John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (KJV or Authorized Version)
John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (English Standard Version)
John 5:39 ἐραυνᾶτε τὰς γραφάς, ὅτι ὑμεῖς δοκεῖτε ἐν αὐταῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἔχειν· καὶ ἐκεῖναί εἰσιν αἱ μαρτυροῦσαι περὶ ἐμοῦ·
Are these words of Jesus a command statement in the imperative mood, or do they simply state a fact in the indicative mood? Most modern English translations, like the English Standard Version, opt for the indicative mood, by translating “You search the Scriptures.”
The King James Version of 1611 properly translates the Greek text as an imperative, thus a command, “Search the Scriptures.” Very few other English translations do.
Truth is never determined by a majority vote!
In Greek, when the verb comes first in the sentence, as it does here, it is in the imperative mood, and so is a command statement. I have given the Greek text above–not that I expect most readers here are able to read it–but to show that the first word,
ἐραυνᾶτε, the word translated “search,” indeed comes first in the sentence. The point at issue here is that this Greek verb is spelled the same way in Greek for both the indicative and imperative mood form of the verb. Therefore, in this case, it is not the form itself (which is ambiguous) but the grammar which determines the mood.
Another issue pertaining to understanding John 5:39 correctly involves the phrase “because you think that in them you have eternal life.” Does “you think” mean you think this, but you are wrong; or does it mean you rightly think?
Both the analogy of Scripture (what the rest of the Bible has to say about this) and the usage of the underlying Greek word for “you think” support the view that the meaning is “rightly think.”
Through believing the Scriptures, we have eternal life. By searching the Scriptures, we know without question that they consistently testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this, we have life through His name.
May every reader here take this verse to heart, and do what it says, by carefully searching the Scriptures on a regular basis. There is much more to “unpack” in this “Bible Nugget,” John 5:39. You will be enriched in your spiritual life if you take the time to make it the subject of your further study.
For those who wish to DIG DEEPER into this significant admonition:
(1) Consult the cross references given in Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible on pages 1173, 1174.
(2) Consult the cross references given in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge on pages 1194, 1195 or in Logos 5 Bible software for John 5:39.
(3) Lacking access to those two resources, consult the cross references for this passage as I have developed them further given below:
John 5:39. Search. *S#2045g. Jn 5:39. *7:52. Ro 8:27. 1 C 2:10. 1 P 1:11. Re 2:23. The Greek form for “search” may be indicative, a statement of fact, and so rendered “Ye search,” as in many modern translations, or it may be imperative, a command, as in the A.V., “Search.” Robertson thinks the following words, “ye think,” which are indicative, favor taking the verb as indicative, not imperative. Alford favors taking the verb as an imperative, because of the preceding context, and its initial position in the sentence. The Companion Bible notes that “the indicative never commences a sentence without the pronoun or some other word, while the imperative is so used.” For the same Greek construction see Jn 7:52, “Search, and look…”; Jn 14:11, “Believe me…”; Jn 15:20, “Remember the word…” This Greek word for “search” occurs in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, in the following places: Ge 31:33, 35, 37. 44:12. Dt 13:14. Jg 6:29. 2 S 10:3. 1 K 20:6. 2 K 10:23. Pr 20:27. Je 27 (50):26. Jl 1:7. The word is defined “to seek out, trace; used of a lion who ‘scours the plains and traces the footsteps of the man who had robbed him,’ Homer, Iliad, xviii. 321; used of dogs tracing their game by the foot, Homer, Odyssey, xix. 436. Hence, to track, trace, investigate” (Bullinger, Critical Lexicon and Concordance, p. 672). The imperative should be adopted here; the Jews did not search, but merely read the Scriptures, as so many Christians today. Had they searched diligently, and believed, they would have accepted the claims of Jesus. Lessening the force of Christ’s statement by taking it as an indicative rather than imperative seems to detract from the Bible’s teaching regarding itself, that we are to search the scriptures, not merely read them. Some modern translations appear to weaken the force of a number of texts which contain the Bible’s teaching about itself at several critical points, particularly here, John 8:31, and 2 T 3:16. T#1068. ver. *46. Jn 7:52. Dt 11:18-20. *17:18, 19. *32:46, 47. Jsh +*1:8. Ps *1:2. *119:11, *45, 97-99. Pr 6:23. 8:33, 34. Is +**8:20n. 29:18. *34:16. Je *8:9. Mt *22:29. Mk 12:10. Lk **16:27-29, 31. Ac 8:32-35. +**17:11, 12. Ro 2:17, 18. 3:2. Col *3:16. 1 T 4:13. 2 T **3:14-17. 1 P +**1:11. 2 P **1:19-21. 3:1, 2. Re 1:3. De Burgh notes that the following cross references suit the Indicative rendering, Ye search: ver. 45-47. Ezk 33:30-32. Mt 23:29-31. Ac 13:27. the scriptures. Dt 31:12. 2 Ch +*17:9. Ps *19:7. Ec 12:12. Is +**8:20n. Je 6:16. Ml 4:4. Mt 2:4-6. +21:42. Mk +*12:24. Lk 24:25-27. 2 T +**3:15-17. for. FS71, Jn +1:24. Here we have in two verses a double Epicrisis, the first approving, and the second condemning, but both adding a solemn truth, independent of the statement that goes before. (A) Search the Scriptures, (B) For in them ye think ye have eternal life. (A) And they are they which testify of me: (B) And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. In the first and third members (A and A), we have the Scriptures; while in the second and fourth (B and B, the Epicrisis), we have the action and conduct of those who possessed them. in them. 1 C 15:2. 1 Th **2:13. 2 T **3:15. Ja *1:18. 1 P *1:23. ye think. Gr. dokeō, S#1380g, Mt 3:9. Robertson cites Bernard who believes this word in John “always indicates a mistaken opinion (Jn 5:45. 11:13, 31. 13:29. 16:20. 20:15)” (Word Pictures, vol. 5, p. 92). The analogy of scripture, however, flatly contradicts this position, and forbids taking this as the meaning here, however correct it may be for the other passages cited, for scripture elsewhere teaches that we are born again through the instrumentality of the written word of God (2 T **3:15. Ja 1:18. 1 P 1:23). The Pharisees rightly believed that “in them” they had eternal life, but as Jesus elsewhere states, they knew not the scriptures nor the power of God (Mk 12:24), made them void by their traditions (Mk 7:7-9), and failed to believe them (Jn 5:46. Lk 16:31). Dt 32:47. Ps *16:11. 21:4. 36:9. 133:3. Da +*12:2. Mt 19:16-20. Lk *10:25-29. Ac 15:28g. 1 C 4:9g. **+7:40g,n. He 11:16, 35. ye have. ver. *24. Jn 3:36. +4:14. 1 J **5:13. eternal. Gr. aionios, Mt +18:8. Mk 10:17. Ro 6:23. T 1:2. 1 J 2:25. they are they. Mk 9:4. 10:3. which testify of me. T#1020. ver. 32, 36. Jn *1:45. +*12:41. Dt *18:15-18. Ps **40:7. SS *2:9. 8:2. Lk 4:21. See on Lk +**24:27n, 44. Ac 3:22. *8:28, 30. 10:43. 18:28. 24:14. *26:22, 23, 27. Ro *1:2. 1 C 15:3. He 3:5. 1 P **1:10, +**11. 1 J 4:14. 5:9. Re *19:10.