An Honest Look at John 10:10

I think one of the most egregiously misquoted and misapplied biblical passages today is John 10:10! I cringe every time I hear it misquoted and misapplied. Even more distressing is the fact that the misquotes and misapplications are being done, not just by people in the pew, who have had no theological training, but also by preachers in the pulpit! I would like to suggest that this passage, this quote from Jesus, as of late, has been notoriously misquoted, misapplied, and misunderstood by too many pastors, preachers, and parishioners.

Now, let’s look at the passage:

      The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (KJV)

       The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

We can see, just from just a quick glance, the glaring misquote that most people make! Jesus DID NOT SAY: The ‘enemy,’ Jesus said: The ‘thief.’ There is a substantial difference between an enemy and a thief! Perhaps the gross misapplication stems from the misquote? When the term ‘enemy’ is used, the devil quickly comes to mind. But Jesus did not say ‘the enemy,’ he said ‘the thief’ and Jesus WAS NOT REFERRING TO THE DEVIL when he used the term; ‘thief.’ (Please excuse the all caps, I realize it is interpreted as shouting, but I want to shout to get my point across!)

Now, before we get into the context of the text, I think it would be good to stop for a moment and understand why it doesn’t make sense for Jesus to have referred to the devil as a thief. There is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness temptation accounts that many have allowed to go over their heads. Let’s look at Luke 4:5-8: “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, `You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.” (NKJ) The interesting thing about this dialogue is that Satan claimed that the authority over all the kingdoms of the world and their riches had been given to him. He also claimed to have had the right or the authority to give the authority and riches of those kingdoms to whoever he wanted. Now, the interesting thing to me is that Jesus did not dispute this claim! Surely, if the devil was lying at this point, Jesus would have known it and since the devil knew that Jesus was the Son of God, he knew that Jesus would have known that he was lying! In addition, if the devil was lying, the temptation wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! Therefore, since the devil, whom the Apostle Paul also referred to as ‘the god of this age’ has authority over the kingdoms of the world and their riches, what sense does it make for him to be trying to steal material things from believers? In fact, the more reasonable strategy (the one the devil actually uses and the one he tried on Jesus) would be for the devil to tempt us with the offer of material goods! Therefore, to say that the devil is the enemy who comes to steal, makes absolutely no biblical sense! If any thing, the devil comes, not to steal our material blessings, but to actually give material riches for the purpose of attempting to seduce us away from God! Furthermore, if the devil would want to steal anything from us, it wouldn’t be our stuff, it would be our faith and joy!

But, let’s get back to the passage! One of the primary rules of biblical interpretation is context! So, in order to put John 10:10 in proper context, we have to look at the overall conversation Jesus was having and more specifically when he first started to talk about the thief. Consequently, in order to put John 10:10 in its proper context, we have to at least, go back to John 10:1, where Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (NKJ) So, we see that the thief in the context of John 10, is not trying to steal what the sheep have, but is actually trying to steal the sheep! In verse 8 Jesus said: “All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” (NKJ) So, we see that Jesus used the terms; ‘thief,’ ‘thieves,’ and ‘robbers’ to refer the religious leaders who came before him, who were taking advantage of people (the sheep) for their own selfish gain! The thieves and robbers were the religious leaders who sought to gain access to the sheep by some other way than Jesus; the door of the sheep (v. 7).

Therefore, when taken in its proper context, it is obvious that John 10:10 was not a direct statement about the devil, but rather it was a statement about the false religious leaders who did not care to properly instruct the sheep, but rather abused the confidence of the sheep for their own gain! The thief, who comes but to steal, kill, and destroy in John 10:10 is NOT THE DEVIL, but rather is the false prophet, the false teacher, the false religious leader who abuses and uses the people of God for selfish personal gain!

To further substantiate this conclusion, it is interesting to note that, in the Greek text, the word that is translated as ‘kill’ in John 10:10 is a word that is used only 14 times in the entire Greek New Testament and only once in John! It is not the normal word that is most often translated as; ‘kill.’ It is a word that denotes, not just a simple killing, but rather killing in the form of a religious sacrifice. Since the thief kills the sheep as a religious sacrificial offering, this further supports the identity of the thief as a religious personality!

Even after verse 10, Jesus continues his argument, but shifts the analogy of the false religious leaders from being thieves and robbers to being hirelings; mere hired-hands. The hireling, Jesus says in verses 12-13, cares nothing for the sheep, therefore, runs when he sees the wolf coming because he is in it only for the money!

Now, I hope no one gets the impression from reading this that I am a devil’s advocate! No! I am not trying to defend the devil, I am just arguing for handling the biblical text with exegetical integrity! We should be most careful to do due-diligence in reading, studying, preaching, teaching, and interpreting the biblical text! The Apostle Paul cautioned his young protégé Timothy by saying: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15 ESV)

(Just as an aside, when 2 Timothy 2:15 is quoted and referenced, most often used is the King James Version, which says: “Study to shew thyself approved . . .” But even in quoting and applying this text, there are two things that most modern biblical readers don’t realize. First, the Greek word that is translated as ‘study’ in the KJV is a word that means, ‘1) to hasten, make haste 2) to exert one’s self, endeavor, give diligence. Secondly, during the time the KJV Bible was written, the English word; ‘study,’ did not have the primary meaning it has today! Today, when we think of study, we think of intense reading, meditating, and remembering. But when the KJV was written, the primary meaning of ‘study’ was; ‘to endeavor’ ‘to try.’)

The lessons I hope to convey in this post are manifold, namely: 1) Don’t simply assume or accept a meaning or interpretation of a text simply because it’s the meaning or interpretation most people give it, even if those people are preachers and pastors who are supposedly biblically literate. 2) Remember the primary rule of biblical interpretation is context, and 3) Make every effort to become astute in handling the Word yourself! Your salvation and spiritual well-being is too important to leave solely in the hands of some pastor, preacher, Bible teacher, or any other person!

Lying on the devil and the Lord

In John 8:44, Jesus characterized the devil as a liar and the father of lies! But did you know that many who preach the Gospel are guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord? Let me show you what I’m talking about!

In John 10:10, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) Now, I am sure most of you reading this have heard this text preached and taught and nine times out of ten, you heard the preacher or teacher say that the thief in that verse is the devil. Often, I have heard preachers refer to the text by saying: “The devil comes to rob, kill, and to destroy, but Jesus came that we might have a more abundant life! Yes! The devil wants to rob and steal your property! But, go and shake three people’s hand and tell the devil: ‘I’m taking it back! You can’t have my stuff!’ Can somebody shout: Glory!” But is that really the message of the text? I am suggesting to you that it is not and when that text is preached or referred to in that manner, the preacher or teacher is guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

First of all, look at the context of the verse. The first mention of the thief is in verse one, where Jesus describes the thief as anyone who does not enter the door of the sheepfold, but climbs up and tries to get into the sheepfold any other way. In the next verse, Jesus says, the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. So, the contrast is between the thief who tries to get access to the sheep by some way other than the door and the shepherd who comes through the door. Note that the thief is not after what the sheep have; the thief wants to steal the sheep! In verse eight, Jesus says all who came before him are, or were, thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. So, we can surmise from verses 1-8 that the thief, the thieves and robbers were trying to get access to steal the sheep. Contrasted with the shepherd, who comes through the door and coupled with Jesus, who calls himself the good shepherd (verse 11), we can deduct the thief, the thieves and robbers that Jesus was talking about were illegitimate or false shepherds! By the way, another term for “shepherd” is the term “pastor.” So, in proper context, in this passage, the thief, the thieves and robbers, (bad) shepherds, and (bad) pastors, all refer to the same person or group! Note that Jesus made no reference whatsoever to the devil or demonic forces! He was making a contrast between the thieves and robbers (bad shepherds, bad pastors) and himself: the good shepherd! In keeping with the context and unity of the passage, the thief in verse ten must refer to the same person or group of persons mentioned in verses one and eight!

In looking at the Greek text, performing a word study helps to further clarify who the “thief” is in verse ten. A word study on the word, “kill” reveals the following: In the English, the word “kill” in any form, is found only 10 times in the entire Gospel of John. Of those 10 times, 9 times, the Greek word, “apokteino,” which means, “to kill in any way whatever,” is used. However, in verse ten, the word for kill is “thuo,” which means, “to sacrifice.” This definition holds true for the usage of the word in other places in the New Testament (NT). It only occurs 13 other times, besides in our text in the NT and our text is the only occurrence in the Gospel of John. In every case, the word is used to denote the killing of an animal for the purpose of offering up a sacrifice or of eating a meal in connection with a sacrifice. The use this particular word for “kill” in verse ten, seems to suggest that the thief does not just kill, but rather the thief’s killing is for or in connection with making a sacrifice as an act of worship. With that being the case, we can deduct from our word study and by observing the proper context of the text that the “thief” in John 10:10 is NOT the devil, but rather is a religious person. This ties in perfectly with Jesus’ depiction of the thief as being the religious leader(s), who was (were) sacrificing the people for his (their) own personal benefit and profit. Oh! Do you see that? We’ve been lying on the liar and the Lord! The thief in John 10:10 is not the devil, but rather the pastor or religious leader who illegitimately gains access and kills (sacrifices) the sheep for his own personal profit and gain!

In verse 11, the contrast changes from the good shepherd and thieves and robbers to the good shepherd and the hireling or the hired hand. Jesus said in verses 11-15: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (ESV) Again, Jesus makes a contrast between himself and the religious leaders of that day who came before him. He describes himself as the good shepherd in comparison to the religious leaders, who he called robbers, thieves, and hired hands who didn’t care anything for the sheep, but were just in it for the money! If the devil is implied anywhere in this discourse, he could possibly be the wolf in verse 12, but he is definitely not the thief in verse ten!

In addition to the evidence presented, stealing is not the devil’s M. O! The devil’s bread and butter are lies and deception! There was an interesting conversation that took place between Jesus and the devil during the wilderness temptation. In Matthew 4:8-10, we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (ESV) Did you notice Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim of ownership of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory? If Satan was lying and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory were not his to give, Jesus would have known it and the temptation wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! I brought us to this text to point out the fact that the devil doesn’t need to “steal our stuff” because he has already stolen and has all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to give to us if we would just fall down and worship him! The devil already has all of that and we think he wants to rob us of our two cents! Seriously?

Besides that, the abundant life that Jesus came to give in John 10:10 is denoted by the Greek term; “zoe.” Zoe refers to the quality of life, not the quantity of life. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have more stuff in life; Jesus came that we might have more meaning and purpose in life! Jesus said: “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NET)

In conclusion, I think the reason why we have lied on the devil and the Lord in John 10:10 is because many of us do not study the text for ourselves; we merely preach and teach what we have heard others preach and teach. Instead of a voice, many pulpits are occupied by a parrot! Preacher, teacher: If you hope to be approved by God in your handling of the word, you must wrestle with the text for yourself! Don’t even take my word for the conclusions I have drawn in this post. Do the research for yourself! We all should be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and study for ourselves to see whether the things we hear is the truth! If we don’t, if we uncritically accept and repeat everything we hear others preaching and teaching, then we, like them, will be guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!

Taking Back What The Devil Stole?

Some preach it! Some sing it! Some even pray it! But does the Bible teach it? Does the Bible teach, instruct or even imply that we should, could, or even should try to take back what the devil has stolen from us? I would like to suggest that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t!

thiefFirst of all, we might be able to accuse the devil of many things, but we cannot “biblically” accuse him of being a thief! Now! I know what you are thinking! You heard some preacher, some teacher, or somebody say this: “The Bible says (some say: ‘Jesus said’) in John 10:10 that the devil is a thief! And he only comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy!” Well, if you would look at that text carefully, you might note that Jesus didn’t specifically identify “the thief” as being the devil! That’s a conclusion that somebody came up with who didn’t study the context of the text carefully! If you read my post: The Thief of John 10:10, you would discover that Jesus was NOT referring to the devil at all as the thief in that text! But I did a topical study, using the New Naves Topical Bible, on Satan, demons, and the devil, and I discovered that there is not one single reference to the devil being called a thief in the Bible! In Revelation 12:10, he is called “the accuser of the brethren.” I Peter 5:8 describe him as “the adversary,” going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. John 8:44 says that he is “a liar” and “the father of lies!” John 12:31 says he is “the prince of this world.” Paul describes him in Ephesians 2:2 as “the prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that works in the children of disobedience.” In Ephesians 6:12, he is “the ruler of the darkness of this world.” In Matthew 12:14, he is “the unclean spirit” and later on in 13:19 he is called “the wicked one.” These are just a few of the numerous scriptures that directly and indirectly refer to Satan or the devil. He is called many things in the Bible; but nowhere is he called a thief!

Secondly, contrary to the idea of the devil stealing something from us, we should note an interesting dialogue that went on between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness when Jesus was being tempted. The dialogue seems to suggest that rather than stealing from us, the devil has a different agenda altogether! Look at Matthew 4:8-10 and the parallel text in Luke 4:5-8. The devil offered to Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world in their glory (this included, position, power, and wealth; the very stuff some say the devil comes to steal) if he would just fall down and worship him! Now, it’s true that the devil is a liar! But it is interesting to note that Jesus did not dispute the devil’s claim that the world was his to offer! In fact, according to Luke, the devil said: “for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6 NASB). And, if it had not been within the devil’s delegated power to make this offer to Jesus, it wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! Remember, in the references cited earlier, the Bible does describe him as “the god of this world.” My question is this: Why would the devil want to steal from us when he already has the kingdoms of the world to offer? Instead of thinking that the devil wants to steal from us, it is probably more feasible and biblically correct to think that the devil is more apt to offer us riches and material wealth in an attempt to lure us away from the Lord! The Bible does say that the love of money is the root of all evil. Jesus, in the parable of the sower, said that some seed fell among the thorns, which represented the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. The bottom line is the devil already has access to the riches and material wealth of the world without trying to steal them from us!

Now, I heard a preacher allude to the story of David at Ziglag in I Samuel 30, as a reference text to illustrate an instance of taking back what the devil stole. But in all exegetical fairness, we should remember that David’s stuff was not stolen by the devil, but by the Amalekites. The main point of the story is really not so much about David getting his wives, children and material goods back from the enemy as it is about the fact that if David had not been out of position and away from his home, leaving the city unprotected, none of that would have happened in the first place!

In conclusion, let me just say that many times, it very well might be that we suffer losses in our lives, not so much because it is the work of the devil, but rather because of our own faults, failures, and lack of wisdom. In fact, the reason we lose some stuff may be, not because the devil stole it from us, but rather because we gave it to him! The devil really is not so desperate to get “stuff” that he has to resort to stealing it from us! And if the devil was a thief, he really wouldn’t be after any of the material things!  He would want to steal our joy, our peace and our faith more than any to the material possession we might have! Yes! We can accuse the devil of many things, but according to the Bible, we cannot accuse him of being a thief!