Eisegesis is “when a person interprets and reads information into the text that is not there.” (CARM.org) In John 10:10, eisegesis occurs quite often and I heard it again recently (not at IRBC, of course, but elsewhere). Eisegesis is a practice of improper biblical interpetation, while exegesis is a practice of proper biblical interpretation.
In our brief study today, we look at John 10:10, which says,
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)
John 10 is a continuation of Jesus’ encounter with the Jewish leaders of chapter nine, who ultimately cast the man who had been healed by Jesus (of lifelong blindness) out of the synagogue. Jesus actually begins his chapter ten discourse in the last verse of chapter nine and continues directly in chapter ten.
How often have we heard that the ‘thief’ of 10:10 is Satan? Quite often, if we have paid attention over the years. Is that what the verse says? Let’s look.
Jesus, as we have said, is continuing his chapter nine encounter with the Jewish leaders who have not been pleased over his healing of the blind man. In verse one, we see his first reference to a ‘thief.’ This ‘thief’ is one who does not enter the sheepfold in the proper manner – what is he referring to here? We don’t know for sure, yet. Verse two begins to give us answers, where Jesus gives us a contrasting statement concerning the one who ‘is’ a shepherd who enters properly. he continues through verse five explaining this particular shepherd but as verse six says, his audience didn’t ‘get it.’
In verse seven Jesus continues by stating that he is the ‘door’ of verses one and two. Then, in verse eight, he makes a rather pointed statement concerning those who came before him, saying two things: 1) that all who came before him (a sharp reference to the men of chapter nine who persecuted the man born blind whom Jesus had healed) were ‘thieves and robbers,’ and 2) that the sheep didn’t listen to these thieves and robbers. In verse nine, he restates the fact that he is ‘the door’ and that anyone who enters by him will be saved (a statement on the assurance of salvation) and they will find pasture (cf. Psalms 23, 95 and 100, Isaiah 49 and Ezekiel 34). At no point here has Jesus mentioned or implied that Satan is part of this discourse.
Now, verse ten. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.“ Who is the thief? The thief (thieves) are those false shepherds whom Jesus has been castigating by his words in chapter ten up to this point. If we read on, Jesus continues the contrast between himself and a mere hireling. Nowhere does Jesus say that the thief is Satan or even a demon at all. The thief is a man – specifically, a false shepherd – and Jesus is pointing this out in the sharpest terms.
If Jesus was stating that the thief of verse ten was indeed Satan, the reaction of his audience would not have been what it was – certainly they wouldn’t have a problem stating that Satan is a false shepherd and would not have attributed Jesus’ remarks to insanity (v. 20). To be sure, they also were not impressed with his statement of his relationship with his Father (v. 18).
To state that the ‘thief’ of verse ten is Satan is classic eisegesis. Nowhere in the passage, reading back through chapter nine or to the end of it at 10:21, is the influence or presence of Satan mentioned (except for those who call Christ himself demonic in 10:20). Yes, the power and influence of Satan is real and is manifest today but let us not read into the text what is plainly not there.