Did Jesus lie about only speaking in synagogues and the temple?

by Matt Slick

  • John 18:20, "I spoke openly to the world, I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing."
  • Matt. 5:1-2, “And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He began to teach them . . . "
  • Matt. 13:1-3, “On that day Jesus went out of the house, and was sitting by the sea. 2 And great multitudes gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole multitude was standing on the beach. 3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying . . . "

Did Jesus knowingly--purposefully--lie to the Jews?  In John 18:20 he said he always taught in synagogues and the Temple, but we know that he also spoke on a mountain (Matt. 5:1-2), a boat (Matt. 13:1-3), and other places.  So, was Jesus lying?  No, he wasn’t lying.

The supposed problem rests on the definition of “always."  Does it mean “without exception” since this is the only sense in which the supposed contradiction can stand?

The word “always” in John 18:20 is pavntote.  It occurs 42 times in the Greek New Testament and has several different meanings depending on context.  Following are some of its usages:

  1. It can mean without exception
    1. Jesus is always with Christians (Matt. 28:20).
    2. Jesus always did that which pleases the Father (John 8:29).
    3. The Father always hears the Son (John 11:42).
  2. It can mean frequently:
    1. A son always with his father (Luke 15:31).
    2. “men ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1).
    3. “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
    4. “Giving thanks always for all things” (Eph. 5:20).
    5. “I thank my God . . . Always in every prayer” (Phil. 1:3).
    6. “praying always for you” (Col. 1:3).
    7. “Rejoice evermore” (1 Thess. 5:16).
  3. Other
    1. “everymore give us this bread” (John 6:34).
    2. “your time is always opportune” (John 7:6).

Therefore, the alleged contradiction rests on saying that the use of the word by Jesus meant “always” in the sense of "without exception.”  But how can this be demonstrated to be the case?  It cannot, especially since the word is used by Jesus to mean ‘frequently’ as in Luke 15:31 and 18:1.  It is also used by Paul in the same sense in 1 Cor. 15:58; Eph. 5:20; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 5:16.

It is common in discussions and assertions to try to make a point by using exaggeration.  A wife says to her husband, “You never listen to me.”  Does she mean he “never in any case” hears what she says?  Of course not.  Consider the statement, “You always exaggerate things.”  Haven’t we all used phrases like this to make a point--not meaning for it to be taken literally?  Of course we have, but does it mean we are purposely lying?  No.  We are exaggerating to make a point.

Jesus did this in John 12:8 when he said, “the poor you always have with you . . . "  He was speaking to the disciples along with Lazarus and Martha.  He used the word “always” in the sense of the poor being generally with them--not literally with them.  Was Jesus lying there?  No, he was using the word like we all do sometimes.

Also, the Jewish way of speaking back then was a bit different from what ours is now.  Consider Mark 4:10, “And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.”  How could Jesus be “alone,” and yet his disciples were also with him?  Simple, the Ancient Jews spoke differently from how we do.  Therefore, it isn’t fair to impose our linguistic patterns on them in such cases and assert contradictions or lying on the part of Jesus.

So, the claim of a contradiction cannot be sustained since the word pavntote has different meanings in different contexts, and it cannot be asserted that Jesus only meant the literal usage in John 18:20, especially since he often used the word in a non-literal sense.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison