in the temple . . .—Better, and Jesus was walking. The scene is remembered and pictured as it took place.

In Solomon’s porch.—The place is mentioned again in Acts 3:11; Acts 5:12. It was rather a cloister or arcade than what we usually call a porch. It is said to have been on the east of the Temple, and to have been a relic of the original building which had survived all destructions and restorations, and had brought down its founder’s name from its founder’s time. (Comp. Jos. Ant. xx. 9, § 7.) It does not seem clear, however, that Josephus calls anything more than the eastern wall by the name of Solomon, and he calls the cloister above it simply the “Eastern cloister.” It is more likely that the true position of “Solomon’s porch” is to be found in one of the subterranean structures which existed in the time of our Lord, and exist now as they did in the time of Solomon. Caspari would identify the corridor under El-Aksa with “Solomon’s porch,” and thus connect the place where our Lord walked at this feast with the Holy Church of Zion, and the place of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. (Chron. and Geogr., Introd., Append. § 22; Eng. Trans., pp. 297-9. Comp. Note on refs. in Acts.) The place as mentioned here is another instance of the writer’s remembrance of topographical details connected with the Temple. (Comp. John 8:20.) The fact that it was winter, and the fact that He was walking in this covered cloister or crypt, explain each other.

Verse 24

(24) Then came the Jews round about him.—The words mean literally, they encircled Him. It is again the impression of one who saw what he records. He remembers how they stood in a circle round our Lord, and watched Him with eager eyes as they asked their question.

How long dost thou make us to doubt?—Literally, How long dost Thou lift up our souls? or, as the margin, “How long dost Thou keep us in suspense?” The words exactly express what was probably the real state of fluctuation in which many of these Jews then were. They do not in the true sense “believe” (John 10:25-26), and they soon pass to the other extreme of seeking to stone Him (John 10:31); but in many of them the last miracle, and the words accompanying it, had left a conviction that He was more than human, and not possessed by a demon. (See Note on John 10:21.) Two months have passed away, not, we may believe, without many an earnest thought and much anxious weighing of evidence concerning Him. And now the Feast of Dedication has come, and what thoughts have come with it? It is the Feast of Lights, and He had declared Himself the Light of the world. It is the Feast of Freedom, telling how the Maccabees had freed their nation from the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes, and He has declared that “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). It is the feast which commemorates the cleansing of the Temple, and His first public appearance in the Temple was to cleanse it and claim it as His Father’s house. May there not be, then, a close connection between the statement that “it was the Feast of the Dedication,” and the question, “How long dost thou excite our souls?” Was He, the question would seem to ask, really the Messiah or not? though by the Messiah they mean only a temporal prince. Was He, like the Judas of whom they were thinking, raised up as a deliverer from the Roman power, to give them the freedom which had long been the national dream?

If thou be the Christ, tell us.—Comp. Note on Luke 22:67.

Verse 25

(25) I told you, and ye believed not.—Better, and ye believe not, as all the best MSS. Here, as in John 8:25, where a similar direct question was put to Him, the answer is indirect. It could not be otherwise. Their misconception of the Messianic work had made the very word Messiah an impossible one for Him to utter to them. To have said He was the Messiah would have been to sanction their thought of Him as a temporal prince; to have said that He was not would have been to contradict the essential truth. He refers them, then, to His earlier words and deeds in proof of what He was. To inquirers of simpler hearts, as the woman of Samaria and the man born blind, He had used the word Messiah. To them He had again and again told the same truth, though the actual word had never crossed His lips while speaking to them.

The works that I do in my Father’s name.—Comp. Note on John 5:36. This appeal to His works, and the assertion that they were done in His Father’s name, is itself an answer in word and in deed that He was the Messiah.

Verse 26

(26) But ye believe not.—Comp. Notes on John 10:5; John 10:14; John 10:16.

As I said unto you.—These words are not found in the Sinaitic or Vatican MSS., and are omitted by the best modern editors. They are not, however, without considerable authority, and the fact of their difficulty may have led to their omission. They are sometimes joined to the following verse, and some expositors accept this as their probable meaning; but although the preceding clause of John 10:26 was not actually spoken in the previous discourse, it was implied, and the reference is of a like kind to that of the Messiah in John 10:25. There is no real difficulty in the fact that He thus refers them to a discourse uttered two months before. In continuity of teaching from Him to them it immediately preceded, and at the commencement of this discourse He gathers up the thread of that which had gone before. On the other hand, the interval helps us to understand how He refers to a truth which was taught them, rather than to the actual words in which He taught it.

