Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 10.22-30
4th Sunday of Easter - Year C

Other texts: 

John 5:1-10:42 can be outlined by the principal feasts of the Jews. Brown (John, The Anchor Bible) offers the following outline.

Even though there is the change of festivals at 10:22 -- and the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (Nov/Dec) comes about three months after the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Sep/Oct) -- Jesus continues the shepherd/sheep image that begins in ch. 10. Some outliners -- (Haenchen, John, Hermeneia, and Smith, Harpers Bible Commentary) -- emphasize this continuity by keeping John 10:1-42 together in their outlines. Both of these commentators title these verses, "Jesus, the Good Shepherd." There is also Bultmann's method of rearrange the verses of chapter 10 so that the entire shepherd/sheep discourse takes place at Dedication.

However it may be outlined, our verses (at Dedication) continue the shepherd/sheep image that begin chapter 10 (at Tabernacles). Although I will be concentrating on the verses of our text, they should be studied within the context of the entire "Jesus, the Good Shepherd" discourse.

NOTE: the assigned Gospel readings for 4 Easter (Shepherd Sunday) all come from John 10 -- year A: John 10.1-10; year B: John 10.11-18; year C: vv. 22-30.

THE SETTING (vv. 22-23)

The "Festival of Dedication" is the same as "Hanukkah." This might be an occasion to educate our people about this winter Jewish festival.

It celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem from the reign of the Syrian (Seleucid) king Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus had defiled the Jerusalem Temple in 167 BCE by building an altar to his own gods within the Temple sanctuary (1 Macc 1:54-61), and in 165 BCE Judas Maccabeus and his brothers regained control of the Temple and rededicated it to the God of Israel (1 Macc 4:36-58). The eight-day feast takes place in the month of Chislev (December), as did the original rededication (1 Macc 4:56; 2 Macc 10:1-8) and is marked by the lighting of lamps and rejoicing (1 Macc 4:59; 2 Macc 1:8-9, 18).

The Feast of Dedication could be celebrated away from Jerusalem because it was not one of the pilgrimage feasts. Its mention in v. 22, then, does not give a reason for Jesus' presence in Jerusalem (cf. 7:1-10). Instead, its mention here, along with the realistic notation about winter, draws attention to the passing of time since the Feast of Tabernacles and Jesus' continuing presence in Jerusalem. The reference to Solomon's portico (v. 23) adds a realistic detail to the picture, because the area of the Temple so known was located on the eastern side of the Temple and so would have been the most protected area of the Temple precincts in winter. [O'Day, John, New Interpreters Bible, pp. 675-676]


Literally, the question "the Jews" ask is, "How long will you take away our life (psyche)?"

O'Day (John, New Interpreters Bible") writes about this phrase:

Even though both the NIV and NRSV translate the phrase as "keep us in suspense," there is little evidence of the idiom's use with that meaning in other literature. In modern Greek, the idiom means, "How long will you continue to annoy us?" and there are ancient examples of that meaning of the idiom as well. Because the idiom is difficult to translate precisely, scholars are divided on whether the question expresses suspense and a genuine desire to have the issue resolved or irritation and hostility. Since the idiom follows on the heels of John 8-9, irritation seems more likely.

On one hand, I wouldn't think of asking an irritating person if they might be the Messiah -- I usually come up with other "titles" for such people in the congregation.

On the other hand, I wonder if their question could be a little like asking a very irritating person, "Who do you think you are? God?" -- probably not a similar situation.

Through out chs 5-9 Jesus has been incurring the wrath of "the Jews".

This verses is the only place in the gospel where Jesus is asked directly if he is the Messiah (christos). Prior to this, Jesus has not claimed this title for himself, although others have given it to him.

Why do "the Jews" raise this issue in our text? They had already determined that Jesus must not be the Messiah -- and anyone believing otherwise would be punished (9:22). If Jesus had answered, "Yes, I am the Messiah," my guess is that the questioners would not have believed him. They really didn't want an answer to their question that was different than what they had already decided -- Jesus was not the "Messiah."

How often are we open to answers that may be different than what we want to hear? ("Don't confuse me with the Bible, my faith is made up!")

The issue of Jesus as Messiah is one of the main themes of John's gospel. The first conclusion states in part: "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,..." (20:31).

For John (and for us) one of the definitions of being a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Apparently for Jews in John's day, that could bring expulsion from the synagogue. Are there any consequences for us to confess and believe that Jesus is the Messiah?

In John, there is a contrast between Jesus speaking "in figures of speech" (paroimia -- 10:6; 16:25, 29) and speaking plainly or openly (parresia -- 7:26; 10:24; 11:14; 16:25, 29; 18:20).

Can the faith be explained in plain, simple answers? Or perhaps better questions are: What are the advantages to giving plain, simple answers about our faith? What are the disadvantages?

