John 10:8
All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers.—Comp. Note on John 10:1. The Sinaitic MS. and several of the early versions read this verse without the words translated “before Me,” but the balance of authority is strongly in their favour; and the fact of their being hard to understand, or having been misunderstood, is the probable reason of their omission. Retaining them, as we seem bound to do, we are also bound to give them their ordinary temporal meaning. There can be but one rendering which suggests itself to the unbiassed mind, and that is the rendering of our version. The Greek words and the English words are equally plain, and other renderings are due to the exigencies of interpretation.

What, then, do the words mean? Their force seems to be all-inclusive; and yet they cannot contradict Christ’s own words, which have excluded Abraham, Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, from any possibility of such thoughts. (See John 4:22; John 5:33; John 5:39; John 5:45; John 7:19.) They cannot, on the other hand, be limited to false Christs, who did not come before but after our Lord. (Comp. Note on John 5:43.) Here, as often, the true meaning seems for the most part to have been overlooked because men have sought it elsewhere than in the words themselves, and in their place among other words. The thought which precedes and which follows is that Jesus is Himself “the door.” “All that ever came before Me” is in immediate contrast to this thought, and the sense is, “all professing to be themselves the door, to be the means by which men enter the fold, to be the Mediator between man and God.” The Old Testament teachers cannot be meant, because they witnessed to the true door. But there had been growing up since the return from the Captivity, and the close of the Old Testament canon, a priestly caste in the place of the prophetic schools, and these men had been in practice, if not in word, claiming for themselves the position of door to the kingdom of God. There were Hillels and Shammais, heads of parties and of factions, whose word was to their followers as the word of God; there were Pharisees then standing round Him who had solemnly decreed that any one who should confess Him to be the Messiah should be shut out from Temple and from synagogue, and that they themselves would in God’s name pronounce a curse upon his head (John 9:22). As “thieves” were they, and as “robbers;” wolves in sheep’s clothing, stealing into the flock of Christ and rending those who were the true sheep. (Comp. the analogous language of Luke 11:52.) The lawyers closed the door and plundered and oppressed those whom they kept outside.

Attention should be paid to the present tense of the verb “are” in this sentence, which seems in itself to suggest that the words which follow find their application in the case of the persons then actually living.

But the sheep did not hear them.—Read again John 10:3-5. What is true of the sheep and the voice of the stranger is true also of man and of every voice which is not of God. The heart of the child answers to the voice of the Father; it trembles at any voice which is unknown. The conscience of mankind knows the voice of God; but it will not hear the voice of the devil, nor the unreal voice of man claiming to speak in God’s name. It will not call bitter, sweet; nor sweet, bitter; darkness, light; nor light, darkness. It will not accept the false, the impure, the wrong, for it is the God in man which ever is, and ever must be true and holy and right. So it was that the teaching of scribes and Pharisees never really influenced the masses of the people, for it was concerned with the externals of matter and form, and they wanted the living truth. So it has been that systems of error have had their day, but have had no principle of life, because they were not the voice of God speaking to the heart of man; and in so far as they have lived at all, it has been because the error has been but in the form, or has been in part only of the substance, which has also contained some germ of truth. So it has been in every age, and in every school of thought, that the men whom the sheep have heard have been men who have had in them the ring of the true, and have been as prophets uttering the voice of God. Witness Paul of Tarsus, and Francis of Assisi; Luther, and Savonarola; John Knox, and John Wesley; Charles Simeon, and John Keble.

10:6-9 Many who hear the word of Christ, do not understand it, because they will not. But we shall find one scripture expounding another, and the blessed Spirit making known the blessed Jesus. Christ is the Door. And what greater security has the church of God than that the Lord Jesus is between it and all its enemies? He is a door open for passage and communication. Here are plain directions how to come into the fold; we must come in by Jesus Christ as the Door. By faith in him as the great Mediator between God and man. Also, we have precious promises to those that observe this direction. Christ has all that care of his church, and every believer, which a good shepherd has of his flock; and he expects the church, and every believer, to wait on him, and to keep in his pasture.All that ever came before me - This does not refer to the prophets, but to those who came pretending to be the pastors or guides of the people. Some have supposed that he referred to those who pretended to be the Messiah before him; but there is not evidence that any such person appeared before the coming of Jesus. It is probable that he rather refers to the scribes and Pharisees, who claimed to be instructors of the people, who claimed the right to regulate the affairs of religion, and whose only aim was to aggrandize themselves and to oppress the people. See the notes at John 1:18. When the Saviour says that "all" were thieves, he speaks in a popular sense, using the word "all" as it is often used in the New Testament, to denote the great mass or the majority.