Verses 27-28

(27, 28) The reference to those who believe not because they were not of His sheep, introduces the contrast between them and those who were, and the position of the true members of the flock is expanded in this pair of parallel clauses. One member of each pair refers to the act or state of the sheep; and the other to the act or gift of the Shepherd. The pairs proceed in a climax from the first response of the conscience which recognises the divine voice to the eternal home which is in the Father’s presence.


“My sheep hear My voice,” . . “and I know them;”


“And they follow Me” . . “and I give unto them eternal life;”


“And they shall never perish” . . . “neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”

By reading successively the clauses placed on the left side of the page, we trace the progress of the human act and state; by reading, in the same way, the clauses on the right side of the page, we trace the progress of the divine gift; by reading each pair in the order of the text, we see how at each stage the gift is proportioned to the faculty which can receive it.
The earlier clauses are familiar to us from the preceding discourse, but some expressions will need a word of explanation.

Eternal life.—Comp. John 10:10, where the word “eternal” is added in some readings. Here the verb is in the present, “I give (am now giving) them.” (Comp. John 3:15; John 5:24; John 6:47 et seq.). We cannot be too careful to observe that our Lord’s thoughts of “eternal life” is never of the future only. It is a development, rather than a simply future existence. We shall live eternally, because we now live spiritually in communion with the Spirit who is Eternal.

And they shall never perish.—Comp. Notes on John 8:51; John 11:25-26. The negative is in the strongest form—“They shall by no means perish for ever.”

Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.—Better (comp. John 10:18), and none shall pluck them . . . The words should not be limited by the insertion of the word man. They are to be taken as including every spiritual foe; all thieves and robbers that would break into the fold; all wolves that would rend the flock; the adversary who “as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” (Comp. especially for the full thought of no separation from Christ, Romans 8:38-39.) The words “out of my hand” express alike the strength which protects, and guidance which leads, and comfort which cherishes. (See Isaiah 40:11.) Out of this hand none shall pluck. Yet we are to bear in mind that the sheep itself may wander from the shepherd’s care, and that all the fulness of these promises depends upon the human will, which is included in the first clause, “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me.”

Verse 29

(29) My Father, which gave them me (better, hath given them Me), is greater than all.—For the thought that they are given by the Father, comp. Note on John 6:37. Here our version has rightly made no limiting addition to “all” (comp. last verse). In the width of the word, which extends to every creature and to every power, and even to the Son in His subordination to the Father, the Father is thought of as greater than all. Again the thought mounts with each succeeding sentence: (1) “None shall pluck them out of My hand;” (2) “They are My Father’s gifts, and He is greater than all;” (3) “None shall pluck them out of My Father’s hand.”

Verse 30

(30) I and my Father are one.—The last clause of John 10:29 is identical with the last clause of John 10:28 if we identify “Father’s” with “My.” This our Lord now formally does. The last verses have told of power greater than all, and these words are an assertion that in the infinity of All-mighty Power the Son is one with the Father. They are more than this, for the Greek word for “one” is neuter, and the thought is not, therefore, of unity of person, but is of unity of essence. “The Son is of one substance with the Father.” In the plural “are” there is the assertion of distinctness as against Sabellianism, and in the “one” there is the assertion of co-ordination as against Arianism. At recurring periods in the history of exegesis men have tried to establish that these words do not imply more than unity of will between the Father and the Son. We have seen above that they assert both oneness of power and oneness of nature; but the best answer to all attempts to attach any meaning lower than that of the divinity of our Lord to these His words is found here, as in the parallel instance in John 8:58-59, in the conduct of the Jews themselves. To them the words conveyed but one meaning, and they sought to punish by stoning what seemed to them to be blasphemy. Their reason is here given in express words, “because that Thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10:33).

Verse 31

(31) Then the Jews took up stones again.—Better, The Jews therefore . . . Their action follows as an effect caused by His words. The word “again” reminds us that they had done this two months before, at the Feast of Tabernacles (8:59). The words for “took up” are not the same. There the sense is, “they lifted up stones,” and we are told that Jesus hid Himself; here the meaning is, “they carried stones,” there being none in the cloister where they were. During this process their first burst of anger expended itself, and our Lord further disarms it with a question.

Verse 32

(32) Jesus answered themi.e., answered the thought which He read in their hearts, and the intention which was expressed by their act.

Many good works have I shewed you from my Father.—For the idea of “good” expressed here, comp. Note on John 10:14. We have no better word in English; but “excellent,” “distinguished,” approach the sense. It is not the nature of the works as beneficent that is made prominent, but their moral excellence. They are works from the Father manifested in the visible world by the Son. (Comp. Notes on John 5:19-20.) Jesus speaks of “many” such works. John has recorded but few, but he has given hints that many more were done (John 2:23; John 3:2; John 5:36), and he afterwards expressly asserts this (John 20:30).

