John 10:3
To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
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(3) To him the porter openeth.—The word “porter” is not, perhaps, misleading to many, but for the sake of the possible few, it may be noted that door-keeper is what is here meant. There is no further interpretation of what, in the spiritual fold, corresponds to the office of the porter, whereas the door and the shepherd are successively made the texts of fuller expositions of Christ’s own work. We are not, therefore, to regard “the porter” as an essential part of the allegory (comp. John 10:5), nor need we trouble ourselves with the various expositions which have been given of it. At the same time, we should not forget that the thought is one which impressed itself on the mind of St. Paul. At Ephesus “a great and effectual door was opened unto him” (1Corinthians 16:9); “when he came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel a door was opened unto him of the Lord” (2Corinthians 2:12); the Colossians are exhorted to pray that “a door of the word (the gospel) may be opened, to speak the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3); at the close of the first missionary journey he and Barnabas told how “God had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). We have St. Paul’s authority, therefore, for understanding by the “door-keeper,” if we are to interpret it here, the Holy Spirit, whose special work it is to determine who are shepherds and sheep, and to call each to the work and position given to him by God. We must be careful to note, with this interpretation, that St. Paul gives divine titles to Him who thus opens the door, lest, from the humble position of the porter in the material fold, we should be led to unworthy thoughts of Him who is “neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.”

And the sheep hear his voice.—The reference is here to the whole of the sheep in the fold; they are all roused as they hear a shepherd’s cry, which is the signal for their being led forth to the pastures.

And he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.—Now the sheep of the shepherd’s own flock are thought of. They are singled out from the rest, each one by its own name. A mountain shepherd in our own country, and even a shepherd’s dog, will know a single sheep among hundreds from other flocks, and there is nothing more strange in the sheep being trained to know its own name and its shepherd’s voice. We have to think, also, of a much closer relationship between the owner and his sheep, which were almost part of his family, than any with which we are familiar. All animals learn to know those who love and protect them, and the Eastern shepherd was as much with his sheep as we are with the domestic animals. (Comp. 1Samuel 17:34-37; 2Samuel 12:3.) The practice was not unknown in the West, for Aristotle tells us that “in each flock they train the bell-wether to lead the way, whenever he is called by name by the shepherd” (History of Animals, vi. 19); and Theocritus has handed down to us the names by which the Shepherd Lacon addressed three of his flock:—

“Ho, Curly-horn; Ho, Swift-foot, leave the tree,

And pasture eastward where ye Baldhead see.”

Idyll. v. 102, 3.

(3) The reference in Luke 10:3 to the wolves among whom they would be as lambs, throws light upon John 10:12. He who would lay down His life for them would expose them to the wolves because He as the Good Shepherd would save them from the wolf.

And it was at Jerusalem.—Better, And the Feast of the Dedication was being held at Jerusalem.—Although St. John gives no hint that our Lord had left the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, this specific mention of the city implies a return from a distance, for the words would be out of place if He had continued there during the interval since John 10:21. They cannot be restricted to the feast, which was not confined to Jerusalem, but was universally observed by the Jews.

The reference in the margin warns us against the error of understanding “the Feast of the Dedication” as a feast in honour of the dedication of Solomon’s or Zerubbabel’s temple. We know of no annual festival connected with these dedications, and the statement that this feast was “in the winter” makes it almost certain that it was the feast instituted, B.C. 164, by Judas Maccabæus, in commemoration of the cleansing of the Temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 4:52-59). It extended over eight days, beginning on the 25th of the month Kisleu, which answers to parts of our November and December. It is still called “Chanuca,” the Dedication, while St. John’s Greek name for it, which was adopted by the Vulgate (Encœnia), is familiar to English ears in connection with another commemoration. In this, as in other rejoicings, illumination was a prominent feature, and it was sometimes called the “Feast of Lights.” The Temple and private houses were illuminated, and it was customary in the houses of the more wealthy and pious Jews to have a light for each member of the family, increasing by an additional light for each evening of the feast. The illumination has been sometimes traced to the discovery in the temple by the Maccabees of a vial of oil, sealed with the high priest’s ring. This, it is said, was sufficient for the lamps for one evening only, but was miraculously multiplied so as to suffice for eight evenings, which was therefore devoted to annual illuminations in remembrance of this gift of God (Talmud, Shabbath 216).

And it was winter.—Better, It was winter. These words should then be connected with the following verse. Our division breaks the sense.

