Earlier this month, The Dubious Disciple gave a favorable review to Paul N. Anderson’s The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus.

Last week, I posted on the differences between John’s and Mark’s placements of the temple cleansing (here). There were many good responses. Brad understood John’s gospel as being non-chronological, Brian brought up John’s claim to be an insider, and Gary Zimmerli had read that there were two temple cleansing events.

Saint Mark

The conversation carried on with the responses of Sam and Jeremy. Of the Synoptics, both Sam and Jeremy saw Luke as being more chronological than Matthew or Mark. Sam noted that Jewish writing tended to be more thematic than chronological. More specifically, Sam pointed out that the temple destruction was still a relatively recent event, and John was answering the question of the temple destruction by placing his interpretation of the temple cleansing at the beginning of his gospel.

Jeremy noted the theological implications of John’s placement of the temple cleansing. Namely, John’s point was that there is a difference between the way God does things and the way humanity does things—God reaches down to humanity and uplifts the repentant who fail while humans rely upon hierarchical systems that glorifies the person. As to Mark, Jeremy and Sam both emphasized the literary orientation of Mark’s gospel; Mark’s placement of the temple cleansing aimed at introducing the climax of the story.

I suggest an alternative, following Richard Bauckham (“John for Readers of Mark” in The Gospel for All Christians) and Paul Anderson (see book review above): John was correcting Mark’s chronology on this point. Given the level of detail that both John and Mark have, the difference in temple cleansing placement makes for an interesting exercise. In response to the comments on the first temple cleansing post, here are a few reasons in support of the alternative:

Saint John

(1) Mark is not necessarily chronological. Rather, the division of Mark’s gospel is divided between north (Mark  1–9) and south (Mark 10–16). This division makes it less likely that Mark was writing in chronological fashion. Mark’s placement of the temple cleansing may be where it is because the last part of his gospel has all the southern narratives. Additionally, the multiple Jerusalem trips in John is more realistic than Mark’s one-time Jerusalem trip.

(2) John likely knew of Mark’s gospel. If we accept Markan priority, and allow Mark to be the primary literary source for Matthew and Luke, then we must allow that Mark was broadly circulated. Furthermore, it is not inconceivable that Matthew and Luke saw their gospels as upgrades and replacements to Mark’s. Thus, given Mark’s wide circulation, John in all likelihood knew of Mark. It is also possible that if John felt Mark was mistaken at some points, as Matthew and Luke possibly did since they also depart from Mark at times, then he would have sought to provide correction to Mark.

(3) The precise detail in the dialogue over the temple points to John as a corrective. Both John and Mark possess remarkable amount of details in their gospels. In the case of the temple cleansing, however, John seems to win. Jeremy noted the literary orientation surrounding Mark’s temple cleansing, which indicates that Mark is probably not being aiming to be chronological with the cleansing. In addition to the literary/theological presentation, John also has chronological detail in his account. If the conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is correct and the conversation actually took place in history, then according to the details of the conversation, the temple cleansing took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

The difference of the temple cleansing placement between Mark and John is not due solely to literary or theological presentation. In addition his own theological message and literary presentation, John is also providing a chronological corrective to Mark’s account.