After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Judeans were waiting to take his life. But when the Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles 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.
Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not [yet] going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.
However, after his brothers had left for the feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.
—John 7:1-10, NIV
In some early manuscripts, the word yet does not appear in John 7:8, so some translations read, “I am not going up to this feast.” Some people will say that a copyist probably added the word yet to verse 8 to bring it in harmony with verse 10 and prevent the appearance that Jesus lied and that the original text would not have included the word yet.
However, even without yet, I don’t think there is a difficulty. Here’s why:
In verse 8, Jesus says, “I’m not going” in response to his brothers’ invitation to accompany them and to make a big production of Himself at the feast. It was a little premature to come on the clouds in glory.
In verse 9, it says that Jesus in fact did not go. He did not accompany them, and He did not go as a public figure, as they wanted.
In verse 10, it says “However, after his brothers had left for the feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.”
So it seems to me that even if the word yet is a well-intended scribal emendation, it is what Jesus meant and what John intended to represent Jesus as meaning. The brothers say, “Jesus, you ought to go and make a public spectacle of yourself, to show everyone who you really are.” John adds, in an aside to the reader, that they were really trying to call Jesus’ bluff, they didn’t really believe in Him. Jesus says, “No, it isn’t time for me to do that, so under those conditions, I’m not going.” Since Jesus wanted to go incognito, He couldn’t go with people who intended to make a big deal out of Him. And so in fact He didn’t go with them. But after they left, it was possible for Him to go secretly, so He did.
Imagine if someone drove up in a dilapidated old car and said, “Are you going to church? Why don’t you ride with me?” You look at the jalopy and you remember that the driver is a speedster with a bad driving record, so you say, “No way! I’m not going.” They drive off, and then you take the bus.
You didn’t lie when you said “I’m not going.” It was an elliptical statement that included the context of the situation.
Most conversation is elliptical and presumes the context. For example, the statement “I’m not going” might mean “I am not departing” or it might mean “I am not attending Sally’s party next Tuesday” or it might mean “I am not riding the ferris wheel” or “no one asked me out to the prom” or any number of other things, depending on the context of the situation.
The presence of elliptical speech could actually be taken as evidence that the Gospel of John reproduces Jesus’ actual words and is not a work of historical fiction.
Why Would Jesus Go Secretly?
Today, with television and photography, a public figure cannot be anonymous. Movie stars in particular have the problem that they can’t even go grocery shopping without being recognized, which really puts a crimp in their lives. However, up through the nineteenth century, it was possible for public figures to go secretly among the masses undetected, simply by leaving their retinue and their fancy clothes behind. King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who was an admirer of George Washington and did a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic work to get the French to support the colonists in the Revolutionary War, was famous for making incognito forays into the public.
So if Jesus went to Jerusalem alone, no one would know who He was. They had not seen His picture in the paper or on the 11:00 news, there were no paparazzi, and without a bunch of disciples hovering around Him, calling Him by name, no one would have any way of recognizing Him.