Did Jesus Lie?
In Chapter 7 of John, the King James Versions (KJV) reads:
(2) Now the Jew's feast of tabernacles was at hand. (3) His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. . . . (8) [Jesus said,] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast: for my time is not yet full come. . . . (10) But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.Most older translations and newer King James translations and many other modern translations read like the KJV, with “yet” in verse eight.
The American Standard Version (ASV) reads:
(2) Now the feast of the Jews, the feast of tabernacles, was at hand. (3) His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may behold thy works which thou doest. . . . (8) [Jesus said,] Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up unto this feast; because my time is not yet fulfilled. . . . (10) But when his brethren were gone up unto the feast, then went he also up, not publicly, but as it were in secret.Some modern translations read like the ASV, without “yet” in verse eight. Older Greek manuscripts omit “yet.”
As shown by the above quotations, Jesus is conversing with his brethren just before the feast of tabernacles. His brethren urge him to go to Judea and publicly show himself and display his works. In the ASV, Jesus replies that he will not go to the feast. Later, he goes to the feast. Consequently, he appears to have lied as he said that he was not going to the feast but later went to the feast.
Most likely the original reads like the ASV: That is, Jesus was not going to the feast. The version of John that Porphyry (234 – 305) and Jerome (347 – 420) used read like the ASV and not like the KJV.
Apparently, some later copyist avoided this ostensible lie by changing the sentence to read as it reads in the KJV, i.e., Jesus replied that he would not yet go to the feast.
Porphyry’s explanation of Jesus’ apparent lie is that he was fickle and inconsistent. He blames Jesus’ fickleness on the weakness of his human nature.
Jerome claims that Jesus avoided the truth because of his temptable human nature. Moreover, Jesus lied in the interest of prudence and utility. For Jerome, Jesus’ lying was an act of mendacity and excusable as a weakness of the flesh. The doctrine of Jesus’ absolute sinlessness argues against Jerome.
Nathaniel Lardner (1684 – 1768) argues that Jesus always intended to go to the feast, but not as soon or as publicly as his brethren wanted him to go. That is, he spoke of delaying his journey but not to go to the feast at all. Lardner’s explanation leaves Jesus open to the charge of lying because his brethren could not know his real intentions and merely understood his words as spoken. Either Jesus changed his mind as Porphyry claims or he deceived his brethren.
According to Henry Alford (1810 – 1871), both the “not going to the feast” and “not yet going to the feast” give the same sense. Because Jesus used the verb “going” in the present tense, he meant “I am not at present going up.” Thus, his argument depends on violating a common law of language: using the present tense to refer to a future event. When the present tense is used to refer to a future event, it is usually an event unalterably determined. When Jesus said, “I go not up,” his brethren understood him to mean that he did not intend to go up — consequently, Alford’s argument fails. (Alford argues that if Jesus did not intend to go, he would have used the future tense.)
Charles John Ellicott (1819–1905) rejects Alford’s argument. Also, he rejects the notion that Jesus stated his intention and later changed his mind. Ellicott argues that Jesus read the thoughts of the inquirer and answered his thoughts, the question that he wanted to ask instead of the question that he actually asked orally. The question asked implied a worldly, self-seeking spirit. It is the question of the inquirer's thought that Jesus answered and not the one actually vocalized. Thus, he did not intend to go to the feast as his brethren wanted him to: publicly. However, he went, but not in the sense understood by his brethren, who understood his answer literally and not spiritually. The flaw of Elliot’s explanation is that it presents Jesus as deliberately deceiving his brethren. He understood the question asked, but he answered not that question, but a different question.
Levi Paine (1837 – 1902) gets around the problem of Jesus appearing to lie by placing the Gospel According to St. John as written in the mid second century A.D. Thus, the apostle John did not write the gospel named after him. Whoever wrote John presents the words in John 7:8 as spoken by Jesus, although he may never have said them. If Jesus never really said “I go not up,” then he did not lie.
In a lecture on lying, Pastor Peter J. Peters (1946 – 2011) claims that Jesus did lie. If I recall correctly, he explanation for Jesus lying was security — preventing injury to himself and possibly others by the Jews. (The theme of his lecture is that at times lying is appropriate for Christians. For example, if a gang of governmental officials comes to a Christian household seeking to carry away the children for the pleasures of their pedophiliac overlords, who want the children to satisfy their sexual deviations culminating in torturing the children to death, should a Christian be truthful and obey the government per Roman 13 by surrendering the children to the government or should they conceal the children and lie about their location?)
Everett Harrison (1902-1999) states that Jesus could not go to Jerusalem simply to gain popularity as the brethren wanted him to do. When he said that he was not going, he meant that he “was not going on the terms suggested by his brothers.” “He would go in his own time and way.” Harrison’s explanation suffers the same flaws as Lardner and Ellicott’s. Based on his answer that he was not going to the feast, the brethren understood that he was not going at all. Consequently, he deceived them.
Alan E. Brooke (1863–1939) believes that Jesus changed his mind and decided to go after the brethren had departed. Thus, his excuse is similar to Porphyry’s.
Floyd Filson (1896–1980) states that which reading is original is uncertain. In any event, Jesus did not go for the full length of the feast.
W.K. Clarke (1879-1968) notes that the version without “yet” is preferred to the version with “yet.” He argues that Jesus did not go with the brethren because the time for his public entry into Jerusalem had not arrived. As true as this is, from the perspective of the brethren, he had lied to them.
J.R. Dumaler remarks that many authorities omit “yet.” However, even if “yet” is omitted, it is understood to be there. Thus, he avoids Jesus lying. His argument suffers the same flaws as Alford’s.
Robert Wilkins comments that the omission of “yet” is major. Without “yet,” Jesus seems to have lied.
Did Jesus lie? In Matthew 7:7, he says, “ Ask, and it shall be given you.” In John 14:14, he promises, “If ye shall ask [me] anything in my name, that will I do.” Apply these promises, and you will have your answer.
Brookes, A.E. “John.” A Commentary on the Bible. Editor Arthur S. Peake. New York, New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, n.d.
Clarke, W.K. Lowther, editor. Concise Bible Commentary. New York, New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1953.
Dummelow, J.R., editor. A Commentary on the Holy Bible. New York, New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1909, 1936.
Filson, Floyd V. The Gospel According to John. Editor Balmer H. Kelly. The Layman’s Bible Commentary. Volume 19. Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1970.
Harrison, Everett F. “John.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Editors Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1962.
Paine, Levi Leonard. The Ethnic Trinities and Their Relations to the Christian Trinity: A Chapter in the Comparative History of Religion. Boston, Massachuttes: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1901.
Wilkin, Robert N. “John.” The Grace New Testament Commentary. Editor Robert N. Wilkin. Vol. 1. Denton, Texas: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010.
Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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