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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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One of the most familiar pictures in the OT is that of the Church or people of God as a flock. In Genesis 48:15 the correlative figure is found in ‘the shepherding God,’ and is repealed in the Blessing of the Tribes (‘the Shepherd of Israel,’ Genesis 49:24; cf. also Psalms 23 and Ezekiel 34:31). In Isaiah 40:11 the figure is directly employed: ‘He shall feed his flock like a shepherd’ (in the OT generally ποιμένες λαῶν meant ‘civil rulers,’ as in Homer, but in the NT the phrase stands for ‘spiritual guides and teachers’).

The OT metaphor is carried over into the NT, where τὸ ποίμνιον is used exclusively in the figurative sense of ‘church’ or ‘congregation.’ It appears thus in the tender address of our Lord: μὴ φοβοῦ τὸ, μικρὸν ποίμνιον, ‘Fear not, little flock’ (Luke 12:32). The words continued to beat like a pulse in the breast of the Church, and are renewed again and again.

(1) St. Paul says to the elders of Ephesus: προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς καὶ παντὶ τῷ ποιμνίῳποιμαίνειν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ, ‘Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock … to feed the Church of God’ (Acts 20:28-29). The overseers and themselves part of the flock (ἐν ᾧ), and this suggests the insight, sympathy, closeness of intimacy, and the personal knowledge with which the flock is to be superintended. ‘The bishop is and remains a sheep of the flock, and must thus exercise his oversight both on himself and the whole flock’ (Stier, The Words of the Apostles, 1869, p. 328). ‘Feed’ and ‘guide,’ therefore, include the two great tasks of the ministry.

(2) Jesus had said to Peter: βόσκε τὰ ἀ ρνἱα μουποἱμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου, ‘Feed my lambs … tend my sheep’ (John 21:15-16). Accordingly the Apostle, ‘in a personal reminiscence’ (W. H. Bennett, The General Epistles [Cent. Bible, 1901], p. 30) and, in ‘unobtrusive allusions to Christ’s life which harmonize with his discipleship’ (Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., 1911, p. 335), says as a fellow-elder; ποιμάνατε τὸ ἐν ὑμῖν ποίμνιον τοῦ θεοῦτύποι γινόμενοι τοῦ ποιμνίου, ‘Tend the flock of God which is among you … making yourselves ensamples to the flock’ (1 Peter 5:2-3; cf. Pss. Sol. 17:45). ‘To feed the flock’ takes in the whole varied duties of the pastoral office. ‘It is not right that a man should only preach a sermon every Sunday, and after that pay no regard to the people’ (Stier, op. cit., 328, quoting Gossner). ‘All modes of watchfulness and help are to be displayed. Fold as well as feed them; guide and guard and heal them’ (Hastings, Great Texts of the Bible, ‘St. John,’ 1912, p. 422). In the Authorized Version of 1 Peter 5:3 the flock is called ‘God’s heritage,’ but θεοῦ is not in the text, and it is better to read with Revised Version ‘the charge allotted to yon’ (cf. Tindale’s Version: ‘be not as lordes over the parrishes’). ‘The charge allotted to you’ is therefore parallel to ‘the flock of God which is among you, i.e. the particular Christian society committed to your care. ‘Each separate ἐκκλησία was thought of as the “portion” (κλῆρος) of the presbyter who watched over it’ (E. H. Plumptre, Camb. Bible, ‘St. Peter and St. Jude,’ 1880, p. 154).

It is evidence of how completely the thought of the shepherd and the flock possessed the mind of the early Church, that in the Catacombs the figure of a shepherd with a sheep on his shoulder and a crook in his hand is the most frequent of all symbols.

W. M. Grant.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Flock'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Flock, Fold