Scripture in Focus:
“[Jesus said] You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret” (John 7:8-10).
It is sometimes claimed that these verses show that Jesus lied in this instance, but – as with so many alleged problems in the Bible – the context of what he said and did makes the situation clear. John 7:1 tells us that at this point in Jesus’ life: “… He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:1-5).
This background shows that Jesus had a clear reason not to openly go up to the festival in Jerusalem. Had he travelled with his family, he would probably have been apprehended by the Jews wanting to kill him and he might well have endangered his family also. Instead, John tells us, he went later in secret.
There are several reasons why there was undoubtedly no lie involved in these events. From the perspective of logic alone we must realize that it is possible for anyone to say something and then later change his or her mind. That possibly happened in this case, but it seems more likely that in saying “I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come” (vs. 8), Jesus meant that he was not yet ready to go up to the Feast of Booths.
Some early manuscripts of the Bible actually have the words “not yet going” rather than “not going,” and although it is likely that the word “yet” was added to the original text, the reading still shows that this is how the early Christians understood what Jesus was saying.
So, did Jesus lie when he said he would not go to the Feast and then later he went? Not at all. Lying involves the deliberate misleading of people, whereas Jesus may have simply changed his mind. On the other hand, he may have meant that he was not yet going, and that may have been perfectly clear to his family at the time.
There is also another possibility. There are clear biblical examples that show while it is wrong to lie and to speak things that are not true, it is not wrong to withhold information under circumstances where someone may be hurt if the information is given. 1 Samuel 16:2 shows that God himself utilizes this principle (see our article on this here). If Jesus answered carefully in such a way as to not express all the facts, in order to protect his family, that is certainly not lying. The fact that John tells us when Jesus did go it was “not publicly, but in secret” (John 7:10), indicate the potential danger his family would have been in had he gone with them.
So there are a number of possible answers to what is sometimes called an example of Jesus lying. We may not know which answer or answers apply in this case, but we can see that there are multiple reasons to believe that lying was not involved in any way.