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The Abundant life? Or Life Abundantly –> Understanding John 10:10

March 4, 2013

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

Here is another example of a verse that is taken out of its context and twisted to mean something that it never meant. Even those people who wouldn’t misuse this verse, largely misunderstand John 10:10 and so I wish to demonstrate how proper hermeneutics can help us to see this verse’s meaning.

In order to deal with this verse adequately, we are going to need to use three common hermeneutic rules…

  1. Using context to shed light on the verse…
  2. Using basic grammatical rules…
  3. Using scripture to interpret scripture….

Context, context, context…

In order to keep this short, I will not discuss this verse’s entire context because the context begins in John 9:1 and continues to John 10:21. I think that I will start in John 9:39 so that you can see a little bit of the context. Let me begin by giving you a brief summary of what takes place in John 9. I will not be able to include all of the wonderful details so I commend that chapter to you for further study.

This ‘mini-parable’ by Jesus follows a story where Jesus takes a man who was born blind and He heals him on the Sabbath by putting mud on his eyes and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam. What follows is a big debate between the man who was healed from his blindness and the scribes and Pharisees who want to discredit Jesus. The debate ends when the healed man says, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” and then the Pharisees threw him out of the synagogue. Then Jesus finds the man, who had been healed, and the man confesses faith and worships Jesus. Now we begin to look at what happens after this man worships Jesus.

John 9:39-10:1 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.

Now, it is important to understand that the “thief and robber” is referring to the Pharisees because Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for ignoring the Messiah. This is seen in the way that Jesus connects that statement to “now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” This point is important for several reasons and this begins to shed some light on the verse in question. First, if you do a study of the type of government that God set up for his people in the Old Testament, you will find the position of ‘Pharisee’ conspicuously missing. These people who call themselves ‘Pharisees’ are usurpers of authority because God did not set up that position for His people. You can see this in the way that Jesus talks about how they “climb in by another way” instead of coming through the door. Secondly, the way that the Pharisees retained their authority is through the use of fear. We see this in John 9:22 in how the man’s parents responded to the Jews…

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.

We see in the next couple of verses that Jesus is demonstrating in his parable that there is a distinction between the one who enters by the door and the ones who enter by another way…

John 10:1-6 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

From vv 1-5, Jesus tells the entire parable. This parable seems to reflect a large part of what happened in the previous chapter. By all appearances, the man who was born blind was one of Christ’s sheep for he would not listen to the Pharisees (those thieves and robbers) and instead he followed the voice of the Shepard and even worshipped Him. However, a common problem arises in that the Pharisees that Jesus was telling this parable to, did not understand what Jesus was saying (verse 6) and so Jesus spends the next 12 verses (including verse 10) explaining to the Pharisees what His parable meant.

John 10:7-18 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 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. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

There are many teachers and preachers who use John 10:10 today, but rarely do they take the time necessary to tell you about that verse’s context. In extreme cases, this verse is used to tell you that Jesus wants you to have an “abundant life” filled with riches, health, and earthly success. Is there anything in the context of this verse that would back up such a claim? Other uses lean towards telling people that Jesus has wonderful plans for our lives on this earth. Plans such as a wonderful spouse, a good career, maybe even having a plan for how you are going to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Many of these things are not necessarily wrong and it may be that God is going to put you in a place where you will not have to suffer much pain in this life (other than self-denial that is). The problem is, this verse says nothing of the kind. In order to understand this verse better, we need to move on to the 2nd hermeneutic rule…

Using basic Grammar…

John 10:10- The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

People, who quote this verse out of context, commonly quote this verse one of two ways. The first way is that they will say something like, “In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that He came that we may have an abundant life.” The second way goes something like, “In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that He came that we may have life in abundance.” There is a huge difference between the two where the former is completely false and the latter is much closer to the truth.

What is the difference between being faithful to the text or causing deception? It is the difference between a noun and an adjective. Let’s take a look at the two words that tend to get confused… “life” and “abundantly”…

Life – ζωή (zōē) – This is a noun.¹ Now I make that emphasis because when people generally take this verse out of its context and try to apply it to your life, their main point is that Jesus wants to give you ‘abundance’. According to the grammatical structure of the sentence, however, Jesus is saying that He came to give you ‘life’ not ‘abundance’.

Abundantly – περισσός (perissos) – This is an adjective.² Again, I make that emphasis because so many people use this word as if it were a noun. When you understand that the word ‘abundant’ is an adjective (a descriptive word), then you understand that it is trying to describe the noun in the sentence; namely the word ‘life’.

