If Jesus calls Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, why do we see Him lying to His brothers in John 7:2-10? Is this a deadly blow to Christ’s divine identity or are critics missing something vital?
“Now the Jew’s feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet full come. When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee. But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” (John 7:2-10)
In this passage, Jesus’ brothers invite Him to the festival during the feast of tabernacles. Jesus declines their offer, but, later on, He goes to the feast Himself in secret. Did Jesus just lie to His brothers?
The first question to ask is if this were evidence of Jesus committing a sin why didn’t the church remove this shameful passage from Scripture? Could they have missed it? Are there any other places where Christ says one thing but does another? Actually, there are numerous examples in Scripture where Jesus is a) asked to do something, b) refuses, and then c) proceeds to act contrary to His initial statement.
In John 2:3 Jesus’ mother asks Him for wine during a wedding,
And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
Notice how Jesus answers her in the following verse,
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
Following this response, a couple of verses down we read about the well-known miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine. This scenario plays out just like our one in 7:2-10. One answer we can give is that Jesus’ actions do not contradict the major theme of John’s Gospel. John’s aim is to emphasize Christ’s obedience to God and His disassociation with human concerns, obeying the commands of God the Father alone.
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:28-29)
Jesus also gives His mother and His brother a similar reply. He tells each of them “my time has not come” (noting that the “yet” in the KJV is widely considered to be a later addition). This could mean that Jesus was either unaware of when He would be allowed to go (considering that Jesus tells His disciples that there are things only His Father knows (Mat. 28:36) this isn’t out of the question) or else He knew when His time would arrive and simply replied that it was not at present. In either case, Jesus would not be lying, but rather withholding information on when the time to go to the feast was right. But why withhold this information at all (assuming the second theory was the correct one)? Pilch and Malina in their Handbook of Biblical Social Values note that,
“New Testament people…. experienced a world of masquerade and deception, in which people both deceive others and expect to be deceived in turn. It was a world of flatterers, spies, hypocrites and disguised demons. “Do not be deceived” is a serious, but common watchword, even for members of the church.”
Pilch, John J.. Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Third Edition (Matrix: The Bible in Mediterranean Context 10) (Kindle Locations 1668-1670). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
In the ancient world, evil intent often hid behind even the most innocent of requests. Our passage in John 7 could not be a clearer example of this. By urging Christ to perform miracles they were hoping to shame Him by showing the crowd that their brother was either a fraud or a lunatic. One would be quite insane to put Jesus in the wrong for avoiding this situation. In the same way, one would be insane for shaming the person who hid Jews in her house to protect them from the Nazis. The greater good was the most important thing to uphold and the best way to uphold it was to do so in a way that avoided conflict. On this, Pilch and Malina note that,
“Great importance is put on public utterances. Because public, they are imbued with the honor of the speaker. A man is as good as his word. But the biblical world contains elaborate rituals of etiquette, one of which is not to give public offense; and so it may be that a person agrees to what is being publicly discussed to avoid conflict. Besides, it may be that those in the public discussion have no right to know one’s private thoughts; speaking candidly may betray family interests, which have a prior claim on an individual. Etiquette may dictate saying one thing publicly and doing another thing privately, or simply not following up what was publicly stated.”
Pilch, John J.. Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Third Edition (Matrix: The Bible in Mediterranean Context 10) (Kindle Locations 2063-2067). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
In the ancient world (and Eastern countries today), control of one’s speech was held as a virtue. It demanded people to avoid shaming or offending others publically. If there was a risk that speaking openly would shame someone you were indebted to, common etiquette demanded that you either hold your tongue, publically agree to their request without privately following it up, or else giving an indirect or incomplete answer. Jesus’ answer to His brothers can be explained by Him giving them a public “no” which then allowed him to act on terms most favourable to His own higher interests. Jesus withheld the truth, not because He was doing something wrong, but because His brothers were doing something wrong.