Did the Lord Jesus Command to Search the Scriptures in John 5:39?
It all depends on which Bible you are using.
Again, in a similar manner, does your Bible command you to “STUDY to show thyself approved unto God” or not? Once again, it depends on which bible you are using.
See - 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study", "be diligent" or "do your best"?
In the gospel of John 5:39 in the King James Bible we read the Lord Jesus saying: “SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.”
However in versions like the NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB this is no longer a command to Search the Scriptures, but has become a mere statement - “ YOU SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (NKJV 1982)
NIV, NET - “YOU STUDY the Scriptures diligently”
NASB, ESV, RSV, NRSV - “YOU SEARCH the Scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”
International Standard Version - “You EXAMINE the Scriptures carefully”
The Catholic Connection
The earlier Catholic Douay-Rheims of 1582 as well as the Douay Version of 1950 both read as a Command - “SEARCH the Scriptures”, but the modern Catholic versions like the St. Joseph NAB 1970 and the New Jerusalem bible 1985 make it a statement - “YOU POUR OVER THE SCRIPTURES, believing that in them you can find eternal life” (N.J.B. 1985). The Jehovah Witness New World Translation does the same thing, reading: “YOU ARE SEARCHING THE SCRIPTURES”.
What is going on here? Well, it is not a question of different underlying Greek texts, because they all read the same here - ερευνατε τας γραφας
The verb used here is ereunao and it is only used 6 times in the entire New Testament. It is used in places like "Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." (John 7:52), “the Spirit searcheth all things” (1 Cor. 2:10) and “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify” (1 Peter 1:11). Only one time is it found in the form used here.
The form of the verb found in John 5:39 can either be a Command - “Search the Scriptures” or a simple statement - “You search the Scriptures”. Both are grammatically possible, but which one did God intend?
Agreeing with the King James Bible here in John 5:39 where our Lord commands us to “SEARCH the scriptures” are the following Bible translations - Tyndale 1534 - “SEARCHE the scriptures for in them ye thinke ye have eternall lyfe”, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew’s Bible 1549, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587 - “SEARCHE the Scriptures: for in them ye thinke to haue eternall life, and they are they which testifie of me.”, Whiston’s N.T. 1745, John Wesley’s N.T. 1755, Thomas Haweis N.T. 1795, Webster’s translation 1833, Godbey N.T. 1902, Lamsa’s 1933 translation of the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Bible in Plain English - “SEARCH the Scriptures”, The Word of Yah 1993, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, Third Millennium Bible 1998, Lawrie Translation 1998, God’s First Truth 1999, The Tomson N.T. 2002, the Evidence Bible 2003, Concordant Version 2006, the American Bible Union N.T. 2008, The Spoken English N.T. 2008, Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010, Online Interlinear Andre de Mol 2010, the English Jubilee Bible 2010 - “SEARCH the Scriptures” and the Work of God’s Children Illustrated Bible 2011.
Foreign language Bibles that also have a Command to STUDY the Scriptures are Luther’s German Bible 1545 - “ Suchet in der Schrift”, = “SEARCH the Scriptures”, the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569, Cipriano de Valera 1602, the Reina Valera 1909 - 1995, the Reina Valera Gómez bible 2010 - “Escudriñad las Escrituras”, = “SEARCH the Scriptures”, and the Italian Diodati 1649 - “Investigate le scritture”.
Some Bible Commentators
John Calvin - “Search the Scriptures - we are taught by this passage, that if we wish to obtain the knowledge of Christ, WE MUST SEEK IT FROM THE SCRIPTURES; for they who imagine whatever they choose concerning Christ will ultimately have nothing instead of him but a shadowy phantom. First, then, we ought to believe that Christ cannot be properly known in any other way than from the Scriptures; and if it be so, it follows that WE OUGHT TO READ THE SCRIPTURES with the express design of finding Christ in them. Next, as WE ARE COMMANDED TO SEEK CHRIST IN THE SCRIPTURES, so he declares in this passage that our labors shall not be fruitless; for the Father testifies in them concerning his Son in such a manner that He will manifest him to us beyond all doubt. But what hinders the greater part of men from profiting is, that they give to the subject nothing more than a superficial and cursory glance. Yet it requires the utmost attention, and, therefore, CHRIST ENJOINS US TO SEARCH DILIGENTLY FOR THIS HIDDEN TREASURE.”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown - “Search the Scriptures - Observe here the honor which Christ gives to the Scriptures, as a record which all have a right and ARE BOUND TO SEARCH, THE REVERSE OF WHICH THE CHURCH OF ROME TEACHES.”
John Wesley - “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.”
John Trapp, English Puritan - “Search the Scriptures - Listen to the world, compare with your Bibles, the medicine of our souls, saith Chrysostom. But Bibles lie (like old almanacs) moulding in corners, while play books (the devil’s catechisms) are even worn out with overly diligent perusal.”
Who do you think would command us to Search the Scriptures and to Study them, God or Satan? Who would want to water down and alter these commands and make them a mere statement or change the meaning, God or Satan?
The King James Bible is always right; accept no substitutes.
All of grace, believing the Book - the Authorized King James Holy Bible.
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