[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
The Book of Mormon (BOM) claims to be an account of a group of Jews who left Jerusalem around 600 BC and made their way to the Americas. They lived there, separated from the Israelites in the Middle East and grew into a large population before they finally died out around 400 AD. During this time, the BOM claims that the people had prophets to whom God revealed all sorts of things about the future Messiah. It further claims that at some point soon after Jesus’ resurrection, He also appeared to these people for a short period of time and set up a Church complete with apostles, etc.
A mistaken identity
Because of the BOM, Mormons believe that when Jesus speaks of “other sheep” in John 10, that this is referring to the Israelites then living in the Americas, to whom He would go and preach. Orthodox Christianity has always viewed the “sheep” as the Jews, while the “other sheep” refers to bringing in Gentiles, so that they will be “one fold” with “one Shepherd”. This is similar to how Paul talked about how Christ has “broken down the middle wall of partition” between Jews and Gentiles, so that “there is neither Jew nor Greek”. Mormons also claim that when Jesus says that the sheep “hear My voice”, that this strengthens their case that this is the BOM peoples, because Jesus did appear to the BOM peoples and speak to them, but He didn’t appear to the Gentiles.
Let’s look at their claims, and see if this is what the Bible supports. First, pause a moment and read the entire chapter, start to finish.
Mormons do not claim that Jesus ever told the Israelite Jews about the BOM peoples, and agree that the Apostles didn’t know about the people living in America. First question: What, in the context, would lead anyone to think that Jesus is talking about people halfway around the world, whom none of His hearers and none of John’s readers, would even know exist? Secondly, since nobody knew about people living in America, why would Jesus have even said this? Even more, why would John have recorded it, if it was incomprehensible to him and everybody else, and would stay incomprehensible for over 1,700 years?
Looking for clues
Does the passage contain any clues about how it should be taken? Is there anything in there that describes or defines who or what is meant by the “sheep” and the “other sheep”? And specifically, is there anything that would support the idea that “sheep = Judean Israelites” while “other sheep = American Israelites”, and that the sheep hearing Jesus’ voice refers to hearing Jesus actually, literally, physically speak?
Yes, there is. First, after the section where Jesus mentions His “other sheep”, Jesus tells the non-believing Jews that they are not His sheep. This shows that it is NOT equating “sheep = Judean Jews while ‘other sheep’ = American Jews”. The people questioning Him were Judean Jews, whom He said were not My sheep. This establishes that the difference between “Jesus’s sheep” and “not His sheep” is belief and not genetics nor location.
Further, Jesus here says that His sheep hear Him, but these non-believing people He was talking to were not his sheep. This makes no sense if He’s talking about audible speech going from Jesus’s physical mouth to other people’s physical ears, because the people He was talking to were (obviously) hearing Him physically. Yet Jesus said they weren’t hearing Him, because they were not His sheep.
To underscore the point, Jesus’s next sentence can be expressed as an equation:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life.”
Putting it all together
Let’s work backwards here–who is said to have eternal life? Only those who follow Jesus. Who follows Jesus? Only those who “hear His voice”.
We’ve already shown that this can’t be talking about just those who physically heard Jesus’s voice while He was on earth, but for the sake of argument, what if that’s what it meant? If “hearing Jesus’s voice” is limited only to those who physically heard the voice of Jesus, then the only people who could qualify as “sheep” are those who lived during the approximately three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry (plus any others they want to claim actually saw Jesus in person or in vision, in America or elsewhere–still an awfully small number). This means that if “hearing Jesus’s voice” requires physically hearing it, then only those people can even follow Jesus, much less have eternal life.
This also means, that if this is teaching that Jesus has to physically speak to a Judean Jew in order for him to be one of “the sheep” and to speak to a BOM Israelite in order for him to be one of “the other sheep”, then that would mean that anyone that has not physically (or even in vision) heard Jesus’s literal voice, then they’re not a sheep either, and can’t follow Jesus, nor inherit eternal life.
But if you read this chapter in context, we see that the “sheep” are clearly identified as believers. Indeed, elsewhere Jesus spoke of separating “sheep” (believers) from “goats” (non-believers), and didn’t mention any other group, such as “believers who aren’t sheep”. Throughout the Bible (both Old and New Testament), God’s people are always likened to sheep, so saying that there are sheep who aren’t God’s people, or God’s people who aren’t sheep, goes against basically everything in the Bible.
The point of origin
One final point: Jesus said that the gospel would spread, starting at Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then “the uttermost parts of the world”.
While the LDS Church doesn’t present a precise date for when Jesus supposedly appeared to the BOM people in America, it was after the resurrection for sure, and most seem to think it was actually before the ascension, though some think it may have been right after the ascension. Either way, the apostles began preaching on Pentecost (about a week after the ascension: Pentecost is 50 days after Passover, and Jesus was 3 days in the grave, then spent 40 days with the disciples), but it was still probably many months before they got even so far as Samaria, much less preaching to Cornelius.
This means that if the BOM peoples (living in “the uttermost parts of the earth”) heard the gospel from Jesus either during the same 40 days that He was visiting the disciples in the Bible or not long after, then the gospel was heard “in the uttermost parts of the earth” possibly even before Pentecost but almost certainly before the gospel went “to Judea and Samaria”. In other words, Jesus was lying or mistaken, when He said that it was the apostles and the first disciples who would start preaching the gospel, by doing so in Jerusalem, with them and their descendants being the ones to take the gospel even to the uttermost parts of the earth. If the BOM is true, then the start of the spread of the gospel was Jesus in America, not the disciples in Jerusalem!