Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Temple Cleansing in John

I've spent the past couple of days mulling over John 2:13ff and thought this might be an interesting topic to begin discussing. The two main difficulties that I've been wrestling with are 1) the placement of the Temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the FG; 2) the symbolic significance of Jesus' act.

Regarding the first issue, I am open to the possibility that there were actually two Temple cleansings during Jesus' ministry. The differences between John's account and the Synoptics at least allow for the possibility that there were two cleansings. Furthermore, several scholars note that John 1-5 contains traditions that are unique to the FG, suggesting that the Evangelist is narrating a period of Jesus' ministry that is unrecorded in the Synoptics. I know that this is the minority position. Regardless, the Evangelist seems to portray a Jesus that is motivated by different factors (note the absence of an appeal to Isa 56:7). This could also allow for the possibility that there two cleansings.

Regarding the second issue (and more important in my opinion), I am open to Jesus expressing opposition to the priestly class (the corruption of the Temple authorities is well documented by C. Evans and R. Bauckham). I am ALSO open to Jesus' act being understood as symbolic of the temple's destruction and replacement (by him). This latter point is based on the presence of a possible allusion to Zech 14:21 in John 2:16b, Jesus' response in 2:19, and the larger 'replacement' theme in the FG.

In my view, the distinction between Jesus' act as a "cleansing/purification" (eg. Evans) or a "symbol of the Temple's destruction" (Sanders) is an unwarranted disjunction.

Any thoughts . . .


Rafael Rodriguez said...

The problem with 'cleansing/purification', I think, is that most people don't really know what they mean by it (or at least, I wouldn't). Is this the 'Judaism is corrupt' line, or 'the Temple system is corrupt', or what? Then, does Jesus' act restore the Temple (i.e., is it then 'cleansed')?

I think the hypothesis of two 'Temple incidents' would require stronger bases than those provided. According to the synoptics Jesus' actions in the Temple are the primary motivation behind his execution, and I think this is plausible historically. To suggest that Jesus did this kind of thing once, hung around to have a discussion about it, slipped away, and then did it again a year or two later (only to stick around and have another discussion about it) seems quite implausible.

Is there any reason why you think it less likely that John has 'fronted' the Temple incident for theological, ideological or programmatic reasons?

Mowens said...

I agree that the language of "cleansing" is problematic. As you seem to point out, it simply is not specific enough. At least as for as the FG goes, I'm open to the suggestion that Jesus is alluding to the temple's fulfillment and thus the end of the sacrificial system.

As far as the historical plausibility of two "cleansings," I do agree that it seems historically implausible. I don't even have a problem with the Evangelist fronting the cleansing for theological reasons. At this point, I tend to think that the differences between John and the Synoptics (both in terms of the immediate context and the larger structure) at least allow for the possibility of two cleansings.

Mowens said...

I'll try to get in the happen of checking my posts better:-) I would want to rephrase my above comments about the implausibility of two cleansings. That language is too strong (and contradictory), obviously. I guess I would say that two cleansings is difficult to account for, but not necessarily implausible.

Michael F. Bird said...

1. Despite Carson's arguments for two cleansings, I really think John has projected the account earlier in his Gospel for thematic and theological reasons.
2. I can't imagine Jesus trying to purify the temple (Mk. 11.15-17) if he also predicted its destruction (Mark 13). You don't clean and detail a car before taking it to the wrecking yard.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Paula Fredriksen has an interesting piece on the topic: "Gospel Chronologies, the Scene in the Temple, and the Crucifixion of Jesus" (PDF).

Fredriksen argues that Jesus had performed a symbolic cleansing of the Temple on every passover of his ministry with little disturbance and thought relatively harmless until that final year, when the crowds began to identify Jesus as the coming Messiah, with the effect of spooking Pilate and Caiaphas into having Jesus eliminated quickly.

Mowens said...

Thanks for alerting me to this piece. I might just incorporate it into my thesis (you'll be credited for pointing it to me, of course!). I've been toying with doing another post on the chronology of the temple cleansing and your comments might have just put me over the edge.


Anonymous said...

Regarding whether there were two cleansings or not, I think there was only one. If there had been two then at least one of the gospels should have mentioned the other. You mention that John 1-5 deals with a part of Jesus' ministry that is not covered by the synoptics, but John also devoted 9 chapters to Jesus' last days--more than any other writer--without any hint of a second cleansing. If there was a second cleansing, John should have mentioned it.

Also, the similarities in the stories (in Jerusalem, overturned the tables, moneychangers, drove them out, and doves) outweigh the differences (sheep and oxen, whip of cords, words of Jesus, disciple's remembrance) with only one exception and that is the time in Jesus' ministry it happened. John has different dialogue for Jesus in every story that any of the other gospel writers also report. Examine, for instance, that in order to fulfill prophecy the synoptics claim that Jesus said nothing (Mark and Matthew) or little (Luke) before Pilate while John has him very verbose.

One more point. There are two different stories about the flood. Did Noah get flooded twice? There are two different people mentioned as killers of Goliath. Did he die twice? There are two different endings to Judas. Was he resurrected? There are two very different lineages of Joseph. Were there two different Josephs represented as Jesus' father? There are three different versions of Saul's demise. Did he kill himself or did someone else? There are four different versions of the Ten Commandments. Which is correct? And, most important, there are two different versions of the creation. Were there two different creations? I think not.

I believe that this is another proof that the Bible is NOT inspired by God.

Curt said...

Hey Kids, two temple cleansings, as they are called, are not implausible. Look at them as bookends, one at each end of his public ministry....both speak to his zeal for His Father's house from start to finish of his ministry. Both of them speak to his denunciation of the greed and exploitation that kept people from having free and uninterrupted access to the Father in prayer...there's no contradiction between the Synoptic gospels and John's gospel account....He is putting in events and dialogue that wasn't captured by the synoptic writers, not contradicting them.....