Sunday, March 11, 2012

How many times did Jesus cleanse the Temple?

3rd Sunday of Lent, John 2:13-25
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.
We all know of the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple, when he casts out those selling animals and overturns the tables of the money-changers. We all know that this happened in the final week of his life (in fact, the day after Palm Sunday), and that this was the event which set the Jewish authorities wholly against our Savior.
What we might not all know is that this is not the cleansing of the Temple which we heard about in this past Sunday’s Gospel. The sequence from the Gospel of St. John tells of the first cleansing of the Temple which occurred very early in our Savior’s public ministry – two full years before his death.

Jesus cleansed the Temple twice
That our Savior cleansed the Temple on two occasions is clear from the Scriptures themselves. John records a cleansing early on in our Lord’s ministry, only in the second chapter of his Gospel. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record a cleansing which occurs in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth.
Could it be that John is simply re-arranging the material? Is it merely a literary device? No. The synoptic writers (i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all record that the Jews hailed Jesus as their king, but the scene is quite different in John. The Beloved Disciple’s account of the first Temple cleansing specifies that it was only just at this moment that many began to believe in Jesus (cf. John 2:23).
In John’s Gospel, our Savior is still only just beginning his ministry, he is not being hailed with Hosanna, nor are the Jewish authorities afraid of the crowds – but this is the whole setting for the Temple cleansing recorded in the synoptics.
Further, what the Jews say and what Jesus responds is different in John from the synoptics. In John, the Jews ask him for a sign for this; and Jesus responds Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up. However, in the synoptics (especially Matthew 21:16), the Pharisees specifically challenge Jesus for allowing the crowd to hail him as a king.
Finally, Jesus’ words in cleansing the Temple are diverse in John from the synoptics. For, in John, our Savior says, Take these things hence, and make not the house of my Father a house of traffic. But, in the synoptics, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves. (Matthew 21:13)
In any case, the Church Fathers and Scholastic Doctors believed that there were two Temple cleansings. Most notably, we refer to the authority of Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cornelius a’ Lapide.
The timeline of Jesus’ public ministry
St. John records three Passover feasts during Jesus’ public ministry. From this, it is clear that our Savior’s public life (from his baptism to his Crucifixion) extended about two and a half years.
The first Passover, John 2:3ff. – Jesus cleanses the Temple.
Near the time of the second Passover, John 6:4ff. – Jesus (in Galilee) feeds the five thousand with five loaves, walks on water, gives the Bread of Life Discourse.
The third Passover, John 11:55ff. – Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and dies upon the Cross.
Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke pick up the story
The synoptic Gospels, however, only record a single Passover. In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke only record the final year of Jesus’ public ministry.
After giving the account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, these writers jump ahead to the period after John’s arrest – though, it is clear from the Gospel of St. John, the Baptist was not arrested until over a year after the baptism.
It is clear that significant time must have passed between our Savior’s baptism and John’s arrest because St. John the Evangelist records a number of significant events (including the wedding at Cana, the cleansing of the Temple, the discourse with Nicodemus, etc.) which occurred during this period. Further, there was a time when John and his disciples were baptizing and Jesus and his disciples were also baptizing (that is, the disciples were baptizing in his Name) – consider John 3:22-25
After these things Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea: and there he abode with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Ennon near Salim; because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison. And there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews concerning purification:
It was only after John the Baptist was arrested that Jesus began to call his Apostles. Hence, Peter and Andrew (as well as John) were called at least twice by Christ – once in the first year, when they were still with John the Baptist (cf. John 1:36ff.); and a second time when they were returned to Galilee and in their fishing boats (cf. Matthew 4:18ff.).


Liam Ronan said...

Thank you, Father. I learn so much each time I read your postings. Keep it up. God bless. Hold fast.
Daniel 11:33 I'll keep you in my prayers.

Flambeaux said...

Alas, our pastor preached (predictably) that John was just playing fast and loose with the chronology because he was more interested in "making a point about Social Justice".

Thankfully, I had read an earlier post here, Father, wherein you referenced the two cleansings.

May the Good Lord continue to deliver us from poor Scriptural exigesis by calling us to a closer reading of the Scriptures and the early commentaries.

Thank you for your work, Father.

Benjamin A. Emore said...

thank u Father for deeper insight into the scripture....God will keep blessing u to keep teaching us.

bill bannon said...

Fr. Raymond Brown,not an unalloyed blessing himself but... an expert in John, disagrees and notes that only John has the passages that brag about John as the beloved disciple, as middleman between Peter and the maid at Caiphas' house, as reaching the tomb prior to Peter. His thesis: John died before finishing the gospel and a redactor finished it but did not know the order of events and the redactor bragged about John with true facts because the breakaway church mentioned in I John disparaged John's authority. The redactor then put the cleansing in the wrong order....not a mistake which affects one's salvation.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@bill bannon,
The innerancy of Scripture means that all that the human author intended to assert (even certain historical details) are true.

