What does John 5:39 mean? | Bible.Ref
John 5:39-40 | ³⁹ You pore over the SCRIPTURES
because you presume that by them you possess
eternal life. These are the very words that
testify about ME, ⁴⁰ yet you refuse to come to ME
to have life.
v.s 39 & 40 summarize a crucial point about the
difference between faith & belief.
A person who refuses to believe cannot be convinced,
no matter what evidence they are given [John 5:40].
In verses 37 & 38, JESUS criticized the local
religious leaders for never hearing the voice of GOD.
They are rejecting JESUS & HIS message
[John 5:18] because they are unwilling, not because
they are uninformed.
This is a key idea to consider when discussing
ideas such as evidence, proof, & faith.
The BIBLE never calls on anyone to express
"blind faith," which is belief without evidence.
In this very passage, JESUS is responding to
criticism by giving 3 separate forms of evidence.
HE has mentioned human testimony [John 5:33]
direct observation—in the form of HIS miracles
● John 5:33 | ³³ YOU have sent to John
& he has testified to the truth.
● John 5:36 | ³⁶ But I have testimony more
substantial than that of John. For the works that the
FATHER has given ME to accomplish—the very
works I am doing—testify about ME that
the FATHER has sent ME.
Now, HE is referring to the evidence of GOD's
And yet, for some, this is not enough & never
will be. This is why GOD does not offer
"proof" to all people: it won't necessarily produce
obedience or trust.
Simply knowing that GOD exists does not mean
obedience will follow [James 2:19].
● James 2:19 | ¹⁹ You believe that GOD is one.
Good for you! Even the demons believe that
Having knowledge does not always mean trusting
in GOD, as Israel's own disobedience showed
[Numbers 14:20–23; Nehemiah 9:16-7; Psalm 78:11-12].
● Numbers 14:20-23 | ²⁰ “I have pardoned
them as you requested,” the LORD replied.
²¹ “Yet as surely as I live & as surely as the
whole earth is filled with the glory of the
LORD, ²² not one of the men who have
seen MY glory & the signs I performed in
Egypt & in the wilderness—yet have
tested ME & disobeyed ME these 10x—
²³ not one will ever see the land that I
swore to give their fathers. None of those
who have treated ME with contempt
will see it.
● Nehemiah 9:16-17 | ¹⁶ But they & our
fathers became arrogant & stiff-necked
& did not obey YOUR commandments.
¹⁷ They refused to listen & failed to
remember the wonders YOU performed
among them. They stiffened their necks
& appointed a leader to return them to
their bondage in Egypt. But YOU are a
forgiving GOD, gracious & compassionate,
slow to anger & rich in loving devotion,
& YOU did not forsake them.
● Psalm 78:11-12 | ¹¹ They forgot what HE had
done, the wonders HE had shown them.
¹² HE worked wonders before their fathers
in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
And, here, the fact that the Pharisees were
knowledgeable in the SCRIPTURES did not
necessarily mean they were willing to accept
JESUS [John 7:17].
● John 7:17 | ¹⁷ If anyone desires to do HIS will,
he will know whether MY teaching is from GOD
or whether I speak on MY own.
v. 40 will show the real problem behind the
disbelief of these religious hypocrites, which
is also the basic problem with all who reject
JESUS CHRIST: they do not believe because
they will not believe.
No amount of proof is enough to overcome that.
John 5:30–47 continues JESUS' response to HIS
critics in Jerusalem.
After healing a crippled man on the Sabbath &
claiming to be equal with GOD, JESUS now speaks
Rather than simply saying, ''have faith,'' or
''believe ME because I said so,'' HE offers
reasons why HE should be believed.
These include human testimony, the miracles
HE is performing, & the words of SCRIPTURE.
JESUS also makes the point that those who reject
the prior words of GOD—the OT SCRIPTURES
—aren't going to believe in CHRIST, no matter what.
