Pope Peter, Part II: The Good Shepherd Calls a Shepherd

This is part two in what I hope will a daily five-part series laying out the Biblical evidence for Peter’s primacy from the Gospels.  Yesterday, we looked at how Peter was called to lead and care for the Twelve in Luke 22, in the same manner that the Twelve were to lead and care for all of God’s flock. Today, we’ll look at how Jesus called Peter to be His shepherd.

I. What Scripture Says
In John 10:11-19, Jesus provides the parable of the Good Shepherd, establishing that He’s the eternal Head of the Church:
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

I think Catholics and Protestants agree on what this parable means.  God alone is perfect Good (Mark 10:18), so when Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd, it’s a Divine title.  He’s also establishing Himself as the Eternal Head of the Church — the “Chief Shepherd,” as St. Peter puts it in 1 Peter 5:4.  But while God is the Chief Shepherd of the Church, He’s promised in Jeremiah 3:15 that, “I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” And Jesus promises just that in the parable of the Sheep-Gate, which is right before the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-10):

1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. 
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This often gets lumped in with the parable of the Good Shepherd, as if they’re all one parable. They’re not.  In John 10:1-10, we learn that Jesus is going to call a shepherd to lead His whole flock, and in John 10:11-19, we hear that shepherds should look to the Good Shepherd for how to lead.  Things to note:

  1. Nobody Makes Themselves Boss.  Look at how Jesus refers to Himself.  He says in John 8:54, “If I glorify Myself, My Glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the One who glorifies Me.”  So Christ’s calling is from the Father who sent Him (1 John 4:14), and as the Father sent Christ, so Christ sends the Apostles (John 20:21).  Nobody, not even Jesus Himself, is sent by their own internal calling.  We see this in a particular way in John 10:1-10.  Someone is going to be called personally by Christ to lead.
  2. Jesus is the Gate, not the Shepherd.  He says so Himself, twice (John 10:7; John 10:9).  It’s true that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the model for all shepherds to follow.  But Christ-as-Good Shepherd doesn’t appear in this parable, and it wouldn’t make sense for Him to.  Christ declares someone is going to come as shepherd through Christ: that is, by Christ’s own authority.  But unless Christ was called by Himself (which He denied), the shepherd of John 10:1-10 is someone other than the Good Shepherd.
  3. The Shepherd Refers to Someone in Particular. Jesus seems to have someone specific in mind here.  While the thieves and robbers are just “anyone” who tries to make themselves shepherds without going through the Gate, the shepherd called by Christ is described quite individually, as “the one who enters by the gate,” and referred to as “he.”  Specific prophesies are made of how he will call the sheep out and lead them, an so on.
  4. That Shepherd, and All Shepherds, Should Follow the Good Shepherd.  The transition in John 10 makes sense, and it makes sense that the “shepherd” imagery is used throughout.  We’re promised shepherds after God’s own Heart, generally (Jeremiah 3:15); and now Jesus is promising a single particular shepherd, specifically (John 10:1-10); and then saying that these God-ordained shepherds should look to Him as a model (John 10:11-19). The two parables flow perfectly together, as long as we’re careful to recognize that it’s still two distinct teachings.

So Jesus is promising that someone else will come through Him to lead all of the sheep — that is, all who are within Christ.  So who’s the shepherd that Jesus promises?  Look at John 21:15-19,

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 
18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

There’s a lot that can be said of this passage, but here are the basic features worth considering right here:

