[Luk 15:1-7 NLT] (1) Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. (2) This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people--even eating with them! (3) So Jesus told them this story:

4) "If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? (5) And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. (6) When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.'

(7) In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away!

ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 15,1 Ἦσαν δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγγίζοντες πάντες οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ. 2 καὶ διεγόγγυζον οἵ τε Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες ὅτι οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς. 3 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων·

4 τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό; 5 καὶ εὑρὼν ἐπιτίθησιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους αὐτοῦ χαίρων 6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς· συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός.

7 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὕτως χαρὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα δικαίοις οἵτινες οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν μετανοίας.

As background, realizing that commentaries aren't inspired, I yet have to question when I find myself seeing something different than the preponderance of commentators' readings.

  • Do I correctly read that the shepherd IN THE PARABLE ITSELF is identified with the Pharisees and scribes?

4 τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα...

  • Am I correct that IN THIS PARABLE, it's the Pharisees and the scribes are described as having the 100 sheep, with one being lost? I can't read ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα to refer to "Jesus" at all.

  • If I also read correctly that the lost sheep equates to a sinner needing repentance (which everyone seems to agree to), then do I correctly conclude that the parable assigns a shepherd responsibility to the Pharisees and scribes for seeking and bringing back lost sinners?

Here's where I need to be checked, because every commentator I consult reads Jesus as the Shepherd, which he is in a larger sense (Luke 19,10) but in THIS PARABLE is not the role of Shepherd explicitly assigned to the Pharisees and scribes via ἐξ ὑμῶν?

And wouldn't Jesus be saying, in effect, that the Pharisees and scribes treat their literal livestock better than they do the lost sheep? They'd seek their lost livestock and find it and bring it back and rejoice with their neighbors. But let one sinner try to come home and they're all in an uproar. Isn't that what Jesus is saying here?

And that's where Jesus himself would come in as the One seeking and saving the lost. (Luke 19,10) But in THIS PARABLE, isn't it more that the scribes and Pharisees SHOULD rejoice when a sinner wants to repent, but are complaining instead? Please check me on this...

  • 1
    Erased the obligatory -1. Quaint tradition but as the -1 response was anonymous and unsupported, I think it's grossly unfair.
    – Dieter
    Feb 3, 2018 at 20:00
  • 2
    I don't know why anyone would down vote the question. Asking about the basis for or against some conventional interpretation of Scripture creates a useful discussion in my opinion.
    – user33515
    Feb 4, 2018 at 2:29
  • Since this question is not particularly a Greek issue would you please edit your question to use an English translation? Also, can you please apply some formatting such as highlighting the scripture quote? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Jun 3, 2018 at 20:50
  • See 2 Samuel 12 where Nathan tells David a parable of shepherd behavior so he will condemn the behavior and in so doing condemn himself. This is a variation of that pedagogy.
    – Ruminator
    Jun 3, 2018 at 20:59

6 Answers 6


The shepherd in this parable refers to both the Pharisees/scribes and Jesus. Here is the explanation with the help of Bob Block. First Jesus was responding to the Pharisees and scribes

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Lk 15:1–2, ESV)

τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα (“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, Lk 15:4, ESV) By Jesus saying you and not us refers to some among the Pharisees and scribes owning sheep. Most likely 100 sheep was not an unusual number to own.

On the other hand Jesus was the shepherd of people. I doubt if he owned any sheep as animals at that time. That Jesus' family offered to turtle doves or pigeons for him being the first born (Luke 2:24) says that his family probable didn't own sheep, especially not 100.

Jesus was saying you put more value on your animals (sheep) that you value people. You expect me as shepherd of the people not to rescue lost people although you will value your sheep enough to rescue one lost one out of 100.


Jesus is very likely to have been referring to Ezekiel 34. In part, it states (NASB):

1 Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!

. . .

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, 22 therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.

23 “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.

Read the whole chapter for better context.



No, I do not believe the correct interpretation of the parable is that Jesus was telling the Pharisees what they themselves should have been doing. He is, in fact, referring to Himself as the Shepherd. The purpose of the parable was to show the Pharisees the error at their grumbling at Him for having received publicans and sinners.

The ancient commentaries all agree on this.* But aside from the consensus of the Church Fathers, I think we can see this in the text itself where Jesus quotes the shepherd as saying, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost." I am glad to be corrected if I am mistaken, but I don't believe that there is a single case of any Prophet in the Old Testament calling any of the children Israel his people. Even when Moses said, "Let my people go", was speaking on God's behalf and not his own. If it is not befitting even for such a great Prophet as Moses to refer to any Jew as "my", it certainly would not have been befitting for a Pharisee.

* See, e.g., Sermon CVI from the commentary of Cyril of Alexandria (c 376-444), probably the most authoritative interpreter of Luke in antiquity. Theophylact of Ohrid (c 1055-1107) summarizes the patristic view: "When the Lord found the erring sheep, He placed it upon His shoulders. For He Himself bore our infirmities and our sins, and He took upon Himself our burdens which to Him were light."