Thieves and robbers - See John 10:1; also Jeremiah 23:1; "Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture;" Ezekiel 34:2-3; "Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed; but ye feed not the flock." This had been the general character of the Pharisees and scribes. They sought wealth, office, ease at the expense of the people, and thus deserved the character of thieves and robbers. They insinuated themselves slyly as a thief, and they oppressed and spared not, like a robber.

The sheep - The people of God - the pious and humble portion of the Jewish nation. Though the great mass of the people were corrupted, yet there were always some who were the humble and devoted people of God. Compare Romans 11:3-4. So it will be always. Though the great mass of teachers may be corrupt, yet the true friends of God will mourn in secret places, and refuse to "listen to the instruction that causeth to err."

8. All that ever came before me—the false prophets; not as claiming the prerogatives of Messiah, but as perverters of the people from the way of life, all pointing to Him [Olshausen].

the sheep did not hear them—the instinct of their divinely taught hearts preserving them from seducers, and attaching them to the heaven-sent prophets, of whom it is said that "the Spirit of Christ was in them" (1Pe 1:11).

This must not be understood of the prophets, but of such only as came before Christ, not being sent by him: all those that taught people another way of life and salvation, than by believing in the Messiah, who was to be revealed for the salvation of the world; all such did but seek themselves, not the good of the people’s souls; and destroyed souls instead of profiting or doing them any good. But those that were mine by an eternal election, or by my special grace bestowed upon them, did not embrace them. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers,.... This must be understood with some restrictions, not of every individual person, nor of every individual prophet or shepherd; not of Moses, nor of the prophets of the Lord, nor of John the Baptist, who came immediately before Christ, was his harbinger, and prepared his way; but of those prophets who came, and were not sent of God, and so did not come in by the door; of the shepherds of Israel, who fed themselves, and not the flock, but lorded it over God's heritage; and of such, as Theudas, and Judas the Galilean, who boasted that they were some great persons, but were only thieves and robbers; and particularly of the three shepherds cut off in one month, Zechariah 11:8, supposed to be the three sects among the Jews, and the leaders of them, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, especially the former; who were wolves in sheep's clothing, usurped a power that did not belong to them, robbed God of his authority, and glory; and, in a literal sense, plundered men of their substance, and devoured widows' houses, as well as destroyed their souls. The phrase, "before me", is wanting in seven of Beza's exemplars, and in several others; and in the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Persic versions:

but the sheep did not hear them; the elect of God, some of which there were in all ages, though their number is comparatively few, did not attend to the false prophets, and false teachers, and idol shepherds; did not receive their doctrines, nor follow their practices; for it is not possible that these should be finally and totally deceived, or carried away with the error of the wicked.

{2} All that {c} ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.

(2) It does not matter how many false teachers there have been, neither how old they have been.

(c) These terms must be applied to the matter he speaks of. And therefore when he calls himself the door, he calls all those thieves and robbers who take upon themselves this name of door, which none of the prophets can do, for they showed the sheep that Christ was the door.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 10:8. See Ewald, Jahrb. ix. p. 40 ff. The actual antithesis to the ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα is formed by the many who had come forward to be the teachers and leaders of the people of God, without connecting their working with Christ. He describes them from the point of view of the time at which they came forward before me; they came forward before Christ had appeared as the door to the sheep; they had developed their power and activity since the time of the second temple, in a way that gradually grew more and more pernicious, and they formed now the party of hierarchical, specially Pharisaical, antagonists of Christ. The members of this hierarchical caste are intended; the expression used by Christ, however, is popular, and not to be pressed as hard and unhistorical (Hase); the use of the present εἰσί, moreover, gives it a living relation to the leaders of the people, as they then actually were before his eyes. On the other hand, passages like John 7:19, John 5:39; John 5:45, John 4:22, exclude even the possibility of a reference to Moses and the prophets; hence the inadmissibility of Hilgenfeld’s idea that the saying is “very harshly anti-Judaistic,” as also that it refers to the entire Old Testament past, i.e. to all the pre-Christian leaders of the people of God,—an application which he tries to justify by bringing in the Gnostic dualism. It is also inadmissible to set aside in any way the temporal meaning of πρό, whether it be made to mean, with Calovius: in advance of me (antequam mitterentur); or, with Brückner (after Stier): before they have sought and found me as the door; or, with Wolf, to convert it into χωρίς,—a view which comes substantially to that of Olshausen (“without connection with the Logos”); or, with Tittmann and Schleusner, to take it for ὑπέρ, loco, and with Lange to import into this view, “instead of me,” the further notion of absolute pre-eminence, as though the one who advances forward designed completely to set aside the one who was put in the background. πρό, in the sense of instead, is foreign to the New Testament, and rare also in Greek writers. But when ἦλθον, with a view to the removal of everything objectionable, is taken pregnantly, making it express an arbitrary or unauthorized[62] coming forward (Hieronymus, Augustine, Isidore, Heracleon, Euth. Zigabenus, Luther, Melancthon, Jansen, and several others; also Luthardt, Ebrard), a meaning is imported into the word, which in itself, indeed, may be regarded as a matter of course, but which, at the same time, must have been distinctly expressed (say, as in John 10:42), if it were to be emphatical.[63] This also against B. Crusius, who lays the stress on the intention expressed in ἦλθον (“in order to give the people a new time”). The explanation, finally, of false Messiahs (Chrysostom, Cyril, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Euth. Zigabenus, Theophylact, Grotius, Maldonatus, Hammond, Tittmann, Schleusner, Klee, Weizsäcker, and several others), is unhistorical, as they first began to come forward after Christ’s day; a circumstance on which B. Bauer, however, grounds a charge of anachronism against John. De Wette considers the discourse to be out of harmony with the wisdom and gentleness of Jesus. But the worthless men, to whose entire class He alludes, stood actually in His presence, and had surely done enough to call forth His severity and wrath.

