“You search the Scriptures…”
In John 5, those who accused Jesus, and those who stood around watching and listening, had all the evidence before them. They should have been able to come to a right verdict on who Jesus was and what he had come to do. But many did not. The problem was not with the evidence or testimony. No, the problem was — to continue the imagery of a trial — that these self-appointed judges were themselves contaminated. Many were not in a fit condition to understand the significance of the evidence before them. Those who would judge Jesus were themselves being judged, and found wanting.
One of their incapacities has to do with how they related to the Bible:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.… How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (39–40, 44)
Many in Jesus’ day had taken the good gift of Scriptures and turned it into a tool used to impress each other, to receive glory from one another. We see a glimpse of this from Paul’s biography before he met the risen Jesus, when he said he was advanced in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries, and was extremely zealous for the ancestral traditions (Gal 1.14). It is not that the Scriptures or Law-observance was bad. But they were never meant to enable us to look good or to impress others. As Jesus says, the whole point of the Scriptures was to point to him, the Messiah, the embodiment of God’s love, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. In short, their problem: right book, reading it the wrong way.
Jesus’ words haunt me because this problem is not just confined to the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. We would be wise to hear the warning today. The teaching and study of our Bible, and the discussions and reflections that arise from it (we call it “theology”) can be fascinating and stimulating. But it is possible for all this to remain merely academic knowledge, to become a substitute for letting the Scriptures bring us personally before the face of God. It is possible to know all the content of the Bible, without knowing personally the One to whom the Bible points. And of course, it is possible to use our knowledge of the Scriptures to gain honour, approval, and prestige for ourselves, and it is possible for us to look especially good when we can show with contempt how others are inferior or unknowledgeable or less evangelical or not “Bible-based.”
How are you reading the Bible today? Does it lead you to prayer and adoration of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God?