“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25 ESV). “… I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books” (Message Bible). It would be very rare to hear a teaching or a sermon on that text! So what’s up, preacher?
John had already told his readers that he only covered selected events in his gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they describe mainly the same events, while John only wrote of seven incidents that are in common with other gospels (Dake).
The expression “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” is what is known as the figure of hyperbole, or in everyday English, exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. This has been a legitimate usage of language ever since writing began. Since I live in the driest state on the driest continent in the world, I could say “the ground is dry,” and that would be factually correct. In order to emphasize the low moisture level of the dirt I could say “the ground is thirsty,” and that is hyperbole. The ground cannot drink, so I am emphasizing that the ground is really, really dry, and is pleading for a drink, and you get the picture immediately.
Some may contend that the statement is relative to the libraries of the time when John wrote his gospel. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, the library at Alexandria in Egypt contained 700,000 volumes, and that would still be overflowing with books if every word and action of Jesus were recorded. I carry in my wallet a complete copy of all 1,245 pages of a printing of the King James Version on a 2-inch square of microfilm! Nowadays it takes only 7MB of disk space for the King James Version text, so I could fit many copies on a SD card! However, John’s statement is obviously a figure of speech for it implied an impossibility; it is not to be taken literally.
Let’s get to the call to action. What does this verse teach you and me? Why is it there in the Bible? Since the Bible shows our loving God to be a God of abundance in everything he does, we already have more than enough written material to become a child of God, and then to have our every need met! The constant theme of Jesus was “Believe that I am who I say I am, or believe the works you see me do” (John 10:37-38).
To those who haven’t made their peace with God and continue to sin, the Bible says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:20-21).
Every time they look out the window and see the wonder of the natural world, they are without excuse. Even though they know there is a God, “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him,” their thinking became futile, useless. The evidence is overwhelming both in the written Bible and in God’s second Bible, nature, so there is no need to have a bigger Bible in extent. As the old hymn says, “What more can He say than to you He has said…?” (How Firm a Foundation, 1787).
So why is John 21:25 in your Bible? Because God put it there to show that you are indeed without excuse and you need to eat the meal set before you! “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).