Also, what do you think he is saying, exactly?

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    The Greek does not say "I am". You should not even try to associate Jesus to the tetragrammaton by hinting "I am", unless the original language of your bible is English. Apr 6 '16 at 5:28
  • @Daisy I down-voted this because of the "I [am]" injection. Fix that I can remove the down-vote. Thanks.
    – user10231
    Apr 6 '16 at 10:51
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    I love that you both are saying this, making me find the oldest manuscripts and seeing what it actually says. I don't care if anyone votes my stuff down; I'm not here to gain points -I'm here to learn. But I don't like stating something false so I will fix it if I find that you are correct. Going to take me some time, though. What I have found are the versions of this particular verse and "I am" is used in at least one version but the sentence is created differently.
    – Daisy
    Apr 6 '16 at 14:25
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    King James: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
    – Daisy
    Apr 6 '16 at 14:28
  • Actually, the Greek is literally, "Not [I] was-sent except but the sheep lost of house Israel" In proper English this should be translated, "I was not sent except to lost sheep of the house of Israel." Note the common practice in Greek that pronouns are implied by the verb. That "I" does not exist in this sentence except by implication.
    – user25930
    Sep 13 '18 at 22:47

This is an allusion to Jeremiah 50:6 and therefore a reference to the Jews. Jeremiah speaks of them as 'lost sheep' because they were 'lost' in Babylon:

Jeremiah 50:6: My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.

Jeremiah 50:5 says they shall ask the way to Zion (Jerusalem).

Now, in Matthew chapter 15, when the Canaanite woman asked for help for her daughter, the disciples said to send her away because she was not a Jew, but Jesus said that he was sent not just to help Jews:

Matthew 15:22-24: And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

This is a reversal of the original passage in Mark 6:25-29, where Jesus implied that his miracles were like bread for the children of Israel, and not for the gentiles ('dogs') but then relented when the woman showed faith:

Mark 7:25-29: For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.

  • hi Mr. Hartfield, thanks for your comment. Two questions. (1) Does it sound to you like Christ was initially saying to her that he would not help because he only came for the house of Israel? And she's a Greek. She convinced him otherwise because of her faith (it's all about faith). (2) When you say that this is a reference to "Jews," I'm not sure if you mean the Israelites from the tribe of Judah OR all the Israelites. Can you clarify? Jeremiah 50:4 refers to "the people of Israel and the people of Judah together" -that sounds like it includes more than the tribe of Judah. Thank you
    – Daisy
    Apr 6 '16 at 2:54
  • I'l deal with Israel and Israelites first: Israel ceased to exist after the Assyrian invasion in 722 BCE. From about the time of the Babylonian Exile, the Jews began to refer to themselves as Israelites, although apparently their neighbours did not do so for another 2 or 3 centuries. When Jeremiah says the Israelites shall come, he is reiterating the hope, also found esewhere in the OT, that the scattered Israelites would return and be together with the Jews (under Jewish rule). Apr 6 '16 at 3:05
  • Back to point 1 in your question: New Testament scholars read Mk 7:25-29 as saying Jesus at first refused. We know Matt was substantially based on Mk, but softens this passage. I hope all this helps. Apr 6 '16 at 3:06
  • So "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" are the Israelites that scattered?
    – Daisy
    Apr 6 '16 at 3:09
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    I'd probably correct the comment about Jeremiah 50:6 - the author uses the 'sheep' analogy throughout the text (cf. 10:21, 11:15, 23:1) when talking about Israel. As far as Jeremiah and Ezekiel are concerned, Judah isn't talked about as 'lost sheep' because of the exile, but because of their sins before the exile. But the 'sheep' is a very fond image of God and his people through the major prophets, and so I don't think Jesus is directly recalling this single Jeremiah passage here, but appealing to the wider concept.
    – Steve Taylor
    Apr 6 '16 at 9:26

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