JESUS again returns to Jerusalem, as required
for the various feast days.
While there, HE heals a man who had been crippled
for nearly forty years.
Since this occurred on the Sabbath, local religious
leaders are angry—more upset with JESUS for
working on the Sabbath than amazed at HIS miracle.
In response, JESUS offers an important perspective
JESUS refers to human testimony, scriptural testimony,
& miracles as reasons to believe HIS declarations.
CHRIST also lays claim to many of the attributes
of GOD, making a clear claim to divinity.
Matthew Henry, Nonconformist [1662-1714] | John 5:39
5:39-44 The Jews considered that eternal life
was revealed to them in their SCRIPTURES, & that
they had it, because they had the word of GOD
in their hands.
JESUS urged them to search those SCRIPTURES with
more diligence & attention.
Ye do search the SCRIPTURES, &
you do well to do so.
They did indeed search the SCRIPTURES, but it
was with a view to their own glory.
It is possible for men to be very studious in the letter
of the SCRIPTURES, yet to be strangers to its power.
Or, search the SCRIPTURES, & so it was spoken
to them in the nature of an appeal.
Ye profess to receive & believe the
SCRIPTURE, let that be the judge.
It is spoken to us as advising or commanding all
Christians to search the SCRIPTURES.
Not only read them, & hear them, but search them;
which denotes diligence in examining &
We must search the SCRIPTURES for heaven
as our great end; for in them you think you have
We must search the SCRIPTURES for CHRIST, as
the new & living Way, that leads to this end.
To this testimony CHRIST adds reproofs of
their unbelief & wickedness; their neglect of
HIM & HIS doctrine.
Also HE reproves their want of the love of GOD.
But there is life with JESUS CHRIST for poor souls.
Many who make a great profession of religion,
yet show they want the love of GOD, by their
neglect of CHRIST & contempt of HIS
It is the love of GOD in us, the love that is a living,
active principle in the heart, which GOD will accept.
They slighted & undervalued CHRIST, because
they admired & overvalued themselves.
How can those believe, who make the praise &
applause of men their idol! When CHRIST & HIS
followers are men wondered at, how can those
believe, the utmost of whose ambition is to make
a fair show in the flesh!
Johann Albrecht Bengel, Lutheran  | John 5:39
1.] you search—Hafenreffer, in his edition of the NT,
Greek & Latin, translates,
You inquire into [inquiritis] the SCRIPTURES.
HE thereby has guarded against any one
understanding search into [scrutamini] as
Of the ancients, Athanasius also recognises
it as an Indicative..
For which reason Cyril need not have been afraid
of being left alone in giving, or being about
to give, that explanation.
Brentius says, that there are interpreters of
great judgment, who decide for the Indicative:
& the whole structure of the discourse certainly
confirms it: compare.. John 5:33,
etc., & especially that clause, because you think.
JESUS approves of their search into the SCRIPTURES,
which they were not wanting in, inasmuch as at that very
feast they read much of them in public;
just as HE approves of the embassy to John,
John 5:33, & their high estimation of Moses, John 5:45;
but HE adds, that none of these are enough by themselves.
Wherefore this explanation is attended with no loss
to the sense: & they are usually, to say the least,
equally diligent searchers of the SCRIPTURES,
who decide on the Indicative
[which very lately has been adopted by Zeltner & Walchius]
as those who decide on the Imperative.
This clause, You search & you will not come,
Paul has rendered by synonymous expressions,
2 Corinthians 3:15-16,
“Even to this day, when Moses is read, the
veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless, when
it shall turn to the LORD, the veil shall be
Some one has demanded, that similar instances of the
2nd person plural indicative, closing a period, should
be brought forward.
See therefore John 7:28, John 12:19; Matthew 22:29;
Matthew 24:6; Matthew 27:65; 2 Corinthians 8:9;
On the other hand, the imperative occurs with ye,
Matthew 28:5, Mark 13:23.
