John 5:39
(39) Search the scriptures.--Better, Ye search the Scriptures. The question whether the mood is imperative or indicative, whether we have here a commandment to examine the writings of the Old Testament canon, or a reference to their habit of doing so, is one which has been discussed through the whole history of New Testament exposition, and one on which the opinion of those best qualified to judge has been, and is, almost equally divided. It is not a question of the form of the Greek word, for it may certainly be either. The English reader therefore is in a position to form his own opinion, and is in possession of almost all the evidence. He should observe that all the parallel verbs in the context are in the indicative--"Ye have neither heard" . . . "nor have seen" (John 5:37); "Ye have not His Word . . . ye believe not" (John 5:38); "Ye think that . . . ye have" (John 5:39); "Ye will not . . ye might have" (John 5:40). Why should there be a sudden change of construction in this instance only?

We find, then, this order of thought. (1) God has in the Old Testament witnessed of Me, but ye, with unreceptive hearts, have never heard a voice nor seen a shape of God (John 5:37). (2) Ye have not His word dwelling in you, or it would have witnessed of Me (John 5:38). (3) Instead of receiving the Scriptures as a living power within you, ye search and explain the letter of them from without (John 5:39). (4) Ye think they contain eternal life, and hence your reverence for them (John 5:39). (5) They really are witnesses of Me, and yet you; seeking in them eternal life, are not willing to come to Me that ye may have this life.

It is believed that this is the most natural interpretation of the words, and that it gives a fuller meaning than any other to the teaching of Christ.

The only objection to it of weight is that the Greek word for "search" (????????) is one which would not have implied blame. It means to search after, track, inquire after (comp. John 7:52); but, surely, this is just the expression for the literal spirit in which the Rabbis treated their Scriptures. Moreover, it is not the searching which is matter for blame, but the fact of the searching and not finding, which is matter for wonder.

Here, too, as elsewhere, the argument from the meaning of a Greek word must be pressed only within strict limits when we remember that it represents in translation a late Hebrew original. The Hebrew language had a word which just at that time was frequent on every Rabbi's lips, and which exactly corresponds to it. As early as the Book of Chronicles we find mention of the Midrashim, or Commentaries in the sense in which this word is used, e.g., in "Caesar's Commentaries." The rest of the Acts of Abijah are "written in the Midrash of the prophet Iddo" (2Chronicles 13:22). More than we now know of the history of Joash is "written in the Midrash of the Book of Kings" (2Chronicles 24:27). In both cases our Authorised version renders the word by "story;" but this was at a time when its connection with "history" as involving "inquiry" was not forgotten. (Comp. The Translators to the Reader:--"This will be easily granted by as many as know story, or have any experience.") These Midrashim sprang up after the Captivity, when the people had lost the older language of the Law and the Prophets; and paraphrases, expositions, and homilies, became at first indeed necessary, but grew into a vast and intricate system with "Secrets" and "Precepts," and "Fences" and "Traditions of Elders" (Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3), which gave abundant room for the learning and pride of men, but made the word of God of none effect (Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:13). Now, the period of the arrangement of the Midrashim of the Law commenced half a century before the ministry of Christ. Hillel the First succeeded to the presidency of the Sanhedrin, B.C. 30, and Akiba, his successor in the compilation of the Mishna, was a boy when these words were spoken. The influence of the former was all-powerful among those who now accused Jesus of breaking what the Law did not contain but the Midrash did. Those who now listened to Christ were disciples or assistants of the great Rabbi whose school of a thousand pupils left eighty names of note.

May it not be, then, that the true meaning of these words is to be found in their bearing upon these Rabbinic lives and works?--"Ye make your Midrashim on the Scriptures; ye explain, and comment, and seek for hidden mystic meaning; ye do all this because ye think they contain eternal life; their true meaning is not hidden; they tell of life, and ye who seek it do not hear them, and will not come unto Me that ye might have life."

