When one reads Mark, one gets the idea that Jesus took only one trip to Jerusalem. The event of the temple cleansing happens after the triumphal entry. Jesus comes into Jerusalem and is hailed as the “one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9). Jesus comes into the temple, looks around, then takes off to Bethany with the disciples for the night (Mark 11:11). When Jesus comes back north, he enters Jerusalem and curses a dying fig tree. Mark’s narrative continues:
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15–17).
When one reads John, one gets a different impression of when the temple cleansing happened. Instead of depicting Jesus as cleansing the temple toward the end of His ministry, Jesus cleanses the temple at the beginning. The cleansing occurs after the miracle at Cana, which John describes as Jesus’ first sign (John 2:11). Jesus and His family then go down to Capernaum for a few days (John 2:12), and then as the Passover approaches,
. . . Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13b–17)
What do you make of the difference in placement between John and Mark? What do you understand to be happening in the way John and Mark place this event in their gospels?
I’ve always understood that John’s gospel isn’t chronological, so that difference isn’t significant. Is this not the case?
Great point and question. In what sense is John’s gospel not chronological? If we take Mark as chronological, then does that mean we accept the single Jerusalem trip as more chronologically accurate than John’s presentation of multiple Jerusalem trips? Or is Mark’s “chronology” dependent upon the geographical division of his gospel?
What do you think?
One thing about the Fourth Gospel that it seems is often ignored is the claim of the author to be an insider. He seems to know a lot about Jesus first hand and he goes further in his explanations that the other evangelist. One good example is his narratives about what went on with the high priest, the trials, and even Joseph’s request of the body. Whoever the Beloved was I think we should seriously consider he knew things others did not because he was closer to Christ than others.
I would agree that John is not written in a Chronological order. Assuming that John wrote his gospel after 70AD, it is possible that John starts off with the temple cleansing because the Temple destruction was still fresh in people’s mind. Considering that such a major event was prophesied by Jesus, this would serve to prove that Jesus is the Messiah and Son fo God.
Brian: Great points. One thing you mentioned is the details of the Fourth Gospel. There is at least a tradition underlying John that goes back to an eyewitness. Mark is similar in the level of detail and so the temple cleansing placement between the two is a point of contact that we can examine for any implications on chronology.
Sam: Good thought here about connecting the memory of the temple destruction and John’s placement of the temple cleansing. One thing that seems to make this an issue of chronology is the response of the religious leaders to this incident in John and that Mark’s division of his gospel seems to be more geographical than chronological, assuming that you’re claiming that Mark is more chronological than John.
Just off the top of my head, since I don’t have the time to check it out more fully, I know I read somewhere the idea that John and Mark were recording two separate instances of cleansing the Temple, that it didn’t happen just once but at least twice. Just a quick thought.
John: I do not think i can claim Mark is Chronological either. Luke when writing his gospel claimed to be writing an orderly gospel. Since he was Greek and his audience was Greek too, then an orderly account to them would be chronological order. If Luke was using Mark as one of his sources, it is possible that Luke believed that his sources were not very orderly and that he was doing something different from them.
Jewish writing tend to stress more on themes than on order. I have never considered before that Mark could be writing along the lines of geographical theme. If it is true, why does Mark think that geography is important? Is there anything in the gospel that he highlights?
Gary: I’ve heard that too, although, it does seem somewhat awkward that anyone would allow Jesus to repeat the same event twice. It is a possibility, though, but something that I don’t think is too strongly supported.
Sam: I would agree with you that Mark wasn’t necessarily chronological. The macro-division of Mark’s gospel is northern material (Mark 1–9) and then southern material (Mark 10–16), but I’m not sure of the signifiance of that yet. It does seem that Peter’s confession in Mark 8 is the turning point.
Bringing Luke into the picture makes this more interesting. I don’t think it’s likely that John knew of Luke, but it could be that Luke knew John’s tradition: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Logos” (Luke 1:1-2 NRSV). Paul Anderson highlights some of the places where Luke seems to depart from Mark and side with John: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/acts357920.shtml
True that Luke could be writing a more chronological gospel, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Luke seems to take Mark’s basic non-chronological outline and follow it at the macro-level. In Luke’s account of the temple cleansing, he has omitted Mark’s details while retaining the key language, indicating that he is following Mark here, and by implication, he is following Mark’s less chronological scheme (Luke is largely parallel to Mark from Mark 10:1–13:32—the cleansing of the temple comes at Mark 11:15 and Luke follows it exactly, whereas Matthew rearranges the order slightly, placing the temple cleansing before the cursing of the fig tree).
John, having placed this story earlier in his narrative, makes Jesus out to be someone not to be messed with. He comes on the scene, saves a party by bringing in a truck load of wine, and then attacks the merchants in the temple. In one sense, John makes Jesus look like the original Shaft.
