I Am the Door of the Sheep Ch 10 vs 1-10
Both Bultmann and Barrett focus on the role of the 'thief and robber', and on the nature of the flock in this passage. Barrett links this passage and the 'I Am the Good Shepherd' passage which follows it, with the aftermath of the healing of the man born blind, in Chapter 9, when the role of the synagogue authorities is contrasted with that of Jesus. "No break is indicated by John between chs 9 and 10; but the present passage is rather a comment upon ch 9 than a continuation of it." (p 304) Bultmann, on the other hand thinks that 10 vs 1-18 are "not an ordered whole", but form "several units ... held together by the image of the shepherd and the sheep .... hang(ing) together only very loosely".
This short discourse is presented as a monologue by Jesus, yet the theme of misunderstanding is clear in vs 6.
The Nature and Purpose of Jesus
The whole passage brings to mind the story of David, the shepherd-king who defended his flock from 'the lion and the bear' and Ps 23, in which God is described as "The Lord My Shepherd". Barrett observed that the description of shepherding in the Mediterranean area at the time (and now) is authentic. In that part of the world, the sheep are not driven from behind, but led by the shepherd who calls the sheep to follow him. They follow the sound of his voice because of the nurture and safety that he gives them.
Naturally, the Incarnate Logos will have the most authoritative voice of all. In a particularly lovely passage of Isaiah (Ch 43) God says 'Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name you are mine.' The sheep hear the voice of the"familiar shepherd" (Bultmann) and follow him. Likewise, in that part of the world, shepherds took sheep to a defendable area, such as a gully if they had to stay out overnight. The shepherd(s) would sleep at the open entrance(s) of the resting place, so that most thieves would need to get past the shepherd in order to try to rifle the flock. It seems that Jesus is 'the Door', not a physical object, but the shepherd as He watches at the entrance of the area where the sheep are pastured to make sure that he will not lose one of those that his Father will give Him. (6:39) For Bultmann, we have a series of short parables on the theme of the relationship between sheep and shepherd, with typical, although not uniform, references to the role of Jesus as shepherd, entrance and protector. The Shepherd and the 'Door' of the sheepfold are one and the same thing, then, for being a 'door' is part of the function of being a shepherd.
Barrett, however, treats the discourse much more as a unified whole. He wants to identify the sheep here as Judaism (P306n), which contains both disciples and unbelievers. Those who are Jesus' own will know His authoritative voice as shepherd, and will reject the false voices of the 'thieves and robbers' who try to lure them from the fold. Barrett notes that the phrase 'I AM the door of the sheepfold' contrast significantly with Synoptic shepherd/flock imagery which is introduced by the phrase 'The Kingdom of God is like ...' " ..the contrast is significant. John finds in the person of Jesus Himself that which the synoptists find in the kingdom of God."
What, then could Jesus be the Door to? Barrett, using OT and Greek sources, wants to identify Him as the Door between Heaven and Earth, a bit like Jacob's Ladder from Genesis 2l8:17, and the doors of heaven Ps 78:23. He notes gnostic myths many of which "included the descent of a redeemer from heaven to earth. The Word "is the bringer both of knowledge and salvation. Here is a point of close contact between the Judaism and the gnostic systems." And of course, the synoptic gospels frequently talk of "entering the Kingdom of God/Heaven". This focuses powerfully upon Jesus as the only way to enter the Kingdom of God. Bultmann can talk of "the exclusiveness and the absoluteness of the revelation".(sic) Is the sheepfold 'heaven' then? It depends, I suppose on what you might mean by 'heaven', for eternal life, with its blessings, benefits and hopes, can begin now as far as the Fourth Evangelist is concerned. Indeed, Jesus comments that He has come to bring life, life in all its fulness (vs 10). So the sheepfold cannot simply be a future state, but a present reality. This is confirmed by the notion of going 'in and out' of the sheepfold. The 'sheep' can scarcely zoom backwards and forwards into heaven. (I'm tempted to make a digression here into the world of Wallace, Grommit and Shaun the Sheep. Or even to Eric the clever sheep in Monty Python. But as this is an 'academic' website, I suppose I'd better not.)
So is Jesus the door to the Messianic community, active in the world, but returning regularly to that place of protection, nurture and nourishment provided by the Shepherd? Probably yes, and I feel (with Bultmann) that 'Messianic community' may be a preferable term than 'Church' here, particularly if we take seriously the possibility that these words may have come from Jesus himself. In that case, Grayston suggests that the thieves and robbers may be the chief priests and Pharisees, and this is a plausible 'Sitz in Jesu' possibility. For Bultmann, "the flock corresponds to all those who are 'of the truth', even though .... they do not yet belong to the community (of the Church)." They are revealed as members of the community "when they are confronted by the word (of the gospel)." For Bultmann the "Gnostic undercurrent in this conception is unmistakable". In Gnostic Redeemer myths, pre-existent souls are 'called', and are "particles of light" which make up "one body" scattered in the world. The function of the Redeemer is "to gather together the scattered sparks of light and to bring them back to their original unity." (p374) Bultmann accepts that the Johannine view of the Redemption of the world differs in several respects, particularly in the function of the Redeemer as the giver of Life, and the role of the respondents' free will in being joined into that life.. "everyone has the possibility of discovering his true being in belonging to the Revealer - but also, of losing it." No predestination here, dears!
Possible applications to the Johannine community
If Jesus meant the 'thieves and robbers' to be understood as the Jewish authorities who opposed Him, there have also been plenty of scholars who have wanted to understand this reference in connection not with the Sitz in Jesu but the Sitz im Kirche of the Johannine community. Barrett suggests (p 306) that this is a recognised group of people opposed to the Messianic claims made for Jesus, "Messianic pretenders". Bultmann , having suggested parallels between the 'Redeemer myths' of various gnostic groups and the claims made for Jesus in the 4th Gospel, then proposes that it is these "pseudo Saviours of the Hellenistic world" who are accused of being thieves and robbers (p372) - see above. They purport to offer salvation through a greater self-knowledge by the intitiate. Jesus, however, offers salvation through revelation of God through Himself. He comments that Gnostics believed that "the revealer incorporated himself in different persons in different ages." (Rather like Hindus believe about avatars, or Bahai's believe about Baha'ulla (their prophet whose tomb some of us visited in Israel). John, however, has a different eschatology. For him, "there is only this one turning point in the ages - the point at which Jesus the Revealer appeared." And this moment occurs "again and again, wherever the work of Jesus takes effect.." Judgement is thus "passed on the religious of the age.." Which brings us on to present day issues, which I'll deal with in the 'I AM the Good Shepherd section.
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