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In John 10 Jesus use two images. First he is the gate for the sheep.

John 10:7-10 (NIV):

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Second he is the good shepherd.

John 10:11-13 (NIV):

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

There is an old explanation that this is not two different parables of what Jesus is, but one. The explanation is that the shepherd is lying down as a gate to the sheepfold to keep the wild animals out. It's a nice story, but is it just some old preacher story or is it any truth to it? Could it be proven historical or even shown as a practice that is still in use?

I know that this is not the most important question regarding the text. But I hate to pass on stories that can't be verified.

Commentaries on the subject

The only one of my (limited set of) commentaries that address this question is F. F. Bruce*:

There is a patent problem in these words, placed as they are in their present context. In the preceding and following verses Jesus speaks of himself as the shepherd who calls his sheep and leads them out of the fold to the fields where they may safely graze; here he speaks of himself as the door through which they enter and leave the fold. It will not help to invoke the possibility that the shepherd himself lay by night across the entrance to the fold, making himself a sort of living door, so that no one could go in or out without him being aware of it: The parable speaks of a porter or doorkeeper whose business it was to guard the entrance and prevent any unauthorized person from getting in (verse 3).

Bruce rules out the possibility of the shepherd being a living door. That's his opinion.

*: Bruce, F. F. "The Gospel of John", Eerdmans, 1983, p. 225.

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I don't know about the historical usage (and am interested in seeing answers here) but I've seen this physically done in modern day Turkey. Even if some preachers are telling it as an imaginary scene, it is also quite real and produces a ready image for the right audience. –  Caleb Jan 22 '13 at 12:49
    
Ok. If it's done today, it seems plausible that it was done in the history. But we'll see if someone can verify that. Thanks for your comment! –  Niclas Nilsson Jan 22 '13 at 12:55
    
I am wrestling with this question for a sermon. I had wondered if the two things (door and shepherd) could be taken together and provide an illustration in scripture of the human-divine qualities of Christ. The good shepherd as the perfect humanity and the door being the divine attributes. –  John P May 10 at 19:31

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I doubt these are the same parable.

In John 10:1, it is written,

Amen, amen, I say to you, "He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber."

In v. 1, we find a reference to the "door" of the sheepfold.

In John 10:2, it is written,

"But who who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep."

Obviously, Jesus is the "shepherd of the sheep" in v. 2. If he is entering the sheepfold "by the door," then he cannot be the door itself. This is further reinforced by the next verse.

In John 10:3, it is written,

"The porter opens for this man, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."

In v. 3, it states that the "porter" opens [the door] "for this man" (τούτῳ). If Jesus was the "door" in vv. 1-3, then the porter would be opening Jesus (the door) for Jesus (the shepherd of the sheep). Evidently, Jesus is not both the shepherd and the door in the same parable.

Rather, vv. 1-5 comprises one parable, and after "Jesus spoke to them again" (v. 7), he began another parable (vv. 7-9).

Jesus is the shepherd. Jesus is the door. Yet, not in the same parable.

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Jesus spoke to people in a context, and that context is very important to understanding what He meant by that.

If you do a search for "ancient sheep pin" or something like that, you will find results like this:

Ancient Sheep Pin

As you can see, there is no swinging gate. The shepherd is the gate. Therefore, Jesus is identified by two elements in the same parable. He is the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd is the Gate for the Sheep.

Here's a picture of an actual one:

Actual Sheep Pin

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I'm a little bit picky. But the first picture really looks like a religious one. So the only thing it is proving is that there is artists that have painted Jesus as literary the gate to the sheep. From the other one I can't say anything about the door. You are probably right, especially when @Caleb has seen this in modern days. But I will continue my quest a little bit farther. Anyway +1 :-) –  Niclas Nilsson Jan 22 '13 at 17:18
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I'd to see some actual history research on this too. I'd like to see somebody with some data explaining the shepherding habits of the 1st century the Nazareth area villages. I'm pretty sure from my own experience this is on the right track, but a Sunday School illustration doesn't help settle the matter. –  Caleb Jan 22 '13 at 20:28

It is very important to pay attention to the point of these parables -- and as there are multiple points, we must not mix them together by their wording. It is important to see if they are compatible in meaning.

John 10:7-10 says that Jesus is the one who keeps the gate and prevents unauthorized entry. The rest is stressing difference between the shepherd and the robber. The shepherd's aim is the good of the sheep, and he pursues it by his activity. The robber wants his profit now, with no care for the sheep.

John 10:11-13 is about another aspect of the shepherd. He does not neglect the sheep for his own benefit or safety.

John 10:1-2 Here the shepherd could go in by the door, as all know him -- people around the flock, and the sheep as well. So he has no reason to climb walls. However, the thief has no authorization and only has access through climbing.

John 10:3 And even if that shepherd put another man in charge of his flock for a time, his relationship with the sheep is so deep that they answer his call.

So these are different aspects of the good shepherd. Multiple stories by pictures, but one story by meaning. Simply put: Jesus cares about us and loves us -- to His own death on the cross. And he is also powerful enough to protect us. In contrast, in the world there are many that will love you as far as they can use you. And then they throw you away.

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This is a very good answer (+1). My only suggestion is that you provide some sort of reference for your interpretation of John 10:7-10. You claim that Jesus is the one who "keeps" the gate, but I don't see that in the text -- my Bible says He is the gate. (Again, nice answer, though.) –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '13 at 5:00

Please read the text carefully. The reason Jesus gave the parable abut being the door was in order to explain the first parable. Those who heard the first parable didn't understand its meaning, so Jesus tried to explain what he meant with the second parable.

Jesus is the shepherd who is given entrance to the sheep by the gatekeeper. Jesus is also THE DOOR through whom believers are saved. In other words Jesus is the way to salvation.

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A parable is a metaphor made into a longer narrative, instead of one descriptive sentence.

Example of a metaphor: The Messiah is the shepherd of His people.

In this example I'm not suggesting that Yeshua is literally shepherding people in a field, with a staff and a sling, or chasing down people who stray and placing them on His shoulders and carrying them back.

Instead, the metaphor in the example is intended to relay the idea that the Messiah has qualities similar to that of a shepherd in that He is the authority figure whose voice His people follow through the wild because they know He is leading them to gentle waters.

In one metaphor He is the shepherd. In another, He is the gate.

He isn't a literal gate, nor a literal shepherd (in fact, He worked in construction!), but He has qualities of each of these concrete concepts in His characteristics.

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