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John 5:39

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Search the Scriptures - Ερευνατε τας γραφας . This should be translated, not in the imperative, but in the indicative mood - thus, Ye search the Scriptures diligently. That these words are commonly read in the imperative mood is sufficiently known; but this reading can never accord well with the following verse, nor can the force and energy of the words be perceived by this version.

The rabbins strongly recommend the study of the Scriptures. The Talmud, Tract. Shabbath, fol. 30, brings in God thus addressing David: "I am better pleased with one day in which thou sittest and studiest the law, than I shall be with a thousand sacrifices which thy son Solomon shall offer upon my altar."

Perhaps the Scriptures were never more diligently searched than at that very time: first, because they were in expectation of the immediate appearing of the Messiah; secondly, because they wished to find out allegories in them; (see Philo); and, thirdly, because they found these scriptures to contain the promise of an eternal life. He, said they, who studies daily in the law, is worthy to have a portion in the world to come, Sohar. Genes. fol. 31. Hence we may infer:

    1st. That the Jews had the knowledge of a future state before the coming of Christ; and

2ndly. That they got that knowledge from the Old Testament Scriptures.

The word ερευνατε, which might be translated, Ye search diligently, is very expressive. Homer, Il. xviii. l. 321, applies it to a lion deprived of his whelps, who "scours the plains, and traces the footsteps of the man." And in Odyss. xix. l. 436, to dogs tracing their game by the scent of the foot.

In the Septuagint, the verb ερευναω answers to the Hebrew חפש chapash, to search by uncovering; to חקר chakar, to search minutely, to explore; to חשף chashaph, to strip, make bare; and to משש mashash, to feel, search by feeling. It is compounded of ερεω, I seek, and ευνη, a bed; "and is," says St. Chrysostom, "a metaphor taken from those who dig deep, and search for metals in the bowels of the earth. They look for the bed where the metal lies, and break every clod, and sift and examine the whole, in order to discover the ore." Those who read the verse in the imperative mood consider it an exhortation to the diligent study of the Sacred Writings. Search; that is, shake and sift them, as the word also signifies: search narrowly, till the true force and meaning of every sentence, yea, of every word and syllable, nay, of every letter and yod therein, be known and understood. Confer place with place; the scope of one place with that of another; things going before with things coming after: compare word with word, letter with letter, and search the whole thoroughly. See Parkhurst, Mintert, and Leigh.

Leaving every translation of the present passage out of the question, this is the proper method of reading and examining the Scriptures, so as to become wise unto salvation through them.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Search the scriptures - The word translated “search” here means to “search diligently” or “search anxiously.” It was applied to miners, who search for precious metals - who look anxiously for the “bed” of the ore with an intensity or anxiety proportionate to “their sense” of the value of the metal. Compare the notes at Job 28:3. It is applied by Homer to a lioness robbed of her whelps, and who “searches” the plain to “trace out” the footsteps of the man who has robbed her. It is also applied by him to dogs tracing their game by searching them out by the scent of the foot. It means a diligent, faithful, anxious investigation The word may be either in the indicative or imperative mood. In our translation it is in the imperative, as if Jesus commanded them to search the Scriptures. Cyril, Erasmus, Beza, Bengel, Kuinoel, Tholuck, DeWette, and others, give it as in the indicative: Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wetstein, Stier, Alford, and others, regard it as in the imperative, or as a command. It is impossible to determine which is the true interpretation. Either of them makes good sense, and it is proper to use the passage in either signification. There is abundant evidence that the Jews did search the books of the Old Testament. It is equally clear that all people ought to do it.

The scriptures - The writings or books of the Old Testament, for those were all the books of revelation that they then possessed.

In them ye think ye have eternal life - The meaning of this is: “Ye think that by studying the Scriptures you will obtain eternal life. You suppose that they teach the way to future blessedness, and that by diligently studying them you will attain it.” We see by this:

1.That the Jews in the time of Jesus were expecting a future state.

2.The Scriptures teach the way of life, and it is our duty to study them.

The Bereans are commended for searching the Scriptures Acts 17:11; and Timothy is said from a child to have “known the holy scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation,” 2 Timothy 3:15. Early life is the proper time to search the Bible, for they who seek the Lord early shall find him.

