John 5:38-47 – Jesus’ Apologetic Part III – Testimony of Scripture

In the past two weeks we have explored why the Jews sought to kill Jesus “all the more” (John 5:18).

In Part I, we discussed the Jews’ accusations concerning Jesus:
  • Breaking the Sabbath (John 5:18)
  • Making Himself Equal with God (John 5:18)

And in Part II, we discussed Jesus’ response to these accusations in His description of:
  • (1) The Father/Son Relationship
  • (2) The Testimony of the Father/Son Relationship
  • (3) Implications of the Father/Son Relationship for Us

Today, in finishing John 5, we will detail Jesus’ description of how Scripture bears witness to these three things.
  • Jesus, in fact, goes so far as to even link belief in Him to belief in Scripture’s written testimony of Him.

James Boice characterizes Jesus’ discussion of Scripture in our text today as:
  • The Misuse of Scripture
  • The Accusation of Scripture

We will gladly borrow his insight.


John 5:38–44 (ESV) — 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Jesus highlights at least (3) ways the Jews misused Scripture.
  • (1) Scripture is not to be used to justify
  • (2) Scripture does not bring eternal life
  • (3) Scripture is the standard not humanity

We will explore them one at a time.

(1) Scripture is not to be used to justify
In John 5:39, Jesus tells the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life”.
  • They casted aside faith and created a new Biblical view of salvation based on works.
  • Jesus did not shy away from making clear the disdain He had for this misuse of Scripture.
    o Matthew 23:27 (ESV) — 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

Paul also battled this misuse of Scripture throughout his ministry.
  • Galatians 3:1–2 (ESV) — 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
  • Galatians 3:10–11 (ESV) — 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

James pointed out the folly of this misuse of Scripture.
  • James 2:10 (ESV) — 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
  • James tells us that perfection in observance of ALL of the law is required to be justified by the law.
  • As we well know, only Jesus has lived such a life.

Paul also teaches that the misuse of Scripture to justify can harden the heart.
  • Acts 13:39–41 (ESV) — 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: 41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’ ”

(2) Scripture does not bring eternal life
Again, in John 5:39, Jesus says, “…in them you have eternal life”.
  • “Jesus insists that there is nothing intrinsically life-giving about studying the Scriptures, if one fails to discern their true content and purpose” – D.A. Carson.
  • What is Scripture’s role in our salvation?
  • What is it that justifies us if not Scripture?

(3) Scripture is the standard not humanity
In John 5:44, Jesus accuses the Jews of usurping the divine standard of Scripture and replacing it with human standards, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
  • Kostenberger describes these Jews as being, “so self-absorbed in the fulfillment of their religious duties that they had no room for God’s revelation” – Andreas Kostenberger.

William Barclay sums this third point up beautifully when he says:
  • “The point is not: ‘Am I as good as my neighbor?’ The point is: ‘Am I as good as God?’ The point is not: ‘Is my scholarship and is my piety greater than that of other people whom I could name?’ The point is: ‘What do I look like to God?’ So long as we judge ourselves by human comparisons there is plenty of room for self-satisfaction, and self-satisfaction kills faith, for faith is born of the sense of need. But when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ, and through Him, with God, we are humbled to the dust, and then faith is born, for there is nothing left to do but to trust to the mercy of God.
  • What are some biblical examples of those who were “humbled to the dust”?

In citing the misuse of Scripture, Jesus also gives us some hints as to what the Right use of Scripture is.
  • (1) Scripture is to Abide in us
  • (2) Scripture is to be seen as testifying to the truth of Christ

(1) Scripture is to Abide in us
In John 5:38, Jesus tells us that what the Jews are doing wrong is that they, “do not have his word abiding in you”.
  • And conversely in John 8:31, he tells the Jews that did believe in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”.

What does it mean to Abide in Scripture?
  • It is more than just an intellectual understanding of Scripture.
  • In fact, a real understanding of Scripture is not even possible unless we abide in it.
  • The Greek word, Meno, means to remain, dwell or live.
  • D.A. Carson describes it as absorbing God’s revelation.
  • The Psalmist puts it like this, Psalm 119:11 (ESV) — 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

From all these we can deduce that whatever abiding is:
  • (1) It endures; it is not fickle.
  • (2) It softens our heart and conscience, and makes us vulnerable to the truth of Scripture.
  • (3) It leads directly to right actions, “might not sin”.
    o This is just as we learned in the “Heart and Mind of Belief” lesson.
  • (4) It is a means to our sanctification.

And an abiding in Scripture has other benefits:
  • "Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart." – Jeremiah 15:16
    o Food, Joy and Delight
  • “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17
    o Truth
  • “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” – Romans 15:4
    o Encouragement and Hope

(2) Scripture is to be seen as testifying to the truth of Christ
In John 5:39, Jesus proclaims of Scripture that, “it is they that bear witness about me”.
  • In other words, the right use of Scripture and the law is to point to a need for Christ and not for works.

