John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 10:11-13, The Hireling

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.

//John’s Gospel contains a beautiful, hope-filled picture of a good shepherd. It also contains a warning about a bad shepherd, referred to as the “hireling.”

This passage is sometimes misunderstood to refer to the shepherding instincts and skills of the clergy. Some religions, disdaining the collection plate, even point to the word “hireling” and criticize those “shepherds” who accept a salary.

The fact is, however, this verse must be read in context, noting the source of John’s theology … not just in the Gospel of John but in the book of Revelation. The books of Ezekiel and Zechariah and Isaiah are fundamental to John’s “shepherd” theology, and the most important thing to realize is that there is only one of eachshepherd. “The” good shepherd, “the” bad shepherd. This displays a dichotomy that grew common in Judaic writings, particularly apocalyptic writings such as passages found in these O.T. books. There would one day come a messiah, who would battle an antichrist. There would one day come a good shepherd, who would oppose an evil shepherd. Nowhere is this more clear than in the book of Zechariah.

John’s stance is simple and exciting: We’ve found one of the two! The good shepherd has been discovered! It’s Jesus! John doesn’t name the bad shepherd. His point in bringing up Jesus’ evil twin seems to be merely to highlight the contrast: “See, Jesus is the one we’re waiting for to be the good shepherd, because he hangs in there to the very end, even dying for his flock.”

So, while I agree with the concern that clergy need to be good shepherds instead of “hirelings,” this was never a scriptural command.

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