κλέπται εἰσὶ κ. λῃσταί] namely, of the sheep, John 10:1. Comp. the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Instead of ΠΆΝΤΕς ὍΣΟΙ, ἍΠΑΝΤΕς ὍΣΟΙ would have been still stronger, Strabo, p. 18, 1. 11, Isocr. Loch. 12.

ἀλλά]. The want of success which attends this predatory (soul-destroying) procedure.

ΟὐΚ ἬΚΟΥΣΑΝ] did not listen to them. For their adherents did not belong to the true people of God (τὰ πρόβατα).

[62] Nonnus takes it in the sense of creeping in secretly: πάντες ὅσοι πάρος ἦλθον ὑποκλέπτοντι πεδίλῳ.

[63] In ἦλθον by itself, so far as it precedes πρὸ ἐμοῦ, it is impossible to find, as Luthardt does, the thought “on his own responsibility,” or “so that he places Christ after himself.” ἦλθον denotes neither more nor less than the simple venerunt; as in ver. 10. ἐγὼ ἦλθον is equal to the simple ego veni; the emphasis rests primarily on πάντες ὅσοι, omnes quotquot, and then on πρὸ ἐμοῦ, which is placed at the end.John 10:8. In contrast to Jesus, πάντεςλῃσταί, “all who came before me,” i.e., all who came before me, claiming to be what I am and to give to the sheep what I give. The prophets pointed forward to Him and did not arrogate themselves His functions. Only those could be called “thieves and robbers” who had come before the Shepherd came, as if in the night and without His authority. It must have been evident that the hierarchical party was meant.” [The inexactness of contrasting the “door” rather than the Shepherd with the “thieves and robbers” who came before Jesus, only emphasises the fact that the reality was more prominent than the figure in the mind of the speaker.] Those, however, who had tried to assume the functions of the Shepherd had failed; because οὐκ ἤκουσαν αὐτῶν τὰ πρόβατα, the people of God had not listened to them. They no doubt assumed authority over the people of God and compelled obedience, but the true children of God did not find in their voice that which attracted and led them to pasture.8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers] These words are difficult, and some copyists seem to have tried to avoid the difficulty by omitting either ‘all’ or ‘before Me.’ But the balance of authority leaves no doubt that both are genuine. Some commentators would translate ‘instead of Me’ for ‘before Me.’ But this meaning of the Greek preposition is not common, and perhaps occurs nowhere in N.T. Moreover ‘instead of Me’ ought to include the idea of ‘for My advantage;’ and that is impossible here. We must retain the natural and ordinary meaning of ‘before Me:’ and as ‘before Me in dignity’ would be obviously inappropriate, ‘before Me in time’ must be the meaning. But who are ‘all that came before Me?’ The patriarchs, prophets, Moses, the Baptist cannot be meant, either collectively or singly. ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22); ‘they are they which testify of Me’ (John 5:39); ‘if ye believed Moses, ye would believe Me’ (John 5:46); ‘John bare witness unto the truth’ (John 5:33): texts like this are quite conclusive against any such Gnostic interpretation. Nor can false Messiahs be meant: it is doubtful whether any had arisen at this time. Rather it refers to the ‘ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing’ who had been, and still were, the ruin of the nation, who ‘devoured widow’s houses,’ who were ‘full of ravening and wickedness,’ who had ‘taken away the key of knowledge,’ and were in very truth ‘thieves and robbers’ (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 23:14; Luke 11:39; Luke 11:52). Some of them were now present, thirsting to add bloodshed to robbery, and this denunciation of them is no stronger than several passages in the Synoptists: e.g. Matthew 23:33; Luke 11:50-51. The tense also is in favour of this interpretation; not were, but ‘are thieves and robbers.’