Hence, we cannot say that the "redactor" was mistaken or confused and "got the order wrong".

In any case, Fr Brown is highly suspect as a theologian ... a radical break from the way that Catholics have always read the Bible.

If the final version of John says that there was a Passover before the Baptist was arrested and that, at this Passover, Jesus cleansed the Temple ... then that is the way it happened.

This is the problem ... Fr. Brown bases his argument in his imagination ... but I have based my argument in the Scripture.

bill bannon said...

I warned of Brown in my post but John Paul II permitted him on the PBC during his tenure and under Ratzinger's at CDF.
He was awful on the Magnificat e.g. but someday read a late work..."Introduction to the New Testament" when he no longer needed to impress the Ivy League.
His memory is encyclopedic on Biblical detail....hence all the awards.
Even Augustine in his " Harmony of the Gospels" had to loosen up on his own perfect strictures when he noticed that one gospel had John the Baptist saying he was not worthy to carry Christ's sandals and another gospel had John saying he was not worthy to loose the ties of Christ's sandals...concluding that very surface physical descrepancies are of little account.

Father S. said...


I can only imagine the things that you keep to yourself! Having known you for years and spoken with you often in person (think of a wedding you were at not long ago in the "heart of dixie") I can imagine that your parish priest prays for fortitude when the two of you converse!

This is really a great reading for preaching about right worship and access to the worship of God as He wishes to be adored. It was an opportunity of which I was very appreciative!

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

"I warned of Brown in my post but John Paul II permitted him on the PBC during his tenure and under Ratzinger's at CDF"

The sooner the influence of Fr Brown is forgotten the better.

The PBC that Pope Blessed John Paul II placed him on had no authority - unlike the earlier PBC which would not have permitted him to deliver a Brown Bag Lunch to them to say nothing about letting him serve-up his destructive studies.

You yourself accuse him of exegesis to please the Ivy League and one whose exegesis is delimited by a protestant political agenda is one whose service to Holy Mother Church is best forgotten forever.

bill bannon said...

I am not etc.
I see the last two Popes as influenced by the same modern outlook. Read section 40 of Evangelium Vitae wherein John Paul II implies that the God commanded death penalties were really the outgrowth of an unrefined culture which is finally surpassed by the refinement of the Sermon on the Mount ( how did JPII forget Romans 13:4 which postdates the gospel). Read section 42 of Verbum Domini by Benedict: he subtly hints that expertise in historical context will show that the OT massacres were not from God as scripture says they are...e.g. Wisdom chapter 12. You can recurringly bump into this wide school in the Jerome Biblical Commentary and in footnotes. Very scarey frankly.

Flambeaux said...

@Fr. S,

Good to "see" you online. :D

Usually, discussions with my pastor are quite civil and fruitful. We agree on many things and I'm happy to defer to him when I'm in need of correction.

He does, alas, seem to have a blind spot when it comes to exegesis and Scriptural commentary. So, in such instances, I forward him a link and recommend posts like this for his consideration.

My spiritual director has been most helpful in guiding me towards channeling some of the, ahem, energy of my choleric temperament into more fervent prayer rather than vigorous argumentation.

We continue to pray for you...and we have another boy on the way, Deo gratias.

Drop me a line if you have a few minutes, Father. I'd love to converse with you again through a more immediate and direct medium.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Mr. Bannon. Any Biblical exegesis that conflicts with Traditional Biblical Exegesis is not binding unless it is promulgated as such.

I find virtually all modern exegesis dangerous and suspect and when one reads our Holy Father, in "Jesus of Nazareth," citing mainly Protestant exegetes and claiming, against all Tradition, that John did not write his Gospel, one knows he is living in interesting times - perhaps even in the throes of the great apostasy

Anonymous said...

Great post! I agree with all these points. When one has faith the Gospels such as us we have no choice to ignore the details. The biggest unspoken elephant in the room seems to be that in each account of the Temple cleansing Jesus quotes from different Scriptures. If we were to believe that John's Gospel was the last written, which is the majority view, it is very hard to imagine that he has no knowlege of Matthew's, Mark's or Luke's Gospel accounts. It it difficult to think that John, who is praised for his deeply spiritual portrail of Jesus, somehow suffers from editorial fatigue. John, who obviously is a man who choses his words very carefully to recount his experiences with Jesus, seems less likely to make such an obvious supposed mistake.

In my opinion it is such an attention grabber that John is trying to get the reader to understand an unspoken message. I have just started studying this and I expect to come into more truths as to these two Temple Cleansings.

Peace be you. :-)

Diana said...

Hello Father,
I'm so glad to have found your post, as in my research, I was just wondering the same thing (if it was one or two cleansings)! Could you please provide more info on the authorities you cite: Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cornelius a’ Lapide. I'd like to read those. Many thanks!

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