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John 5:39-40 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness about me. 40 And yet you do not want to come to me that you may have life.
One online person, Tony Virkamaki, misused this Scripture when he wrote, “The Bible isn’t how you experience God any more than staring at a road sign saying, ‘New York City 10 miles’ is a way of experiencing New York City.”
Is this true, was Jesus discouraging studying the Bible? What some are going to do with the misinterpretation is cause confusion, by misusing a passage that you are misinterpreting as though Jesus were discouraging the study of the Bible.
In John 5:39-40, Jesus was not discouraging us from studying the Scriptures. Rather, he was exposing the insincerity or the inconsistency of the Jewish religious leaders he was talking with. They knew the Scriptures were a guide to eternal life. And it was these very Scriptures that was also a guide to recognizing the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. Yet, here these Jewish religious leaders refused to accept him. So, the point that Jesus was making to these stiff-necked religious leaders was not that they should not study the Scriptures, but rather that it was not beneficial for these leaders who were not sincere, or teachable. – Deuteronomy 18:15; Luke 11:52; John 7:47- 48; 17:3.
The interpretation from Virkamaki and others who would conclude the same is totally contrary to Scripture. The Bible from beginning to end is filled with Scriptures that state we need to possesses an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” The Bible alone answers the big questions: What is the purpose of life? Where do we come from? Why do we suffer, grow old, and die? What about the future? Is there more than this life? Is there a Creator, if so does he care about us?
The unbeliever goes to extraordinary lengths to find answers to who are we, why are we here, like traveling into space, studying the stars, going to the depth of the seas, studying life and history, among many other things. And on your phone is more information than any other time in human history. The unbeliever is alone in space and time with no answers to the big questions about life, suffering, and death elude them.
It is only in God’s Word that we find the answers. They have been right before the unbeliever’s face for 3,500 years. The Bible gives us answers to all of life’s important questions that help us draw closer to its author. But it is a deeper book than that, it helps us answer any other questions that help us grow closer to God. Who the Father is, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Who Satan is, Adam, and Eve, and hundreds of others. What was God’s purpose in creating us and his purpose for the earth? What is the Kingdom of God? What is prayer, how should we pray, to whom should we pray, what should we pray about, and how can we draw closer to God in prayer? Does God listen to all prayers, are they all acceptable?
The Bible gives us answers to the family and how we can please God. What role does the father, the wife, and the children play within the family? What does God require from each person within the family? Can two husbands or two wives and children make a family as the unbeliever claims? What does it mean to be spiritually, morally, mentally, and physically clean? What kinds of unclean speech are we warned about in the Scriptures? What things does God hate? What is detestable to God? What kinds of sexual conduct are wrong? Is lying, gambling, or stealing wrong? What must you do for God to declare you righteous in this time? What can you do to gain the strength to stay faithful to God in these difficult times?
The Bible is paramount to experiencing God, to our knowing God, to our growing close to God, to our staying on the narrow path that leads to eternal life. Does the Bible in and of itself give us eternal life? No, but it certainly makes like better, more joyful, more hopeful, easier, and it is the guide to remaining faithful, acquire a righteous standing before God, and many other things.
Again, this misuse of Scripture, taking it out of context is harmful that you are sharing. You are misinterpreting that verse, taking it out of context, and not looking at it with the rest of the Scriptures in view. Again, Jesus said, “You [the Jewish religious leaders] search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness about me. And yet you do not want to come to me that you may have life.”
We have to have the right mindset when we study the Scripture, as well as the proper motive, that was what Jesus was teaching as he mocked those Jewish religious leaders. They were quite studious and yet did not even recognize Jesus. Another point needs to be made too.
There is nothing wrong with desiring eternal life. It is fine to have such hope. However, we must have such hope in the right place, with the right mindset and the right motives. Our desire for eternal life should not be our sole motive in “searching the Scriptures.” If our motive is not pure, then we will not take in the correct knowledge that leads will lead to eternal life. Right after Jesus said the above to these Jewish religious leaders, he made clear that it isn’t that we should not study the Scriptures but that we need to do so with the right motives. He said to them Jewish religuous leaders, “but I know that you do not have the love of God in you.” (John 5:42) Yes, our motives must be based on our love for God if we expect to receive an accurate knowledge of God’s Word that can guide us to eternal life.
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