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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
John 10



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Verse 1

1. Verily—The Pharisees who had ambushed him (John 9:39) were doubtless ready to depart at 41; but Jesus now fixes their attention by opening this new allegorical discourse with this emphatic introduction. In the first paragraph, 1-5, he depicts, in contrast with the interloper, the true shepherd, and the spiritual instinct by which his sheep know his voice and follow his lead. When, 6, they fail to recognize the application, he explicitly identifies the various cases, 7-13. Thence, gradually emerging from the figure, he describes his self-sacrifice by the Father’s will for the salvation of men, 14-18. This is then a most beautiful development and expansion of the first pastoral image.

The door—Faith in, and divine commission from, Christ.

The sheepfold—The earthly Church of the justified, both before and after Christ’s coming.

Some other way—By wicked motives or methods, or by false doctrines. In the case of these leaders it was by a false Mosaicism in doctrine, and by holding a false authority in the Jewish State and Church.

A thief—Who would seduce away the sheep by secret stealth.

Robber—Who would drag them off by violence.

Verses 1-21


The break here into chapters is no true break in our Lord’s discourse, which is perfectly continuous. See introductory note to chapter 9. These lords spiritual of the last chapter, as guides, he has pronounced blind; as shepherds he now pronounces them counterfeit. Rejecting him as the true access into the pastoral fold, they are but thieves and robbers. The blind-born, (John 9:35, see note,) predisposed to obey his least word, even before he knows his full nature, is type of the true sheep.

After Abel, the second born of man, the shepherd life was prevalent and memorable in the early ages of mankind. Flocks early ranged the great plains of Asia. The patriarchs of Canaan were shepherds. Pastoral life is the source of some of the most beautiful of Grecian poetry. The Old Testament abounds not only with narratives of shepherd life, but with allegorical and poetical allusions to its simple details.

After a day spent in the pastures, tended by the shepherd, crook in hand, the flock was guided at evening to the door of a fold, or walled enclosure under the open air, and shut in for safety during the night. A watchman or porter spent the night at the gate for their protection. Lions, panthers, wolves, thieves, robbers, not only by day, but even by scaling the low walls by night, were ravenous for the destruction of the feeble victims. Defenceless by nature, foolish and imbecile in character, the sheep, of all animals, is the most utterly dependent on human protection. Hence it is provided with those instincts of docility, of learning the voice, and implicitly following the lead of its human guide. In the morning the shepherd returns, is admitted by the watchman through the door, calls the bell-wether, and leads forth the sheep to pasture.

Verse 3

3. The porter—The door-keeper. The licensing power of the Church. But this is genuinely done only as the Church and the candidate are “moved by the Holy Ghost.” Then as the sheep do by a divine impulse know the genuine shepherd, so does the porter by the same impulse open to him the fold.

Leadeth them out—From the pen-fold into the open pasture, John 10:9. And while in enjoyment of the spiritual pasture the sheep is still truly of the true flock, and virtually within the fold.

Verse 4

4. Goeth before them—The Palestinian shepherd goes before the sheep, while the Grecian shepherd drives them before himself. It is curious to note that the very word in Greek for sheep, προβατον, signifies a goer-before. The sheep is trained not to turn to the corn fields lying unfenced beside his path to tempt him, as trouble then ensues. The true pastor is a true leader, by his example of holiness, his zeal in benevolent enterprise, his faith and earnestness for the salvation of men.

Sheep—Not merely the actually justified, but those who feel the need of the Saviour, and, even before they find him, are predisposed and spiritually ready to trust and obey him. These are his sheep, not by a predestination from all eternity, but by a predetermination of their own heart and will under the blessed influences and guidances of the divine Spirit. See note on John 9:36.

Know his voice—As the sheep by animal instinct learns to know his shepherd’s voice, so do the spiritual sheep, like the blind-born, by a discerning of spirit, recognize the pastor who truly feeds their souls.

Verse 5

5. A stranger—To the poor blind-born sheep, these lords spiritual were as the stranger. He would not follow them. Jesus has thus far painted the character of the true human minister and his flock. In the background his own person is the original, inasmuch as he is the model shepherd. But thus far he has not expressly brought himself forward.

Verse 6

6. Parable—Our Lord here uses the ordinary Greek not for parable, but for any allegorical composition. See remarks on page 227. The present passage might easily be made a parable by being put into a narrative form.

They understood not—The simile of a shepherd was common in the Old Testament; but our Lord had put the case so indefinitely that they were able to overlook its suitableness to their own persons. Jesus proceeds to apply by avowing himself to be the door; but still leaves them to infer who are the thieves and robbers.