For which of those works do ye stone me?—Again there is a fulness of meaning in the Greek which it is difficult to convey in translation. The word rendered “which” marks, not simple distinction, but quality. (Comp. “What kind of commandment,” Note on Matthew 22:36.) “What is the character,” our Lord would ask, “of that one of these works on account of which ye are about to stone Me?” If they had thought out this question they must have been led to see that the quality of the works proved that they were from God, and that therefore He by whom they had been wrought, was also from God. This thought of the quality of the works had been in the minds of some of them (John 9:16). Its true issue would have been to worship Him as God; they are preparing to stone Him as a blasphemer.

Verse 33

(33) The Jews answered him.—Comp for the thoughts of this verse Notes on John 10:30 and on John 5:18.

For a good work . . . but for blasphemy.—The word rendered “for” is not the causal “on account of,” which we have in the last verse, but “concerning,” the technical form for an indictment. For the Mosaic law concerning blasphemy, see Leviticus 24:10-16.

Verse 34

(34) Is it not written in your law?—Comp. Note on John 8:17. The passage here quoted is in Psalms 82:6, but the term “Law” is here used in a wide sense for the whole of the Old Testament. There are other examples of this usage in John 7:49; John 12:34; John 15:25; Romans 3:19; 1 Corinthians 14:21.

I said, Ye are gods?—In the Hebrew of the Psalm, as in the Greek here, the pronoun is emphatic. “I myself said, Ye are gods?” The words are probably to be understood in the Psalm as spoken by God, who sits in judgment on the judges whom He had appointed, and gives the name of “gods” (Elohim) as representing Himself. See Exodus 4:16; Exodus 7:1; Exodus 18:15; Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8; Exodus 22:28; Deuteronomy 1:17; 1 Samuel 28:13; Psalms 8:5; Psalms 45:6; and comp. Perowne’s Notes on Psalms 82:0, and article “God,” in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopœdia, Exodus 3:0, vol. ii., p. 144 et seq.

Verse 35

(35) If he called them gods.—The argument is another example of Hillel’s famous First Canon of Interpretation—that the greater may be inferred from the less. The pronoun “he” (He) refers probably to God (see Note on John 10:34), or the rendering may be “it,” as referring to “law”—i.e., the Psalm.

Unto whom the word of God camei.e., the word declaring “Ye are gods,” and pointing back to the time indicated by “I said,” when each one was set apart to be a representative of God, and in that he had His authority to bear also His name.

The scripture cannot be broken.—More literally, cannot be loosened. Comp. Notes on Matthew 5:18-19, and for the word rendered “broken” see also in this Gospel John 5:18; John 7:23.

Verse 36

(36) Whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world.—Better, Whom the Father sanctified, and sent into the world. The tense refers to the time of His consecration to His Messianic work, and to the Incarnation, which was the commencement of it.

Because I said, I am the Son of God.—He had not said this in express words, but, as we have seen, it is directly implied in John 10:29-30, and the Jews had so understood what He said (John 10:33).

So far, then, the argument is simply a technical one, such as formed the staple of those customary in Rabbinic schools, and based on the letter of the Scriptures. The law (Psalm) applied the term “Elohim” (gods) to men representing God; no word of that Scripture could fail to hold good; how much more, therefore (a minori ad majus), could the term Son of God be applied to Him who was not a man consecrated to any earthly office, but consecrated by God, and sent into the world to represent God to man. (Comp. Note on John 1:18.) Their charge of blasphemy is, on their own principles, without the shadow of foundation. But in these words there is a deeper meaning than this technical one. When we speak of “men representing God,” we are already in thought foreshadowing the central truth of the Incarnation. Priests who offered sacrifices for sins, and kings who ruled God’s people, and prophets who told forth God’s will, were consecrated to their holy office because there was the divine in them which could truly be called “god.” Every holy life was in its degree a type of the Incarnate life of the Son of God. But He was the ideally true Priest sacrificing Himself for the world, the ideally true Prophet declaring God’s will in its fulness, the ideally true King ruling in righteousness. Every holy life was as a ray of the divine glory manifest in human flesh, but all these rays were centred in the nimbus of glory which rested as a crown on the head of Jesus Christ.

