When our journal first started we had a section in which we did journal reviews. However, over time we followed the lead of many journals and stopped doing journal reviews. This article1 by Allan Chapple is so timely and well-written that it demands a special review.
I. FOUR POSSIBLE VIEWS EXPLAINED
The author begins by laying out four possible explanations of the fact that John reports a cleansing of the temple at the start of Jesus’ ministry and the Synoptics report a cleansing near the end of His ministry. It should be noted that Chapple is not restricting himself to options that are consistent with a high view of Scripture. He is simply laying out four possible views, which are:
• The Lord only cleansed the Temple once, near the end of His ministry (the majority view).
• The Lord only cleansed the Temple once, at the start of His ministry.
• The Lord never cleansed the Temple.
• The Lord cleansed the Temple twice, at the start and near the end of His ministry (Chapple’s view).
II. DEMONSTRATING THAT THE ACCOUNTS ARE DIFFERENT
Rarely do interpreters compare accounts in order to see if they are the same account or different accounts. Most NT scholars today believe that the Gospel writers were very free in their reporting of history so that they felt free to change what Jesus said, including even changing the meaning of what He said. Thus when it comes to two different accounts of the cleansing of the Temple, they would have little problem holding that the two accounts report the same event, but with the authors altering some of the details.
Chapple, however, believes that if the details do not line up, then there must have been two cleansings of the Temple. Here are some of the differences Chapple cites (pp. 547-58):
• “They locate the event at opposite ends of Jesus’ ministry.”
• “There are only five words in common between the accounts.”
• John reports five features not found in the Synoptics: “the sheep and oxen; the whip; the word kermatistēs for money-changers; the “pouring out” of the money; and the command, “take these things away.”
• “Only the Synoptic account has a reference to Jesus prohibiting the carrying of vessels through the Temple area (Mark 11:16).”
• In the Synoptics Jesus quotes both from Isaiah and Jeremiah “to explain his actions, but in John Jesus does not quote any scriptural text.”
• “In the Synoptics Jesus is objecting to dishonest conduct, but in John to the provision of animals and money-changing as such.”
• Only in John is there a confrontation between Jesus and the Judeans immediately after the cleansing.
• The Temple logion [saying] is uttered by Jesus in John 2:19. But in Mark, it is uttered by false witnesses (Mark 14:58) and scoffers (Mark 15:29). Of course, if at the start of His ministry Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple and His raising it up in three days, then it would make sense that others would mockingly cite that saying at a later point. But if He never said that, then how could others cite it later?
Chapple makes this excellent point:
Comparing the two accounts (Mark and John) in this way makes it clear that despite many claims to the contrary, they have not much in common, and a great many differences. The most likely explanation for such a combination is not that two independent sources are reporting the same event from different perspectives, but that two different events are being reported (p. 550).
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AN EARLY CLEANSING IN JESUS’ MINISTRY
Chapple rejects “the widely held view that John had theological reasons for moving this event to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry” (p. 551). After discussing a place in which Matthew gives the readers “a rough idea of when certain miracles occurred,” he says,
To bring forward to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry an event that occurred only at the end—and, what is more, an event that played a significant part in bringing his ministry to an end—is not at all the same kind of thing. This does not give us just a rough idea of what happened; it gives us the wrong idea (p. 551).
He also makes this excellent point: “If John feels free to move the Temple story, why not the Lazarus story instead? Or what about [moving forward] chapter nine, with Jesus giving sight to a blind man and being opposed by self-styled ‘disciples of Moses’?…And so we could go on” (p. 553).
It is good exegetical practice to ask why a Gospel writer included a given incident in his Gospel. After having concluded that John is reporting an event that actually occurred at the start of Jesus’ ministry, Chapple goes a step further and asks why he chose to report this incident of the early cleansing of the Temple.
Seven reasons are given by the author as to the significance of an early cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.
First, the Judeans said to Jesus, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). Chapple points out that construction of the Temple began in 18/17 BC. Forty-six years later would be “around AD 28,” which would be at the start, not the end, of Jesus’ ministry.
Second, at the start of Jesus’ ministry He made “indirect and enigmatic reference[s]” (p. 554) to His approaching death (cf. John 2:18-21; compare Matt 9:15; Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35). But during His final week in Jerusalem “his references to his approaching death are much less indirect” (p. 554).
