on John 5 :39
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.
on John 5 :39
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.
on John 5 :39
5:39 Search the Scriptures - A plain command to all men. In them ye are assured ye have eternal life - Ye know they show you the way to eternal life. And these very Scriptures testify of me.