Contradiction hunters may have done Bible-believers a favour when it comes to their old favourite, “when did Jesus cleanse the Temple?” In each of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – the event comes at the end, only days before his arrest. However, St. John’s book doesn’t say that. He describes a temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry shortly after attending the wedding at Cana. (John 2:11-16) The occasions are similar enough to assume they were the same event but different enough to assume someone made a mistake. Surely this “contradiction” deserves to go to the top of the pile of those touted by the skeptics?
A common reply is that John’s focus is theological, and his writings not intended to be followed in date order, but such an answer is inadequate. Wasn’t the book of Galatians also theological in focus, yet it contains specific date information concerning the history of the early Church? (Gal 1:18 – 2:1)
Also, cynics are quick to point out how often John says, “after this” and “following that” and “sometime later,” indicating sequence. John’s primary purpose may well have been theological but, like the synoptic gospels, he still meant to write things as they happened. He simply got the temple incident wrong they say. Bad luck to the fundamentalists! Another inspired writer makes a mistake!
So the problem remains, but did the contradiction hunters do us a favour in pointing it out? Perhaps so, because it is Christian artists themselves who depict cowering traders getting the bite at the end of Jesus whip. Matthew never said so; neither did Mark; neither did Luke. Only John mentions a whip but in the context of cattle. He made the whip to drive cows and sheep, not people – though it might be suggested sensible people got out of his road.
Actually Christian apologists have been blest by the criticism because it forces us to better research the abuse going on in the temple at this time, and in exploring it; some interesting background has been unearthed. The historian Josephus mentions the “bazaars of Annas.” This wealthy high priest had four sons and apparently the family was making double profit, firstly by selling sacrificial animals to folk coming to do sacrifice. Secondly, by declaring Roman and Greek coins with inscriptions of Caesar ‘unclean’ due to the pagan image, they required such coins be exchanged for Jewish “kosher” money. The money-changers made handsome profits. Even the sale of doves, according to another Jewish source, had become a racket. Dove sacrifice was designed by God for the poor but it had become so expensive that ordinary people could barely afford it.
If anything, scenarios of the temple as painted in secular records confirm our biblical descriptions. People traveled to Jerusalem and purchased animals from the market at the temple and it had become a rip-off. Jesus challenged these ungodly practices and in so doing challenged the authority of the High Priest himself.
Nevertheless, the original question remains. When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
(continued next post)