Verses 39, 40. -

(d) The witness of the Scriptures. Verse 39. - Ye search the Scriptures. A large number of commentators, from Chrysostom and Augustine to Luther, Tholuck, Hengstenberg, M'Clellan, Luthardt, and Ewald, with the Authorized Version, regard this as an imperative command. This is grammatical, and corresponds to the language of Isaiah 34:16; but with Cyril, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Godet, Lange, Westcott, Plummer, Watkins, we think the whole context demands the indicative. The second clause, "because in them," etc., follows far more obviously upon an assertion than upon a precept. The "ye will not" that follows is far more in harmony with the indicative than with the supposed command. The Lord says, "You have a third great testimony to my claim, and yet you are not prepared to accept it." Ye search the Scriptures. The verb ἐρεῦναν is used (John 7:52; 1 Peter 1:11; Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10) for minute, prolonged search. The kind of investigation which the rabbis spent upon the text and letter of the Holy Scriptures is a proverb, and led to the allegorical mystical meanings of the Genesisaras and other Hebrew literature. "Ye search the Scriptures" rather than the living Word, rather than the Divine meaning and message from the living God which they do contain. This is one term out of many which the Lord employed for the sacred literature which was the great heritage of the Hebrew people. Elsewhere he called it "the Law," "the Law and prophets," "Moses and the prophets," "your Law," "the wisdom of God." He admits their study, prolonged and eager, of the sacred writings, and he justifies the ground and motive of such search, viz.: because ye think in them ye have eternal life; or, ye shall have, or shall find, eternal life. Some powerful critics, like Meyer, urge that our Lord agrees so far with the Jews, that he sympathizes with their search, and that censure or ironical language would be inconsistent with the Saviour's reverence for the Scriptures. But the expression is very unusual on that hypothesis, "Ye think [or, 'imagine'] ye have in them," rather than "ye have through them." Surely our Lord is here condemning the superstitious idea that, in the mere possession of the letter, they were possessors of the eternal life; that, apart from the indwelling Word, apart from the heart of the message itself, some magical advantage was springing. Hillel, whoso view of Scripture may be expressed in a saying ('Aboth,' 2:8), "He who has gotten to himself words of the Law hath gotten to himself the life of the world to come," here differs utterly from the Lord, who, on the doctrine of Holy Scripture, takes ground similar to that which he had taken with reference to the temple and the sabbath. It is not the bare possession of the Scriptures, nor the prolonged examination of its mere letter, that is the condition of eternal life. "Search" which is originated and stimulated by a vague idea of the life-giving force of the letter, is illusive. We may think that in them we have eternal life, but our Lord would undeceive us. Moreover, from the depths of his own consciousness and knowledge of his own mission, he adds: And they are they which testify concerning me. This is one of the keynotes of New Testament teaching, viz. Christ's idea of the Old Testament, that it was a sketch or portraiture drawn in successive ages and on various material of himself - that it was an outline of great principles which he was about, not to rub out, but to fill in, not "to destroy, but to fulfil." The histories, the experiences, the ceremonial, the dynasties; the offices, the songs and prayers, the predictive and typical sorrows there depicted, were all prelibations and unconscious prophecies of himself. "They testify concerning me," and, together with my works and with my forerunner and, more than all, with my Father's own voice speaking and my Father's own face shining through all, they complete the manifold testimony to the fact that I have come to do his will, to work with him, to deliver, to restore, to give life, and to execute judgment also, when my hour is come. If this be so, then strange, inconsistent, and tragic is the ultimate issue -

5:39-44 The Jews considered that eternal life was revealed to them in their Scriptures, and that they had it, because they had the word of God in their hands. Jesus urged them to search those Scriptures with more diligence and attention. Ye do search the Scriptures, and ye do well to do so. They did indeed search the Scriptures, but it was with a view to their own glory. It is possible for men to be very studious in the letter of the Scriptures, yet to be strangers to its power. Or, Search the Scriptures, and so it was spoken to them in the nature of an appeal. Ye profess to receive and believe the Scripture, let that be the judge. It is spoken to us as advising or commanding all Christians to search the Scriptures. Not only read them, and hear them, but search them; which denotes diligence in examining and studying them. We must search the Scriptures for heaven as our great end; For in them ye think ye have eternal life. We must search the Scriptures for Christ, as the new and living Way, that leads to this end. To this testimony Christ adds reproofs of their unbelief and wickedness; their neglect of him and his doctrine. Also he reproves their want of the love of God. But there is life with Jesus Christ for poor souls. Many who make a great profession of religion, yet show they want the love of God, by their neglect of Christ and contempt of his commandments. It is the love of God in us, the love that is a living, active principle in the heart, which God will accept. They slighted and undervalued Christ, because they admired and overvalued themselves. How can those believe, who make the praise and applause of men their idol! When Christ and his followers are men wondered at, how can those believe, the utmost of whose ambition is to make a fair show in the flesh!Search the Scriptures,.... The writings of Moses, and the prophets, which were of divine inspiration and authority, and are often appealed unto by Christ, and his apostles, for the truth of what they delivered; and were the standard of faith, and the test of doctrines; and therefore to be searched diligently into, for finding divine knowledge and improvement in it, and for the trial of doctrines. The words may be rendered in the indicative, as an assertion, "ye do search the Scriptures": the Jews had the sacred oracles committed to them, and these they read, not only their kings, princes, and judges, but the common people, who brought up their children to the reading of them, and instructed them in them: and besides this, these writings were read, and expounded publicly in their synagogues every sabbath day; and at this time especially these records were examined, and particularly those of them which respected the Messiah, since there was now a general expectation of him: and certain it is, that the chief priests, Scribes, and elders, or the sanhedrim, were very much versed in the Scriptures, and could readily refer to those which concerned the Messiah; see an instance of this in Matthew 2:4;

for in them ye think ye have eternal life; not the doctrine of eternal life, nor the promises of it, nor the way to it; though all these are contained in them, and pointed out by them: for though life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel, and the promise of eternal life belongs to the covenant of grace, and the way of life and righteousness by Christ is manifested without the law, and not by it; yet there is much of the Gospel, and an exhibition of the covenant of grace, and its promises, and Christ, the way of life, is directed to typically by the tree of life, and the brazen serpent, and other things in those writings. But the meaning here is, that they imagined, by having these writings in their hands, and by their reading them, and hearing them expounded every sabbath day, they should obtain and inherit everlasting life: hence they call (r) the law eternal life, and say (s) concerning the reading of it, that

"he that begins to read in the book of the law is obliged to bless after this manner: blessed be he that has chosen us above all nations, and hath given us his law.--And he that finishes blesses after him in this manner: blessed is he who hath given us his law, the law of truth, and has planted "eternal life" in the midst of us.''

This was an opinion of theirs: so the Persic version reads, "for such is your opinion"; and though this was a very vain one, yet it shows what a very high opinion they had of the Scriptures: and now to these our Lord appeals as witnesses for him, and against which they could not object, upon their own principles:

and they are they which testify of me; as they do of his proper deity and divine sonship, calling him Jehovah, God, the mighty God, and the Son of God; and of his offices as prophet, priest, and King; and of his incarnation of a virgin; and of the tribe, family, and place of his birth; of the miracles which he should work; of the treatment he should meet with from men; of his sufferings and death; of the circumstances leading on to them, and attending them; as his riding on an ass into Jerusalem, the betraying him by one of his familiar acquaintance, the selling him for thirty pieces of silver, the spitting upon, and scourging him, giving him gall for his meat, and vinegar for his drink, and parting his garments, and casting lots for his vesture, and the crucifixion of him, and that between two thieves; and of his burial, resurrection from the dead, ascension to heaven, and session at the right hand of God, and of his future coming to judgment.

(r) Zohar in Gen. fol. 100. 3.((s) Maimon. in Misn. Megilla, c. 4. sect. 1.

John 5:38
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