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Jesus said:

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.—John 10:16 (ESV)

Who are these other sheep? Is this a prediction that eventually we will take the Gospel to other planets? Or is that missing Jesus' point altogether?

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I haven't gone completely insane. I'm asking example questions so that I can link to them from our draft FAQ. –  Jon Ericson Nov 29 '11 at 23:02
    
Haha. I'll bite :p –  Muke Tever Nov 30 '11 at 1:25

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Does Jesus refer to aliens here? Is this a prediction that eventually we will take the Gospel to other planets?

It is unlikely that extraterrestrials as we generally imagine them are specifically referred to here. Indeed, in at least one other place when God defines who his sheep are, he specifically states they are men (Ezekiel 34:31; ESV quoted):

And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.

The Bible tells us little of other inhabited worlds. We can infer that any other inhabited planets would be unfallen: Satan and his angels were expelled from the heavens to Earth (Revelation 12:7-9) and the host of the heavens is still said to worship God and declare his glory (Nehemiah 9:6, Psalms 19:1, etc.). If this is the case, taking the Gospel to them would quite literally be preaching to the choir.

Who are these other sheep?

Theories vary; a well-known (if not widely-accepted) one is the idea espoused by some Mormons such as James E. Talmadge (Jesus the Christ, p. 419):

The "other sheep" here referred to constituted the separated flock or remnant of the house of Joseph, who, six centuries prior to the birth of Christ, had miraculously detached from the Jewish fold in Palestine, and had been taken beyond the great deep to the American continent.

In more mainstream Christianity it seems most often considered that the division between the "sheep of this fold" and "sheep not of this fold" refers to the division between Jews and Gentiles. But when Jesus was approached by a Gentile from Canaan (Matthew 15:22-24), he states otherwise:

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

If we combine this text with the original, that suggests that the "sheep of this fold" he was speaking of was the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and the "sheep not of this fold" would then be the sheep who were not lost.

This idea is supported by John 10:16 itself, where Jesus states that the "sheep not of this fold" will listen to his voice, suggesting they are still obedient to him, which would not at the time apply to the Gentiles. Indeed, when Jesus was accosted for consorting with sinful people, he told a parable likening himself to a shepherd following sheep who had strayed from the main herd (Luke 15:1-6):

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

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I'm not sure the Matthew quote exactly applies to John. In John, Jesus is talking about some future time when the other fold will listen to His voice. While Jesus was mostly focused on Judah, He did speak to Gentiles and His voice is still heard by Gentiles around the world. But this is a good answer. +1 –  Jon Ericson Nov 30 '11 at 17:10
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@Jon Thanks for the +1 - I had a sort of comment on whether Jesus meant Gentiles here, but it turned into a question of its own. –  Muke Tever Dec 1 '11 at 0:58

The Bible teaches that mankind - and all of creation - were made about 6,000 years ago. If you think John 10:16 admits the possibility of aliens existing elsewhere in the universe; you almost certainly believe they must have evolved somewhere in this vast universe, over billions of years (these timescales contradict the Bible). Therefore the Bible IMPLICITLY indicates that aliens do not exist. Therefore John 10:16 must simply refer to lost sheep among the gentiles, as opposed to lost sheep within the house of Israel.

Now if you disbelieve the plain teaching of Genesis chapters 1 & 2; if you actually do believe in evolution; then it would be perhaps consistent to say that John 10:16 could refer to aliens. But then your belief system is based on shaky foundations, where you attempt to pick and choose what you want from the Word of God. Believe the Word of God; disbelieve in aliens.

Believe it or not, the "Big Bang" theory of creation has many problems; there are viable theories that support a young universe; and there is much weight of evidence against biological evolution taking place, having taken place, or even being possible.

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Sorry, but Bible doesn't teach that all of creation were made about 6000 years ago or planet was formed in 24 hours. You may say one specific race was developed (Homo sapiens), but not everything. See: Is the Earth 6000 years old? –  kenorb Jul 2 at 10:50

An explanation shared by many prominent theologians and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church persuasion is that the "other sheep" correspond to those Jews that will recognize Jesus as the Son of God before the second coming. According to this explanation they, too, will be gathered in the "one flock".

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do you have a source for this assertion? I'm Eastern Orthodox and I've never heard this before -- I'm interested in learning more (who said, what was the context, etc.). Thanks! –  Dan Dec 15 '13 at 8:12

The Bible doesn't talk about aliens, specifically. However, interpreting John 10:16 as referring to aliens is not out of the picture.

While John 10:16 is clearly talking about people who are non-Jews, it could also be talking about non-humans. The Bible does not exclude that possibility.

A quote for C. S. Lewis explains this nicely:

It is, of course, the essence of Christianity that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. But that does not prove that man is the sole end of Nature. In the parable, it was the one lost sheep that the shepherd went in search of: it was not the only sheep in the flock, and we are not told that it was the most valuable - save in so far as the most desperately in need has, while the need lasts, a peculiar value in the eyes of Love.
C. S. Lewis ‘Dogma And The Universe’

In essence, Jesus does not exclude the possibility of aliens and John 10:16 may be a reference to that.

My source article is a fascinating read on the subject.

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+1 for a Lewis quote. (A sure way to my heart and mind.) I saw that article too in researching the question. –  Jon Ericson Nov 30 '11 at 17:04

protected by Jon Ericson Sep 9 '13 at 16:59

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