Did Jesus never say anything in secret as He said?

    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."
    • Mark 4:12, “in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceived; and while hearing they may hear and not understand lest they return and be forgiven.”
    • Mark 4:34, “and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.”

    Two important points need to be addressed here. First, 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. Some of its usages include:

    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. “evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34).
      2. “your time is always opportune” (John 7:6).

    Jesus and Paul both used the word in a sense other than the literal “without exception." Since words mean what they mean in context and Jesus obviously knew He spoke in other locations (in a boat, mountain top, field, etc.), He wasn’t lying. He was using the word in the same sense as many of us do when we exaggerate to make a point.

    Second, Jesus said that He spoke nothing in secret. Is this a problem? Not at all. Jesus knew, for example, that He prayed by Himself (Matt. 14:22). Was Jesus simply lying, or like so many people of the time (and now), did He speak with the fluidity of language, using words in non-literal ways? We know He did this in many instances. He did it with the word “always” in Luke 15:31 and Luke 18:1 where it means "frequently." He also used the word "never" in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:29 when He has the son say that he had "never" neglected a command of his father. What son perfectly keeps his father’s commands (except Jesus, of course)? In Luke 18:19 Jesus says, “No one is good except God alone.” Was Jesus saying that He Himself wasn’t good? Not at all. The context is dealing with how a certain ruler had addressed Him as being good. We need to ask, was Jesus saying that He wasn’t good or that no one else can be good or do good things? Of course not. Consider the word “alone” in John 12:24 where Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone.” Did Jesus mean that a grain of wheat has to be alone with no other grains around it?

    Obviously, Jesus used words in figurative ways the same as anyone else does. Is it fair to extract His sayings, apply literal definitions to certain words, and then pronounce that Jesus lied? No, it isn’t. Especially when we look at the context of John 18:20 where Jesus is talking about not being secretive about His teachings, which is why He mentions speaking in the synagogues and the Temple.

    Mark 4:12 and 4:34 have nothing to do with Jesus speaking in secret.  They deal with speaking in parables, and they touch on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election – a topic beyond the scope of this article.


    About The Author

    Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.