Verse 8

8. All that ever came before me—Few texts have more perplexed commentators than this. It seems, at first sight, to say that all the previous religious teachers of mankind were impostors. The ancient Gnostics (a professedly Christian sect who rejected the Old Testament) quoted it to disprove the divine mission of Moses. There are three interpretations worthy of notice. The first supposes that the words condemn all who ever came as Messiahs before Christ. But, unfortunately, history shows that the false Messiahs did not precede but succeeded Jesus. There were, indeed, insurgent leaders in the times of Salinus and Varus, who assumed the title of king; but it is not said that they claimed to be the Messiah of ancient prophecy. Nor is it as political leaders that our Lord asserts that others are thieves and robbers, but as false guides and teachers of the people. The second would make the words mean, All who ever came with my pretensions so as to supersede or interfere with my claims or authority. Neither Moses, nor any other teacher, so far as he taught truth, would then be condemned; for all such, so far as they were true teachers, would be viewed as being like John the Baptist, the prophets, the true priests of Israel, and Moses himself, preparers and servants of the Messiah. We were inclined to adopt this as the true view; but, on the whole, prefer the third, proposed by Stier, as follows: The words before me are opposed to the words by me in John 10:9; and the me in both cases is equivalent to the door. To come before the door is to come into the fold before getting as far as to the door. The impetuous robber finds a leaping place previous to, or before, the door. The man who enters before the door, namely, Christ, rather than by the door, is a thief and a robber. A clear and proper contrast is then stated in John 10:8-9 between the interlopers and the true shepherds. And then John 10:8 stands as the parallel and explanation of John 10:1.

Ever—This is not properly a word of time. The phrase All that ever came, would be more accurately rendered All whoso come. The tense of came is aorist or indefinite, covering time present and future as well as past. Sheep did not hear them—Just as the simple blind-born did not hear the Pharisees, (John 9:33.) The honest firm inquirer for the truth attains to saving truth.

Verse 9

9. The door—The way of access to the fold of the justified; and so the way, access, or mediator between man and God. The Pharisees rejected this way; and yet, undertaking to play the shepherd by a false route, became interlopers, usurpers, persecutors, and destroyers. If any man…saved—For even the under shepherds are, under another view, sheep of the great Shepherd, and need to enter in and be saved.

Pasture—See note on John 10:3.

Verse 10

10. The three characters are here not to be confounded. The thief is the religious impostor, the heretic, the schismatic, and the persecutor. The hireling is the worldly pastor who means no mischief, specially, but regards his own interest solely. The wolf is the devil; presenting himself in all the outward forms of temptation, sin, and destruction. Opposed to all these is the Good Shepherd, with his blessed flock of true pastors, who, as sheep also, take places in the flock and fold through and under him.

Kill… life The enemy brings death; the true Shepherd life.

More abundantly—Not merely a continued living existence, but the fulness of immortal, heavenly, glorified life.

Verses 10-18

10-18. Continuing the antithesis, just noted, between John 10:8-9, Jesus draws a contrast between the thief, the hireling, and the wolf on one side, and the Good Shepherd on the other. The former destroy, desert, and devour the sheep; the latter gives his own life for the sheep.

Verse 11

11. The good shepherd—Rather, the noble shepherd; the model and original shepherd. The shepherd does not, as some think, symbolize the mere teacher. It includes the various ideas of government, guardianship, maintenance, training, and leading. Kings were called by Homer the shepherds of the people. Hence, Christ also is called the shepherd and bishop (or overseer) of our souls.

Verse 12

12. A hireling—In real life the shepherd was sometimes even the munificent owner of the flocks; but often he was an employe for wages. Our Lord avails himself of this fact to distinguish between the mere mercenary and the true under shepherd, who is, as it were, but a representative and multiplication of the Good Shepherd.

The wolf—The devil, either as persecutor, or as seducer to sin and destruction. The mercenary in either case takes care simply of his own interest. He does not himself desire to destroy; but he would rather allow destruction than harm himself.

Verse 13

13. Because he is a hireling—His only interest is his wages, in contradistinction from the owner, whose interest is in the sheep.

Verse 14

14. I am the good shepherd—THE—in whom all the true sub-pastors are summed up and embodied. There is an unfortunate division of verses here. Read thus: I… know my sheep, and am known of mine; as the Father knoweth me and I know the Father. And this knowing is a loving acknowledgment. He might know even the sheep of the stranger; but these he knows as his own.

