14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Once Jesus (he was probably with his followers at the time) was about ready to perform the highly symbolic prophetic action of temple cleansing, he began to disperse those who turned the house of God into a profane, but profitable industry (2:14-15).
It was Jesus’ passion and commitment to purify Israel’s religion that moved him to this action (v.16-17). Jesus’ concern here seems to be very different from his motivation as described in the synoptic Gospels.
For example, it is striking that the synoptics use a different quotation from the Old Testament to describe the reason for the temple cleansing. While the synoptics quote Jesus saying “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations ‘? But you have made it a robbers’ den” (Mk.11:17, Mt.21:13, Lk.19:46), John on the other hand justifies Jesus’ action in different way. We read in John 2:17: “His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” For the Synoptic Gospels the issue seems to be the loss of Israel’s meaningful engagement with Gentiles (light of the world). For John, the issue is the appropriateness and purity of the place used for Jerusalem worship.
Highlighting Jesus’ concern for purity would have been the most appropriate thing to do, if those being addressed by the Gospel of John were Qumranites or their Essene affiliate movement, the Samaritans. Purity of worship (or more particularly its lack in Jerusalem) was a highly significant issue for them.
This gospel author had a wholly different approach than did Mark, Luke and Mathew. The emphasis on the purity of the Temple (versus the loss of the Light of the Nations outlook in the synoptic accounts) argues that the audience shared these concerns and presumably would have resonated with this message. As per John’s portrayal, Jesus acted as a covenant prosecutor who has come to check the fitness of the Temple for divine service. He hereby declares the Temple in Jerusalem unfit for divine worship because it was under the failed and unfaithful stewardship of hoi Ioudaioi, the Judean ruling elite and its followers.
Of course there is another important difference that continues to puzzle conservative scholars – the timing of Temple cleansing. John puts in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, while Synoptics (Mark, Luke and Mathew) in the end. The question of when it “really” took place may be ligitimate too, but not as important as understanding why John in his story makes Jesus begin with declaring the Temple unfit for worship of Israel’s God. Let’s keep thinking together. More to come.
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 The obsession with harmonization of the gospel accounts has for centuries contributed to too many crucial points being missed. The reason for this is precisely because scholars concentrated their work on how to fit the passages together. In the process, they did not pay attention to the reasoning behind the sometimes significant differences in the various gospel accounts. At this point, we won’t provide an explanation of the differences between the quotations in relationship to the historical Jesus and the cohesiveness of the Gospel accounts. This is a different topic for a different time.