They are they … - They bear witness to the Messiah. They predict his coming, and the manner of his life and death, Isaiah 53:1-12; Daniel 9:26-27, etc. See the notes at Luke 24:27.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
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!
Ellen G. White
Steps to Christ, 88

Jesus said of the Old Testament Scriptures,—and how much more is it true of the New,—“They are they which testify of Me,” the Redeemer, Him in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered. John 5:39. Yes, the whole Bible tells of Christ. From the first record of creation—for “without Him was not anything made that was made”—to the closing promise, “Behold, I come quickly,” we are reading of His works and listening to His voice. John 1:3; Revelation 22:12. If you would become acquainted with the Saviour, study the Holy Scriptures. SC 88.1

Fill the whole heart with the words of God. They are the living water, quenching your burning thirst. They are the living bread from heaven. Jesus declares, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.” And He explains Himself by saying, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” John 6:53, 63. Our bodies are built up from what we eat and drink; and as in the natural economy, so in the spiritual economy: it is what we meditate upon that will give tone and strength to our spiritual nature. SC 88.2

The theme of redemption is one that the angels desire to look into; it will be the science and the song of the redeemed throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Is it not worthy of careful thought and study now? The infinite mercy and love of Jesus, the sacrifice made in our behalf, call for the most serious and solemn reflection. We should dwell upon the character of our dear Redeemer and Intercessor. We should meditate upon the mission of Him who came to save His people from their sins. As we thus contemplate heavenly themes, our faith and love will grow stronger, and our prayers will be more and more acceptable to God, because they will be more and more mixed with faith and love. They will be intelligent and fervent. There will be more constant confidence in Jesus, and a daily, living experience in His power to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. SC 88.3

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Ellen G. White
Counsels on Sabbath School Work, 53

Parents should search the Scriptures with their children. They should become familiar with the lessons themselves; then they can assist their children in learning them. Every day some portion of time should be appropriated to the study of the lessons, not merely in learning to mechanically repeat the words, while the mind does not comprehend the meaning; but to go to the very foundation, and become familiar with what is brought out in the lesson. The indifference of the children, in very many cases, is chargeable to the parents. They are indifferent, and the children catch the same spirit. If parents show that they attach importance to the Sabbath school, by giving it respect and prominence, the children will generally copy their example. CSW 53.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, 312

Every species of immorality is plainly delineated in the word of God and its result spread before us. The indulgence of the lower passions is presented before us in its most revolting character. No one, however dark may be his understanding, need to err. But I have been shown that this sin is cherished by many who profess to be walking in all the commandments of God. God will judge every man by His word. 4T 312.1

Said Christ: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” The Bible is an unerring guide. It demands perfect purity in word, in thought, and in action. Only virtuous and spotless characters will be permitted to enter the presence of a pure and holy God. The word of God, if studied and obeyed, would lead the children of men, as the Israelites were led by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. The Bible is God's will expressed to man. It is the only perfect standard of character, and marks out the duty of man in every circumstance of life. There are many responsibilities resting upon us in this life, a neglect of which will not only cause suffering to ourselves, but others will sustain loss in consequence. 4T 312.2

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Ellen G. White
Evangelism, 69

Doctrine Must Bear Scrutiny of Great Men—“Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life.” Every position of truth taken by our people will bear the criticism of the greatest minds; the highest of the world's great men will be brought in contact with truth, and therefore every position we take should be critically examined and tested by the Scriptures. Now we seem to be unnoticed, but this will not always be. Movements are at work to bring us to the front, and if our theories of truth can be picked to pieces by historians or the world's greatest men, it will be done. Ev 69.1

We must individually know for ourselves what is truth, and be prepared to give a reason of the hope that we have with meekness and fear, not in a proud, boasting, self-sufficiency, but with the spirit of Christ. We are nearing the time when we shall stand individually alone to answer for our belief. Religious errors are multiplying and entwining themselves with Satanic power about the people. There is scarcely a doctrine of the Bible that has not been denied.—Letter 6, 1886. Ev 69.2

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