The imperative, Search you,
“Seek you out of the book of the LORD & read,”
The hearers of JESUS CHRIST [though they had
not heard the testimony even of John, who was
greater than the prophet, & though they had not
read the SCRIPTURES]
might at that time have derived faith from the words
alone of JESUS
3.] the SCRIPTURES—of Moses, John 5:46,
“He wrote of Me;” & of the prophets.
3i] ye—This is joined rather with the word think
han with search, & contains the proof, & is put
as it were by Anaphora [repetition of the same
word in the beginnings of clauses]: comp. the
notes, John 5:33.
So also ye, John 5:45, “Moses, in whom you trust.”
you appear to have—In antithesis to—that
ou may really have, John 5:40, “Ye will not come
to ME, that you may have life.” Akin to
his is that clause, John 5:45, Ye have placed
your trust in Moses.
in them—By the mere fact alone, that you search
them, you think that you have life.
life—Why dost YOU deny, O Socinian, that there
was known to the ancients the hope of eternal life
& those—and you will not—A double Epicrisis [an
enunciation added to a sentence, to make
he subject in hand the more clear], approves
of the search & trust of the Jews; the other,
etc., shows their defect.
Those, subjoined to the—in them, has in some
measure the force of removing to a distance.
Life is to be had more nigh at hand in CHRIST
than in the SCRIPTURES.
Charles John Ellicott, Theologian [1749–1905]
| John 5:39
 Search the scriptures.—Better, Ye search
The question whether the mood is imperative
or indicative, whether we have here a commandment
to examine the writings of the OT canon,
or a reference to their habit of doing so, is
one which has been discussed through the whole
history of NT exposition, & one on which the
opinion of those best qualified to judge has
been, & is, almost equally divided.
It is not a question of the form of the Greek
word, for it may certainly be either.
The English reader therefore is in a position
to form his own opinion, & is in possession
of almost all the evidence.
HE should observe that all the parallel verbs
in the context are in the indicative—“Ye have
neither heard” . . . “nor have seen” [John 5:37];
“Ye have not HIS WORD . . . you believe not”
[John 5:38]; “Ye think that . . . you have”
[John 5:39]; “Ye will not . . you might have”
Why should there be a sudden change of construction
in this instance only?
We find, then, this order of thought.  GOD
has in the OT witnessed of ME, but ye,
with unreceptive hearts, have never heard a voice
nor seen a shape of GOD [John 5:37]. 
Ye have not HIS word dwelling in you, or it would
have witnessed of ME [John 5:38].  Instead
of receiving the SCRIPTURES as a living power
within you, you search & explain the letter
of them from without [John 5:39].  Ye think
they contain eternal life, & hence your reverence
for them [John 5:39].  THEY really are witnesses
of ME, & yet you; seeking in them eternal life,
are not willing to come to ME that you may have
It is believed that this is the most natural
interpretation of the words, & that it gives
a fuller meaning than any other to the teaching
The only objection to it of w8 is that the Greek
word for “search” [??e???te] is one which would
not have implied blame.
It means to search after, track, inquire after
John 7:52]; but, surely, this is just the expression
for the literal spirit in which the Rabbis treated
Moreover, it is not the searching which is matter
for blame, but the fact of the searching & not
finding, which is matter for wonder.
Here, too, as elsewhere, the argument from the
meaning of a Greek word must be pressed only
within strict limits when we remember that it
represents in translation a late Hebrew original.
The Hebrew language had a word which just at
that time was frequent on every Rabbi’s lips,
& which exactly corresponds to it.
As early as the Book of Chronicles we find mention
of the Midrashim, or Commentaries in the sense
in which this word is used, e.g., in “Cæsar’s
Commentaries.” The rest of the Acts of Abijah
are “written in the Midrash of the prophet Iddo”
More than we now know of the history of Joash
is “written in the Midrash of the Book of Kings”