Holy Week is a time when we Christians find ourselves discussing Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple because in the Gospel of Mark 11.11-26 it follows the Triumphal Entry (11.1-10). But there is another account of the Temple cleansing in the Gospel of John 2.13-24 that places the Temple Cleansing at another point in Jesus’ life. What are we to do with this? There are a few options:
(1) Jesus purged the Temple twice.
I find this improbable. It seems to be the same event as far as how it is depicted. I think the only reason to postulate two events is an attempt to reconcile the chronology of the Gospels, but I think this is a more modern concern for strict chronology being applied to authors of documents who did not share the same concern.
(2) The Markan order is accurate.
Mark’s reason for placing the cleansing here is quite obvious. He seems to be connecting the event with Jesus’ murder. This was the thing that pushed the ruling elite past the breaking point.
(3) The Johannine order is accurate.
It seems that John may have felt that Mark misplaced the story (a chronological concern that would be rare) and/or that he thought Jesus’ campaign as an alternative source of authority to the Temple (e.g. like the Qumran community) was announced very early in his mission. John the Baptist is mentioned in chapter one, so maybe this is another way of connecting Jesus to John in that they seemed to have shared anti-Temple messages.
(4) We cannot recover the historical event, but we do have the literary points.
It may be that the best we can do is acknowledge “why” Mark and John placed the event where they did. We have no idea when the event occurred in the life of Jesus.
(5) The event did not happen.
I find this the most improbable. That the Evangelists would feel compelled to tell the story of this event to the point of placing it in completely different places seems to me to indicate a real Temple Cleansing occurred.
I am currently an advocate for option #1. My reasoning is because I simply don’t believe it is as improbable as you, though I agree with your point regarding the fact that the gospel writers were less concerned about chronology… something we find difficult to grasp!
I should mention that I’m not 100% convinced of this option, though I find it plausible and it is the position that I personally am currently convinced of.
Carson’s Pillar Commentary on John is what essentially lays out my reasoning… though I must say that Borchert (New American) makes a good case for why you consider it improbable (he writes, “Why should John have to write his Gospel as a modern newspaper reporter? His purpose was not to report but to proclaim and persuade”).
If only one of the writers had put two Temple cleansings!! Right? Or if only we better understood the Johannine methodology better 🙂 ha ha!
Indeed, it would have been nice if Matthew or Luke would have mentioned it. Then we’d have two against one and we could decide when the event occurred! 🙂
given the current trends of discussing the historical reliability of Johns Gospel, I think I am inclined to go with his account (not that Mark isn’t reliable or anything)… It just feels better to me but that is pretty subjective!
given the emphasis on the historical reliability of John’s Gospel recently I tend to lean toward that solution. 🙂
I used to think option (2) to be the closest to what really happened, but now I favour option (5). I see the probably fictional temple incident as part of Mark’s plan to shift the blame for the crucifixion from the Romans to the Jewish authorities. If your comment: “This was the thing that pushed the ruling elite past the breaking point” were applied to the narrative of the gospel and not to history, then I would agree entirely.
By the time John’s gospel was written, the temple incident had become part of established tradition for a whole generation of Christians, and had already been retold in slightly different forms in both Matthew and Luke. John followed this trend but, as with the rest of his story of Jesus, he felt at liberty to make more wide-ranging changes to the Markan account.
There has been a greater effort to display the historical reliability of the Gospel of John. I think folk like Richard Bauckham and Paul Anderson are doing a fine job, though it remains problematic since the “liturgical” nature of the Gospel doesn’t jive well with the historiographical methods of many historical Jesus scholars.
I don’t think that the Temple cleansing needs to be invented for Mark to make that point. A better explanation would be that Jesus did do something disruptive in the Temple and Mark made sure to add it to his case against those who opposed Jesus. It seems quite probable to me that Jesus was well know for his rivalry with the Temple elite, especially since he continued the work of John the Baptist. That Jesus would have enacted judgement in a dramatic fashion in line with similar displays by previous Hebrew prophets is not far fetched at all.
It seems to me that the one that is chronological and historical would be in Mark. I say this because if it happened so early on as in John, Jesus keeping His ID secretive doesn’t make much sense. I always assumed Jesus told people not to tell everyone He was Messiah because He didn’t desire to be arrested before “His hour”.
Cleansing the temple early on would not fit into this logic. That would have precipitated the sanhedrin to make the arrest early on. No chance they would have sat around after this happened for long.
Having said this, I think another option deserves consideration. John DID NOT place that pericope there originally and it has simply gotten there over time somehow. The adulterous woman story may or may not even be canonical, but, if it is, it is out of place in the John text, so this happens with John some.
I think John is reporting the same event as Mark and it may have gotten into the text early somehow due to some human error like the adulterous woman thing.
Comments are closed.