In John 10:16 Jesus says (ESV quoted):

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.

The common belief, as I understand it, is that this refers to the division between Jews and Gentiles. But when Jesus first sends out his disciples he specifically tells them not to preach to Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6):

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

In Matthew 15:22-24 he certainly still kept this mindset, saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." When he speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-7) it seems to be out of the necessity of thirst that he speaks to her (and it seems to be only out of necessity that he is in Samaria at all). While he does volunteer to help the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), this may have only been in deference to the authority that centurion seemed to be very keen on asserting.

We do know that he did change his mind on this matter, as at the end of his life (or rather after the end of it) he commanded his disciples to preach to all the other nations (e.g. Matthew 28:18-20):

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

If he was referring to Gentiles when he said "I have other sheep that are not of this fold", then he must have already by that time put aside the idea that he "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel".

Is there a text that suggests this? (If not, the idea he meant Gentiles must come from somewhere!) When in general does Jesus begin saying that his message should or will be preached to Gentiles?

  • This was prompted by a comment on my answer to "Does Jesus refer to aliens in John 10:16?" – Muke Tever Dec 1 '11 at 1:00
  • 5
    I don't see any of this as "changing his view". The twelve were sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; the rest of the disciples (after the resurrection) to all nations. Each directive in its own time for its own purpose. – wberry Mar 29 '14 at 17:48
  • 1
    As a side note, Jesus/God can't change his view as he already knows everything. He can't learn anything, and therefore already has the perfect view he will always have. Numbers 23:19 – Xeoncross Jun 21 '14 at 19:56

This is a big question and I think it will help to refactor it into some related questions:

What did Jesus see as his mission?

From the passages you cited and the fact that Jesus spent most of his time teaching Jews, it's not a stretch to say that Jesus saw his mission as limited to Israel. Now Jesus did go into the region of the Decapolis, which began as Greek colonies and at that time were heavily influenced by Rome. He also withdrew at the end of his Galilean ministry to Tyre and Sidon, which were ancient pagan cities. Mark emphasizes that he was going there to get a break and that he only helped the Gentile woman because of her clever appeal:

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.—Mark 7:24-30 (ESV)

So Jesus seemed to be telling the Gentile woman that her case was out of his jurisdiction, but he helps her anyway. After that, he begins his final trip to Jerusalem and never returns to the more Hellenized regions in and around Galilee. Mark, and the Gospels that follow his chronology, tell the story of Jesus' life as an inevitable collision course between Jesus and the top Jewish officials in Jerusalem. The interactions with the Gentiles become less important. If you don't know the end of the story, you'd expect that the climax would involve Jesus attempting to reform Temple worship, liberalize Jewish practice and expel the Romans.

It's important to note that John, which was written much later, does not follow that narrative at all. It starts from the first line asserting the view that Jesus' mission was to transform all of creation. We'll get back to John below.

How did the early church come to spread to Gentiles?

There's no question that the primary answer to this question is Paul. Over and over again, Paul asserts that preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles was his particular calling. (See Galatians 2 and nearly every line in Acts.) Paul's letters, which are among the first documents produced by the church, radically reinterpret Jesus' life as having cosmic significance. Paul spearheaded the drive to place a small-time provincial teacher and failed messiah on the center of the empire's civic and religious stage. For this to be a valid mission, Jesus must have come to earth for the sake of people other than the Jews.

Even so, Paul saw the churches mission to go first to the Jews:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”—Romans 1:16-17 (ESV)

The synoptic Gospels, which were written after most, if not all, of Paul's writings, read a bit like very early "Quests for the Historical Jesus". Paul's arguments in Galatians that Christianity be extended to the Gentiles had already won the day, so the Jewish nature of Jesus and his ministry was at risk of being lost to time. Mark doesn't include any commands to go to the Gentiles. Matthew, of course, does when he tells of the resurrected Jesus meeting with His disciples on the mountain in Galilee. And Luke's gospel is really volume 1 of the history he continues in the book of Acts, which is the story of the church spreading to the heart of Rome herself. For Matthew and Luke at least, the mission to the Gentiles is commanded by Jesus after the cross—it's the church's mission.

