Did Jesus Lie to His Brothers?

Claimed Contradiction: In various passages of the New Testament, such as Matthew 5:37 and 15:19, Mark 7:22, John 8:14,44; 14:6, and 18:37, Jesus says that you should answer a plain "yes" or "no," that his purpose is to bear witness to the truth, and that his testimony is true. He equates lying with evil. Yet, in John 7:2-10, Jesus tells his brothers that he is not going to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles, then later goes secretly by himself.

In and of itself, this supposed "contradiction" is a non-issue. Simply put, In John 7:8, Jesus says, "Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come." Hence, Jesus told His brothers at that particular point in time that He was not going to the Feast of Tabernacles YET, and then He secretly went up to the feast at a later time. In this passage, Jesus declines to take the bait offered sarcastically by His brothers who did not believe on Him (v.5) to go up at the opening of the Feast of Tabernacles and to show Himself to be the Messiah (cf. v.4). Instead, He chose not to reveal Himself in His complete mission at that time, as He said in verse 6. At any rate, Jesus committed no prevarication at this point.

Where this particular challenge becomes interesting is when atheistic internet debaters and others take it upon themselves to try their hand at New Testament textual criticism, a field in which they show themselves quite inproficient. Such is the case with the spin which internet atheist and amateur Bible critic Donald Morgan makes with this verse. See, several of the new versions of the Bible, based as they are upon the inferior Critical Text set, remove the word "yet" from John 7:8, making the verse essentially say that Jesus told His brothers that He wasn't going up to the Feast at all. Then, when He goes up in verse 10, there's a contradiction, and Jesus lied! Mr. Morgan, in the list of "contradictions" which he has supplied to infidels.org, has been careful to note that, "The words 'not [sic] yet' were added to some versions at JN 7:8 in order to alleviate this problem. The context at JN 7:10 makes the deception clear, however."

Thus, the refutation of Mr. Morgan's assertion, and those like it which may be propagated by other sceptics, is two-fold. One must debunk his specious textual reasonings, and then one must also refute his claim that the context of verse 10 supports the notion that Jesus lied.

Beginning with the textual issue, we note that Mr. Morgan has said that some versions add the words "not yet" (actually, should just be "yet"), basically trying to make it appear as if all the "early" versions of the Bible missed these words, and that at some point, somebody was reading the Bible, thought "By gum! This passage means Jesus lied!", and set about convincing the rest of Christianity to insert some appropriate words in all forthcoming versions of the Bible so as to correct this "embarrasing flaw". Of course, such is not the case, and it's actually the newer versions which generally DELETE this word. Their basis for doing so is based upon some flawed textual reasoning having to do with the witness of New Testament manuscripts which our Bibles are translated from.

Generally, when a new version of the Bible, like the NASB, the RV, or the NIV, for example, makes a change which is contrary to that found in the King James and the Textus Receptus, the change is justified on the basis that "the oldest texts contain this reading". The underlying assumption, common to textual criticism which still hasn't shaken the grasp of Fenton John Anthony Hort's cold, clammy fingers from around its neck, is that "the oldest is best". This issue has conclusive been put to rest, in my opinion, by Wilbur Pickering's excellent criticism of the Westcott-Hort textual criticism theories in The Identity of the New Testament Text, in which he basically demolishes the "oldest is best" argument, among other things. But I digress, as this is an issue for another day, and perhaps a forthcoming article on this website. As we shall see with the change made in John 7:8 by the new versions, the change is not supported by the oldest manuscripts, the most numerous and internally similar set of manuscripts, or even by some members of the usual set of poor-quality manuscripts favoured by the Westcott-Hort crowd (in this case, Vaticanus and others).

Bruce Terry lists the known manuscript evidence favouring both readings in John 7:8, with and without "yet"1.

Texts which do not contain "yet":

Texts which contain "yet":

Several things need to be mentioned here. The witness for the "yet"-deleted reading is in the minority, and has no greater witness of antiquity than the witness in favour of "yet". The majority of the witness against "yet" from the Greek evidence is found in notably corrupt and idiosyncratic Alexandrian texts (Sinaiticus, Bezae, 1241). The Syriac evidence is divided. The Old Latin and Vulgate witness is against, with the Vulgate being less independent due to the reliance of Jerome upon the Alexandrian textual family to produce much of his Vulgate edition. Only a couple of Byzantine Greek texts evidence against "yet" (K and Pi).

In favour of "yet", we find the overwhelming majority (~90%) of the Greek witness, as found in the general Byzantine set. We find many older Alexandrian texts in favour of "yet" (Vaticanus, L, T, W, X, Delta, Psi, 892) as well as the uniform testimony of the Caesarian textual line (Theta, 28, 700). The Greek lectionaries support this reading. The oldest of the Syriac witnesses (Peshitto) is in favour, as well as the older of the Coptic editions (Sahidic). Two very old papyri with mixed Byzantine/Alexandrian readings contain "yet".