Verse 15

15. Life for the sheep—In this verse the Saviour emerges from the figurative, except so far as the term sheep is concerned, and speaks in deep, solemn, literal words. Whilst the thief and robber would slay he would die for the sheep. He dies for them as a shepherd, slain by the wolf in rescuing the sheep, would die for the sheep. No substitutional sacrifice is here expressed; certainly no judicial substitution, by which the Saviour bears a suffering which stands in place of the penalty upon the sinner. And yet there is an alternative substitution; the sheep would die if he does not, and he dies instead of them. The blessed Saviour now speaks in solemn prophecy perhaps to the very men by whose agency the final sacrifice should be made—the slaying of the true Shepherd by the wolves. One of the Christian Fathers, who was born before the apostles died, thus testifies to the doctrine of the atonement: “Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God; and flesh for our flesh, and life for our life.” (Clemens Romanus, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians.)

For the sheep—This is no proof-text in behalf of a limited atonement. It is not because Christ died for the sheep alone that the sheep alone are mentioned; but, because the sheep are the subject of the discourse, his death for them alone needs to be mentioned. Affirming that Christ died for the sheep is not denying that he died for others besides the sheep.

Verse 16

16. Other sheep I have—Though the apostles after Christ died could scarce be induced to consent to gather Gentiles into the Christian Church, nevertheless the Spirit brought to their remembrance occasions in which he announced the call of the Gentiles. They might also remember that the prophets of the Old Testament, narrow as their dispensation sometimes is considered, proclaimed in exalted terms the mission of Messiah to the Gentile world.

This fold—Christ has a Church invisible even in heathendom. (See this subject discussed in our work on the Will, pp. 343-360.) The blending of the Jew and Gentile in one Church, without superiority of privilege to either, was the commencing fulfilment of this promise to bring the other sheep. But the complete manifestation of the one fold is yet to be when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in and all Israel is saved. One fold… one shepherd—The and should have been omitted; and then the words beautifully describe the day when of all races there shall be one fold, one shepherd! Here the last trace of figure, in the term sheep, disappears, and our Lord unfolds in terms of severe simplicity the mystery of his voluntary death for mankind.

Verse 17

17. Therefore doth my Father love me—The Son was given from love to man, in spite of God’s love for Him, to the end that God should love him therefor. The whole is grounded in the primitive love of the Father.

That I might take it again—So that the dying man might conquer a resurrection. And to the sight of men the death and resurrection process might be made visible in a representative case.

Verse 18

18. No man taketh it from me—And yet, perhaps, his very murderers stood before him! Nevertheless not even the thorns, the nails, the cross, or the spear could have taken his life had he not consented to surrender his life to death. Not only as sinless was he rightfully deathless; but, as Lord of life and death, he surrendered life and accepted death of his own most perfect free will. And this most earnest will of Christ thereto solves the cavil of rationalists, that there was a cruelty and wrong to Jesus in requiring his death. All beings have a right, even the innocent, to prefer sufferings for others, whether as patriot, martyr, or ransom.

Commandment… Father The free volition of the Son was in profound concurrence and harmony with the primitive purpose of the Father’s will. And the whole process was bathed in infinite love.

Verse 19

19. A division—From the first interruption of Jesus by the Pharisees in John 9:40, he has prosecuted a discourse, expanding, in its progress, from reproof, through monitory picture, and finishing with the deepest, grandest truth and mystery of his death. The crowd, gathering perhaps as his discourse expanded, are not all one wilfully opposing mass. As at John 9:16, and John 7:43, there is a division. But the opposers are many, and the susceptible are only others. Had truth and honesty been their purpose the believers would have been all. They were free to choose right, but decided for the wrong.

Verse 21

21. Words… open—In the temper of their language we see the condition of their hearts. The impenitent reason not, but launch a fierce fling at Jesus. The divine in him is a devil, or rather, demon; in the sublimity of his discourse he is mad. But in these others there is a deep, solemn, yet timid questioning. For these works their solution is not deviltry; these deep words are not madness. That these Jews did not identify the demon and the madness as one thing is plain; for the miracle was attributed to the former, the discourse to the latter.

The narrative of the visit of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles, commencing at the beginning of chapter 7, here closes. (Historical Synopsis, §§ 81-84.) In the next verse, (22,) John passes at a leap to the Lord’s next visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication, two months after, When he resumed this very topic. During this interval, of which nothing is said by John, according to our synopsis, the entire events, §§ 85-99, take place. That is, our Lord’s entire ministry in Perea is to be inserted here. See Harmony, p. 101.

