“Other Sheep I Have Which Are Not of This Fold”

Alan C. Miner

According to Robert Matthews, fourteen verses in 3 Nephi 15 deal chiefly with a detailed explanation that the Nephites and the Lamanites were the "other sheep" once spoken of by Jesus to the Jews in Palestine, as recorded in John 10:16. Most readers of the Book of Mormon are aware that Jesus visited these "other sheep" in America. However, the Savior was so definitive on this point that it deserves particular attention. The passage in John 10:16 was cited by Jesus in 3 Nephi 15:16-17 as follows: "This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them: That other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."

Jesus said that the Father had commanded him to teach the Jews about the "other sheep," but when he did so (as explained in this verse), the Jews failed to understand the meaning. It appears that it was not only the multitude of the Jews but even the brethren in the Jewish Church who missed the meaning. This failure came from "stiffneckedness and unbelief." Therefore Jesus was "commanded to say no more of the Father" to the Jews about the subject. (3 Nephi 15:18)

The Jews thought that the "other sheep" were the Gentiles. (3 Nephi 15:22) This is suggested also in John 7:35, when the unbelieving Jews said, "Will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?" This misconception has been a popular interpretation by modern biblical scholars also.

It is at this point in Jesus' explanation that the doctrine becomes extremely valuable to our understanding of Jesus' worldwide mission, and also as an aid to the interpretation of scripture. The crux of the statement that Jesus makes in 3 Nephi 15:21-24 is that he will not at any time manifest himself personally nor by his audible voice to a Gentile nation. Such an event is declared to be a blessing reserved for those who are of the house of Israel. The Gentiles are to be converted through the preaching of those who are of Israel, and Jesus will manifest himself to the believing Gentiles through the Holy Ghost. This same concept is referred to in 1 Nephi 10:11, wherein Lehi said that Jesus would "make himself manifest, by the Holy Ghost, unto the Gentiles." This procedure is a provision of, and is in harmony with, the covenant to Abraham, as stated in Abraham 2:9-10, that Abraham's descendants have the responsibility of the ministry and will carry the priesthood and the gospel unto all nations. [Robert J. Matthews, "Christ's Authority, His Other sheep, and the Redemption of Israel," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, pp. 162-164]

3 Nephi 15:17 Other sheep I have . . . and they shall hear my voice ([Illustration]): The Trail of the Prophet. A graphic illustration of the many sites in the Americas from which emanate legends of the White God. [L. Taylor Hanson, He Walked the Americas, pp. 196-197]

“This Much Did the Father Command Me That I Should Tell Unto Them”

In 3 Nephi 15:16-18, Jesus revealed to the Nephites in the Americas something about what he had said to the Jews in the Old World:

This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them: That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. And now, because of the stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.

According to John Fowles, not only did the Jews at the time of Jesus fail to comprehend the verse in John 10:16 concerning the "other sheep," but todays scholars see Jesus' sermon of visiting other sheep as reference only to the Gentiles and not to the rest of the house of Israel. Moreover, no one except Latter-day Saints connect this prophecy with Ezekiel 37 as it applies to the writings of the "lost sheep" of the tribe of Joseph (the "stick" of Joseph"--the Book of Mormon) being brought together with the writings of Judah (the "stick" of Judah--the Bible). Rather, these non-LDS scholars would say Ezekiel's prophecy is simply a symbolic representation of the reunification of Israel. However, Fowles notes some studies by Aileen Guilding that give verification to what is found in the Book of Mormon.

According to Guilding, during New Testament times the law of Moses was read in the synagogues (Acts 15:21). To accomplish the goal of reading all of the law of Moses on consecutive Sabbaths, the first five books of the Bible were divided up into approximately 150 sections called sedarim. It took three years for completing the reading of the Law. To go along with the reading of these sedarim sections of the Law, the Jews had also developed a parallel set of readings from the Prophets. These thematic readings were called haphtorahs. During the synagogue service the scheduled section of the Law would be read first, and then the reading of the parallel thematic passage from the Prophets would follow.

Guilding has also shown that John's gospel was written to show Jewish readers that Jesus fulfilled prophecy, particularly as it related to each successive feast. In this gospel, Jesus' comments dealt not only with the very scriptures that were being studied at the particular feast that was going on at the time, but also the customs and practices associated with them.

Given this background for the gospel of John and the scheduled readings of the Law and the Prophets in the synagogues, it is very intriguing that Jesus' announcement of visiting other sheep (John 10:16) came while Jesus was in Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Dedication. According to Guilding's reconstruction of the cycle of the sedarim, the scheduled scriptures to be read would have come from Genesis 46:28---47:31. These verses spoke of the reuniting of Joseph and Judah. Even more intriguing, the accompanying thematic reading from the Prophets (or haphtorah) would have been Ezekiel 37:15-28 regarding the reuniting of Judah and Joseph, including their records. This gives impressive support to the idea that Christ's promise to the Jews to visit his "other sheep" was at the same time themes of shepherding, gathering, and Ezekiel's prediction of the records of Joseph ("stick of Joseph") being joined with the records of Judah (the "stick of Judah") were being studied and read in the synagogue. As we learn in 3 Nephi 15:18, the Jews didn't comprehend what Jesus was saying to them and the Father forbid him to say any more to them because of their unbelief. [John L. Fowles, "The Jewish Lectionary and Book of Mormon Prophecy," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 3, Num. 2, F.A.R.M.S., (Fall 1994), pp. 118-122] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 3:12]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary