John 2:13-25 – The Temple Incident

In the Synoptic Gospels, the Temple incident occurs in Jesus’s final week and is one of the main reasons for the arrest and execution of Jesus. But in the Gospel of John, Jesus goes to the Temple very early in his career, perhaps three years prior to the crucifixion. Is this story misplaced by John? Or were there two “Temple incidents”? There are several good reasons to see this as an early protest in the temple rather than the one just prior to the crucifixion. (See this post on Mark’s version of the Temple Incident and this post on the Temple in Mark’s Gospel.)

Jesus with a Whip

Most scholars think there was one temple clearing, at the end of Jesus’s ministry, resulting in the execution of Jesus. The synoptic gospels have the story in the right place, chronologically, John has moved the event based on theological motivations. What that motivation was varies from scholar to scholar, but it usually has something to do with foreshadowing the Passion at the beginning of the Gospel of John. This would be similar to Luke moving the rejection at Nazareth to the beginning of his gospel so that Jesus’s reading of Isaiah 61 becomes a “programmatic statement” for Jesus’s mission. In this view, the temple Incident sets the agenda for the rest of the Gospel, Jesus replaces the Temple as the focus of worship.

A growing minority of scholars, mostly evangelicals, think there were two separate events, an early clearing at the beginning of Jesus’s career and a second Temple Incident at the beginning of the Passion Week. As Leon Morris observes, aside from the central event (clearing the temple) there are only five words common to both the synoptic clearing story and the John clearing story (The Gospel According to John (Rev Ed.), 167, n. 55). But as D. A. Carson observes, “Against Morris, distinctiveness in detail and in vocabulary is so typical of John’s handling of any event reported both by Synoptists and John that the independence of narrative detail and locutions in the Fourth Gospel” (The Gospel according to John, PNTC, 177).

Craig Blomberg discusses the Temple Incident in his Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (IVP Academic, 2011) and concludes that there may have been two clearings of the temple. The Temple authorities overlooked the first protest since the selling in the temple was a new innovation. Jesus’s attack was on the buying and selling specifically, not the temple institution itself (as it is in his final week).

There is resistance to this view. Borchert thought the idea of two temple clearings is a “historiographical monstrosity that has no basis in the test of the Gospels” (John 1-11; NAC 25A, 160). C. Keener thinks it is historical implausible that Jesus would have over-tuned the tables then engage in public ministry for two or three years before being arrested (John, 1:518-9).

A small minority of scholars such as J. A. T. Robinson argue there was only one clearing, and John has the timing right. The Synoptic gospels moved the event from the beginning of Jesus‘s career to the end in order to explain why the Jewish leadership wanted to kill Jesus.

There are a few scholars that consider the story a creation of the early church. George Buchanan thought Mark created the story based on Jewish messianic hopes for what the Messiah ought to do when he comes (“Symbolic Money-Changes in the Temple?” NTS 37 (1991): 284). I am not inclined to dismiss the story entirely since it provides a pretext for Jesus’s execution. An angry, whip-wielding Jesus is not an image the early church would readily create.

But does it make sense that there were two “Temple Incidents”? Is there really any problem with John shifting the story to the beginning of Jesus’s mission because it serves his theological agenda better?

27 thoughts on “John 2:13-25 – The Temple Incident

  1. Phil,

    I am not sure that there is a problem. John also eliminates Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and exchanges communion with a foot washing , to name a few other examples. I think the gospel writers were not writing history but theology. However, they certainly incorporated history to promote that theology. It was not unusual to handle history this way as demonstrated in the way that Josephus changes details and events between the Jewish War and Antiquities. As an evangelical, I don’t find it troublesome at all.

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  2. While I have noticed in my readings of the gospels prior to this class that some stories are included in one gospel yet omitted in another, I had never really noticed that certain events such as the clearing of the temple are listed at a different time chronologically when comparing the different accounts. While I have always been taught and believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and is void of imperfections, it is things like this that make me wonder why exactly these differences are present throughout. While it isn’t necessarily a contradiction as the gospel writer just tells the story in a different place, it doesn’t match up with the other accounts. Although it seems that each gospel writer has his own unique theological message painted throughout his respective gospel, it would seem only fitting to me that the individual writer should stay within the limits of what is historically accurate rather than moving things around to better emphasize his point. Whether this was John’s motive in placing this event in a different context or there were simply two different occasions on which Jesus cleared the temple we cannot be certain. However, I cannot seem to reconcile the idea of having an inerrant gospel yet also having historical events moved around to cater to the desired theme of the gospel writer. I am not completely closed off to other interpretations or opinions on this matter and realize that I haven’t had time to give it much thought as I am just now within the last couple of months realizing some of these differences and beginning to question and challenge myself to discover why they are there. However, I believe that if God wanted a certain theological truth emphasized at a particular point in history, he would ordain the events to happen accordingly rather than prompt the gospel writer to create a different account of happenings.

