05/2006

A Prayer
of Jesus

I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will



THE QUESTION (#65)

The Door (or Gate)

What was meant by "going in and out of the door" in John 10:7 and 9?



When the shepherds of Israel tended their flocks, they harbored them at night in a fold (aule), which was a gated enclosure designed to protect the flock (poimne) from both human and beastly predators.  It might be fenced, walled about with stones, located in a small ravine, or protected by a hedgerow.  I have understood that the families of a single village would provide a large, common sheep fold in which to shelter and protect all the sheep (probaton) of the various families.  Each family had a shepherd (poimen) whose task it was to take the sheep of that family out in the morning, lead them to pasture, then to bring them back at night.  Some member of the group would be charged with the task of night watchman, or gate keeper, to protect against intrusions -- such as thieves that climbed over or beasts (wolves, etc.) that jumped over the fences.  The sheep (probaton) of each family would, by familiarity, know the voice of their particular shepherd (poimen), and would respond to his call in the morning when he appeared to lead them out to pasture. So, he would lead them out to pasture and bring them in to the sheepfold (aule).

This allegory (not a parable) concludes with Jn.10:6, when we are informed that "they did not understand what he was saying to them."

The evangelist then informs us:
Jn.10:7 FNT So Jesus said again, Truly truly I say to you that I am the gate of the sheep.
Immediate problem here!  He had not, to this point, said to them I am the gate, but has described the "shepherd" such that he can be none other than himself.  So, to further explain this allegory, he needed only to identify himself as the shepherd.  Worse yet, the evangelist tells us that he "said again!"  But this is no repetition of anything he has said, for he immediately identifies himself as the gate (or door, for the first time).  This does not explain anything, but immediately presents the disciples with another figure to misunderstand. 

It gets worse.  
 
The very next verse reads:
Jn.10:8 FNT All who came before me are thieves and robbers. But the sheep have not heard them. 
This statement, to make sense, needs to be preceded by the identification of himself as the shepherd, not the gate!  Did gates come before him?  Are gates "thieves and robbers?"

He continues with the explanation and when we identify him as the shepherd, as he did in the continuation, the balance of the explanation makes perfect sense.  for example, he said this:
Jn.10:14 FNT I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,
This explains this part of the allegory:
Jn.10:4 FNT When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow [the voice belonging] to [a] stranger, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.
Then we have this in the explanation:
Jn.10:16 FNT And I have other sheep that are not of this sheep-pen, and I must lead [these], and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.
This explains this portion of the allegory:
Jn.10:3 FNT The gatekeeper opens [the gate] to this [one], and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out.
Recall that he is explaining the allegory of vs. 1-6.  But the identification of himself as the gate makes no sense, nor does he attempt to explain it, since all of the ensuing explanation identifies him, in one way or another, as the shepherd. Yet he identifies himself as the gate twice, in vs. 7, and again in vs. 9, which latter is the subject of your question.  It is little wonder that you have a question!

So, here is the subject verse of your query:
Jn.10:9 FNT I am the gate. If anyone enter through me, he will be saved, and he will come in and will go out and will find pasture.
This verse, for a change, makes sense within itself if we identify him as the gate as it does, but like the preceding verses, 7 & 8, makes no sense as an explanation of the allegory of vss. 1-6.  This is what is puzzling you?  Join our club for it makes no sense to me!

There is a resolution if we are able to receive it, and one that will permit us to find a reasonable answer to your question about vs. 9.  Just replace "I am the gate" with "I am the shepherd" in both verses 7 & 9 and everything fits into place;  Look at these verses in context after the replacement:
Jn.10:7 FNT So Jesus said again, Truly truly I say to you that I am the shepherd of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers. But the sheep have not heard them. 9 I am the shepherd. If anyone enter through me, he will be saved, and he will come in and will go out and will find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except in order that he steal and slaughter and destroy; I came in order that they have zoe-life and have [it] exceedingly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd appoints his psyche-life in behalf of the sheep.
We continue to see vs. 9 as having a problem.  When it read, "I am the gate,"  the first phrase to the sentence following (If anyone enter through me) is very appropriate, because the sheep enter into the fold "through the gate." 

How do they enter through a shepherd?

This has a simple explanation. The Greek is di' emu ("through", "by" or on account of me").  The di' (dia) is translated here by different translators as either "through" or "by." Here is the same idea elsewhere:
Jn.14:6 Jesus says to him: I am the way, the truth and the zoe-life; no one comes to the father except through me.
If this is the thought behind 10:9, everything is clear and there seem to be no more problems with the text.  This is a salvation statement, which 10:9 also adds:
. . . he will be saved, and he will come in and will go out and will find pasture.
It is also the subject of your question.  If this analysis of the problem is correct, as it believe it is, there is the salvation that comes when the believer receives the Word and lives (Jn.5:24), after which each of us, as one of the sheep of the Little Flock, continue to be shepherded by the Lord while we remain in the world.  He provides rest and refuge in this world through the gate of the sheep fold (aule) and, at his beck and call, we continue to go in and out --- and find pasture!  That is, we are daily fed the Living Bread. He does not explain the gate in the allegory (vs. 10:1,2,3) nor the fold, nor the sheep!  Nor does he need to do so because the identification of the sheep is evident -- his followers -- and the gate serves no purpose but to distinguish between the two modes of access and egress -- through the gate, like the shepherd, or "some other way" as with the thieves and robbers. The fold has no special meaning, except by inference (vs. 16, Israel or the land of Israel) other than the familiar enclosure for sheep.