but the sheep did not hear them] For they spoke with no authority (Matthew 7:29); there was no living voice in their teaching. They had their hearers, but these were not ‘the sheep,’ but blind adherents, led by the blind.John 10:8. Ὅσοι ἦλθον, as many as have come) The subsequent verb, εἰσί, are, in the present, indicates that ἦλθον, have come, is to be taken of time just past;[265] and of the peculiar course of others, to which is opposed the by Me [if any man enter in, he shall be saved], John 10:9. The expression, who have come, is used as at 2 Corinthians 11:4, whosoever cometh [lit. he who cometh, “If he that cometh preacheth another Jesus”]. Nor does He exclude those thieves and robbers, who also unquestionably had come after Jesus, not merely those who had come before Jesus: as many, namely, as between the beginning of His preaching and the time of this parabolic discourse, which was spoken a little before His passion, had arrogated to themselves the office of teaching among the Jews, after the example of their predecessors.—κλέπται, thieves) stealthily, appropriating others’ goods, to their own gain.—λῃσταί, robbers) openly, taking away life, to the ruin of the sheep.—ἀλλʼ οὐκ) but, although these robbers and thieves offered themselves, the sheep did not hear them: ch. John 7:46, [The officers and Nicodemus not suffering themselves to be led blindly by the Pharisees] “Never man spake like this Man;” Matthew 7:29, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes;” John 9:36, “He was moved with compassion on the multitude—because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”

[265] It is in conformity with this, that as well the margin of both Editions, declares the note of time, πρὸ ἐμοῦ, to be reading not well established, as also the Germ. Vers. altogether omits it.—E. B.Verse 8. - All that came before me are thieves and robbers. Great difficulty has been felt by commentators in understanding "before me." The words clearly gave the early Gnostic heretics a text on which they established their dualistic rejection of the old dispensation. Their absence from certain texts led Augustine and others to emphasize the word "came." "All who came," i.e. in their own strength or wisdom, when not "sent" or authorized by God. Other endeavors have been made (see Meyer and Lunge) to give it a non-temporal meaning, such as χωρίς, "independently of me." Wolf and Olshausen make πρὸ equivalent to ὐπὲρ, "in the place" or "in the stead of me" (so Lunge, Lampe, Schleusner). De Wette and others accept the temporal meaning, "before," i.e. in point of time, and include under it the entire corpus of Old Testament saints and teachers, and therefore regard the saying as inconsistent with the gentleness of Christ. But with John 5:39, 45-47, and many other passages in this Gospel, it is certain the words could not mean to denounce all who came as teachers or shepherds before him in mere point of time as "thieves and robbers," whom the sheep did not hear. Therefore the πρὸ must be to some extent modified in meaning. We agree with Westcott and Godet in limiting πρὸ ἐμού, by throwing the emphasis on the "came," and by adding, moreover, to it the essential point, "came making themselves doors of the sheep" - claiming to have the "key of knowledge," professing vainly to open or shut the door of heaven. That is, no other has ever had the right or claim to be such "a door." The Baptist, the prophets, one by one, Abraham and Moses, in their day made no such profession. The dignity belongs to Christ alone. The language may receive accentuation from the pressing urgency of false Christs, as well as the hopeless system of Pharisaic pride. Theme sees here the mere dressing out of St. Paul's language, condemnatory of false prophets and ravening wolves who would not spare the flock of Christ (Acts 20:29), and Christ's own words in the synoptists (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 23:13, etc.). Special reference is made to the ceremonial superstitions, to "the hedge about the Law," to the cruel slavery of modern Pharisaism, which had done what neither prophets nor priests of old had attempted. Archdeacon Watkins emphasizes the present tense, "are thieves," etc., making Christ's reference obvious to the lawyers and scribes of his own day, who were closing the door, and plundering those whom they kept out of the kingdom. But the sheep did not hear them. The true sheep have not been seduced by them. The teaching of these Pharisees has not prevailed over susceptible souls.
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