  1. It’s specific to Peter.  All three times, Jesus addresses him as “Simon, son of John,” calling him not just by his name, but by his family name.  And it’s tied up with a specific prophesy about Peter’s own life and death, and the precise way “by which Peter would glorify God.”  This is literally as personal as it gets.
  2. Jesus calls Peter to something greater than the other Apostles.  This is explicit in John 21:15, when He asks — in the midst of the Eleven — “do you love Me more than these?”  That is, Jesus is letting both Peter and the Eleven know that  He expects more from Peter than from the rest.  At no point in the Gospels are any other Apostles treated like this, told that they have to give more than the rest.
  3. Jesus calls Peter to be the Shepherd.  It’s hard to miss the meaning.  Who feeds the lambs, tends the sheep, and feeds the sheep?  The shepherd.  So who is the only person in the New Testament that Jesus individually orders to be the shepherd? Peter.
All of this is pretty straightforward . Jesus Christ promises in John 10:1-10 that one man will come through Christ to lead the sheep.  John 21:15-19 shows us who that one man is, and nothing in Scripture suggests any other serious contenders.
II. The Protestant Response
Yesterday, I looked at Keith Mathison’s response in The Shape of Sola Scriptura to Luke 22.  He conceded that Peter was probably head of the Apostles.  In dealing with John 21, he does the same thing (it’s on pg. 195-96).  He claims that it doesn’t matter for the debate on the papacy, but that’s silly — if Christ didn’t want one man running things in the Church, why would He put one man in charge of things while He was still on Earth (when the pope was least needed)?
Today, I figured I’d see what Calvin had to say.  Two major things stuck out.  First, Calvin claimed that John 21:15-19 was necessary to make Peter an Apostle once again:

The Evangelist now relates in what manner Peter was restored to that rank of honor from which he had fallen. That treacherous denial, which has been formerly described, had, undoubtedly, rendered him unworthy of the apostleship; for how could he be capable of instructing others in the faith, who had basely revolted from it? He had been made an Apostle, but it was along with Judas, and from the time when he had abandoned his post, he had likewise been deprived of the honor of apostle-ship.
There’s no question that one purpose of Jesus’ three questions to Peter are to mend the damage done by, and publicly atone for, Peter’s three denials.  But the myth that Peter ceased to be an Apostle and had to be reinstated is just that: a myth.  Let’s put it to the test:

  • In Matthew 26:56, we hear that when Christ was arrested, “all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Only “Peter followed Him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest” (Mt. 26:58).  So even prior to Peter’s denials, the rest abandoned Jesus. According to Calvin, abandoning Christ deprives one of the honor of Apostle-ship.  So if Calvin is right, there are no Apostles from the Passion of Christ until after His Resurrection.  And since Calvin thinks only Peter is restored, it follows that only Peter is an Apostle, if Calvin is right.  This is plainly wrong (we know from Acts 1:26 that all Eleven were Apostles).
  • Scripture refers to both John and Peter as Disciples on Easter Sunday (John 20:2-4), long before Peter’s alleged “reinstatement” in John 21.  In fact, there are dozens of references to “the Disciples” or “the Twelve” between their abandonment of Christ, and the events of John 21.
  • Luke 24:9 numbers the Disciples on Easter morning as “the Eleven.”  That is, Judas ceased to be a Disciple, but Peter didn’t. Luke 24:12 makes clear that Peter is one of the Eleven Luke’s counting.  Mark 16:14 is the same.  Jesus rebukes “the Eleven” for their lack of faith, but they don’t cease to be the Eleven!
  • In John 20:19-23, Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, including Peter, and sends them.  That is, He gives them both an Apostolic mission, and the power to forgive sins.  This is also before John 21.
So Peter’s already on an Apostolic mission, and has been given the power to forgive sins.  The idea that in being told “Feed My Sheep,” Jesus is just saying “Welcome back” is absolutely unsupportable from Scripture.  After all, if Peter ceased to be an Apostle for buckling, why not the rest of the Apostles, who also abandoned Christ?  And once you reject the flimsy “reinstatement” theory, it’s clear from John 21 that Peter has a special pastoral mission as “the one who enters by the Gate,” Christ.  It’s just him, just this one.

Calvin continues: 

In expounding the Tenth Chapter [that is, John 10], we have seen that Christ is the only Pastor or Shepherd of the Church. We have seen also why he takes this name to himself. If, is, because he feeds, that is, he governs his sheep, because he is the only true food of the soul. But because he employs the agency of men in preaching doctrine, he conveys to them also his own name, or, at least, shares it with them. Those men, therefore, are reckoned to be Pastors in the sight of God, who govern the Church by the ministry of the word under Christ, who is their Head. Hence we may easily infer what is the burden which Christ lays on Peter, and on what condition he appoints him to govern his flock. 

