{Word Study} Good Shepherd



John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.”
Good: Greek:  kalos – beautiful, fine, excellent, blameless, high moral character. Aramaic: tawa’ – A relationship with someone or something that is harmonious and in sync.

Jesus calls himself a good shepherd.  There are a few words in Greek which are rendered as good and about four words in Aramaic rendered as good.  The Aramaic words Hana (pleasurable, beautiful, find) and Taqan (honest, blameless, high moral character) would best match the Greek word kalos that is used in John 10:11.  However, the Aramaic New Testament uses the word tawa (perfect harmony) instead.   Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic and John heard them in Aramaic and perhaps translated them into Greek if he did not write them down in Aramaic first.
So why was the word kalos chosen?  I reviewed all the words I could find in the Greek that could be rendered as good and none really expressed the basic idea of tawa’ which is similar to the Hebrew word tov.  Hence the Greek writer could only choose the best possible Greek word for tawa’ and even that falls short.

The Aramaic word tawa’ is rooted in a relationship.  In review of all the Greek words I could not find any that would actively speak of a relationship.  All, more or less, address one’s character, courage or appearance.   Yet, the whole idea of Jesus illustrating Himself as a shepherd carries the idea of a relationship and really speaks little of his appearance, moral character or courage.  Perhaps the word “good” is not our best rendering although I for one would never be a part in tearing down this iconic expression.  I like calling Him the Good Shepherd, but we really need to define “good.”

There were two types of shepherd in Jesus day.  There were the hired shepherds and the self-employed shepherds who owned their own sheep.  In the ancient Eastern culture a shepherd was a highly respected occupation.   Women desired to see their sons become shepherds.  If a man had no sons he would be forced to hire a stranger to watch his sheep.  This was not the best option as shepherding was a very hazardous job.  A shepherd had to protect a bunch of senseless animals from attack by wolves, bandits, hostile weather and any number of threats.  The first sign of a bunch of knife welding thieves and a hired shepherd will say: “Risk my life for room and board? I’m out of here.”   However, if a man’s personal livelihood is threatened, that is a threat to his wife, children and his future, he would take the risk.   I remember a movie where the director of a hospital was locked out of his hospital by armed radicals.  The director pointed to a couple security guards and said: “Ok, come on, we’re going to take these guys.”  The security guard said: “At $7.50 an hour, are you crazy?”

There were plenty of courageous, honorable hired shepherds, but they did not have a relationship with their sheep, their relationship was with their paycheck. Get fired from one shepherd job they just move to another community; background checks were difficult in those days.
Jesus is not only our Good Shepherd, or the Shepherd who is not into it for the paycheck and will abandon his sheep first time one wanders off a dangerous cliff or faces hungry wolves, but He has also set Himself up as a role model for Christian leaders.  How many pastors would walk into a crack house and bodily pick up one of the young people from his church and drag him home.  How many pastors would get up in the middle of the night during a snow storm and drive to the bedside of church member who needs his hand held and prayer.  How many pastors would take a pay cut during a recession so members of His congregation would not be burdened with dipping into their unemployment checks.
In other words how many pastors and church leaders are truly tawa’ shepherds (good shepherds) and not hired shepherds who will abandon his sheep at the first sign of trouble or the offer of a bigger church and more pay?