Never have there been so many ways to read and study the Bible. Yet are we more biblically literate than previous generations?
Half of British Christian teenagers only read the Bible once a month apparently. This was one of the findings of a survey released this summer. Last year, a survey of older evangelicals recorded 90% saying that they studied the Bible either every day or several times a week. Surveys in the USA give figures of less than 20% or around one in three who study the Bible to the same extent. Who knows how far to take such statistics?
There is one truly searching question these surveys do not seem to ask. How much time have you spent with social media compared to studying the Scriptures? How much time have you spent online or in front of television compared to studying the Scriptures? If love for the Word is a mark of a genuine profession, how real are we?
Christ is searching us as to whether we are searching the Scriptures. “Search the Scriptures”, He commands (John 5:39). Searching is not a superficial activity. You believe or think that in the Scriptures you have eternal life. He says this to us just as much as the Jews to whom He spoke. Is this not a reason to study them? The Scriptures testify of Christ. Searching them to find the Saviour is evidence of love towards Him.
“all the people of God…have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them” – Westminster Confession of Faith 1:8
Why Must We Search the Scriptures?
George Hutcheson opens up the meaning of Christ’s words in John 5:39. The following has been extracted and updated from his commentary on the Gospel of John.
1. This is Why the Scriptures have been Given to You
The Lord has revealed His mind in Holy Writ. This is His infallible Word which is the rule for discovering the truth and deciding all controversies in religion. He has done this in His deep wisdom and love to prevent anything that might cause us to be deluded. By this means He has made His people’s way clear and sure. This is why Christ sends them to the Scriptures or the written Word, which are God’s rule.
2. This is How You Understand the Way of Salvation
The way of salvation and everything necessary to attain it is fully revealed in Scripture. It was even declared in the Old Testament and now is made known much more so both in the Old and New Testaments. Christ says that the Pharisees thought they had “eternal life” in them. This was a true thought as regards the Scriptures pointing out the way. The Jews listening to Him were probably deluded if they thought they had eternal life. Their delusion was that they thought they were saved merely by having or reading Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
3. This is How You Explore their Depth and Fullness
The Scriptures are plain and clear in everything necessary for salvation. Their entrance gives light (Psalm 119:130). They contain, however, a depth that is not fully understood quickly or by a superficial search. They are a treasure in a mine, to be found by digging and painstakingly pondering every word and sentence. No word in Scripture is expressed in vain or randomly; it is all divine. We search it by considering it in the light of the overall meaning and purpose of Scripture. We compare one part of Scripture with another and examine how they depend upon each other. We must do this in humble and sole dependence upon God. This is why he urges us to search the Scriptures.
4. This is the Only Way to Find the Treasure Given to You
This treasure will be found by those who search in a painstaking way. It is the universal duty of everyone within the visible Church to read and search into the Scriptures to find it. Christ directs us, therefore, to search the Scriptures. This is something possible for everyone. He requires this from all the Jews in general who were listening to Him at this time (see Acts 17:11).
5. This is How You Know Your Profession is Genuine
Individual professing believers and a visible Church may be very corrupt. Yet may still pretend to esteem the Scriptures and approve of people making use of them. Despite this, they may oppose Christ and still imagine that they have salvation through the Scriptures. Both of these are true of the Jews here in John 5. Those who profess their hope of salvation through the Scriptures must prove the reality of their profession. They do this by studying the Scripture that they may not be deluded in their hope. They seek to feed on it and find comfort from what they firmly gather from it. Christ makes use of the fact that they thought to have eternal life in the Scriptures to urge them to search them.
6. This is How You Find Christ
The aim of the Scriptures (particularly the Old Testament) is to point and bear witness to Jesus Christ. They witness to His person, natures, and offices. They testify to His birth, life, death, sufferings and the glory that should follow and the benefits that come through Him. Our aim in searching the Scriptures should be to find Christ and what they witness about Him. Without this our study is in vain. “Search the Scriptures”, He says, and “they are they which testify of me” (see Acts 3:22-24).