In John's gospel, what is Jesus' mission?

Most, but not all, scholars date John as one of the very last New Testament books to be written. If so, it was well beyond the circumcision controversy. But the gospel seems to draw on even more Jewish background than the Synoptics. The interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well is a great example since it involves nuanced arguments that would go over the heads of anyone who hasn't picked up some Hebrew history. Jesus is very much Jewish in John's gospel.

However, it also has the strongest statements from Jesus about His mission being extended to the Gentiles. For instance, immediately after talking with the Samaritan woman:

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”—John 4:31-38 (ESV)

At that moment, Jesus would have been indicating Samaritan fields and perhaps even the Samaritan people who came to Him over then next two days. John tends to say things more round-aboutly than other New Testament authors, but the next paragraph makes clear the intended meaning of the parable ‘One sows and another reaps’:

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”—John 4:39-42 (ESV)

The author puts the later church idea of Christianity spreading from Israel to all of Rome in the mouth of Jesus, but in an oblique way. Or if you think John is an accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus, this only means that John rediscovered Jesus' full mission that was concealed during his lifetime. In either case, it isn't so much that Jesus changed the scope of his own mission during his life as that the church later understood his mission to be one of every-increasing circles of influence starting in Jerusalem and extending to the ends of the Earth.


During his life, Jesus focused primarily on interacting with his fellow Jews, but did not shy away from interactions with Gentiles when they crossed paths. Immediately after Christ's death and resurrection, the church understood her mission to reach beyond the cultural borders of the Hebrews to all people groups. The transition occurred at precisely the moment when it was no longer possible to sit at Jesus' feet. His followers depended instead on His Spirit, which was not tied to a particular location on Earth.


According to the Majority Text footnotes1 cited in Mark, the word for dog that Jesus used was a diminutive form of the derogatory word dog Jews used for Gentiles who were considered to be unclean. Here the word (kynarion) means "little dog" (a house pet) or puppy, such as would beg food from children.

The kind of pesky, wild, loathsome dogs (probably like the ones that licked Lazarus' sores) would not have been found in a house, as Gentiles would not be found in the house of Israel. These dogs and Gentiles would be found outside the house. By their reaction to her, the disciples probably viewed the woman in this way.

My take: This really was a brilliant play-on-words exchange between Jesus and this woman. She came to Him a "Gentile dog" (maybe even in her own understanding of how Jews perceived someone like her, but in her desperation didn't care). However, she left His presence a member of the house (Jesus specifically says the house of Israel in Mt. 15.24). She got what Jesus was saying and in faith answered in kind. What great joy came to her that day; not only was her daughter healed but, because of her faith, she was a part of the household of God.

  1. The Majority Text New Testament Interlinear, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007, p. 150. (ISBN: 1-4185-2617

After Jesus had died and before he ascended to heaven.

Mark 16 15He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

19After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.


Jesus objects to changing water into wine because his hour has not yet come.

John 2:4 NET Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.”

The ministry in the house of God, giving bread necessary for life, is only allowed after reaching maturity, thirty. Which, by the way, the leaders had failed at:

Matthew 23:37 NET ”O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!

He objects to feeding lifegiving bread, meant for children, to the dogs.

His mission is to Israel, to step in where the experts in law have failed, walked with God, so that they can transform Israel into God's People. Their disobedience meant that the law has been veiled from their eyes, and the law brings death instead of life.

Jesus's obedience, on the other hand, means He has found favour with God, enabling His life giving ministry. He can reveal the Light to Israel, confirmed with the healing of their spiritual as well as physical blindness. If they don't believe His message and its resultant opening of the interpretation of Scripture (spiritual eyes), at least let them believe it through the resulting opening of physical eyes. In believing His message, Israel will be healed of its failure to fulfil its mission.

