“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber."
ESV - 1 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.
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While "thief" and "robber" tend to be used interchangeably, there are actually some differences between the two, both in English and in the original language of John 10:1, which was Greek. Here are the Greek definitions from Strong's Concordance: thief (Strong's G2813) an embezzler, pilferer the name is transferred to false teachers, who do not care to instruct men, but abuse their confidence for their own gain robber (Strong's G3027) a robber, plunderer, freebooter, brigand Here are the dictionary definitions in English: thief: a person who steals another person's property, especially by stealth and without using force or violence. synonyms: robber, burglar, housebreaker, cat burglar, rustler, shoplifter, pickpocket, purse snatcher, sneak thief, mugger rob: 1. Law To take property from (a person) illegally by using or threatening to use violence or force; commit robbery upon. 2. To take valuable or desired articles unlawfully from: rob a bank. 3. a. To deprive unjustly of something belonging to, desired by, or legally due (someone): robbed her of her professional standing. b. To deprive of something injuriously: a parasite that robs a tree of its sap. 4. To take as booty; steal. While these definitions are similar, both indicating that thieves and robbers alike are people who take from others in some way, there are differences in the ways a thief and robber go about the business of taking. "Thief" indicates a stealthier method, done in secret, or by way of beguiling or tricking someone. Note that in the Strong's definition for thief, it's a word used to describe a false teacher who is more concerned about using his power and influence for his own personal gain than for teaching others the ways of God. I can think of many kinds of people who might fit this category: Church leaders who abuse members with their authority; preachers who build a strong following based on their own flamboyance and/or charisma, but don't offer their followers much "true meat"; preachers who overemphasize the prosperity gospel for monetary gain, depriving their followers of the instruction they truly need; cult leaders who delude others into believing they have the "one true way". I could name more, but I think that's enough. "Robber" indicates a bolder manner of taking from others, usually accompanied by force. I think it's important here to note that the verse in question, John 10:1, states this: “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber." [Emphasis in bold mine] Note that John calls the false shepherd both a thief and a robber. What John is saying is that although a person may attempt to steal from others in stealth and in secret (like the thief), that person may as well steal what he wants boldly and in the wide open (like a robber) because what we do in secret or in stealth will always be exposed in one way or another: What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. Luke 12:3 In fact, all that we do is never hidden from God's watchful eye, and He will deal with such thieves and robbers accordingly, even if He takes His time in doing so: But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. Num. 32:23
Although the two terms are similar, robbery is a more severe crime. A thief could be an embezzler, shyster, someone who steals secretively or deceptively. A robber takes by force with confrontation of the victim and may involve violence.
A thief and a robber both steal another's property. A thief uses stealth, so that the owner is unaware of the theft. A robber is prepared to confront the owner and use violence to carry out the robbery. Jesus is using both terms to emphasise that the person climbing over the wall is up to no good. The Psalms are full of this style of emphasis. The focus of this verse is the action of the man who is not the shepherd of the sheep, who is raiding the sheep pen to steal.
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