In John 5:39-40 we see a dividing line being drawn over the proper interpretation of “the Scriptures” between the Jewish leaders of the first century and the early Christians of the Johannine community. Both parties agreed that “searching the Scriptures” was essential; however, the two groups disagreed about the nature with which one was to “search the Scriptures” and how one was to possess or lay hold of this eternal life. “The Jews” viewed eternal life as a birthright that was maintained by rigorous study of the law and strict observance of its principles. The study of the law became an end in itself. The Christians of the Johannine community, on the other hand, believed that eternal life was only granted as gift when a person comes to the one of whom the Scriptures testified, Jesus Christ. Eternal life was neither a birthright nor something that could be merited, but rather a gift given to those who truly “search the Scriptures” and truly see the one who they are written of. This disagreement between the Johannine community and the first century Jewish leadership is a reflection of the division between Jesus and the Jewish leaders during his day as well as a reflection of the division between Christians and Jews in our day. But perhaps more importantly, it is a reflection of the complacent attitude that pervades much of the church today. The words of this passage are a warning or wake-up call to us all. We must be careful not to presume that eternal life is ours because of any merit or association. We must be careful to search “the Scriptures” with our eyes wide open and without presuppositions that will hinder of from discerning its true meaning. But most importantly, we must look to the one of whom these “Scriptures” testify, Jesus Christ. If we truly want to live, as we assume all men do, then we must do what is necessary to inherit eternal life. We must heed the words of “the Scriptures” and we must heed Jesus’ words: we must come to Jesus who alone is the source of eternal life. This begins and ends with proper interpretation of the Word of God.
Dissertation (MA (New Testament Studies))--University of Pretoria, 2007.