This enables us plainly to refute the wicked adherents of the Church of Rome, who torture this passage to support the tyranny of their Popery. “To Peter” they tell us, “in preference to others, it is said, Feed my sheep ” We have already explained the reason why it was said to him rather than to the others; namely, that being free from every disgraceful stain, he might boldly preach the Gospel; and the reason why Christ thrice appoints him to be a pastor is, that the three denials, by which Peter had brought on himself everlasting shame, may be set aside, and thus may form no barrier to his apostleship, as has been judiciously observed by Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cyril, and most of the other Commentators. Besides, nothing was given to Peter by these words, that is not also given to all the ministers of the Gospel.

We know from analyzing John 10:1-10 above that Calvin is wrong here. In fact, literally the opposite is true. The “shepherd,” distinct from the Good Shepherd and the Sheep-Gate (Who both represent Christ) can’t be Christ without the parable ceasing to make sense. Other than that, Calvin just digs in on the “reinstatement” theory. But the “reinstatement” theory doesn’t explain even the basics of the passage, like why Christ asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Christ can’t be just restoring Peter to the same rank as the other Apostles.  He’s clearly calling him to something more, and demanding more of him than the others.  So the nonsense that “nothing was given to Peter by these words, that is not also given to all the ministers of the Gospel” just ignores critical parts of the Scriptural text.


  1. There were writers far beyond my own skills. St. Francis De Sales’ work in apologetics (like The Catholic Controversy) brought thousands of souls back into the Catholic Church from Calvinism towards the end of the 1500s, his devotional writings (like Introduction to the Devout Life) changed millions of lives throughout the centuries, and upon his death, one of the Calvinist pastors in Geneva used him as an example of what a true Christian looked like.

    He’s an icon of a life well lived for Christ, and a testament to what all Christian writers (particularly Catholics) should strive for.

  2. Bill,

    You won’t regret it!


    I appreciate the sentiment, and I love the idea of the priesthood, but I don’t think I’m called to it. The Church needs laypeople to defend the Faith, too.


  3. In C.E. 410 the Vandals had been looting and pillaging all over the Empire for decades, but now the unthinkable had happened and Rome had fallen. It would be only a matter of time before the whole gigantic complex structure of Roman civilization would fall apart and take everybody down with it. Darkness and death seemed inevitable. Augustine believed that Rome had fallen because the Christian Church had been subservient to a pagan secular authority. He advocated that the state should obey the moral authority of the Church. However his reaction to the barbarian raids was to offer a way of escape from the world by turning away from its harsh reality by forming closed monasteries. The material world according to Augustine was unimportant. As the religious communities retreated into isolation it left the rest of the population into the beginning of the dark ages. Thus these shepherds of God left their flock to the mercy of a crumbling and dangerous world.

    The traditional role of a shepherd, through the ages, has been to guide its flock. Anyone familiar with the role of a shepherd knows that he does not lead but rather walks surrounded by them or directly behind them. Jesus perfectly reflects this example. He was a teacher, healer, lover, listener, comforter, etc., for both saint and sinner. In John 10:11-16 Jesus tells us . . . .“I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep. When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them. There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

    We can know from reading the Gospels how Jesus ‘surrounded’ himself with people from all walks of life. Many came from questionable backgrounds such as the hated tax collectors, prostitutes, etc. but most of all the poor and marginalized in society- which would no doubt have included homosexuals. No one was ever excluded from his healing touch or presence. In his humility he washed the feet of his disciples but never assumed the role of worldly leader. Instead, he always ‘followed’ the will of his heavenly father (John 15:9-10). And in that we constantly find Jesus shepherding and serving those in need.

    What an incredible understanding the brief passage from John that illustrates what Jesus meant to be a good shepherd. Here he tells us that as the good shepherd he is prepared to die for the sake of his flock and amazingly even for those who are not even part of the original flock! The meaning of that statement reveals the true depth and power of his unconditional love. The good shepherd reaches far beyond all limitations we have ever put on our definitions of who God came to save. This is surely the ultimate expression of God’s unconditional love for all humankind regardless of our belief, religion, color or race. This is truly The Good News!!!
    Today empires are crumbling all around us but not just those of a political nature. It seems that empirical religions throughout the world may have forgotten what it means to be a shepherd.

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