There is a saying, "For every complex problem, there is a simple solution ... and it's wrong." Is that also true with our theology? Is our sinfulness a simple or complex problem? What kind of "answers" do we need for that problem?



Even if Jesus had spoken plainly to them, they would still have been unable to believe.

It would seem that Jesus' works were clear "words" about who he is. His works "are bearing witness" about him (v. 25b), but they are not believing.

While we say, "Actions speak louder than words," we also have an aversion to "works-righteousness." We stress orthodoxy in our confessions; but say little about the witness of our actions. Jesus is willing to let his "works" be his witness. (see also 5:36; 10:38; 14:11)

Should we be willing to tell people, "Look at what I do and come to your own conclusions about my faith"?

Some time ago I came across this short story called, "Whom Should You Ask?"

An Amish man was once asked by an enthusiastic young evangelist whether he had been saved, and whether he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior?

The gentleman replied, "Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here are the names of my banker, my grocer, and my farm hands. Ask them if I've been saved."

There is a sense that one cannot testify to one's self (see 5:31; 8:13). When Mohammed Ali testified, "I am the greatest," that meant nothing until his works testified to that fact. In a sense, someone claiming, "I am a Christian" is invalid until there is someone or something else that confirms that testimony.

NOTE: Throughout this speech of Jesus, "to believe" (pisteuo) is in the present tense (10:25, 26, 37, 38), implying: "continue to believe," "keep on believing." In contrast to "the Jews," who are not believing and who try and stone Jesus (10:31) and arrest him (10:39); there were "many who believe in him there" (10:42 -- aorist tense).


Is it "the Jews" fault that they are not believing? The reason given in v. 26b is that they are not part of Jesus' sheep (probaton).

Jesus makes the following statements about his sheep:

(1) My sheep are listening to my voice.
(2) I am knowing them
(3) They [the sheep] are following me
(4) I am giving them eternal life.
(5) They will not perish for eternity.
(6) No one will snatch them from my hand
(7) My father has given to me [the "what" of the giving is not stated]
(8a) My father is greater than all things -- or
(8b) What my father has given is greater than all things
(9) No one is able to snatch from the hand of the father

Note the textual and translation difficulties of v. 29 (8a & 8b above). I am inclined to interpret that verse as explaining the statement before it. The reason no one is able to snatch them from Jesus' hand is because they [the sheep] were given to Jesus by the Father, who is greater (=stronger, more powerful) than anyone else. Or, no one is able to undo what the Father has done.

Categorizing the statements:

**statements with sheep as subject**

(1) they are listening to Jesus' voice
(3) they are following Jesus
(5) they will not perish for eternity
(8b?) they are greater (=more important?) than all things (=everything else)

What the sheep "do" is dependent upon Jesus. Listening requires a speaker. Following requires a leader.

**statements with Jesus as subject**

(2) Jesus is knowing them
(4) Jesus is giving the sheep eternal life

There are numerous shades of meaning to "knowing" (ginosko) from no direct personal involvement in what/who is known, e.g., "to know about" someone to knowledge gained through an ongoing direct personal relationship with the person. Also thrown into the meanings of this word is the figurative meaning of "to have sexual intercourse with."

In contrast to the question, "Do you know the Lord?", the issue in this verse is Jesus' knowledge of us. Frequently John talks about Jesus' knowledge (ginosko) of people:

With this word (ginosko) and with a synonymous word (oida, e.g., knowing the betrayer, 13:11), John indicates that Jesus (supernaturally) knows what is in people, but this may not necessarily indicate the close, personal relationship that can be implied by this word, which I think is meant when it is used in reference to "knowing" his own sheep (see also 10:4-5 where oida is used concerning the sheep "knowing" the shepherd's voice).

Both of these words are used in last week's text: Does Jesus know (oida 21:15, 16, ginosko v. 17) that Peter loves him, as Peter declares? Does Jesus know (oida 21:17) everything as Peter declares? If so, what is our response to this knowledge that Jesus has about us? Perhaps it is easier to think about not believing that Jesus knows us -- then we would believe that we can keep our evil deeds hidden in the dark (3:19-20). Perhaps like the question to Peter, they are not asked for the benefit of Jesus' knowledge (who already knows the truth), but so that the answerer may be aware that s/he has been exposed to the Light.

**statements with Father as subject**

(7) Father gives [the sheep] to Jesus
(8a) Father is greater than all things

I think that the concept of the Father giving us to Jesus is one of the hardest concepts for us to grasp. We are part of Jesus' flock because of what God has done, not because of anything we have done, (cf "You did not choose me but I chose you" 15:16a).

Can we refuse to be God's gift to Jesus? Jesus is clear that "the Jews" to whom he is speaking do not belong to his sheep. Why not? They refuse to listen and follow. What is the word they refuse to hear? "God has given you to Jesus."

