John 5:47
But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
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(47) The emphasis of the contrast here is not between “writings” and “words,” but between “his” and “My.” It is a repetition of the thought of the previous verse, with an advance in time. They had not believed Moses, and therefore had not believed Him. They do not believe, for they do not read the spiritual meaning of the writings of Moses even now. What ground of hope is left? His words, revealing the deeper truths of the kingdom of God, will fall upon their ears as so many unmeaning sounds. (Comp. Note on John 3:12.)

5:45-47 Many trust in some form of doctrines or some parties, who no more enter into the real meaning of those doctrines, or the views of the persons whose names they bear, than the Jews did into those of Moses. Let us search and pray over the Scriptures, as intent on finding eternal life; let us observe how Christ is the great subject of them, and daily apply to him for the life he bestows.If ye believe not his writings - If you do not credit what he has written which you profess to believe, it is not to be expected that you will believe my declarations. And from this we may learn:

1. That many men who profess to believe the Bible have really no regard for it when it crosses their own views and inclinations.

2. It is our duty to study the Bible, that we may be established in the belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

3. The prophecies of the Old Testament are conclusive proofs of the truth of the Christian religion.

4. He that rejects one part of the Bible, will, for the same reason, reject all.

5. The Saviour acknowledged the truth of the writings of Moses, built his religion upon them, appealed to them to prove that he was the Messiah, and commanded men to search them. We have the testimony of Jesus, therefore, that the Old Testament is a revelation from God. He that rejects his testimony on This subject must reject his authority altogether; and it is vain for any man to profess to believe in the New Testament, or in the Lord Jesus, without also acknowledging the authority of the Old Testament and of Moses.

We have in this chapter an instance of the profound and masterly manner in which Jesus could meet and silence his enemies. There is not anywhere a more conclusive argument, or a more triumphant meeting of the charges which they had brought against him. No one can read this without being struck with his profound wisdom; and it is scarcely possible to conceive that there could be a more distinct declaration and proof that he was equal with God.

47. If ye believe not—(See Lu 16:31).

his writings … my words—a remarkable contrast, not absolutely exalting Old Testament Scripture above His own words, but pointing to the office of those venerable documents to prepare Christ's way, to the necessity universally felt for documentary testimony in revealed religion, and perhaps (as Stier adds) to the relation which the comparative "letter" of the Old Testament holds to the more flowing "words" of "spirit and life" which characterize the New Testament.

But if you believe not his writings, who so plainly wrote of me, and whose writings you own, and have so great a veneration for, how can I expect that you should believe the words of one whom you so vilify and condemn? For though my words be in themselves of greater authority, yet I have not so much credit with you as Moses had. But how doth our Saviour affirm, John 5:45, that they trusted in Moses, and deny here that they did believe him?

Answer. Some say, they believed with an implicit faith, presuming upon the merits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; but not with an explicit faith. Others say, they believed in the general, that whatsoever he wrote was true; but they did not believe them in the true sense of them. Tarnovius thinks, that they trusted in Moses, that they might be saved by their own works done in obedience to his law; but they did not believe him, because they rejected him of whom Moses wrote, and to whom the law of Moses was but a schoolmaster. They refused him who was the Head of the corner, Psalm 118:22 Matthew 21:42.

But if ye believe not his writings,.... They believed them to be his writings, and that they were the word of God, and yet did not believe the things contained in them, respecting Christ; or did not see, and could not believe that they belonged unto, and were applicable to Jesus of Nazareth; and therefore it could not be supposed they would give credit to him, or his words:

how shall ye believe my words? not that Moses was greater than Christ, or rather to be credited than he; Moses indeed was faithful, but Christ was worthy of more honour and credit than he was; Moses was but a servant, but Christ was a son in his own house: but this is said with respect to the Jews, with whom Moses was in great veneration and esteem; and it was more likely they should regard what he should say, than what Jesus of Nazareth should, whom they despised.

But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
John 5:47. The converse is true, and true with an a fortiori conveyed by the contrast between γράμμασιν and ῥήμασι. If the writings you have had before you for your study all your life, and which you have heard read in the Synagogues Sabbath after Sabbath, have not produced faith in you, and enabled you to see God and appreciate His glory, how shall ye believe the once heard words of one whose coming was prepared for, and His identification made easy by all that Moses wrote?

