Did Jesus Have Short Term Memory Problems?


In John 13:36 Simon Peter asks where Jesus is going. But in John 16:5 Jesus says “not one of you is asking, ‘where am I going?’” Am I missing context with these passages? Why the contradiction?


You’re not really missing context, however, some details inside the story will help us solve the problem. It would be very strange indeed, for the same author in the same episode to portray Jesus with a serious short term memory lapse!

Likely, we are meant to read this in the flow of the total conversation, which is a very long one taking up 5 chapters. So, at the beginning, yes, Peter asks, “where are you going.” This is the right question to ask, according to Jesus, since it relates to Jesus coming into his Glory (his resurrected Self and Savior of the World) and the coming of the Spirit (16:7).

But likely Peter’s question is not about that… it’s about where Jesus is going physically right after the Last Supper. “Where are you going after this,” not “where are you going in eternity?” Backing up a couple verses from Peter’s question, Jesus had said,

“I will be with you only a little longer and as I told the Jewish Leaders, you can’t come where I’m going…”

John 13:33

Peter’s question is on the heels of that comment which its reference to the Jewish Leaders. This may mean his question was primarily about where Jesus is going to go with the Jewish Leaders. Is he going to topple them and set up the Kingdom now and they won’t be allowed to follow him into it? It’s not unlikely that Peter has this in mind. And if so, that explains why he then brashly says, “I’m going with you!!!” (vs 37). See, he doesn’t mean, where are you going, as in your final destination. He means, “are you going to kick some butt with the Jewish Leaders? Are you leaving them out of some cool plans? Whatever you up to, I’m coming along!”

If this is the reason for Peter’s question in chapter 13, this is why Jesus can still chide him (and the other disciples) in chapter 16 for not asking about where he is going. No one had asked him where he’s really going – into exaltation. Also, keep in mind, the conversation has been very lengthy. It’s ranged over alot of topics and different locations. Jesus has mentioned leaving them so many times over that long evening that Peter’s initial question is now in the rearview mirror. At this stage in that long conversation, all the disciples are concerned about is his leaving, and them being sad about it. They’re not thinking about his destination or the benefits of him leaving. But this is what he wants them to focus on.

So we might solve the problem by paraphrasing what Jesus means given the whole conversation. In chp 16 Jesus is saying, “you’re NO LONGER asking me about where I’m going because you’re grieving my leaving.” But if they would ask about where he’s going, they would find the encouragement he’s trying to leave them with.