I believe that it is the purpose of the church to proclaim over and over again to its people: "You have been chosen by God. You are part of Jesus' flock. You belong to Jesus. You are a sheep of God." The hearers can choose to believe or not believe these words. The hearers can choose to follow up on what God has done for them or not.

**statements with indefinite subject**

(6) No one will snatch the sheep from Jesus' hand
(9) No one is able to snatch the sheep from the Father's hand

The Father who gives us to Jesus is greater than any other power. There is nothing that can snatch us away from Jesus or from the Father. Our proclamation then can include all those forces and powers that would seek to snatch us away from Jesus -- most notably our own sinfulness, the many forms of suffering we experience, and our ultimate deaths -- but God is more powerful than these. God may not make such suffering go away, but we know for certain that they are not strong enough to separate us from Jesus.

If salvation (= belong to Jesus' sheep and thus being given eternal life by Jesus) is dependent upon God and Jesus; then it is not dependent upon my faith or my love or my knowledge -- all of which can be somewhat unstable. Salvation is rooted in the Word of God which proclaims: "You have been chosen by God. You are part of Jesus' flock. You belong to Jesus. You are a sheep of God." The hearers can choose to believe or not believe these words. The hearers can choose to follow up on what God has done for them or not.

These two statements indicate that the Father and Jesus do the same work. Being in the hand of the Father is being in the hand of Jesus, and vice versa. This leads to the last verse of our text.


This verse is at the heart of our Christian confession. There is a unique relationship between Jesus and the Father, which is defined by the Greek word "hen" in this verse.

O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible) writes:

The Greek word "one" (hen) is neuter, not masculine, so that Jesus is not saying that he and God are one person, nor even of one nature or essence. Rather, he is saying that he and God are united in the work that they do. It is impossible to distinguish Jesus' work from God's work, because Jesus shares fully in God's work. John 10:30 presents in summary form what Jesus said at length about his relationship with God in 5:17, 19-30. God gives life; Jesus gives life (5:21; 10:28). God judges; Jesus judges (5:22; 9:39). Jesus' words in v. 30 do not add anything to that earlier discourse, but respond to the "Jews'" request that he speak "plainly." [p. 677]

I will add that this statement probably leads to the charge of blaspheme and desire to stone Jesus which immediately follows in vv. 31-33.

This little word hen (actually, heis, mia, & hen in its masculine, feminine, & neuter nominative forms) is the key word in the Hebrew confession of the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Mk 12:29, quoting Dt 6:4). By stating that he is part of the Father's one-ness, isn't Jesus making himself God -- as "the Jews" accuse him of doing in v. 33?

The word is also used in the NT quotes of Gn 2:24 about a husband and wife becoming one flesh (Mt 19:5-6; Mk 10:8; Ep 5:31). In this one-ness, there remains a separateness (my wife and I are two distinct people) as well as the unique unity and knowledge we share with each other that is not part of our relationships with any other person. Might this say something about Jesus and the Father being one -- yet two distinct beings? I don't know, but I thought I'd throw it into these notes anyway.

O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible) offers these reflections on this verse.

The most important difference between the discussion of the early church fathers and the Fourth Evangelist about the relationship of God and Jesus is that the church fathers were developing doctrine and the Fourth Evangelist was telling a story. This does not mean that the Fourth Evangelist's reflections are inherently any less theological, but because they are cast in a story, they have a very different theological intent.... When Jesus says, "I and the Father are one," it does not come as any surprise to the Gospel reader, because that reality has been acted out throughout the Gospel narrative. Jesus has done the works of God, spoken the words of God, identified himself with the I AM of God. The relationship of God and Jesus is not a metaphysical puzzle for the Fourth Evangelist, but evidence of God's love for the world (3:16-17). The wonder of the incarnation is that God is palpably available to the world in the person of Jesus, that those who believe in Jesus, who see the works of God in Jesus, have access to God in ways never before possible (14:7-11).


One non-negotiable point that John and the early framers of doctrine have in common, however, is that Jesus' relationship to God is the crux and stumbling block of Christian faith. For the Fourth Evangelist, that relationship is the dividing line between Jews and Christians, and hence is the focal point of most of the controversy between Jesus and the religious authorities. For the second-, third-, and fourth-century theologians, it was the dividing line between orthodoxy and heresy. For contemporary Christians, it is the source of Christians' distinctive religious identity in their conversations with one another and with people of different religious faiths. [p. 679]

Where I used to live (200 miles from Salt Lake City), the Mormons exert a strong influence. Although we can't fully understand the one-ness of Jesus and the Father, maintaining that unity is essential for keeping our Christian identity among those who would divide these two into completely separate entities.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901