One of the most “misread” verses in our Come Follow Me Studies this week is John 5:39. In this verse the Savior says, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
True or false: What Jesus is telling the people in this verse is that you should search the Scriptures.
This is actually false. Although we tend to focus on is the phrase “search the scriptures,” we miss what comes next: “in them you think you have eternal life.”
In the KJV, “Search the scriptures” sounds like a command, but it’s not that way in the original Greek. Let’s look at a couple of different Bible translations of John 5:39-40 that could help clarify what Jesus is saying:
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (New Revised Standard Version).
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (New Living Translation).
In context Jesus is talking to a group of people who are rejecting Him, but they frequently search the scriptures. What he’s saying is, “You’re missing the mark. You’re so focused on the scriptures, that you can’t see that they are testifying of me.”
Just to clarify, is it good to search the scriptures? Absolutely. That’s just not what Jesus is teaching in this specific passage. What he is saying is that the scriptures point to Jesus Christ. That’s why we study them.
Nephi taught this same principle when he wrote, “We labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ…And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:23, 26).
Helping students better understand John 5:39-40 can encourage them to study the scriptures not as a checklist item, but as a way to focus on and draw closer to Christ.
For more insights on this week’s Come Follow Me chapters, including links to some incredible videos, please visit https://johnhiltoniii.com/teaching-helps-for-come-follow-me-matthew-14-mark-6-john-5-6/
Karell BinghamMarch 28, 2023
To me, this is how it should have read, considering translation problems: You search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me, but ye will not come to me that ye might have life!
RozyMarch 27, 2023
I learned this on my mission (1979-80) from hearing a talk by Elder Marion D. Hanks. This truth has influenced my study of the scriptures and words of modern prophets ever since. It's so important to see how they are pointing us to the Savior!