Hahaha! I don’t even know who/what the Shaft is, but your description made me chuckle. True that Jesus really isn’t one to mess with, and John got that right! 🙂
Haha, here’s who Shaft is/was: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaft_%281971_film%29
Perhaps the water-into-wine scene helps us find John’s intent with his gospel. Jesus driving out the merchants comes right after He turns the water into wine, but notice what Jesus had used: water jars “for the Jewish rites of purification,” (2:6). Perhaps it’s John’s purpose to highlight how God’s kingdom is not at all like man’s kingdom; there’s no hierarchical religious system glorifying those who’ve done all the right things, but rather redeeming all those who didn’t do the right things. Jesus seems to teach us right from the get-go of John’s gospel that God does not favor religious systems and sacrifices, but rather repentant hearts that know humans cannot reach up to God, but rather God reaches down to us.
Jesus is the original Shaft in the sense that He does not play by man’s rule books and regulations. It seems pertinent to John that his audience gets that message right from the beginning.
John: great article that you linked too. Thank you. Of late i have been thinking seriously about oral traditions. I think we are “people of books” to the point we do not understand the importance of oral traditions.
But getting back, so why does Mark divide his gospel along north and south. Was it just convenience? Why did Luke follow Mark and not John (oral tradition)? Is it possible that Luke felt that Mark’s was more orderly? If that is case then the real question is why John chose to start with the cleansing?
John 1 looks like a big introduction to the identity of Jesus. He uses the interactions with disciples to bring out that identity. Then comes the wedding of Cana, where Jesus reveals his glory and disciples believe him. Then you have the temple cleansing. It looks like John uses the Temple cleansing to begin the public ministry of Jesus after the long introduction to the person of Jesus. I keep coming back to the recent destruction of the Temple. John leaves out the prediction of the destruction of the Temple, but instead re-interprets the Temple as Jesus body. Why does he do this?
Probably has to do with the Jewish accusation at the crucifixion of Jesus that he would destroy and rebuild the Temple in 3 days. It is possible that accusation stuck, especially considering it was made just before his crucifixion. I think Jesus was somewhat vindicated when the Temple was destroyed, his prophecy came true. But how do you explain rebuilding it? Maybe this why John starts with Temple cleansing and re-interprets it to be Jesus’ body. It was probably a question everyone would have been asking, post 70AD. So why not answer the question right at the beginning of the gospel!
Jeremy: Seeing that it’s 1:15 a.m. and I’ve been awake since 5:55 a.m. yesterday, my neurons are not all functional, and the ones that are don’t seem to be following in the right order. Nevertheless, when I read the first paragraph of The Shaft’s wiki, I understood it well enough that thought to myself that I definitely need to see this.
I see what you’re saying concerning the message that John is trying to convey with his placement of the temple cleansing. There is a definite difference between the kingdom of God and that of human beings, and John does highlight this difference. Good theological observation! What do you make of Mark’s placement of this incident toward the end of his gospel?
Sam: I’m glad you enjoyed the article. You’re got some great thoughts on John 1-2. I think you’re right on track when you mention the question about the temple destruction of AD 70. That would be the question everyone was asking, and it seems John is interested in addressing this issue. One thing that’s interesting is that nowhere in the Synoptics does Jesus claim to destroy and rebuild the temple. During the trial, however, Jesus is accused of saying this in Mark and Matthew, yet only John is the only gospel to tell us of Jesus ever saying he would destroy and rebuild the temple (albeit with John’s interpretation, as you pointed out). I wonder if John is conveying to us some kind historical dialogue that was an event that took place in reality, and perhaps at the very point that John has it in his gospel (namely, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry).
With that in mind, I think it is possible John is offering a corrective to Mark here. Indeed, if Luke thought Mark’s gospel was more historical, perhaps John would be attempting to set the record straight. While I don’t think it’s likely that John knew of Luke, it is plausible that John knew of Mark’s gospel in some written form. As far as I could tell, Richard Bauckham was the first to argue this in The Gospels for all Christians. There’s a likelihood that Luke wrote his gospel with the intent to “correct Mark” in some ways (we might even say that Luke possibly intended his gospel to be a replacement to Mark)—could John take a corrective position as well? What do you think?
I’m not disagreeing with you that John is addressing Jesus’ prediction of the temple destruction and rebuilding, but I’m offering that in addition to what you’ve said, John is also correcting Mark’s chronology here in some way.
I appreciate the dialogue and the way you are articulating your view on this. Feel free to push back on anything I say here. I have a feeling that I’m not being so clear here as I could be (see comment to Jeremy above).
