"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life ...” (John 10:11-13)

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:11-13)

What does 'the good shepherd' mean?

Most sectarian versions of this statement translate the Greek word καλός (kalos) to "good." What distinction does this have? Would Jesus really describe himself as the "good shepherd" and what purpose would that have?

According to Thayer's lexicon, the Greek word καλός actually means "genuine." It can also mean "approved" as well as "precious" and "competent." But in this context, "genuine" is the appropriate translation.

The distinction Jesus is trying to make is that there are many teachers who were posing to be God's representatives - i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes and so on. They are posing as "shepherds" but they are not really.

But Jesus was the genuine shepherd. He was the true teacher - God's representative. He wasn't just posing as God's representative. He was the genuine article - he was genuinely representing God.

Do you see how using the word "good" here misrepresents Jesus' statement? Do you see how it actually hides the fact that he is distinguishing himself from these other teachers that makes his statement so meaningful?

The fact that sectarian translators have mistranslated this word is just one of the key indicators that these sectarian translators were not themselves genuine. They were not genuinely representing God as they translated the scripture of His representative.

In fact, most were the "hired hands," as Jesus speaks of. Professional priests, preachers or translators are all "hired hands."

Who is the 'hired hand'?

Jesus is making a clear comparison between the kind of commitment he, a loving servant and representative of the Supreme Being has towards his followers, versus the professional priests or teachers that were vying for the attention of the Jewish people at that time.

"The hired hand" is specifically mentioned here in this verse because it reflects those institutional temple priests - the Pharisees and high priests - who were not teaching to others as a service to the Supreme Being. They were teaching as part of their professional positions. Jesus had criticized this aspect before as he spoke of these professional priests:
"They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Luke 20:47)
How were they devouring widows' houses? Because the temple was collecting tithings from the households of men who passed away to pay the salaries of the priests. This illustrates how Jesus abhorred the professional teachers of the temple.

Jesus' parable illustrates the lack of commitment these professional priests have towards their followers: "So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away." In other words, the professional teacher is not prepared to commit his life to God and therefore his followers.

A professional priest, pastor, minister, reverend, pope, bishop or cardinal is teaching in exchange for a salary. This is not loving service to God. Loving service to God is unconditional. Loving service to God is not done in exchange for a reward. Service in exchange for a salary is a business arrangement. It is not love.

What did Jesus mean by 'lays down his life for the sheep'?

Many sectarian teachers will focus on this phrase. They interpret this to mean that Jesus will die on the cross for our sins. Their teaching is that all we have to do is accept that Jesus died for our sins, and we will be "saved."

Yet this is not what Jesus taught. And just in this statement, we can see it doesn't make sense. 

According to this translation, Jesus is stating that only good shepherds will lay down their lives for the sheep.

Do shepherds typically die for their sheep? No. If they did, who would be around to care for them?

Thus we find the metaphor fails to substantiate the hypothesis that Jesus was speaking of dying - and that would save us.

Rather, the phrase, "lays down" is translated from the Greek word τίθημι (tithēmi). This word doesn't mean to die. It means, according to the lexicon, to "commit" or "bow." It means to put aside one's own self for the purpose of helping someone else.

Furthermore, the word "life" is being translated from the Greek word, ψυχή (psychē), which doesn't mean "life." Rather, this word means "soul" or "the vital force which animates the body."

This means that Jesus could not be speaking of dying - since his soul did not die on the cross - only his body died.

What was Jesus saying then?

Jesus was not talking about dying on the cross. He was speaking of commitment. He was committing his life (and soul) to taking care of those who follow him (his "sheep").

This is a big deal. Jesus was speaking of something much bigger. Love. Jesus was speaking of the love he has for those who hear and follow his teachings to love God and do God's will.

Jesus' real teachings transcend the narrow view offered by sectarian institutions, who worship Jesus as God and say he died for our sins. Such a philosophy was condemned by Jesus himself:
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will come to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Jesus clearly indicates that even those who were supposedly "saving" others in Jesus' name, or proclaiming to be "saved" ("Lord, Lord") - the equivalent of proclaiming that Jesus died for our sins - Jesus calls them "evildoers!" He will tell them to get "away from me"!

So what is Jesus teaching then? Clearly, he states "but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

In other words, Jesus is teaching us to serve God. Not only that: Jesus is saying that serving God is the only true pathway back to the spiritual world.

Service to God is also voluntary loving service because it is not done in exchange for a reward. This means we are not exchanging service to get salvation.

Salvation is not a bargaining chip - something that we get in return for doing something else.

Jesus was not teaching us to come to church and accept that he died for our sins and then we're saved. He was trying to teach us to voluntarily love God, and serve God. This is stated clearly in his "greatest" instruction:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)
But what about Jesus' dying on the cross? Didn't that mean anything? It surely did not mean that we now have the permission to do whatever selfish thing we want and then come into church to get cleansed by Jesus' crucifixion ("bathing in the blood" as many ecclesiastical teachers put it).

Jesus was murdered because of his teachings. He allowed himself to be arrested because he stood up for his teachings and this should show us how important his teachings are. Jesus' teachings are so important - and God is so important to him - that he was ready to sacrifice his physical body for them.

This means, in effect, that he was ready to make this sacrifice in order to get his message through to us. Many sectarian teachers are misconstruing Jesus' sacrifice. They want to turn it into a self-centered pitch - that we need to be saved and we need to come to their church so we can get saved - even though Jesus' body died on the cross 2,000 years ago.

Rather, Jesus' sacrifice should make us serious about learning to love and serve the Supreme Being. It should show us that loving and serving God is more important than the life of our physical body.

This is Jesus' message. And if we take it, Jesus will be our shepherd. If we ignore it, then Jesus will tell us, as he stated, "I never knew you. Away from me."

*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement according to the Lost Gospels of Jesus:

"I am the genuine shepherd, and the genuine shepherd commits his life for the sake of his sheep. One who is a hired hand and not a shepherd – who is not the owner of the sheep – sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. The wolf will then snatch them and scatter them. He flees because he is a hired hand and doesn’t care about the sheep." (John 10:11-13)