Two important points stand out. There is much support for this reading from the Alexandrian set, which is usually the text type preferred by humanistic textual critics. Likewise, the overwhelming preponderance of Greek support found in the Byzantine speaks even more strongly in favour of "yet", as the Byzantine is a much more reliable and less eclectic set of manuscripts.

"The variation between two 'Byzantine' MSS will be found to differ both in number and severity from that between two 'Western' MSS or two 'Alexandrian' MSS -- the number and nature of the disagreements between two 'Byzantine' MSS throughout the Gospels will seem trivial compared to the number (over 3,000) and nature (many serious) of the disagreements between Aleph and B, the chief 'Alexandrian' MSS, in the same space." 2

Thus, the majority text also testifies to the existence of "yet" in the text. The balance of evidence favours "yet", both in number of independent witnesses (23 in favour versus 10 opposed), and in weight of evidence. In favour, we have the oldest papyri, several of the oldest uncials, the most numerous body of Greek mss., the oldest and most independent other versions. Opposed, there are several vellum uncials, including Sinaiticus and Bezae (which are almost universally viewed as the most corrupted of the Alexandrian family 3.) the other language versions most dependent upon the Alexandrian line, and a couple of oddball Byzantine manuscripts. There is not a solid textual reason for rejecting "yet" in John 7:8. Hence, Mr. Morgan's claim that "yet" is a late interpolation designed to cover over a contradiction is refuted by the textual evidence which shows that the traditional, majority reading as found in the King James Version is historically correct.

What of Mr. Morgan's other claim, that the context of John 7:10 supports the notion that Jesus really did try to deceive His brothers by sneaking into the Feast after He had told them He wasn't coming? When one views the COMPLETE context of this passage, one sees that this claim is equally specious. Why would Jesus go up to the Feast secretly? In verse 7:1, we see that Jesus "would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him." When His brothers encouraged Him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles, they didn't believe on Him (cf. v. 5), and were foolishly trying to get Him to openly display His power and His claims to Jewry at large in Jerusalem, if by nothing else than by perhaps having to rescue Himself out of the hands of the Jews through spectacular means. They, like the Pharisees who kept asking Jesus Christ for "signs and wonders", did not understand that Jesus had not come to establish His earthly kingdom, but rather He came to open the way for SPIRITUAL salvation to mankind. Thus, what they were asking Christ to do was to put Himself into a situation where He would be openly showing His full power and claims, and where people would believe in him for the wrong reason, for the miracles and wonders instead of the veracity of His claims to being the way of salvation for mankind. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "My time is not yet come..." (v.6). The time of His full revelation to the Jews, at His crucifixion, was not yet come, and hence it would have been inappropriate for Him to show Himself to the people the way His brothers were foolishly asking Him to do. Thus, in verse 10, when Christ went to the Feast secretly, it was not for the reason of deceiving His brothers and playing hooky from them. Rather, it was because He did not want the wrong kind of attention drawn to Him, and for the wrong purposes (which His brothers, out of spite or sarcasm or worse, might have tried to draw to Him had He gone with them).

Further, to perfectly fulfill the Law of God, Jesus had to participate in the Feast of Tabernacles, as a man of Israel. Exodus 23:16-17 says,

"And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field. Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD."

This feast of ingathering can positively be identified as the feast of tabernacles which is mentioned in Leviticus 23:33-44 and which we find as the topic of discussion in John 7:1-10 (spec. v. 2). Leviticus 23:34 says that the feast of tabernacles was to begin on the fifteen day of the seventh month, this being Tishri, as John states. Now, Tishri was indeed at the end of the agricultural cycle in Palestine, this month covering roughly the last half of our month September and the first part of October4. Tishri was the month in which the labour of harvest, vintage, and fruit growing was concluded before the winter came 5. Fairbairn further notes (p. 394, note 2) that the feast of tabernacles was identified as "ingathering" in Exodus 23:16 (above) and Deuteronomy 16:13. The same feast is referred to, "Tabernacles" being its official name in commemoration of God's provision for Israel in the 40 years of wilderness wandering, while "ingathering" refers to the time at which this feast occurred, right after the harvest of crops in agricultural Israel.

Now, given the command for all males of Israel to gather before the Lord, which in Christ's day would have been at Jerusalem with the Temple, we see that it was necessary for Christ to go up to this feast to keep the Law o God. It just was not necessary for Him to go up with His brothers. Thus, we see from the full context of the whole passage (instead of from a contrived context dependent upon ONE verse), that the passage in no way supports the interpretation of duplicity on the part of Christ, and actually helps to demonstrate that He did indeed "fulfil the law" as He said He would do in Matthew 5:18.

Endnotes


(1)- B. Terry, A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants, John 7:8
(2) - W. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text, p.54
(3) - F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the New Testament Text, vol. II, p. 264
(4) - C.C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, King James Version, p.107-8, note on Exodus 12:2
(5) - P. Fairbairn, Typology of Scripture, Vol. 2, p. 394