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus as the Messiah is something that the disciples just don’t get for most of the way through. With His teachings and healings and miracles leading up to this point, Jesus certainly showed that He was definitely a prophet of some kind, but the disciples didn’t quite understand what that really looked like. When He comes to Jerusalem (for the first or final time, depending on how you look at it), Mark starts to get to the point of climax in his story; the triumphal entry, cleansing the temple, more intense encounters with the religious leaders, long eschatological teaching in Ch. 13 (even saying “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” which is a bold claim towards Jesus’ authority), plots of killing Jesus become more frequent – which creates a rising tension in the story, and just when the disciples thought their messiah was going to rise up politically, He was arrested, convicted, and crucified, leaving His followers, especially the close ones, devastated.
Mark placing the temple cleansing story, as one might see from this outline, more towards the end helps as an added piece to build the tension in the story Mark was trying to portray. John seems to have a different element he wished to highlight, which is why it was at beginning. The point of climax, then, might be the death of Jesus, but I believe that Mark 16:9-20 wasn’t supposed to be there, which puts the climax at the empty tomb, restoring overwhelming joy and hope to those who truly loved and followed Him.
Given the literary elements within Mark’s gospel, I really think he was one of the first “suspense-thriller” novelists. Dan Brown wouldn’t be able to compete with Mark if he were around today 🙂
I guess the last question to be answered is Mark’s placement of the Temple cleansing. Going by what has been said by others before, it seems possible that Mark is writing in the form of a suspense novel of the method of increasing tension or drama as we reach the climax. This could explain the apparent north south divide in the gospel. Jerusalem was to the south and that is where most of his contentious encounters would have happened. (it is like driving into New York City, the closer you get to the city, the worse the traffic!) Assuming initially, the gospel ended with the Resurrection, it was a great climax. Of course that Mark ended there also means that he expected his audience to have some other knowledge of what the Resurrection means.
I can see Luke correcting Mark’s chronology and not really correcting, but writing it in a way his Greek audience would appreciate better. I am not sure John wrote his gospel to correct anyone’s chronology, but rather to re-interpret the gospel to a more Gentilized (non-Jewish) Church.
Jeremy and Sam,
I really like what you two are saying about Mark. It sounds like you have really thought through this gospel and its literary-theological aspects. I haven’t thought this deeply about this gospel, so the insights you have presented have gotten me thinking—and for a while! 🙂
To move the conversation back to the issue I’m trying to explore with you, let me push back a little bit with these questions: (1) If Mark is so heavily oriented in a literary fashion, can we trust he was trying to place events in a chronological order? (2) Is it possible John knew of Mark’s gospel, just as Matthew and Luke appeared to have? (3) Is it possible that John thought some of Mark’s chronology was incorrect and sought to correct it?
My responses to these would be that the north-south division of Mark make it less like that Mark is trying to present these events in chronological order, especially when compared to the more realistic presentation of multiple Jerusalem trips in John. To the second and third questions, if we accept that Mark’s gospel had wide circulation, then it is possible that John knew of Mark’s gospel, and thus could have written his gospel in a way as to correct the order of Mark’s chronology. The most explicit is the temple cleansing. It seems that the precise details found in the conversation between Jesus and the religious over the construction of the temple supports this. Using that conversation as a guide, and assuming that the reference is to Herod’s Temple, the date of this conversation would be about AD 30, which would place the cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and corroborate the accuracy of John’s account.
In the end we of course cannot know for sure, but these details do lend some weight to John’s account being more chronologically correct. The other option is that none of John is chronological, but I think some of the points here challenge that. You could give some final thoughts, if you wish, or keep the conversation going. Either way, I’m interested to hear your responses to these questions. Again, feel free to push back, especially if you spot any weak spots in my presentation.
As I just finished the fourth chapter of F.F. Bruce’s “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?,” wherein he discusses some of the major differences between the Synoptics and John, I’d have to say that John certainly knew of Mark’s gospel, but I’m not sure if he necessarily sought to correct the chronology. Of all the gospels, I think Luke has a more chronology-based account while the others have specific audiences in mind or want to convey certain aspects of Jesus’ ministry (i.e. John highlighting Jesus’ divinity (and yet humanity as well), Matthew highlighting Jesus’ Jewishness, Mark highlighting Jesus’ Messiah-ship). John, as Bruce says, seems to “supplement” the Synoptics; giving more focus into the mind of Jesus rather than the actions of Jesus.
Ultimately, I believe all of the gospels say Jesus said and did probably happened in actuality; when everything happened seems much less important in comparison to why and how it happened (i.e. Jesus dying on a cross for the remission of our sins is much more important than Him either dying on or before the Day of Preparation). I cannot say that John isn’t trying to correct Mark’s account, but that it doesn’t seem to be one of his main objectives with his account of Jesus. With the evidence we have, this has the greater possibility of being John, the “beloved” disciple of Jesus. This means the gospel of John is written or orated by an actual eye-witness of the events, so the knowledge therein is much more intimate and personal in nature.
It certainly is an interesting investigation, though, considering all the elements each one of us has highlighted. Hope everyone had a merry Christmas!
Thanks! Yes, the Christmas was merry—I hope yours was as well.
I think Bruce is correct that John is more of a supplement to the Synoptics. I would agree with you that each gospel writer had a specific purpose for writing their gospels, but I would include Luke in this as well, although I would not discount that Luke was also seeking to do something chronological. The question is the level at which he is doing it, that is, is he doing chronology at a broader level or a more micro one?
When you highlight the nature of the knowledge (intimate, personal, eye-witness) of John’s gospel, I think this allows possibility that John was doing some corrections. If church tradition is correct that Mark was a follower of Peter, and that John is an eyewitness, then it seems that John could be more trustworthy not only in conveying a particular presentation about Jesus, but also a chronological corrective to those who have come before him.
The elements you and Sam have brought up have been helpful in our exploration. Not only that, but you guys have made this a fun exercise as well.
Hi Jeremy and John,
Merry Christmas to you too.
You know somewhere back in my mind, John seems to indicate multiple trips to Jerusalem. I am not sure how to sync things. Luke and Mark seem to indicate one long trip from Galilee to Jerusalem. Though looking at the temple cleansing in John, it would seem Jesus did a lot of traveling. First Jesus is in Cana, next event he is in the south in Jerusalem, then the next event he is back up further north in Capernaum. I guess we have two options either Jesus made multiple trips to Jerusalem or he made only one. Could there be a reason the synoptics would downplay the sightings of Jesus during the Jewish festivals? Was ministering in the area of Judea also considered as ministering in Jerusalem?
Wit all due respect, e should not speak as if either Gospel “is” or “is not” chronologically arranged. Is this an all or nothing question? No. To a significant degree, both writers clearly show interest in change over time. And that, friends, reveals some concern for chronal sequencing. The question is, how much.
At any rate, I’m still trying to find the place where anyone here has justified the “the” in this post’s title. Is it so much the consensus now that we merely assume Jesus could not have cleared (and did not, in fact, clear) the Temple on two separate occasions?
Sam: What do you mean about the Snyoptics downplaying sightings of Jesus during the festivals? Do you have a couple of references you could direct us to? I’m not sure that ministering in Judea would be considered ministering in Jerusalem. Are there any particular passages you’re looking at?
I think you highlight one of the more interesting differences in the portrayal of the trip to Jerusalem in John versus the Synoptics. Do you think that John’s portrayal would be more likely?
Bill: Those are some good issues you raise. Perhaps this isn’t an all-or-nothing question, but when Mark’s arrangement is topographical, it does lean toward the question being whether Mark was chronological or not. As this pertains to the placement of the cleansing in question, when John places the temple cleansing at the beginning with historical detail attached to it over Mark’s account, it does at least raise the question.
I think you’re right when you raise the question “how much/” I think there can be and are chronological elements in Mark, but the north-south division seems to say that Mark wasn’t as concerning with making a strict chronology. For instance, what if the temple cleansing really happened in the beginning but Mark couldn’t place it there because he doesn’t have Jesus in Jerusalem until chapter 11? Sometime this year I will start to explore Mark’s chronological features to see how much chronology was a factor for Mark.
Check out the newer post for some of my thoughts on why I don’t think there were two temple cleansings. I don’t know how much of a consensus there is on a single temple cleansing, but all the scholarship that I’ve read on this think two cleansings to be unlikely.
JD: if, if, if there was in fact only one temple cleansing, then obviously Mark had to wait to include it. Yes, of course geography is one obvious way to divide Mark’s arrangement. I get all that. I just don’t see why it *precludes* a separate, earlier cleansing. (But by newer post, I assume you mean the comment thread beneath that post, where we’re also now chatting.)
If you’re going to see how much of Mark is chronological, I hope you’ll consider my recent thoughts on implicit causality, regarding event sequence in narrative.
Thanks for the dialogue, JohnDave. I’m looking forward to more…
Happy New Year everyone!
From John, it looks like Jesus made several trips to Jerusalem for the festivals. For example all of John 5 is in Jerusalem and in John 6, he is back in Galilee. In John 7, he goes back to Jerusalem for a feast. He leaves Jerusalem in 10:40. In John 11:56-57, the people expected him to be there, probably because that is what he did in the past during the passover. Finally in John 12, Jesus make his final entry into Jerusalem. This going in and out of Jerusalem does not seem to be there in the synoptics. The only festival they mention is the final passover. So is John putting things in a better chronological order? It is possible. Does that mean the Temple cleansing happened at the end beginning of his ministry? Maybe. I think i am more confused then before 🙂
What if none of them had chronology as their highest priority? I kind of still go back to Luke, because he was the only one to claim that we was putting things in order, others did not. It still leaves the question, why did the synoptics leave out the festive visits of Jesus to Jerusalem.
Comments are closed.