Verse 37

(37) If I do not the works of my Father.—He has met the charge of blasphemy on technical grounds. In this and the following verse He advances from that defence to the ultimate test. Whether He is a blasphemer or not depends upon whether He represents God or not, and to prove this He appeals again to the works. Are they or are they not the works of the Father? (John 10:32; comp. John 5:17; John 5:36; John 9:3; John 14:10.)

Verse 38

(38) But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works.—A higher faith would have believed Him. Had they truly known their own spiritual needs, and truly known the meaning of that great truth He had taught, they would have found in Him the true satisfaction of the mind’s cravings, and the faculty of faith would have rested in the object of its existence. For all this the Old Testament had been a preparation; but their minds had not been prepared by it. He will take therefore their own lower ground, and appeal to the sight of those who have not faith. (Comp. Note on John 20:29.) Let them test the works, think of their character, as some of them had already done (John 9:16), and see at least that these are of the Father.

That ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me.—The more probable text is, that ye may perceive, and may (permanently) know that the Father is in Me . . . Failing the intuitive faith-knowledge, He appeals to the intellectual perception, which is not immediate, but from which they may ascend to that knowledge, and may then really know that such works can be only of the Father; and that, therefore, the Father is present in Him who does them, and that He who does them is one with the Father John 10:30).

Verse 39

(39) Therefore they sought again to take him.—He has removed all ground for the charge of blasphemy, and they have abandoned the attempt to stone Him, though He here repeats the very truth which led to that attempt before (John 10:30-31). The word “again” refers to previous attempts to take Him (John 7:30; John 7:32; John 7:44).

But he escaped out of their hand.—Nothing is said of the manner, and there is no reason to suppose anything more than, while they were plotting how they might take Him, He passed out of the Temple. (Comp. John 8:59.)

Verse 40

(40) And went away again beyond Jordan.—Comp. Note on John 1:28. In Matthew 19:1 we have the fuller expression, “the coasts of Judæa beyond Jordan,” referring to the same locality. The whole of Judæa proper was Cis-Jordanic, and the “Judah upon Jordan” (Joshua 19:34) was the boundary “toward the sun-rising” of the tribe of Naphthali—i.e., it answered to what was afterwards known as Gaulonitis, and is now known as the Jolan. Josephus [Wars, iii. 3) expressly enumerates Gaulonitis as belonging to Judæa in the time of our Lord. For the explanation of this spread of the name, which has always been a geographical crux, see von Raumer’s argument in Dr. Caspari’s summary (Chron. and Geogr., Introd., Eng. Trans., p. 90). We have to think, then, probably of Bethania or Tellanihje, to the north of the Sea of Galilee, on the eastern side of the Jordan, as the place of our Lord’s retirement. He had taught the Jews by divine words, and they had sought to stone Him (John 10:31, and John 8:59). He had appealed to divine works, and they had attempted to take Him by force (John 10:39, and John 7:30; John 7:32; John 7:44). He sees in all this the darkness which foreshadows the night, and He retires from the city to visit it no more until the final Passover, when the night will be at hand. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

And there he abode.—How long we have no means of judging. The time from Dedication to Passover (December to April) is divided, by the visit to Bethany near Jerusalem, and the raising of Lazarus, into two parts of uncertain duration, one of which is spent in Gaulonitis and the other in Ephraim (John 11:54).

Verse 41

(41) And many resorted unto him.—It is one of the key-notes of this Gospel, struck in its opening words (see Note on John 1:5), and recurring at frequent intervals, that in the midst of even the deepest darkness the light is never absent. In contrast with the rejection at Jerusalem there is the reception on the old ground, which brings memories of early days and bright hopes, which are not without their fulfilment now. The mission of the Seventy, and Christ’s own work in Galilee before the Feast of the Dedication (comp. Note on John 10:22), accounts for the number who now come to Him.

And said, John did no miracle: but all things . . .—Better, as before, John did no sign . . . This was not said to Him, but was a general remark suggested by the associations of the spot. The remark assigns to John the position as a witness which he claimed for himself, and which the Evangelist has made prominent in the narrative of His work. He did no sign, and therefore came short of the glory of Him whose signs they had seen and heard of; but more than any other he had recognised that glory, and directed men to it. His spiritual intuition, in advance of the generation in which he lived, was itself a sign, and all things which he had said about the Messiah had, in the events which had taken place since they had seen Him in that place before, been proved to be true. The witness of the past is linked to that of the present. The enthusiasm which John had kindled still burns.

Verse 42

(42) And many believed on him there.—The word “there” is, in the best texts, in a position of emphasis. “And there many believed on Him.” It marks the contrast between the rejection in Jerusalem and the reception at Bethania.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 10". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/john-10.html. 1905.
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