Third, Chapple points out that in John 5:18 the Judeans “sought all the more [mallon ezētoun] to kill Him.” The words all the more imply that there had been an earlier incident which had led them to wish to kill Him. That incident most likely would be Jesus’ claim that the Temple was His Father’s house (John 2:16).
Fourth, the Synoptics report (e.g., Mark 3:22) that there was “very strong Jerusalem-based opposition to Jesus not long into His Galilean ministry” (p. 556). The early cleansing of the Temple explains what led to that early opposition.
Fifth, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem at the end of His ministry (Matt 23:37-39) shows that He had visited Jerusalem and the Temple and had sought to bring the city to faith in Him earlier in His ministry (p. 557). This too supports an early Temple cleansing.
Sixth, there was a “disagreement between the witnesses at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin…over what he actually said about the temple” (p. 557). Chapple says, “This is much more likely if they are referring to something he said a couple of years before, but difficult to understand if the words in question were spoken only a few days previously” (p. 558).
Seventh, the author points out that the authorities respond much differently to the cleansing in John 2 than the later cleansing in Mark 11. In the first cleansing they ask for a sign (John 2:18). But in the later cleansing “they have determined to get rid of Jesus (Mark 11:18)” (p. 558). The second cleansing reads like “the final showdown.” The first does not.
IV. JESUS’ MISSION TO ISRAEL ARGUES FOR AN EARLY CLEANSING
In this section, Chapple argues that since Jesus’ ministry was to the people of Israel, it was fitting that He would begin His ministry in Jerusalem, the political and religious capital of Israel. “In view of Jerusalem’s fundamental role in Jewish life and hopes, would it not make good sense for Jesus to launch his mission there?” (p. 561).
This extended statement is well worth citing in full:
In a symbolic way both [the early and later temple cleansings] shut down the operations of the Temple cult in a display of messianic authority. The climactic intervention in the Synoptics does so to signal the downfall of the Temple in the judgment that is soon to fall upon Israel. But in John’s account, Jesus is putting himself at the center of Israel’s life, as the Messiah and the Father’s Son. His words and deeds indicate that his death and resurrection will mean the end of the Temple and its sacrifices and will mark him out as the eschatological Temple. All of this is said and done in an indirect and veiled way that fits an early stage in his ministry. Such an inaugural visit to Jerusalem and the Temple makes a good fit with what we know of Jesus’ messianic vocation and mission to Israel (p. 566).
V. ANSWERING OBJECTIONS TO AN EARLY CLEANSING
Chapple states that “the arguments against the early Temple event are not persuasive” (p. 567). He considers three objections.
First, some say that “Jesus would not have been able to intervene like this when he was largely unknown and without popular support, since those who were affected by his actions would have resisted him strongly” (p. 567). The author counters:
Those affected by what he did would have been too surprised and then too distracted to turn on him. He would only have faced resistance if he attempted to shut down their activities rather than just disrupting them. But this was no takeover bid, no occupation of the temple: ‘it was a prophetic or symbolic act, limited in area, intent, and duration’ (p. 567).
Second, some argue that “the Temple authorities would have taken strong measures to put a stop to his activities” (p. 567). Chapple counters that the authorities were not that strong and that “this view overlooks the fact that what happened was not a major upheaval, like a riot. It would have been over quickly, and would have left no significant damage” (p. 568).
Third, if Jesus had cleansed the Temple once, He would have been unable to do it a second time “because the authorities would ensure that it was not repeated” (p. 558). Chapple points out that “if there were two such events, they were separated by several years. During that interval Jesus visited Jerusalem a number of times, without engaging in any disruptive activity of this kind” (p. 558).
Chapple summarizes the major points of his argument:
We have argued that the Synoptic and Johannine accounts are simply too different to be versions of the same event…The common explanations for John’s relocation of this event are not very persuasive…We have considered seven pieces of evidence that fit an early Temple event…We have pointed out the weaknesses of the arguments that have been advanced against an early Temple event (p. 569).
Chapple’s article is a very artful defense of inerrancy. He never even uses the term inerrancy. He never chides those who disagree with him with having too broad a view of inerrancy. He simply gives objective reasons why two cleansings of the temple best fit the data of the NT.
This article is excellent. It is a must-read for anyone who has an interest in NT interpretation and in inerrancy. I highly recommend it.
1 Allan Chapple, “Jesus’ Intervention in the Temple: Once or Twice?,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58/3 (2015): 545-69.