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  3. I do not see a problem with John moving part of the historical event; everyone tells a story with a slight variance and this is one of John’s variances. John for whatever reason felt that it was necessary to place this story at the end of Jesus’ life. I think an evangelical can say that John moved it for theological reasons, but what can we really do about it now? John chose to tell his version of the story in that order so that he could make his point. It is like when people take a book and turn it into a movie; they take the story and all the events, and put them into the movie, most of the time in a different order than the book, but overall the same story is told and the same result and ending is the same it was just told in a different form.
    John places the temple clearing in John 2, where in Luke 19 it happens at the end of His life. John I believe was showing that it was not the reason in which the Pharisee’s went after Jesus, John was showing that it was an important part of Jesus life and it played a part in the reasons why they wanted to kill him, but John was making a theological statement that it was not THE reason.
    This is such a dramatic story, especially because Jesus is supposed to be so calm and loving. It in my opinion shows that He is fully human, and though He did not lose His temper He did react in a way that would minister to those who were onlookers. Showing that He had a true passion for how the house of the Lord was supposed to be treated. He was passionate about treating the place of the Lord as a holy place and not as a market.

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  4. I am at a loss, I read Maggie’s and then Kimmy’s comments and agreed with both as I read them. I believe that God could have and might have made things happen when he did historically if it was necessary theologically. And I don’t think that the writers would have manipulated history in order to fit their own theological aim. But every person tells the same story differently based on a number of things such as their personality, their experiences, and their own thoughts and mission in particular concerning Jesus. Being different, I think that allows them to tell the story differently, as Kimmy said. Being a big difference when we look closely, the story and result has the same effect. One thing that makes me glad about is that for the most part, this issue isn’t a hindrance to the gospel message of redemption and salvation as a whole. But for those of us who seek to know which is right and wrong, I don’t think that any of the accounts is wrong or even might I say moved, as Maggie cited 2 Timothy 3:16-17 would I have to agree and say that God wouldn’t have let it be necessary for any of the writers to manipulate history in their favor, but that God would have changed history, if the cause were that necessary. Perhaps the temple was cleared two different times, perhaps the others just didn’t include the both of them, and it could have been just one. As Maggie said, I can’t be certain of which account is the right one, but rather take faith in the inerrant word of God and ultimately that it is what it is. Whether one writer includes or omits what stories he chooses, the writing and those words are overseen and ordained by God.

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  5. In one of your previous blogs I remember reading about the argument for only one temple clearing on the basis of the magnitude of such a statement. The main point of the argument was the people who were making money in the Temple would not have let Jesus’ acts simply slide by. Although the initial Temple clearing may have been overlooked by Jewish leaders “since the selling had just begun”, it does not seem as though the people in position to make money would have been pleased with Jesus’ actions. The chronology of the Temple clearing (if there was only one) within the Gospel of John does not create a false history in my opinion. With all of the Gospel’s, especially John, the point was not to give an accurate account of Scripture as much as it was to tell the story of Jesus’ ministry. Retelling the story will of course give us some historical framework, this however is not the main thrust of the Gospel writers.

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  6. When I was first reading this the thought that popped in my head was “does this matter even in the slightest bit?” I can see how this could maybe matter a little bit when you look at it as “John “moving” a historical event from the end of Jesus’ life to the beginning” because then it could be said that John has his Gospel in all sorts of different order than the rest in order to prove his point that Christ is Messiah.
    That is where my amount of cares ends though. We know from the other three gospels that Christ is the Messiah, so why would it even matter if John changed the order of things a touch to add dramatic effect? Now, some of the above people have stated that God would not allow this to happen, or even go so far that He would change history to make it accurate. This seems a touch much. Sure He could easily do that, but again, why would He?

    Just an FYI as well, I am super tired and worn out from youth group as I am writing this, so my patience and sympathy is at -74 right now so it is quite possible that I am taking this much to far in the opposite direction. Also, its possible I am missing the entire point of this post and that is why I don’t see a reason as to why this matters.

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  7. I do not think of it as John “moving” a historical event. To be honest, I do not think it is important to be arguing whether or not there are two temples clearings or not. It doesn’t matter because we should be looking at the big picture. Each book is unique and different. They tell us different things about Jesus and his kingdom. I like seeing stories at different angles. I agree with Kimberly Haney that people tell stories differently. I believe that John put the story of Jesus clearing the temple in chapter 2 of John rather than before Jesus death like it is in Luke for a reason. The book of Luke and the book of John have different themes. This allows believer to see the story in a way we never saw it before. I don’t think that John is creating a false history because the story for the most part stays the same. Each author is telling the story of Christ from a different point of view. Each view is important and teaches believers about who Jesus was, how Jesus acted, and what he has done for us on the cross.

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  8. I don’t think there is anything wrong with John moving the placement of the temple incident. He had reasons for doing that and we just have to understand it the way he intended us to. I would also say that there was only one event. It seems out of character for Jesus, who had been trying to keep some what of a low profile in the early and middle stages of his ministry, telling people not to tell other of miracles he had performed. Why then would he do something near the beginning of his ministry that would cause so much attention to be directed his way?

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  9. While the Gospels are incredibly historical in nature, they are all deeply theological as well. It seems that on the spectrum, John gives up a bit of historical purpose in order to better serve his stronger purpose of theological persuasion and apology. I see nothing wrong in John shifting the temple incident to a different time that it happened. For all we know, the synoptic did the same thing. I don’t see that shift as proper excuse for dismisses John as historically accurate. We do this sort of thing everyday. When I do reports on book or articles I do not always (in fact I rarely) present the material in the order it was written. I quite freely reorganize the information to better suit my purposes. This does not make what was said any less said. It does not make any truth less true.

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  10. If there was only one clearing of the temple i do not find a problem with John moving it. He is not falsely presenting history, if it happened it happened, even if it was at a different time that it occurred. I am still unsure if this occurred once or twice, but it being moved to a different place in the timeline does not affect that this did happen and it did occur. If John did move this story he most likely had reasoning for it.

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  11. I’ve had a really hard time transitioning from Catholicism to Christianity, though there are many similarities between the two. And during my venture into Christianity, I was led to believe that scripture stood for something different than it actually meant. So it’s things like this, possibilities of altering or moving a date to accommodate someone’s needs that bother me a little. Though John probably doesn’t intent to deceive or trick people like I was deceived before, there’s still reason to believe that there might be an accidental error in the dates of the clearing of the temple. However, as Maggie stated in her comment, I too stand by the bible being “the inspired Word of God and is void of imperfections” but I can’t help but wonder why the confusion between the gospels on this given event? Wouldn’t it be easier and less chances of misinterpretations or called out on its honesty if it was clearly stated when it happened or if there was more than one clearing? As I said, though, I don’t believe that John is purposely creating a false story; I just think that the vagueness of dating on the event leaves room for many to disbelieve what he says.

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    • I do not have an issue with this possibly being moved around for dramatic effect. Like others have said, it does not take away from its importance and the magnitude of what Jesus did. The temple incident was a great example of the power Jesus possess and the wrath that should not be questioned. What a powerful example.

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  12. Understanding this is important. The importance of this is in the fact that if we do not find a way to understand why there are two accounts of a temple incident on at two different times between the synoptics and John, then there in an inherent contradiction that challenges the historicity of the Gospel accounts. One of the main arguments against Christianity from people is the apparent contradictions in the gospels. If we do not have an answer for these beyond just believing it because we believe it must be right, then we will struggle to explain the gospel to these people. I have no problem with John moving the time of the temple incident to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John makes no claims to be giving a history of the life of Jesus. Rather it is as Borchert says, a “testimony”. “By letting John write from his own postresurrection perspective, we do not give up on history but allow the book to be what the author intended it to be—a testimony.” John is giving a testimony of Jesus for people to understand him, and why he came. This is not a contradiction, just a false expectation of a 21st century audience to the book. I think it is essential that we do not simply dismiss things as unimportant because we have a presupposed theology that overpowers an apparent contradiction.