Stier refuses to admit that so long a period of absence from Jerusalem is consistent with the continuity which appears in the discourse. On the contrary, with Ebrard against Strauss, we hold that the very fact that Jesus reappears at Jerusalem, after a two months’ interval, naturally called up the last discourse consequent upon the healing of the blind man. John skips over to this point just in order to give what he considers a virtual completion of the discourse on the Good Shepherd.

Verse 22


22. The Feast of Dedication—This was a festival established by Judas Maccabaeus, in honour of the re-dedication of the temple, consequent upon his victory over the persecutor, Antiochus Epiphanes. That tyrant had trampled upon the Jewish religion, burnt the books of the law, established idolatry in the Holy Place, and offered swine’s flesh upon the great altar. The Jewish hero, Judas, conquered him in battle, and re-dedicated the temple on the 25th day of the month Chisleu, answering to our 15th of December. Hence it was winter. This feast, unlike the others, was kept not only at Jerusalem, but throughout the land. It was characterized by the abundance of its illuminations, and hence is called The Feast of Lights.

Verse 23

23. Jesus walked… in Solomon’s porch—With an expressive abruptness the Evangelist presents Jesus walking in the great eastern piazza of the temple, and relates the scene which is counterpart and completion of the above discourse. Protected by the covert of the portico from the wet storm of a Jewish winter day, walking perhaps with the Evangelist, he is suddenly, εκυκλωσαν, encircled by a number of the very doubters of John 10:19-21, the sight of whom calls up to mind the image of shepherd and sheep, John 10:26-29.

To the pagan temples of Greece there was customarily fixed a portico for the convenience of walkers and talkers; and it is curious to remark that from two of the words used in this verse, περιπατει and στοα, two philosophical sects were named, respectively, Peripatetics and Stoics. This porch of Solomon was by some held to have been a work of that monarch, left undestroyed by the Assyrians.

We endorse the opinion of Lange, (against the protest of Stier,) that these Jews were not ironical, but most earnest in this movement, yet earnest after their own way. By the miracles of Jesus they were compelled to attribute to him some more than human power; but his teachings, so anti-Judaic, and, as they felt, anti-Mosaic, repelled them. They therefore, as in a body, encompassed him round, as if to make him prisoner, and if he will consent to be their sort of a Messiah, to make him their Messiah. It was an attempt, upon a much smaller scale, resembling the effort to make him king, in John 6:15.

Verse 24

24. Make us to doubt—A very peculiar expression in the Greek: How long dost thou take [or bear away] our soul? It is as if they would say, just as our soul is ready to surrender to you, you utter some doctrine which veers it away.

If thou be the Christ—The Messiah.

Tell us plainly—Do not ascend into thy lofty expatiations about Father, and Son, and laying down life, but avow thyself Messiah, and exert thy wonderful powers in delivering us from the Romans.

Verse 25

25. Told you… believed not—Jesus replies only to give them no hope. The works which raised their hopes of his power to be a successful hero-Messiah, ought to warn them that his word was true.

Bear witness of me—Prove that I am the true Christ, though not the Messiah of your fancy.

Verse 26

26. Believe not… not of my sheep—The reference is still to them as false shepherds, as proved by their dealing with the true sheep, the blind-born.

He believed because he was, even before his belief, a predisposed sheep of Christ; they believed not, because they had the opposite predispositions, and so were not his sheep.

Verse 27

27. My sheep hear my voice—As the blind-born did. Those who are bent on holiness and salvation show it by listening to Christ and his Gospel. It is very illogical to infer from all this the doctrine that no man will lose or abandon the character of a sheep of Christ, that is, of a true believer. Qualities or conduct ascribed to persons as possessed of a certain character, do not imply that the character itself may not change. A hireling fleeth because he is a hireling; but that does not prove but that the man may cease to be a hireling. A thief and a robber will kill and destroy; but that does not prove that a thief or robber may not, like Saul of Tarsus, cease to be a thief and robber. So a sheep will follow Christ; but that does not imply but that the man may cease to be a sheep and even become a goat. For a man may as truly from a sheep become a goat, as from a goat become a sheep.

Verse 28

28. Shall never perish—No sheep of Christ can ever perish. The unbeliever and the apostate will perish, but neither the unbeliever or the apostate is a sheep of Christ.

Perish… pluck—The literal sheep of the human shepherd may perish by the robber, or be plucked away by the thief; but the spiritual sheep of the true Shepherd no robber can kill, no thief can steal. He must by his own free act abandon or forfeit his spiritual character before he can lose his eternal privilege.

Verse 29

29. My Father… greater than all—All this surety is based in a pledged Omnipotence. God, who gave his Son, and gave all true believers to him, is the infinite surety that no believer shall miss eternal life.

Verse 30

30. Are one—One in will, but also one in power and surety. For it is upon this oneness of power and surety that the security of the believer’s salvation is grounded.

Verse 31

31. Took up stones—As before, John 8:59; but a different verb used in Greek, implies a more deliberate act; they brought stones. The charge of blasphemy and these stones are the prelude to the final trial and the cross.

Verse 32

32. Many good works—The assumption that they were stoning him for a good work is at once sarcastic, gentle, and true. Nothing but good works (including words) had he done.

From my Father; for which… stone me? The gentle question firmly repeats the claim of Sonship of God.

Verse 33

33. Being a man—As he truly was.

Makest thyself God—As he truly did. The Jews, says an ancient writer, understood him better than the Arians.

Verse 34

34. Law… gods—In the term law, here, the Psalms are, according to Jewish custom, included. Jesus here quotes Psalms 82:6 : “I have said ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High; but ye shall die like men.” The words are addressed to judicial magistrates of Israel or of the earth. Similarly Homer styles the Grecian princes god-born. As they are divinely authorized, have a divine work of justice to do, are the images of the divine Judge, so the term of divinity is conferred upon them. Government is from God; and every good man sustains the magistrate with a respect for his office.

Verses 34-38

34-38. In this answer Jesus shows, 1. That it is perfectly sustained by the Old Testament, that the term god is and may be extended down from God to one “being a man,” so that it is no blasphemy to suppose that it includes his human person. But, 2. He has a supernatural claim to the divine, running upward they know not how high. 3. His works, performed in unison with his words, authenticate from God whatever claims he presumes to make. If his works are from God, then his words are from the Father. And, then, his sonship is demonstrated. Thus does this argument furnish a bridge for these Jews to admit his divinity; a bridge leading upward, indefinitely high; nay, if so be, infinitely. Nothing but their unchanging preference for a human hero-Messiah prevents their ascending the bridge he presents with the step of a firm faith.

Verse 35

35. Unto whom the word of God came—Unto whom these words of the psalm were by God addressed.

Broken—Made void, deprived of authority. The Lord’s argument assumed the absolute truth of Scripture, and their changeless, indestructible authority. His “theory of inspiration” is this: Whatever is found in Scripture is, in its true meaning, conclusive in religious argument.

Verse 36

36. Father hath sanctified—Hath set apart, has devoted to a holy use. It is the visible man, who by the incarnation is thus set apart and sent into the world, that is touched by the argument thus far. Jesus applies thus his argument to his humanity in order to meet their phrase being a man. A man may be included in the divine name and dignity.

Son of God—For Son of God he may be in a higher sense than magistrates are gods.

Verse 37

37. Works of my Father—Here is proof of higher claim to divinity than human magistrates can show. Works of omnipotence show a profounder identification with the Omnipotent than any human office can arrogate.

Verse 38

38. Believe the works—The blind-born (John 9:35-38) believed the works; therefore his faith was ready to underwrite whatever the author of the works should say of himself.

The Father is in me—If Omnipotence energizes my actions, the Omnipotent must pervade my person.

Our Lord’s argument here shows, 1. The use of the divine name to designate inferior beings, does not derogate from its supreme sense when applied to him. 2. The humanity of Christ is taken into the divinity, enveloped with its dignity, without changing it out of its true human nature. So that the so-called hypostatic union results in perfect man and perfect God in oneness.

Verse 39

39. Sought again—They had paused to hear the Lord’s defence. His first words for a moment seemed to indicate a lowering his title from the divine to the purely human level. But as he advanced by firmly maintaining higher claims, and closed by reasserting the highest, again they commenced their onset.

Escaped—Divine loving escaping human wrath. Jesus disappeared now from Jerusalem; he reappeared at his last Passover, which was to terminate with the crucifixion.


Verse 40

40. Beyond Jordan—Jesus returned to Bethabara, where his ministry was first inaugurated. Here, in the scene of his early baptism, the divine exile abode, visited by many who remembered John’s testimony, who saw its verification in Jesus, and believed.


Verse 41

41. John did no miracle—By a silent harmony with this statement, the other Evangelists relate no miracles of John’s. The people, in the very scene where Jesus and John first met, thus testify to the inferior position and powers of John; but, in the fulfilment of his words concerning Jesus, they find conclusive proof of the divine mission of the announcer and his Principal.

If Wieseler is correct, Luke 13:22 to Luke 17:10, comes in here. It would then follow that Jesus may have made excursions into Perea, making Bethabara his rallying point. Some of his most striking parables were uttered there.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 10:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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