This entry is part 74 of 119 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
According to John 2:12-22, Jesus cleansed the Temple near the beginning of his public ministry. The Synoptists, however, record a cleansing during the last week of his earthly ministry (Mt 21:10–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:45–46).
John records a temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. So, was the one cleansing (and, if so, was it at the beginning or the close of his ministry)? Or were there two cleansings?
Here are the main alternatives:-
(a) A few think that John’s chronology is correct. The Synoptic writers could not include the account earlier, because they do not record Jesus’ earlier visits to Jerusalem, and only mention the Passover during which he was crucified.
Wright (in his popular work on John’s Gospel) is sympathetic to this view:
‘In favour of putting the incident at the beginning, as John does, is the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t have Jesus in Jerusalem at all during his adult life, so the final journey is the only place where it can happen. John, however, has Jesus going to and fro to Jerusalem a good deal throughout his short career. And if he had done something like this at the beginning, it would explain certain things very well: why, for instance, people came from Jerusalem to Galilee to check him out (e.g. Mark 3:22; 7:1), and why, when the high priest finally decided it was time to act, they already felt they had a case against him (John 11:47–53).’
Sceptical scholars suppose that the authorities, having been alerted by the cleansing recorded by John, would have been on their guard against any further such disruption. They therefore insist that only one cleansing could have taken place.
(b) Many think that the Synoptic chronology is correct. John may have brought forward his account for theological, symbolic or literary reasons. John, it is said, is concerned with the deeper meaning of the events he records, and feels free to rearrange them. According to this view, ‘the ministry is launched by an affirmation of Jesus’ renewal of the worship of Israel and his claim to be the new locus, as the Risen One, of all commerce between God and humanity’ (Milne who, however, appears to support view (c) below). However, the clear indications of time suggest that John has not altered the chronology to suit his own purposes.
Harper’s Bible Commentary: ‘In all probability John has moved an event from the passion week to the beginning of the narrative. Such a move would fit his tendency to set out at the beginning matters or events that in the other Gospels take place later (e.g., the confession of Jesus as Messiah). Jesus comes to the Temple of Jerusalem, the very heart of the Israelite nation and religion, at the outset of his ministry and there confronts its authorities. Their forthcoming hostility is adumbrated, and his own death and resurrection are revealed by the testimony of Scripture and Jesus’ own pronouncement.’
Barrett thinks that John’s account draws on that of Mark, but that the fourth evangelist moves the incident for theological reasons.
According to Beasley-Murray,
‘there is reasonably widespread agreement now that: (i) the event happened only once, not twice (at the beginning and end of the ministry of Jesus); (ii) it took place in the last week of the life of Jesus; (iii) the Fourth Evangelist had no intention of correcting the timing of the event, but set his account at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to highlight its significance for understanding the course of the ministry.’
This account, transposed to the beginning of John’s Gospel,
‘provides a vital clue for grasping the nature and the course of our Lord’s work, his words and actions, his death and resurrection, and the outcome of it all in a new worship of God, born out of a new relation to God in and through the crucified-risen Christ.’
‘an overt attack on the temple arrangements for sacrifice is far more readily understandable historically as part of the culmination of Jesus’ public mission and as the event that sealed the decision to have him arrested.’
‘In their reconstruction of the history of composition of the Fourth Gospel a number of scholars plausibly suggest that at an earlier stage the temple incident was associated with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem in chapter 12 but was removed to make room for the Lazarus story, which in this narrative provides the chief motive for Jesus’ arrest. In any case, as it now stands in the final version of the Gospel, the account still retains clear links with the passion narrative. Verse 17 has an implicit reference to Jesus’ death and its citation of Ps. 69 is from a psalm extensively quarried by the early church for scriptural witness to the passion. Jesus’ saying in v. 19 is a version of a saying which has an important role in Mark and Matthew in their accounts of the Sanhedrin trial and the crucifixion. It appears, then, that, as with a number of other features of the Fourth Gospel, theological rather than historical concerns have shaped the narrative’s presentation and in this case determined the place of the temple incident in the plot. Placing the temple incident at the beginning helps to structure the whole narrative of Jesus’ public mission in terms of a major confrontation between his claims and the views of official Judaism.’
Michaels (UBCS) notes that the reference to the Passover in Jn 2:13 is similar to that in Jn 11:55. He regards this is evidence that the cleansing actually took place at the beginning of Passion week, and that John has deliberately separated the Triumphal Entry from the Temple Cleansing, so that each now stands at the head of the two main sections of the Fourth Gospel (Jn 2:13-11:54; and Jn 11:55-21:25).
Blomberg (Historical Reliability of the New Testament) comments on the view that John has relocated this episode for thematic purposes. He agrees that this is possible, in view of the fact that John’s earlier chronological markers (John 1: 29, 35, 43; 2: 1), and so on, are here absent.
