Saturday, 11 April 2015

Miriam DeCock: The Good Shepherd of John 10 in Patristic Interpretation

John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Cyril of Alexandria each commented on the Good Shepherd passage at length. I will contrast Cyril’s treatment of the passage with those of Chrysostom and Theodore. Each of these interpreters found it necessary to comment, for example, on how it could be that Jesus identified himself as both the gate and the shepherd of the sheep, just as they each identified identical referents to the thieves of the parable. All three commented in detail on verses 17–18, which concern the Father-Son relationship. Despite these similarities, however, their treatments of this passage exhibit what we might think are surprising differences in exegetical approach. We find the traditional characterization of the two so-called interpretive schools to which these authors belonged, namely, the literal/historical approach of the Antiochenes and the allegorical approach of the Alexandrians, to be complicated by their treatments of the passage. While all three interpreters recognized the parabolic nature of Jesus’ words, it is the Antiochenes for whom the genre demands an immediate ‘symbolic’ interpretation of the passage, whereas Cyril interprets its ‘spiritual sense’ only after he has determined the historical. While Chrysostom and Theodore thought the gatekeeper and gate stood for Moses and the law respectively, Cyril read the parable as a warning first to Jesus’ addressees, the Pharisees, and then to the leaders of his own day who, without divine sanction, presumed to take positions of leadership in the church.

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