The covenant is between God and Israel, but true Israel is composed of Abraham's children within the Jewish AND the Gentile groups, identified by faith. Ministry to the Gentiles is subsequent to rejection by Jewish believers. As the disbelief increases on the Jewish side, the door to the Gentiles increasingly widens. All this, of course, is preplanned.

Both Mary's faith and the Syro-phoenician woman's faith demonstrate that faith trumps the letter of the law. Faith, here interpreted as confidence that God will help, decides the outcome, not rules and regulations.

Its useful to keep in mind that the relinquishing of His Godly powers meant that Jesus actually did not know all the will of God, and access to that will came only as and when He continued in His surrender of His will, any preconceptions and plans He would have had. One sees that the presence of strong faith in those who approached Him were a guide to Him of God's causation of that faith, and a surprising communication from the Father to deliver, as was the lack of faith a signal to withhold deliverance.

Surrendering one's life also means surrendering control. He was winging it a lot.

Original Question

If he was referring to Gentiles when he said "I have other sheep that are not of this fold", then he must have already by that time put aside the idea that he "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel".

Is there a text that suggests this? (If not, the idea he meant Gentiles must come from somewhere!) When in general does Jesus begin saying that his message should or will be preached to Gentiles?


Luke 4:24-27 NET And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”


He first chose to give the Israelites grace at the wedding of Cana (Another topic). Then chose to give grace to the gentiles at the encounter with the Samaritan woman. The field of harvest for Jesus was Israel (as he said), and concerning the law of harvest:

Le 23:22 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I [am] the LORD your God.

By cutting off the corners of the field, there was a circumcision of the field. Inside the circle represents the Jews, and outside the gentiles.

The woman's clever response showed she had a knowledge of the law. Even the gleanings inside the circumcision were available for the poor and sojourners. And Jesus was compelled, in fulfilling the law, to answer her request.

Though gleaning inside the circle had to wait until the harvesters had passed, gleaning in the corners was permitted at any time since it belonged to the gentiles.

Her request is that she be permitted to glean at the same time as the harvester. The children are still at the table, while the dogs eat what they drop. The harvesters are still in the field while the gentile can pick up what they drop.

In both cases, the harvest of the corners and of the gleanings came after the harvest of those in the circumcision.

His primary mission of harvest has to be of the Jews until after the cross. Paul also first went to the Jews both by Jesus's example and by his understanding of the 'dinner theater' aspect of the shadow of the law.

His 'other sheep'... those in the four 'corners' of the world are the gentiles who's harvest has to wait for the primary harvest to be completed.

Side Note: The woman had received the same kind of revelation as Peter in acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God, since she identified him as fulfilling the 'shadow of the law'. Such revelation is obtained by faith.

---The deeper dig--- Using Rabbi Eliezer's rule of Notarikon: Interpretation by dividing a word into two or more parts:

Dogs כלב keleb - Son of God's כ heart לב (those whom the Son loves)

eat - a metaphor for learning

crumbs פת path - secret פ parts (ת makes it an object)

fall נפל naphal - Son of Man's נ secret פ teachings ל

table שׁלחן shulchan

שׁ(ל-ח)ן - teeth (metaphor for law) שׁן with a teaching ל of life ח inside

שׁל-חן - peace של and grace חן

"Even those whom the Son loves learn from the secrets of the Son of Man's secret teachings of the law containing the teaching of life and of peace and grace. "


  • Can any of the downvoters please add a comment to give a hint how to improve this answer. – Bob Jones Jun 28 '20 at 13:17
  • 1
    I didn't down-vote, but I can understand why others did. The question is "When did …?", and I would expect an answer to contain "He never did …", or "He changed at the time that …", or something similar. There is nothing remotely like that in this answer. It provides a lot of supporting information, but never actually answers the question. – Ray Butterworth Jun 29 '20 at 0:22
  • Thank you @ Ray. Addressed it. – Bob Jones Jun 30 '20 at 1:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.