Did Jesus Deceive His Brothers?

By Wayne Jackson

There is an intriguing account in John’s Gospel that is troubling to some Bible students.

On a certain occasion, Jesus’ fleshly half-brothers (cf. Matthew 13:55; John 2:12), who did not yet believe in him (John 7:5), urged (we are inclined to say, “challenged”) him to go into Judea. The motive was this: “so that your disciples also may see the works that you are doing” (John 7:3).

They buttressed their taunt with what they perceived as a logical argument. If we may slightly paraphrase the scoff, they said: “For no man does anything in secret when he is seeking to be known openly” (v. 4).

But the Lord responded that his “time” had not yet come (v. 6). He then rather sharply rebuked his stubborn brothers. The Savior declared: “The world hates me because I testify that its works are evil.” By way of contrast, however, he stated: “the world cannot hate you” (v. 7). The implication obviously is this: “You have not yet identified with me; you have not had the courage to accept the truth regarding my identity and therefore put yourselves on the line.”

Christ then told his brothers to go on up to the feast, but said regarding himself: “I am not going up to this feast; because my time is not yet fulfilled” (v. 8).

The problem, as commonly perceived, is this. The text subsequently declares: “But when his brothers were gone up to the feast, then he went up also, not publicly, but secretly” (v. 10).

It thus is alleged, by those ever anxious for some discrepancy, that the Lord was duplicitous regarding his intention.

Before exploring this further, we should observe that some translations render the controversial verse in this fashion: “…I go not up yet to this feast” (v. 8b NIV, NKJV). Many scholars believe, however, that the adverb, oupo [yet] reflects a scribal insertion, intended to alleviate the seeming “inconsistency between ver. 8 and ver. 10” (Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, London: United Bible Societies, 1971, 216).

Whatever the case, we do not hesitate to say that a scribal “rescue” of the Son of God was unnecessary.

It must be emphasized again and again: There are safeguards to careless charges that the biblical record contains contradictions.

When two statements are alleged to be in conflict — with an irreconcilable difference — it must be proved that both statements either cannot: (a) refer to the same person; (b) allude to the identical time period; or, © employ language in varying senses.

If the adverb oupo were to be taken as genuine, that would remedy the matter in terms of the “time” factor. Since, however, that option is usually dismissed, one must consider another possibility.

A careful examination of verses 3-5 clearly indicates that Jesus’ unbelieving half-brothers were daring him to do what they surmised he could not do, i.e., demonstrate his powers in a grandiose fashion at the feast of the tabernacles in Jerusalem. The issue was not whether Christ would go to that feast; such was required of Jewish males (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Rather, the crux of the matter was the manner in which he would go.

It was not yet his “time” to go in an open, demonstrative way (v. 8). It was his aim to go up “not publicly, but in secret” (v. 10). A.T. Robertson observes that Jesus “simply refused to fall in with his brothers’ sneering proposal for a grand Messianic procession with the caravan on the way to the feast. He will do that on the journey to the last Passover” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Nashville: Broadman, 1932, V.120).

It is clear, therefore, that no deception may be charged against the Savior — the reason being that “going to Judea” was used in two different senses. The brothers challenged him to go openly [flamboyantly] — which he refused to do (v. 4). On the other hand, consistent with his own purpose and schedule, he would not now go in that fashion; rather, for the time being, he simply would go secretly (v. 10). There is no conflict.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.