  • The commentators in the last 50 years that I looked at seem to avoid the issue. But, the basic meaning about reaching the lost is clear no matter how you answer the question.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 4, 2018 at 13:21
  • Regarding the point, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost." Within the parable itself, the owner of the sheep is "τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν" as given by the following words, "ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα" The sheep within the parable itself explicitly belonged to "what man from among you?" Within the interpretation of the parable, lost sheep belong to Jesus. But Jesus himself in laying out the parable gives ownership of the sheep to τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν. Feb 5, 2018 at 0:26

I think your position has merit. I am not a student of Greek but I believe the simple context confirms Jesus’ intention.

The motivation for Jesus to utter these verses is the grumbling by the Pharisees about Jesus receiving and eating with sinners in verse 2. Jesus then explains his own motivation about seeking the lost. He starts verse 4 with, “what man of you”. Clearly, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and scribes directly and inviting them to place themselves in the position of the shepherd, even though Jesus knows full well that they (Pharisees/scribes) do not act in this manner.

As far as your supposition that Jesus is addressing the fact that the Pharisees treat their own animals better than they treat humans, I think this too has biblical merit. For, this is the exact same issue that we find with Job.

God dealt with both Job and the Pharisees on exactly the same issue: self righteousness. Job was hugely self righteous for that’s what the bible plainly tells us in Job 32:1.

32 So these three men ceased to answer Job because Job was righteous in his own eyes.

In Job chapter 29, when Job became weary of ranting against God, he starts to reflect back on what his life was like before his afflictions; when he was the envy of the local society. He then starts to glory in his coveted position and all of his accomplishments of the past. However, when he thinks of the young men who now scoff at him and his current situation, he says in Job 30: 1:

…whose fathers I would have distained to have set with the dogs of my flock.”

So, by Job’s own mouth, Job would have treated men of lesser social position and accomplishment (just read down to verse 7) worse than his own sheep dogs.

I think the parallel to the Pharisees is justified.


I hope you all won't mind me responding to an 18 month old post but because this relates to the ongoing and current critique of the worship song, "Reckless Love" I think the OP merits an answer.

"Reckless Love" takes its cues from this parable saying that the shepherd in this story is "reckless" because he leaves the 99. The author of the lyric says that this shows that God will do anything to track down the lost.

But Jesus was quite specific that the shoes of the shepherd and the woman with the coin were to be filled by His audience members. People can and have read into it as something other than what Jesus said but it's as if He is reminding us not to misinterpret who the actors are in his story.

He tells them that they, the PHARISEES, would leave their sheep in the wilderness at risk in order to track down the one lost sheep. Likewise, they would spend an inordinate amount of time to find a lost coin. The implication is an unthinking, almost frenetic pursuit of material goods and the happiness they would gain upon successfully finding the lost thing. Jesus then contrasts those two situations to the Father in the parable of the prodigal son wherein ultimately, the Father WAITS for the return of the lost son, rather than frantically going out to try to find him.

Keep in mind that there are 3 different parables about the shepherd. This one, the one in Matthew 18, and the one in John. These are three different shepherd stories and only in one of them, the one in John 10, does Jesus say that HE is the shepherd - in fact He makes a point to interpret the parable for his audience in this way. Meanwhile, in Luke He says the shepherd is the Pharisee and in Matthew he just says that the shepherd is a "man", and uses that story to illustrate the joy in heaven when a believer repents and turns back to the fold.

We know that God has promised to "never leave us nor forsake us" so to claim that the shepherd who leaves the 99 is God, is to call God a liar. That is a bridge too far for me.

  • Hey Dan, welcome to BHSE! If you have the time, make sure to take the tour, to get yourself familiar with this site, and to see how we are different than other sites or forums. Thanks! hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour
    – sara
    Aug 13, 2019 at 6:27

In Luke 15,1-7 is the shepherd in the parable equated to the Pharisees and the scribes?

Jesus was provoked by the grumble of the Pharisees and the scribes, that He was receiving sinners and dinning with them, ( Luke 15:1-2) so Jesus tells them the "The parable of the one lost sheep." On the other hand the self-righteous Pharisees fail to recognize their need to repent.

Luke 15:1-2 (NASB)

The provocation.-verses 1-2

1 "Now all the tax collectors and the [a]sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

A lost sheep is helpless, and it is up to the shepherd to do the searching and he searches relentlessly until he finds it , when he does he call his neighbors and friends and rejoices.

The parable of the lost sheep - verses 3-6

3 "So He told them this parable, saying, 4 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 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 which was lost!"

The joy in heaven.

The worry of the shepherd over his lost sheep reflects the concern of God for those that drift away from the congregation,they may be spiritually weak, but in God's eyes they remain precious to him. Notice Jesus final words : 7" I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."


God is figuratively illustrated as the Shepherd, who deeply cares for his sheep- His people:

Psalm 23 :1-3 (NASB)

The Lord, the Psalmist’s Shepherd.

1 "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside [b]quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. (Recommend read 1-6)

The Pharisees that grumbled prior to Jesus telling the parable, are equated to "brood of vipers." on another occasion by Jesus.

Matthew 3:7-8 (NASB)

7 "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance."

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