T. Pierce Brown

Most of my life I have read John5:39in the King James Version and assumed that it was a command of Jesus to search the scriptures. Since we know the admonition is good and scriptural, there is no harm done by this conclusion, even if it is wrong. After reading it in the Greek text and after having examined the context with more care, it is now my considered judgment that the word “search” is not an imperative, but is in the indicative mood, giving a statement of fact. There are several reasons for this conclusion, some of which I shall mention.

First, since it was known by Jesus that they already searched the scriptures, even with extreme care, and were meticulous in having them verbally accurate to the “jot and tittle,” it would be a little peculiar to have him urge them to search the scriptures, doing what they already did. He said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses seat. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do ye not after their works, for they say and do not” (Mt. 23:2-3). He admitted that they had searched the scriptures and knew what was in them, but did not practice it.

Second, it seems evident that the context of vss. 39-40 indicates that their concept of how to get eternal life was wrong. We should not in any way disparage the value, yea, the necessity of searching the scripture to find God’s will and discover how to gain eternal life. But the Jews who were so interested in searching the scripture so intensely that they were able to tell how many times a particular letter of the alphabet was used in the Law of Moses seemed to conclude that being an authority on what the Law said would gain for them eternal life. This, apparently, is the point of Jesus’ remarks.

Third, this conclusion is strengthened when we notice that he said, “In them ye think ye have eternal life.” It is our judgment that if he had been wanting to emphasize that it is through the knowledge of the scriptures that one DOES find the way to eternal life, his statement here, and especially the contrast in verse 40 would have been made in a different manner.

His whole point is, “You search the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life. They testify of me, so you should have been able to find eternal life if you had FOLLOWED those scriptures instead of simply being satisfied with knowing them. But you did not. You did not allow the scriptures to lead you to ME, where eternal life is found.”

My point in this article is that it is possible for us to do the same kind of thing. Denominational theologians have done it for centuries. They can write enough books to fill a library, and yet deny the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ, the necessity of obeying the gospel, or any number of other strange things.

But since they will probably not be reading this article, but you are, I will try to impress you with the fact that you can do the same thing. You can have your schedule of daily Bible readings. You can attend every gospel meeting in your area. You can even be scholarly enough to check the original Hebrew or Greek word in any passage under consideration, and still never come to Christ.

When I find a person who would drive 100 miles on ice to attend a Soul Winning Workshop (or speak on one) and would not walk across the street to set up a Bible study with his neighbor, I am aware that this principle still is applicable.

When I find in congregation after congregation the desire expressed to have “sound doctrine” taught (and I thank God for that, for in many of them now it is not desired nor taught), and yet find that those who so loudly proclaim its value couldn’t be persuaded by any means to actually try to develop the mind of Christ or try to lead some soul to Him, I am strongly suspicious that “Ye think ye have eternal life by searching the scriptures” needs to be examined anew by a large number of us.

Do you think it exceedingly strange that the Jews who knew the Law so well rejected the Lawgiver? Is it not even more strange that in an average congregation of the Lord’s people today, less than half of those who claim membership in the local congregation even come at all more than one time a week, and if anywhere close to half are in attendance on the Monday night of the gospel meeting, both preachers gush with praise for “this good Monday night crowd?” Then in addition to that, if more than 10% of those who do come do any more than just come, we are so thrilled we can scarcely contain our emotions.

Is it any wonder that Crossroads andBostonand other places where man-made systems have replaced the Way of the Lord are making such headway? They have swallowed the idea that almost anything is better than nothing!

When those of us who teach true doctrine “rest on our laurels” and assume that in that fact we have eternal life, we do greatly err, not knowing the scriptures or the power of God. The real quintessence of Christianity is to “let the life of Christ be manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor.4:11). If your searching the scriptures does not lead you to that, you merely “think that in them ye have eternal life.” There is a difference in searching the scriptures to find out HOW TO GET eternal life and searching the scriptures because you think that in doing that you HAVE eternal life. Eternal life is found ONLY in Christ, and all the searching one may do will not enable him to have eternal life if it does not lead him to entrance into Christ (Gal.3:26-27).

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