On the question of John’s willingness to adjust chronology for theological reasons, scholars tend to claim, as key supporting evidence, that he brings move forward the crucifixion by one day. But this claim is itself contestable.
(c) But some take the view that there were two temple cleansings. Morris, Osborne, Tasker, Mounce, Kostenberger, Hendriksen, Carson, Bock, Blomberg adopt, or at least incline, to this view. In this case, the second (recorded by the Synoptists, took place two or three years after the first. The first cleansing did not form a part of the tradition that they were drawing on.
This was the dominant view in pre-critical times. In modern times, however, many scholars dismiss this as a possibility. According to Chapple, ‘C. H. Dodd went so far as to call it a ‘puerile expedient,’ although he used slightly less caustic terms in his subsequent study of John: ‘The suggestion that the temple was twice cleansed is the last resort of a desperate determination to harmonize Mark and John at all costs.”
Even some conservative scholars have roundly dismissed this possibility. Borchert (NAC), for example, writes that ‘the familiar argument of two cleansings is a historiographic monstrosity that has no basis in the texts of the Gospels.’ France (on the Gospel of Mark): ‘the suggestion, still sometimes met as an attempt to “harmonise” Mark and John, that it happened twice is about as probable as that the Normandy landings took place both at the beginning and the end of the Second World War.’
However, this possibility should be taken seriously, for a number of reasons:-
(i) Both accounts are given their own chronological markers.
(ii) Apart from the references to John the Baptist, there is no Synoptic material at all in the first five chapters of John’s Gospel. This consideration adds to the likelihood that these are two distinct events.
(iii) Although both accounts begin similarly, there are a number of differences between the Synoptic and Johannine accounts. Morris points out that apart from the central act, they bar little resemblance, and only have five words in common. Blomberg: ‘Only John speaks of cattle, sheep, a whip of cords, and coins. The key sayings attributed to Jesus are entirely different- a protest against commercialism (v. 16) and a cryptic prediction of his death and resurrection (v. 19). A different Old Testament passage is cited (v. 17- Ps. 69:9) and different questions on the part of the Jewish leaders appear (vv. 18, 20). The synoptic accounts, in contrast, focus on the combination of quotations from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (a house of prayer vs. a den of robbers).’
(iv) Milne argues that both accounts are contextually credible: ‘At the beginning, Jesus sees the worship of the nation through eyes newly kindled by the call of God and his nascent sense of mission. As the newly authorized Messiah King, he moves energetically to confront Israel’s apostasy and recall it to a new submission to God (Mal. 3:1f.). At the end of the ministry Jesus comes, in the shadow of his looming self-sacrifice, to declare the final bankruptcy of a religion which has turned its back on its high and holy destiny in the interests of self-aggrandizement and empty legalism.’ John’s account helps to explain the early hostility towards Jesus’ ministry (Jn 5:18).
(v) A further indication that the two accounts are complementary is the fact that Mt 26:61/Mk 14:58 refers to a saying of Jesus which is not recorded anywhere previously in the Synoptic Gospels, but is found in Jn 2:19.
(vi) The objection (of Keener and others) that it would be ‘unlikely’ that Jesus would cleanse the temple in such a dramatic way, and then be allowed to do it again (having re-visited the temple several times in between) must be regarded as rather conjectural. Morris: ‘At the time indicated in John Jesus was quite unknown. His strong action would have aroused a furor in Jerusalem, but that is all. The authorities may have well been disinclined to go to extremes against him, especially if there was some public feeling against the practices he opposed [and, we might add, some public support for him, Jn 2:23]. It was quite otherwise at the time indicated by Mark.’
(vii) We should not be surprised that both occurred at the time of Passover, since Jesus would be most likely to visit Jerusalem then (Carson).
(viii) ‘An early temple cleansing helps explain historically why Jesus faced hostility early in his ministry (5:18). In addition, Jesus’ common practice of withdrawing (3:22; 6:15; 7:9-10; 8:59; 10:40) makes it historically plausible that he could have continued his ministry for two or three years after an initial temple cleansing.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)
(ix) ‘Randolph Richards has analyzed the events in terms of ancient cultures of honor and shame. It is conceivable that the first incident in John 2 occurred in a comparatively small corner of the temple so that the authorities did not immediately intervene but waited to see if a sign like the one they understood Jesus to have predicted would occur. When it did not, they would assume he was sufficiently shamed, in public, not to be any further danger. But if two or three years later he performed something similar, it showed him to be without shame, unaffected by social constraint, and therefore potentially dangerous.[ 517] If Jesus spoke something like 2: 19 that long before his trial and execution, it is also easier to understand how his words could have been garbled and misconstrued as in Mark 14: 58 and parallel.’ (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament)