Stenson explores three scriptural passages where Christ refers to his “other sheep,” suggesting that these sheep can represent both the Lehites of the New World and those in the latter days who would hear his voice through the Book of Mormon.
In this article, Matthew Scott Stenson provides a thorough exploration of three passages: D&C 10:59-64, John 10:16-18, and 3 Nephi 15:16 – 16:3. Each passage deals with Christ’s statement that he has “other sheep…which are not of this fold.” Though Latter-Day Saints generally believe to have the answer to the identity of these “other sheep,” Stenson argues that it can apply to more than those that Christ visited in the New World. Centering on the pastoral image of Christ as the Good Shepherd, Stenson places his focus on the Book of Mormon as a medium through which Christ’s voice can be heard by the sheep in his modern-day fold.
Stenson begins by outlining the key imagery of Christ as a shepherd, noting the shepherd’s knowledge of and concern toward his sheep, the ability for sheep to recognize the shepherd’s voice, and the practice of seeking out sheep that have been separated or lost. Stemming from King David and put to great effect by Ezekiel, the shepherd-sheep relationship is described in covenantal terms, with the Lord promising to save his scattered flock.
This pastoral motif can be found in D&C 10 where, following the loss of the 116 pages, the Lord explains the role of the Book of Mormon in delivering his gospel to “other nations.” Though the Lord’s reference to “other sheep” in this chapter is most directly connected to the people described by the Book of Mormon, it may also have reference to the gathering of those other Gentile nations. These verses repeatedly employ other imagery from John’s gospel, including imagery of light and darkness. In stating that he will “bring to light” the Book of Mormon and its doctrine, Stenson suggests that Christ is figuratively connecting himself (i.e, the light) with the Book of Mormon text itself.
Turning to John 10, Stenson summarizes the mainstream Christian interpretation of Christ’s “other sheep” statement—as the Gentiles who would hear Christ’s word through his disciples—and then places that statement in the broader context of John 9 and 10. Stenson argues that the blind man healed by Christ in John 9 is himself treated as a figure of Christ, sharing several key characteristics with the Savior. The man’s healed blindness is contrasted with the continuing inability of the Pharisees to hear what he is saying. This lays a foundation for Christ to expound the imagery of the Good Shepherd in John 10, whose sheep would hear his voice. This may extend not just to Christ’s discussion of “other sheep” in verse 16, but also to verses 17 and 18, where Stenson sees the “commandment” that Christ receives from the Father as referring to an injunction for Christ to bring his “other sheep” and allow them to hear his words. Though this injunction is ambiguous in John 10, its meaning is potentially clarified by a corresponding passage in 3 Nephi 16:3.
To identify who these other sheep are and how he intends to speak to them, Stenson turns to 3 Nephi 15 and 16. Containing similar language as that used in D&C 10, Stenson uses these passages to identify four groups connected with the Lord’s sheep, a list which includes “latter-day Gentiles and others of the house of Israel who would his voice by means of a sacred record”. Though Christ does not refer to this group as “other sheep” that he would visit directly, he immediately commands the Nephites to write his sayings down so that they could be delivered to the Gentiles in advance of them being gathered in fulfillment of the Lord’s covenant promises. Despite clearly saying that the Gentiles wouldn’t hear his voice directly, his voice has other ways of reaching them, whether it be via the Book of Mormon or by the Holy Ghost. Stenson highlights ways that 3 Nephi and D&C 10 emphasize our responsibility to harken to that voice, with God promising (as recorded elsewhere in the Book of Mormon) peace, safety, and salvation in return.
Stenson’s article provides me with a solid reminder that scripture, like all literature, doesn’t necessarily have a single, binding interpretation. It’s not that texts have endless, unlimited interpretations—there are certainly limits and bounds to what particular passages can mean—it’s that an author (particularly a divine one) can use words to express multiple ideas at the same time. If Stenson is correct, the mainstream Christian interpretation of John 10:16 isn’t necessarily wrong, just incomplete (though that would require a charitable interpretation of 3 Nephi 15:18). It’s possible for John 10:16 to be both (1) a clear and limited reference to the Nephites in the New World and (2) a broader reference to the gathering of Israel through the spread of the Gospel, with each meaning expressed and intended in the same breath.
This principle is why I tend to push back when people engage scripture as if they’re lawyers trying to interrogate legislation, treating every jot and tittle as if it was a fixed signpost to ultimate truth, with themselves as its true arbiters. I enjoy a solid exegesis as much as the next guy, but I think scripture—and life—is a bit more flexible than that. Two people can look at the same data and see different things—tell different stories—and both be right. Though that doesn’t apply to everything (a coinflip can be either heads or tails, and if two people take opposite sides of that debate, one of them is going to be wrong), what that perspective ultimately gives us is more truth, rather than less. I’ll look forward to considering a bit more truth the next time I read through John 10.