In John 10:29 we have a variation that is extremely important. Does “greater” refer to the Father who gave the flock to Jesus, or to the flock itself?
Is the Father greater than all, or is the flock the Father gave Jesus, greater than all?
KJV: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Good News: “What my Father has given me is greater than everything, and no one can snatch them away from my Father’s care.”
BBE: “That which my Father has given to me has more value than all; and no one is able to take anything out of the Father’s hand.”
Our first criterion to consider is to look at how strong the different variations are represented in the manuscripts we have.
|Possibilities:||My Father is greater:||The flock is greater:|
|Witness:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|301-400||Vaticanus||2 Old Latin, Bohairic, Gothic||Ambrose||Sinaiticus,||Syriac, Achmimic, Bohairic||Basil, Diodore|
|401-500||3 Old Latin||Jerome||Bezae, Washington||Old Latin, 2 Syriac, Armenian, Georgian||Chrysostom*, Nonnus*, Cyril|
|501-600||2 Old Latin|
|601-700||3 Old Latin||Syriac|
|701-800||Regius, Atous- Laurae|
|801-900||Petropolitanus, Sangallensis, Cyprius, Koridethi, Campianus U|
|901-1600||2 Old Latin||20 Minuscules, Families 1 and 13, 6 Lectionaries|
The United Bible Societies examine all manuscripts known all over the world. They consider more than 6,500 Greek manuscripts, more than 18,000 manuscripts of Ancient Translations and the quotations or references of more than 200 Church Fathers before they decide on a specific variation to use as their text. Then they give all the information concerning these sources in an apparatus at the bottom of the page. This enables anyone to see which variation is supported by which document. But even then they also evaluate their own choice in a scale of A: “The text is virtually certain”, to D: “There is a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading selected for the text.” In this verse they selected the variation that says “the Father is greater”, but gave their choice a “D” rating. This actually means that a panel of highly educated experts on Greek and the New Testament say that both variations have equal grounds, but they had to make a choice.
Accordingly the variation saying that the Father is greater than all, has a very slight advantage to represent the original autograph.
Our next criterion to evaluate the two versions is to try and understand how this variation could have originated. The difference is caused by a single letter, an omicron, or an omega. Is it “meizon”, or “meizōn”? Is it the third person singular, or third person plural? Whether a scribe misread his source manuscript, or confused the letter in his mind going from the source to the copy he was making, or even if he deliberately altered his copy to suit his preference, it could have gone either way. This brings us no further to establishing the original.
Lastly we can examine the context where this variation is embedded. The Jews confronted Jesus by asking Him to tell them plainly whether He was indeed the Christ or not. To this Jesus answered: “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for Me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; No one can snatch them out of my hand. [THE SHEEP OR MY FATHER] who has given them to me, is greater than all; No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (NIV) Did Jesus say the sheep are the greater than all, or did He say his Father is greater than all? How can we solve this conundrum?
The case for the sheep:
Jesus compares his followers as his sheep in opposition to the Jews. His sheep will be given eternal life in contrast with the Jews, for the flock listen and know and follow Jesus. Jesus is the Christ on behalf of them. And no one can snatch them out of His or out of his Father’s hand. He and the Father stand on equal foot in favour of the sheep. All these remarks prove the utmost greatness with which Jesus sees His followers in opposition to the Jews. They are most certainly greater than them, for they were even given to Jesus by the Father! If they were not that important to Jesus, why would He do so much for them?
The case for the Father:
Right at the beginning of his answer Jesus says that the miracles He does are in the name of the Father. And it is indeed the Father who gave Jesus the sheep. And no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. And then Jesus concludes with the statement that He and the Father are one.
Both cases have strong firm grounds to claim the “greater” attribute! Did Jesus say that the Father, or that the sheep was greater than all?
But finally we have to bear in mind that this is not a statement on its own concerning the relationship between Jesus, the flock and the Father. It is indeed the essence of the answer Jesus gave the Jews on the question whether He was indeed the Christ! What would drive the message home that Jesus is indeed the Christ to his flock in opposition to the Jews?
Would Jesus mean: “Understand this, Jews: I am indeed the Christ to my flock, for no one can snatch out of my hand, or out of my Father’s hand who is greater than all, for I and the Father are one, for their well-being!”
Or: “Understand this, Jews: I am indeed the Christ to my flock who are greater than all, for no one can snatch out of my hand, or out of my Father’s hand for I and the Father are one, for their well-being!”
Both variations stand on equal foot, but let the light fall on a different aspect of the epitome of the whole plan of salvation!
This sentence makes some comparison. Somebody is more important than someone else. The Father is not compared to anybody in this conversation. But the sheep are compared to the Jews. This actually calls for the version of saying that “the sheep are the greater” to be the authentic version. Does this not make sense?
Commentary at the bottom of this page or directly to me at email@example.com is very welcome.