Paul makes this plainly clearly throughout his epistles, but especially in Galatians and Romans.
  • Galatians 3:24 (ESV) — 24 So then, the law was our guardian [tutor] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
  • Romans 10:4 (ESV) — 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
  • And we can look at Acts 13:16-41 to see in detail how Paul argues for Christ and the Gospel from the OT.

BTW- This is why “The Way of the Master” method of Ray Comfort is so compelling. It uses the law to point us to our need for Christ and to reveal to us the dead end of works.

BTW – In John 5:43 – Jesus alludes back to the F/S Relationship from last week’s lesson and provides for us some historical insight into the habit of the Jews of following false Messiah’s who don’t have the Father’s testimony.

Moving on, Jesus proceeds to reveal the relationship between belief in Scripture and belief in Him.


John 5:45–47 (ESV) — 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Jesus said “he wrote of me” in verse 46, so let’s confirm that Moses did speak of Christ.
  • Numbers 21:8–9 (ESV) — 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
  • Deuteronomy 18:15 (ESV) — 15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—
  • Deuteronomy 18:18 (ESV) — 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

And Luke told of how, on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus Himself explained how Moses and the OT testified of Him.
  • Luke 24:27 (ESV) — 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

But how is it that Moses will accuse the Jews (5:45)?

The accusation is that because there is no belief in Christ, there is no right belief in Scripture and Moses.
  • In our text today (John 5:47), Jesus puts it as follows, “if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
  • This accusation demonstrates there are right and wrong ways to understand Scripture!

Paul takes the accusations even farther – they aren’t even real Jews.
  • Romans 2:28–29 (ESV) — 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
    o Paul, in 29, even addresses the same issue Jesus did in John 5:44 – humanity is not the standard.

Jesus’ words elsewhere take the accusations up another notch:
  • John 8:47 (ESV) — 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
    o We learned from John 3 that those who “hear” (believe) are those who are born again.
    o So these Jews are those who, from John 3, remain under God’s wrath and love darkness.
  • 1 John 5:10 (ESV) — 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
    o A Serious Accusation Indeed – if there is no belief in Scripture’s testimony about Christ then there is no belief in God the Father because, as we saw last week, the Father is the authority behind and the primary testimony of Christ.

On a side note concerning Scripture, elsewhere Jesus even testifies that the testimony of Scripture is sufficient for belief.
  • Luke 16:29–31 (ESV) — 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (from The Rich Man and Lazarus).
  • In other words, evidence is not the real issue!
  • Let’s go down this rabbit trail briefly.

The issue is a right and abiding relationship with Scripture.
  • Scripture is the testimony and the evidence that Christ is the Messiah.
  • And Jesus indicates again and again that Scripture is to be believed [by implication the Gospel] because it is from the Father.

John Frame takes Jesus teaching on the testimony of Scripture to its logical conclusion when he defines faith:
  • “Faith does not believe despite the absence of evidence; rather, faith honors God’s word as sufficient evidence”.
  • Therefore, as we mentioned last week, unbelief cannot be blamed on a lack of evidence.

But can belief have any basis on evidence outside of God’s word?
  • Yes but, “…it is not decisive. God’s sovereign illumination is decisive” – John Piper.
  • “It gives reassurance to faith and it displays the rationality of Scripture itself” – John Frame.
  • Remember, from the Saving Faith and Spurious Faith lesson we learned that faith based on evidence (works) is a Spurious Faith.
  • And a spurious faith operates on the notion that “seeing is believing”.
  • Whereas, a saving faith operates on the notion that “believing is seeing” – Boice.

Apologetically, this outside evidence does have a value:
  • It can be used to, “sweep aside rationalizations [and] arguments by which the subject resists conversion” – John Frame.

Moving on, Jesus’ has affirmed the place of Scripture in testifying to Himself.
  • He has accused the Jews of not believing the very Scripture they claim to hold so dear.
  • And He has challenged us to have a right relationship with Scripture and not to misuse it for the glory of man.

Lesson for us:
  • Using Scripture to justify is to trust our work – man is on the throne.
  • Abiding in Scripture is to trust Christ’s work – Christ is on the throne.
  • Real belief in Christ is trusting in the revelation of who He is as declared in the Word of God.

Quick summary of John 5 and our three Jesus’ Apologetics Lessons:
  • Jesus does claim to be equal to the Father
  • Jesus can work on the Sabbath because the Father works on the Sabbath
  • Jesus operated under the authority of the Father
  • Jesus was dependent on the Father
  • Jesus was obedient to the Father
  • Jesus was due the same honor as the Father
  • John the Baptist, the Father (via works and HS) and Scripture bear witness to Jesus
  • Those who “hear” Jesus live
  • Jesus judgment is just
  • Jesus warns of the misuse of Scripture
  • Jesus uses Scripture to accuse
  • To not believe Jesus is to not believe Scripture