This resolves what I surmise is your problem with this phrase, if you can accept it, because if the Lord is the gate, as both vs. 7 and vs. 9 state, he can only be the gate in the sense of the strait gate to the narrow way, and he does not have us going both into and out of himself!  We have passed through the strait gate when we choose to abide by his word, and in particular the Great Principle and the Great Commandment. He would not have us go back through himself and thus out of himself, but to remain in him and he in us (Jn.14:18-20).  However, as the shepherd, we follow him daily to the fold (place of rest and refuge) and pass "by him" and through the gate.  The gate is only one of the props.  I have had considerable experience with domesticated animals as a boy on the farm, and this is precisely what happens.  We lead them (or in the case of some animals, drive them) to the gate, open the gate, and they then pass by us and through the gate -- into the barn lot and, later, back out to the pasture.  It is as the Lord said:
If anyone enter by me (not through but by), he will be saved, and he will come in and will go out and will find pasture.
That is, if the Lord is the shepherd and not the gate!

A possible objection is that this does more than explain the preceding allegory, for this being saved is not part of the allegory.  So, again, it is not just an explanation.  Yet I think this is not a serious objection, as it is reasonable to believe that, as the Lord explained, he saw that here is another element in Truth that will fit the allegory, and so he adds it.  Furthermore, it is self explanatory, adds no new relationships as does the "I am the door" phrase, which explains nothing and only adds to our puzzlement. The balance of his explanation does incorporate salvation ideas.

Whenever I find this sort of thing in the Word -- very seldom -- (something that does not seem to make sense) I look for variant or alternate readings in the ancient manuscripts.  Are there any for these verses (7:6,9)?

Yes.  The Papyrus, P75 and the Coptic texts sa, ac & mf.  P75 is very old  and contains the oldest manuscript in existence of the Gospel of Luke, and one of the oldest of John, being dated as early as 175 AD. In it, John 10:7 reads (care to guess?) "I am the shepherd of the sheep" instead of "door."  (See Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 3rd.edition, p. 41). Vs. 7:9 still reads "I am the door."

The "I am the door" of vs. 9 becomes more suspect because the Lord proceeds to identify himself as the shepherd throughout the remainder of his explanation, and specifically in vss. 11 & 14). As we read through the text, it is interesting to see how it sounds by simply omitting vs. 9.  Try it, and you will see that this verse is not needed to explain the allegory. This suggests that in the case of this verse, someone (very early) inserted it.  Then, perhaps for the sake of uniformity, someone also substituted "I am the door" for "I am the shepherd" of vs. 7.

The gospels preserve the Sayings of the Lord that are our only sources of Truth.  The Sayings, the Word, comprise the Word of our Father in heaven and are the only sources we need.  They are our most precious treasures -- of far greater worth than all the wealth of the world. Therefore we must preserve them and protect them in their purity, and remove impurities when they appear.   Furthermore, the accuracy by which they have been preserved, under the guardianship of the Holy Spirit, is nothing short of miraculous.  All who abide in this Word come to know the Truth and the Freedom it brings. As the allegory states, the sheep know his voice, and
Jn.10:14 FNT I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,
We know him therefore through prolonged exposure to his Word, and we recognize him in his Word. 

Nevertheless, the transmission of the Word through the centuries has not been perfect, and faults are found here and there.  They are discordant in the texts where they are found, as in this case, and tend to show up much like a blemish on the face of a friend.  Our familiarity with the whole of his face (the text) renders him fully recognizable, and that is the reason we can discern a discordant word, one that does not belong.

The Lord has delivered us from the bondage of sola scriptura, as we realize the valid Sayings of the Lord are our only source.  It then becomes incumbent on us to be maximally conscientious, in our love of the Word, to recognize spurious words when they appear, and to maintain the Word in its purest state.  To do this, we need to examine a suspect saying in the light of the whole, and to look for variant readings in those ancient texts that have survived  And, most important, to look past the English translation to the Greek whenever possible because it is a fact that every translation in widespread use contains errors due to the influence of church doctrine on the translators.  The Faithful New Testament is the only translation of which I am aware wherein the translator consciously and conscientiously seeks to avoid such errors.

We cannot depend on the ancient manuscripts to always correct or enlighten us.  Not in this case.  This is due the simple fact that for the first three hundred years of the Christian Era, there exists very little in the way of manuscript evidence. During the period 30 - 323 AD (Date of the Nicene Council called by Constantine), there is a dark period during which the text could have been altered.  We have no way to detect such alterations by recourse to earlier manuscripts.  To search back further, we find only small fragments and citations from the written works of early churchmen. These are useful, but cover only a small fraction of the received text. Therefore we must sometimes, as in this case, rely primarily on the simple fact that, as the Lord said, "my own know me." 

Through all my long discipleship, this is the first time I have attempted to deal with this issue, even though I have questioned it every time I read it.  Even now, we may not have the correct resolution of John 10:9, but it feels good to me, and removes a blemish from the face of our Lord!

Brother Ed