Sheep and non-sheep

Engaging his opponents on the interpretation of John 3, Owen ( The Death of Death in the Death of Christ ) insists God’s love for the world is emphasized because God’s love in the new covenant is extending to “as they are poor, miserable, lost creatures in the world, of the world, scattered abroad in all places of the world, not tied to Jews or Greeks, but dispersed in any nation, kindred, and language under heaven.” In this, he displays his sensitivity to the first-century context of the New Testament’s claims about universal salvation.

On the other hand, Owen rejects the notion that the difference between sheep and non-sheep in John 10 refers to Jew/Gentile distinctions: The opposition is between sheep and not sheep, and that with reference to their election, and not to their vocation. Now, whom would he have signified by the ‘not sheep’? those that were not called, — the Gentiles? That is against the text terming them sheep, that is in designation, though not as yet called, verse 16. And who are the called? the Jews? True, they were then outwardly called; yet many of them were not sheep, verse 26.”

Importantly, his reasoning here does not have to do with a general preference for the categories of election over redemptive-historical categories. Instead, it’s based on the way the words are used in the text.


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