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§ 72. The Parable of the Shepherd, in John, compared with the Parables in the other Gospels.

Parables, as we have said, are peculiarly fitted for oral tradition. We 112need not wonder, therefore, that they are more abundant in the first three Gospels, which were composed of such traditions, than in John; and, moreover, the latter, presupposing them to be known, may have had, in his peculiar turn of mind, and in the object for which he wrote his Gospel, sufficient reasons for omitting them. Yet the discourses of Christ, as given by him, are marked by the very peculiarity that gives rise to the use of parables, viz., the illustration of the Spiritual and the Divine, by images taken from common life.

But real parables are not entirely wanting in John’s Gospel. The illustration of the shepherd and the sheep (ch. 10) has all the essential features of the parable, and John himself applies that name to it (ver. 6). Here, as in other parables, we find a religious truth vividly represented by a similitude taken from the sphere of nature. As, for instance, in the parable of the sower, Christ is likened to the husbandman, the Divine word to the seed, and the various degrees of susceptibility for the word in men’s souls to the variously productive soils in which the seed is planted; so, in this similitude, the relation of souls to Christ is compared with that of sheep to the shepherd; and the self-seeking teacher, who offers himself, on his own authority and for a bad purpose, as a guide of men, is likened to a thief who does not enter the sheep-fold by the door, but climbs over the wall. Strauss has remarked that this parable differs from those of the Synoptical Gospels in this, that it does not give a historical narrative, with beginning, middle, and end, of a fact actually once taking place, but makes use simply of what is commonly seen to happen. But even this feature cannot be said to be essential to all the synoptical parables, but only to those in which a specific occurrence in human intercourse is assumed to illustrate a spiritual truth;173173   Even were the name parables (as a distinct form of similitudes) restricted to representations of this class, such a distinction would not destroy the analogy between Christ’s discourses in John and those in the other Gospels, founded on their use, in common, of the same mode of vividly exhibiting spiritual truths. for in those, on the other hand, which are not taken from social and civil life, but from the sphere of man’s intercourse with nature, the one especial fact given is nothing but a specimen of what commonly takes place; and the form of the statement could be entirely changed in this respect, without at all affecting its substance. Of this the parable of the sower is an example, and, indeed, those of the leaven and the mustard seed also. So, too, John’s parable of the shepherd and the sheep might be stated in the form of a fact once occurring, without losing a particle of its individuality.



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