47. if ye believe not] The emphatic words are ‘his’ and ‘My.’ Most readers erroneously emphasize ‘writings’ and ‘words.’ The comparison is between Moses and Christ. It was a simple matter of fact that Moses had written and Christ had not: the contrast between writings and words is no part of the argument. Comp. Luke 16:31; ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.’

my words] Or, My sayings. It is not the plural of ‘word’ (λόγος) in John 5:38, but another substantive (ῥήματα) used by S. John only in the plural. Comp. John 6:63; John 6:68, John 8:47, John 12:47, John 15:7; where the separate sayings are meant; whereas in John 6:60, John 8:43; John 8:51, John 12:48, John 15:3 it is rather the teaching as a whole that is meant.

John 5:47. Γράμμασιν, his letter [writings]) In antithesis to ῥήμασι, words. Often more readily is belief attached to a letter previously received, than to a discourse heard for the first time.—ἐμοῖς, My) speaking heavenly things, as compared with Moses.

John 5:47Writings (γράμμασιν)

It is important to understand the precise sense of this word, because it goes to determine whether Jesus intended an antithesis between Moses' writings and His own words, or simply between Moses (ἐκείνου) and Himself (ἐμοῖς).

Γράμμα primarily means what is written. Hence it may describe either a single character or a document. From this general notion several forms develop themselves in the New Testament. The word occurs in its narrower sense of characters, at Luke 23:38; 2 Corinthians 3:7; Galatians 6:11. In Acts 28:21, it means official communications. Paul, with a single exception (2 Corinthians 3:7), uses it of the letter of scripture as contrasted with its spirit (Romans 2:27, Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6). In Luke 16:6, Luke 16:7, it denotes a debtor's bond (A.V., bill). In John 7:15, Acts 26:24) it is used in the plural as a general term for scriptural and Rabbinical learning. Compare Sept., Isaiah 29:11,Isaiah 29:12) where a learned man is described as ἐπιτάμενος γράμματα, acquainted with letters. Once it is used collectively of the sacred writings - the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15), though some give it a wider reference to Rabbinical exegesis, as well as to scripture itself. Among the Alexandrian Greeks the term is not confined to elementary instruction, but includes exposition, based, however, on critical study of the text. The tendency of such exegesis was often toward mystical and allegorical interpretation, degenerating into a petty ingenuity in fixing new and recondite meanings upon the old and familiar forms. This was illustrated by the Neo-Platonists' expositions of Homer, and by the Rabbinical exegesis. Men unacquainted with such studies, especially if they appeared as public teachers, would be regarded as ignorant by the Jews of the times of Christ and the Apostles. Hence the question respecting our Lord Himself: How knoweth this man letters (γράμματα John 7:15)? Also the comment upon Peter and John (Acts 4:13) that they were unlearned (ἀγράμματοι). Thus, too, those who discovered in the Old Testament scriptures references to Christ, would be stigmatized by Pagans, as following the ingenious and fanciful method of the Jewish interpreters, which they held in contempt. Some such feeling may have provoked the words of Festus to Paul: Much learning (πολλά γράμματα) doth make thee mad (Acts 26:24). It is well known with what minute care the literal transcription of the sacred writings was guarded. The Scribes (γραμματεῖς) were charged with producing copies according to the letter (κατὰ τὸ γράμμα).

The one passage in second Timothy cannot be urged in favor of the general use of the term for the scriptures, especially since the best texts reject the article before ἱερὰ γράμμα, so that the meaning is apparently more general: "thou hast known sacred writings." The familiar formula for the scriptures was αἱ γραφαὶ ἁγίαι. A single book of the collection of writings was known as βιβλίον (Luke 4:17), or βίβλος (Luke 20:42); never γραφή, which was the term for a particular passage. See on Mark 12:10.

It seems to me, therefore, that the antithesis between the writings of Moses, superstitiously reverenced in the letter, and minutely and critically searched and expounded by the Jews, and the living words (ῥήμασιν, see on Luke 1:37), is to be recognized. This, however, need not exclude the other antithesis between Moses and Jesus personally.

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