14 [a] He found in the temple courts[b] those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables.[c]
John 2:14snJohn 2:14-22. Does John’s account of the temple cleansing describe the same event as the synoptic gospels describe, or a separate event? The other accounts of the cleansing of the temple are Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; and Luke 19:45-46. None are as long as the Johannine account. The fullest of the synoptic accounts is Mark’s. John’s account differs from Mark’s in the mention of sheep and oxen, the mention of the whip of cords, the Greek word κερματιστῆς (kermatistēs) for money changer (the synoptics use κολλυβιστῆς [kollubistēs], which John mentions in 2:15), the scattering of the coins (2:15), and the command by Jesus, “Take these things away from here!” The word for overturned in John is ἀναστρεφω (anastrephō), while Matthew and Mark use καταστρεφω (katastrephō; Luke does not mention the moneychangers at all). The synoptics all mention that Jesus quoted Isa 56:7 followed by Jer 7:11. John mentions no citation of scripture at all, but says that later the disciples remembered Ps 69:9. John does not mention, as does Mark, Jesus’ prohibition on carrying things through the temple (i.e., using it for a shortcut). But the most important difference is one of time: In John the cleansing appears as the first great public act of Jesus’ ministry, while in the synoptics it is virtually the last. The most common solution of the problem, which has been endlessly discussed among NT scholars, is to say there was only one cleansing, and that it took place, as the synoptics record it, at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In the synoptics it appears to be the event that finalized the opposition of the high priest, and precipitated the arrest of Jesus. According to this view, John’s placing of the event at the opening of Jesus’ ministry is due to his general approach; it was fitting ‘theologically’ for Jesus to open his ministry this way, so this is the way John records it. Some have overstated the case for one cleansing and John’s placing of it at the opening of Jesus’ public ministry, however. For example W. Barclay stated: “John, as someone has said, is more interested in the truth than in the facts. He was not interested to tell men when Jesus cleansed the Temple; he was supremely interested in telling men that Jesus did cleanse the Temple” (John [DSBS], 94). But this is not the impression one gets by a reading of John’s Gospel: The evangelist seems to go out of his way to give details and facts, including notes of time and place. To argue as Barclay does that John is interested in truth apart from the facts is to set up a false dichotomy. Why should one have to assume, in any case, that there could have been only one cleansing of the temple? This account in John is found in a large section of nonsynoptic material. Apart from the work of John the Baptist—and even this is markedly different from the references in the synoptics—nothing else in the first five chapters of John’s Gospel is found in any of the synoptics. It is certainly not impossible that John took one isolated episode from the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry and inserted it into his own narrative in a place which seemed appropriate according to his purposes. But in view of the differences between John and the synoptics, in both wording and content, as well as setting and time, it is at least possible that the event in question actually occurred twice (unless one begins with the presupposition that the Fourth Gospel is nonhistorical anyway). In support of two separate cleansings of the temple, it has been suggested that Jesus’ actions on this occasion were not permanent in their result, and after (probably) 3 years the status quo in the temple courts had returned to normal. And at this time early in Jesus’ ministry, he was virtually unknown. Such an action as he took on this occasion would have created a stir, and evoked the response John records in 2:18-22, but that is probably about all, especially if Jesus’ actions met with approval among part of the populace. But later in Jesus’ ministry, when he was well-known, and vigorously opposed by the high-priestly party in Jerusalem, his actions might have brought forth another, harsher response. It thus appears possible to argue for two separate cleansings of the temple as well as a single one relocated by John to suit his own purposes. Which then is more probable? On the whole, more has been made of the differences between John’s account and the synoptic accounts than perhaps should have been. After all, the synoptic accounts also differ considerably from one another, yet few scholars would be willing to posit four cleansings of the temple as an explanation for this. While it is certainly possible that the author did not intend by his positioning of the temple cleansing to correct the synoptics’ timing of the event, but to highlight its significance for the course of Jesus’ ministry, it still appears somewhat more probable that John has placed the event he records in the approximate period of Jesus’ public ministry in which it did occur, that is, within the first year or so of Jesus’ public ministry. The statement of the Jewish authorities recorded by the author (this temple has been under construction for forty-six years) would tend to support an earlier rather than a later date for the temple cleansing described by John, since 46 years from the beginning of construction on Herod’s temple in ca. 19 b.c. (the date varies somewhat in different sources) would be around a.d. 27. This is not conclusive proof, however.
John 2:14tnGrk “in the temple.”sn The merchants (those who were selling) would have been located in the Court of the Gentiles.
John 2:14tnGrk “the money changers sitting”; the words “at tables” are not in the Greek text, but are implied.
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