Problem: "I am not going up to this feast"
Verses: John 7:8-10; Status: Weak

This is John 7:8-10:

[Jesus said] "You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come." After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. (ESV)

It looks like Jesus told a lie - an unappealing prospect. However, it's possible to see Jesus' words as merely meaning "I am not going right now" - though this is a bit of a stretch.

One could also say that Jesus simply changed his mind; however we are told that he went "in private", which can also be translated "in secret" (e.g. see NIV). The passage as a whole definitely gives the impression that Jesus intentionally deceived his brothers. He said he wasn't going, then went in secret.

Perhaps Jesus simply meant that he was not going openly, but again I see this as a stretch. That's not actually what he said.

A text-critical solution

A difficult problem in New Testament studies is the fact that the Greek text has come down to us via a series of hand-written copies. Essentially, we have "copies of copies of copies". This problem is not insurmountable, however. The science of "textual criticism" attempts to use all the available evidence to reconstruct the original text. It's my belief that textual critics do a good job.

In the case of John 7:8, there is conflicting manuscript evidence. The majority of the manuscripts actually read:

I am not yet going up to this feast.

If "yet" is indeed the original reading, then there is no contradiction after all.

However, a key principle in textual criticism is that, if there are conflicts between manuscripts, the reading that best explains why the others exist is probably the original one. It's easy to see why a scribe would add the word "yet", whereas it's harder to see why someone would remove it. For that reason, the textual critics who wrote the current edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece - the Greek text on which most modern translations are based - chose the harder reading, without the word "yet".

Nevertheless, the word "yet" might have been removed by accident. The NET Bible's notes are quite good on this point.

I file this as Weak due to this possible text-critical solution. But if the original text did not include the word "yet" then the problem is quite a bit stronger - unless we're happy with the idea that Jesus deceived someone.

Updated: 2009-02-21

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