Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 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. (John 7:6-9) [ESV Throughout]
Understanding the "apparent lie" is best seen not from the variants of text, but from the calendar and customs of the Jewish people while the Temple was still standing.
The Feast of Booths is an 8-day event which takes place during the seventh month:
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the LORD. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work. (Leviticus 23:34-36)
Booths was one of the three times which attendance in Jerusalem was mandatory:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
This is the annual calendar of feast days showing mandatory attendance in Jerusalem:
Feast Mandatory Attendance
Unleavened Bread Yes
First Fruits See note
Day of Atonement No
Since Jesus and His brothers are in Galilee, about 70 miles from Jerusalem, they have a trip which could take several days. Their planning requires a decision how far in advance of the feast they will leave to be "on time." In order to observe the feast, they must build their temporary lodging, the "booth" for which the feast is named. The first day is a day of no work so they must allow enough time to gather the branches and build their booth (or bring or gather the materials during the trip). finally, there are the practical considerations associated with a large number of people traveling to Jerusalem who will also be building booths: arriving early would be prudent.
Someone traveling from Galilee will necessarily plan on arriving at least 1-2 days before Booths begins. It would be natural to consider attending The Day of Atonement which is 4 days before Booths. Thus there are two possible scenarios which fit the introduction given in verses 7:1-8:
- The brothers of Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe only the Feast of Booths.
- The brothers of Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe both the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths.
Option 1 is consistent with when Jesus is first placed in attendance:
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. (7:16)
"About the middle" would be on the fourth day. Jesus brothers arrived before the feast. Jesus left after His brothers and arrived sometime after the 7-day feast had begun. In this case Jesus attended the feast but He did not attend the entire 7-day period.
Option 2 is the more likely sequence. Despite the lack of mandatory attendance, the Day of Atonement is considered the most holy day of the year. Observing the Day of Atonement in Jerusalem also allows 3 full days to prepare of Booths. This feast Jesus did not observe.
None of the Gospel writers mention the Day of Atonement which occurred 2,3, or 4 times during Jesus public ministry. John does make references to sin which, when considered in the context of the annual calendar should be seen as allusions to the Day of Atonement:
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (8:7)
So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” (8:21)
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (8:24)
These references, coming so close to the Day of Atonement speak to the lack of efficacy of the Day of Atonement ritual. In other words, 10 or so days after the ritual which should have made atonement for all sin, Jesus says for one who is without sin to act and then says, "Unless you believe I AM, you will die in your sins." Not, unless the High Priest enters the Most Holy Place to make atonement for your sins.
John's introduction to the Feast of Booths is purposeful to consider the Day of Atonement since the events which follow speak to the issues of being without sin and dying in your sins.
When the "time" is seen to include the Day of Atonement it is not the right time in any sense of the language for Jesus to be in Jerusalem.
Note: The Feast of First Fruits is not specifically called out for mandatory attendance. It is observed on the day after the first Sabbath after Passover and will usually fall during the 7-days of Unleavened Bread except in a year which the Passover is on a Sabbath. Observing Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem will almost always result in a man being in Jerusalem for First Fruits. As was the case the year Jesus was crucified.