10:1-5 Here is a parable or similitude, taken from the customs of the East, in the management of sheep. Men, as creatures depending on their Creator, are called the sheep of his pasture. The church of God in the world is as a sheep-fold, exposed to deceivers and persecutors. The great Shepherd of the sheep knows all that are his, guards them by his providence, guides them by his Spirit and word, and goes before them, as the Eastern shepherds went before their sheep, to set them in the way of his steps. Ministers must serve the sheep in their spiritual concerns. The Spirit of Christ will set before them an open door. The sheep of Christ will observe their Shepherd, and be cautious and shy of strangers, who would draw them from faith in him to fancies about him.To him the porter openeth - The porter is the doorkeeper. It seems that the more wealthy Jews who owned flocks employed some person to take charge of the flock. At first all shepherds attended their flocks personally by day and by night, and this continued to be commonly the practice, but not always.

The sheep hear his voice - The voice of the shepherd. A flock will readily discern the well-known voice of one who is accustomed to attend them. The meaning is, that the people of God will be found disposed to listen to the instructions of those who are appointed by Christ, who preach his pure doctrines, and who show a real love for the church of God. There is scarcely any better test of fidelity in the pastoral office than the approbation of the humble and obscure people of God, when they discern in the preacher the very manner and spirit of the doctrines of the Bible.

He calleth his own sheep by name - It was customary, and is still, we are told by travelers, for shepherds to give particular names to their sheep, by which they soon learned to regard the voice of the shepherd. By this our Saviour indicates, doubtless, that it is the duty of a minister of religion to seek an intimate and personal acquaintance with the people of his charge; to feel an interest in them as individuals, and not merely to address them together; to learn their private needs; to meet them in their individual trials, and to administer to them personally the consolations of the gospel.

Leadeth them out - He leads them from the fold to pasture or to water. Perhaps there is here intended the care of a faithful pastor to provide suitable instruction for the people of his charge, and to feed them with the bread of life. See a beautiful and touching description of the care of the Great Shepherd in Psalm 23:1-6.

3. To him the porter openeth—that is, right of free access is given, by order of Him to whom the sheep belong; for it is better not to give the allusion a more specific interpretation [Calvin, Meyer, Luthardt].

and the sheep hear his voice—This and all that follows, though it admits of important application to every faithful shepherd of God's flock, is in its direct and highest sense true only of "the great Shepherd of the sheep," who in the first five verses seems plainly, under the simple character of a true shepherd, to be drawing His own portrait [Lampe, Stier, &c.].

By the porter is understood God; or more particularly, (to show the order of the Holy Trinity in working), the Holy Spirit, who openeth the hearts of men to receive and embrace Jesus Christ, who is the chief Shepherd; and the sheep are able to distinguish his voice from the voice of thieves and robbers. Probably they had in those countries particular words and phrases, which, their shepherds having used them to, the sheep understood, and moved according to the direction of them. Some think they had also names for their sheep, (as we have for our dogs and horses), which they understood. Otherwise, it only signifieth that particular knowledge which Christ hath of all those that are truly his: as the former phrase signified, that judgment of discerning spirits and doctrines, which was in an eminent degree in the first ministers of the gospel, and is yet in a measure in believers; by which, though they cannot perfectly and infallibly judge concerning truth, and the will of God, in all things, yet they can in a great measure do it; and are not ordinarily led aside into pernicious and damnable errors, to the ruin of their souls. And, saith our Saviour, the true shepherd leadeth the sheep out; that is, into their pastures and true feeding places. This is eminently true concerning Christ the chief Shepherd: when he came into the world, God opened to him the door of his church; so as though he was rejected by many, (the builders and rulers of the Jewish church in particular), yet he was by many received; multitudes followed him; many truly believed on him, and truly heard his voice; he had a particular knowledge of them who truly were his sheep; he knew Nathanael while he was yet under the fig tree; he led them out into their true pastures, preaching the gospel of the kingdom to them, and showing them the way of life and salvation. It is in its measure true of every inferior shepherd, that truly derives from Christ; God giveth unto such favour in the eyes of his people. The true sheep of Christ hear them, receive and embrace the truth delivered by them. They take a particular charge of them, and they lead them to Christ, and to the embracing of his gospel; as by the holy and true doctrine which they preach to them, so by their holy lives and conversations before them.

To him the porter openeth,.... There is nothing in the explanation of this parable given by Christ, that directs to the sense of this clause; the allusion cannot be, as some have thought, to great men, who have porters at their gates, to open them, and let in persons that come and knock; since the parable is concerning the sheepfold, and the shepherd, and the sheep that go into it; and therefore must refer to one that at least, at certain times, stood by the door of the sheepfold, and had the care of it, and opened it upon proper occasions: by whom is designed not Michael the Archangel, nor the Virgin Mary, nor Peter, the supposed doorkeeper of heaven, as say the Papists, nor Moses, as others, who wrote of Christ; nor does it seem so well to understand it of the ministers of the Gospel, who preach Jesus Christ, and open the door of faith, or set open the door of the Gospel, whereby Christ comes into the souls of men, and they come to him; though this is a sense not to be despised; but rather this intends God the Father, from whom Christ, as man and Mediator, derives his authority, and by whom he is let into, and invested with his office, as the shepherd of the sheep; or else the Holy Spirit, who opens the everlasting floors of the hearts of men, of Christ's sheep, and lets him in unto them.

And the sheep hear his voice; not the porter's; though they do hear the voice of Christ's ministers, and of God the Father, and of the Holy Ghost; but the shepherd's, even the voice of Christ; and which is no other than the Gospel, which is a voice of love, grace, and mercy; which proclaims peace, pardon, liberty, life, righteousness, and salvation; and which is a soul quickening, alluring, delighting, refreshing, and comforting voice: this the people of Christ are made to hear, not only externally, but internally; so as to understand it, delight in it, and distinguish it from another: and these are called "sheep", and that before conversion; not because they have the agreeable properties of sheep; nor because predisposed unto, and unprejudiced against the Gospel of Christ, for they are the reverse of these; nor can some things be said of them before, as after conversion, as that they hear the voice of Christ, and follow him; nor merely by anticipation, but by reason of electing grace, and because given to Christ the great shepherd, under this character, to be kept and fed by him. And they are so called after conversion, because they are harmless and inoffensive in their lives and conversations; and yet are exposed to the malice, cruelty, and butchery of men; and are meek and patient under sufferings; and are clean, social, and profitable.

And he calleth his own sheep by name; the Ethiopic version adds, "and loves them". These are Christ's own, by the Father's gift of them to him, by the purchase of his own blood, and by the power of his grace upon them; who looks them up, and finds them out, and brings them home, and takes care of them as his own, and feeds them as a shepherd his flock: these he may be said to "call by name", in allusion to the eastern shepherds, who gave names to their sheep, as the Europeans do to their horses, and other creatures, and who could sit and call them by their names: this is expressive not only of Christ's call of his people by powerful and special grace, but of the exact and distinct knowledge he has of them, and the notice he takes of them, as well as of the affection he has for them; see Isaiah 43:1.

And leadeth them out; from the world's goats, among whom they lay, and from the folds of sin, and the barren pastures of Mount Sinai, and their own righteousness, on which they were feeding, and out of themselves, and from off all dependence on anything of their own; and he leads unto himself, and the fulness of his grace, and to his blood and righteousness, and into his Father's presence and communion with him, and in the way of righteousness and truth, and into the green pastures of the word and ordinances, beside the still waters of his sovereign love and grace.

To him the {a} porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.

(a) In those days they used to have a servant always sitting at the door, and therefore he speaks after the manner of those days.

3. To him the porter openeth] The ‘porter’ is the door-keeper or gate-keeper, who fastens and opens the one door into the fold. In the allegory the fold is the Church, the Door is Christ, the sheep are the elect, the shepherds are God’s ministers. What does the porter represent? Possibly nothing definite. Much harm is sometimes done by trying to make every detail of an allegory or parable significant. There must be back ground in every picture. But if it be insisted that the porter here is too prominent to be meaningless, it is perhaps best to understand the Holy Spirit as signified under this figure; He who grants opportunities of coming, or of bringing others, through Christ into the Kingdom of God. Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3; Acts 14:27; Revelation 3:8 : but in all these passages ‘door’ does not mean Christ, but opportunity. See on 1 Corinthians 16:9.

the sheep hear his voice] All the sheep, whether belonging to His flock or not, know from His coming that they are about to be led out. His own sheep (first for emphasis) he calleth by name (Exodus 33:12; Exodus 33:17; Isaiah 43:1), and leadeth them out to pasture. Even in this country shepherds and shepherds’ dogs know each individual sheep; in the East the intimacy between shepherd and sheep is still closer. The naming of sheep is a very ancient practice: see Theocritus 5:102.

John 10:3. Τούτῳ, to Him) as to one well known.—ὁ θυρωρός, the porter) Christ is regarded as the Shepherd, at verse 11, etc.; as the Door, at verse 1–10. Just as it is not unworthy of Christ to be called the Door, by which the shepherd enters: so it is not unworthy of God to be called the Porter. The Hebrew שער sounds a more honourable designation. As to the thing signified, see Acts 14:27, “How God had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles:” Colossians 4:3, “Praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance.” Comp. Revelation 3:7, “He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth:” Acts 16:14, “Lydia—whose heart the Lord opened.” C. Weisius, a theologian of Leipsic, has maintained, in a copious dissertation, published in A. 1739, that the Porter is the Holy Spirit.—τὰ πρόβατατὰ ἴδια πρόβατα, the sheep—His own sheep) So John 10:4, by an inverse Chiasmus, His own sheep—the sheep.—ἀκούει, καλεῖ, they hear, He calls) Correlatives.—τὰ ἴδια τρόβατα, His own sheep) All are His own sheep: comp. John 10:12, “He that—is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not.” But this epithet is more consonant with the call given by name than with the hearing. [The genuine Shepherd is indeed recognised as such by all souls that are duly affected; but He is manifested in a peculiar manner to those, whom His assistance especially helps.—V. g.]—καλεῖ κατʼ ὄνομα, He calls by name) Even sheep were by the ancients distinguished by names.—καί) and so, whilst He calls.

Verse 3. - To him the porter openeth. The doorkeeper of the fold has been variously interpreted. Bengel and Hengstenberg say, "God himself" is meant; Stier, Alford, and Lange, "the Holy Spirit;" against which interpretations may be urged the subordinate position assigned to the "porter," as compared with the shepherds themselves. Lampe and Godet think that "John the Baptist" was intended; while Meyer and De Wette say that it is one of those elements of the parable which is dropped out of our Lord's own exposition for which we need not seek any special application. Westcott thinks it must vary with the special sense attributed to "sheep" and "shepherd," and float we must think of it as "the Spirit working through his appointed ministers in each case." The "doorkeeper," if Christ be himself the "Door," is the keeper of that door - the agency, the ministry, the ordinances by which the excellences and power of Christ were or are manifested. We are reminded of subsequent use of the imagery in Paul's Epistles (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3; cf. Acts 14:27); but the full meaning of the phrase is only suggested, and we had better wait for Christ's interpretation of some parts of this allegory. The context provides a specific filling out, first of one part of the imagery, and secondly of another part of it. The two interpretations are not to be forced at one and the same time upon the parable. Our Lord continues: And the sheep hear his voice. When a shepherd approaches the door to fetch the folded sheep which belong to him, the porter opens that door for him i.e. a true shepherd who has at heart the interests of the sheep and of their supreme Owner, finds the way made ready for him. In the fold are many flocks. All the sheep give heed to his voice. He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. They know a shepherd calls, and then that shepherd addresses his own sheep by name, and he leads these forth into the pasture. Even in our own pastures the shepherds know each sheep by name. Aristotle ('Hist. Anim.,' 6:19) tells us the bell-wether knew his name, and obeyed his shepherd. Archdeacon Watkins gives a quotation from Theocritus' 'Idylls,' charmingly illustrating the habit. The shepherd, by the mere call to his own sheep, would separate them from these which did not belong to him, and lead them forth to their pasture in the wilderness. This method of Oriental life illustrates the function of all true shepherds of men. It has had many partial fulfillments in the history of the Church and of the world. Daring the period of the old theocratic dispensation, many "thieves and robbers" made havoc of the flock; still there were prophetic and kingly men who, sent by God, found their way to the heart of Israel; many came to know that a prophet had been among them, and they followed him. It is equally true now, though all the external conditions are changed. The full application of this part of the allegory is only seen when "the good Shepherd" seeketh his sheep; but the meaning of the first picture is obscured by hurrying on to the enlarged and double exposition which Christ gave of the two parts of his own parable, and much is lost by endeavoring to force into a primary exposition of vers. 1-6 the features borrowed from a twofold interpretation of the separate ideas suggested by the composite image. John 10:3Porter (θυρωρὸς)

From θύρα, door, and ὤρα, care. An under-shepherd, to whose charge the sheep are committed after they have been folded for the night, and who opens the door on the arrival of the shepherd in the morning.

Calleth (καλεῖ)

But the best texts read φωνεῖ, expressing personal address.

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