Now there is still a chance that we could have some confusion about what this verse is saying. Some might say, “That is exactly what we are trying to say. Jesus came to give you life and that life is described as abundant. Jesus really does want you to live a full, rich life while you are on this earth.” That is why I said that we need to incorporate a third Hermanutic rule in order to gain a proper understanding of this verse.

Scripture interprets Scripture

There are two ways of doing this so I will utilize both of them…

1)      Let us start by seeing if we can’t use scripture to gain a better understanding of what the word ‘abundantly’ means. Now how do you go about such a thing? Well, I am going to show you how the Greek word (translated ‘abundantly’ in John 10:10) is translated elsewhere in the bible. This is going to help us understand what John meant when he used this word rather than allowing our 21st century minds to impose meanings that aren’t really there.

Here are some other ways that the same Greek word is used throughout the New Testament: more (Matthew 5:37, 47), measure (Mark 6:51), vehemently (Mark 14:31), advantage (Romans 3:1), superfluous (2 Corinthians 9:1), abundantly (Ephesians 3:20), exceedingly (1 Thessalonians 3:10), highly (1 Thessalonians 5:13).

So we see that the word ‘abundantly’ carries the idea of ‘a large amount’; this is a quantitative type word instead of a qualitative one. What is Jesus trying to tell us that we are going to have ‘a large amount’ of? LIFE! This leads into our second way of using this biblical Hermeneutic rule…

2)      Let us just take a cursory look at how John (and Jesus for that matter) talks about life throughout John’s Gospel….

John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 4:13-14  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 6:63  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

John 6:68  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life

John 12:25  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

 

Jesus, when He talks about giving us an abundant life, isn’t referring to wealth, happiness, or earthly success. Jesus is promising to give us so much life that it will last all of eternity. He promises us that He will give us Himself for HE IS LIFE. He gives us the Words of Life that give us life here on this earth and ultimately point us to Christ (John 5:39). This is what John 10:10 is talking about and it is far more glorious when you do not twist its meaning.

1)      The Greek definition of the word ‘life’ used in John 10:10 (G2222) can be found at this link… http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G2222

2)      The Greek definition of the word ‘abundantly’ used in John 10:10 (G4053) can be found at this link… http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4053

 

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8 Comments
  1. Kel permalink

    Actually, “abundantly” is an adverb, not an adjective. It is modifying the word “have”. “Have” is in the present tense; not future tense “will have”. If having life abundantly is referring to our eternal life, why would Jesus say BOTH “I have come that they have life….and have it MORE abundantly”. If we are to apply “life abundantly” to eternity only, this would imply that there is heaven…(life) and that there is MORE heaven (better heaven) because of Jesus. This is absolutely not taught in scripture anywhere. Eternal life is eternal life. Jesus came to give us that – not a higher level of that. Abundant life isn’t referring to riches and wealth; but it IS referring to our life on earth – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enabling us to do far beyond what we could on our own and to see His power at work in our lives. The apostles understood this – and we should too. It is not hard to just take God at His word.

    • In English, you are correct about the adverb, however, I was making reference to the Greek and the original word is an adjective. You can find a link at the bottom of the blog post that will lead you to a lexicon that will give you more information on the original language. I highly recommended reading it.

      You make a false dichotomy in your reasoning because you want to separate this life from eternal life. You also seem to think that the contrast in John 10:10 is between life and abundant life (This from your comments about “Heaven and a better heaven with Jesus”). The contrast in vv 10 is between the One who bring DEATH and the One who brings LIFE. Jesus then mentions that the Life will be in abundance but your comparison doesn’t hold up.

      By the way, I was not saying that John 10:10 has no implications for our life on earth. When I say that the abundant life is pointing to ETERNAL LIFE; I am not downplaying its role for our lives on this earth but rather I am enhancing it. It is that very emphasis that allows a persecuted, dying Christian to be able to say, in the midst of their pain, “I have (today) Life in Abundance”. I was saying that it was speaking of real, true LIFE and not the common interpretation, abundance (prosperity). Many people read this verse and say that Jesus is promising us abundance and so I argued that Jesus is promising us Life… in abundance. This has tremendous implications for our lives today and, as you pointed out, one of them is the Holy Spirits work of sanctification in our lives.

      The Bible doesn’t teach two lives, one here and one when we die; rather it teaches that for the person who was just “born again”, Eternal life has begun. Eternal Life begins at Salvation and continues far out into eternity. To say that John 10:10 is speaking of eternal life IS to say that it is referring to our life here on this earth…

      John 17:3 — “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

  2. Kevin permalink

    Actually Jesus meant EVERYTHING that pertains to Life and Godliness, which does include success in what we do… We are everything He is !! Our life is hid in Him…
    1 Corinthians 3:21……

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