If there really was a contradiction between John and the other gospels concerning the clearing of the temple, it would be a single error about timing. John says it happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry but Matthew, Mark and Luke say at the end. Now, when an author makes a mistake, he is unlikely to combine three or four errors for good measure. However, timing wasn’t the only difference in this case. So, when the reader notices not one but several differences, we may be excused for wondering if there might be another explanation. Could it be there was no mistake made at all, and Jesus cleared the temple twice?
Take, for example, the route Jesus used to get to Jerusalem. In the closing weeks of his ministry he came up via Jericho, having traveled on the eastern side – modern day Jordan. This is explained in the synoptic gospels due to his wish to avoid Samaria. However, in the first year he used the direct north-south route. John says concerning his journey home, “So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria” (John 4:3-4)
It might also be worth noting how, when he arrived home, his ‘temple cleansing’ episode was the ‘talk of the town’ among the Galileans. “When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.” (John 4:45) These folk were particularly vulnerable to the sacrificial temple trade because of cattle transport distance.
Of course, the journey back from Jerusalem highlights an even more obvious difference between the two ‘cleansings.’ On the second occasion Jesus never got back; he was arrested! On the first occasion after he cleansed the temple, he left, spent some time baptising, (John 3:22) then proceeded home as we have noted.
A significant discussion took place in John’s account which is not recorded by the others. In the exchange the Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20) This information enables historians to date the year at AD 27 because Herod the Great began construction in 19/20 BC. (Herod’s reign is well documented) It follows therefore, that, if the temple stories were all the same incident, Jesus’ death must have also been AD 27. However, that year is too early for the crucifixion, suggesting rather that a temple cleansing occurred twice.
Finally, it might be asked if Jesus’ actions did any good apart from venting righteous anger. Well, no cattle are mentioned being whipped out of the temple on the last occasion so maybe they partially reformed the abuses by taking the cattle stalls out of the temple precincts. We don’t know for sure, but that would explain why no whip was made that time. Even so, the doves and money changing continued as before, hence a final judgment on the practice at the end of Jesus’ ministry.
(continued next post)