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  13. I don’t find an issue with on how John decided to organize his gospel because He might of been trying to give readers a different perspective on the ministry of Jesus. Sometimes rearranging events or stories helps reveal other ideas that might have been left out of the picture. Or not necessarily left out but gives you a different approach on how the author wants you to consume his message. Which could be the case with John because I think introducing the cleansing of the temple that early in Jesus’ ministry is not possible for this to be considered a mistake. As illustrated in a timeline created by Kostenberger, Jesus ministry was approximately three years long which is a pretty lengthy period to bring an event from the end of his ministry into the beginning (Kostenberger, 67). Which does bring up the question of why John decided to introduce the cleaning of the temple so early. Although I don’t know the reasoning behind Johns order of events, I do believe all scripture is God-breathed and can be corrected if needed (2 Timothy 3:16). So to whatever message God wanted John to convey, Im sure Johns writings were inspired by the hand of God and followed his agenda for us.

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  14. I would have to say that I agree with the view that Keener has. It would seem strange that Jesus would be allowed to continue His ministry for three years after such an outburst in the temple. The temple was “a symbol of Jewish national and religious identity” and for them to let someone rage through the temple and then go on challenging them for years would be highly improbable (Kostenberger, 60). It would seem more likely that this incident would have occurred at the end of Jesus ministry. The fact that three out of four of the gospels put this incident towards the end of Jesus’ ministry is an important thing to note and should not be overlooked. However, all we can do is debate and defend our ideas and theories, we are not explicitly told. Now, if John did move events around to fit his agenda, we must also remember that it is God’s agenda too because all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, if there was only one occurrence and John did move it, God intended it to be so. Just in the same way that maybe the Synoptic Gospels were only supposed to include the second incident and John the first. With this knowledge, I do not see there being a problem with events being out of order if it helps clarify a point that is being made in the book of John.

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  15. It would seem posible that there were two temple incidents, but I think a better argument is that there was the one and only temple clearing. We see throughout John’s Gospel that he does things very differently. He speaks about things differently, he adds different things and has many things out of order when comparing to the synoptic Gospels. This should not suprise us that John decides to put this story in a different spot considering his agenda when writing his Gospel. He had a theological agenda to explain and show his readers. This seems like the plausible answer to me.

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    • hey Parker I would agree with you. since John has his own way and organization I think it would have only had the one temple clearing. John has a different way of explaining what happened and maybe it was to help us to better understand Jesus’ time here on earth and what he was trying to accomplish.

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  16. I would say that it would be ok if John moved it to fit his theological agenda because, in reality, his agenda was the agenda of the Holy Spirit. I think that we have put together two ideas, one idea is that people today moving scripture around to fit their agendas, and the apostle’s agenda, which as I said was really Holy Spirits agenda. these two things are completly different, that is why I do not really have a problem with it. I do however know the scripture is complete today, there are no more changing things around, this situation does not take away from the inerrancy of scripture or anything.
    I also like this passage because it shows how all things can be done with holyness. Christ overturned the tables and he was angry, however, it was just anger.

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  17. I personally believe that there was one temple cleansing, but after reading the textbook and hearing this other theories, my mind kind of thinks otherwise. Kostenberger uses this term called a doublet which means that there are “two occurrences of the same type of event during Christ’s ministry,” (Kostenberger, 62). It is not the first time that a doublet is scene in scripture because Mark has two feedings of the people reflected in Jesus’ time (Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-13, NIV). Through these events, it is shown that Jesus can perform the same miracle twice at different periods in his ministry. So, this poses the idea that possibly there could have been two incidents in the temple. This is because of the times that John writes and also the times that the synoptic Gospels write the event. John describes that the temple incident happened a few days before his base ministry in Capernaum (Kostenberger, 63). So, this appears to have a date posted which means that this event has been put into a chronological sequence rather than a theological one, which seems to be John’s pattern. To help support this doublet idea, the Synoptic Gospels talk about the incident in the temple and date it to being the day after the triumphal entry. So, this shows that these Gospels have separate time stamps for this event. This makes me believe that the temple cleansing happened at two separate times during Jesus’ time.

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  18. The timeline of Jesus cleansing the temple is an interesting topic for if John deliberately puts the event at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry rather than the end or if there are actually two different events where Jesus does this. There is a possibility that Jesus cleansed the temple on multiple occasions and that each gospel only recorded it once, however, this is why I feel that it is more probable that Jesus only did it once. Kostenberger seems to think that Jesus did it twice saying, “It seems more likely that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, and that John records only the first instance while the Synoptic writers report only the second.” (Kostenberger, 62). He argues that because everything that does line up in all four gospels is so chronologically close, it would be extremely hard to remove the story to fit it perfectly in another section of John’s gospel, therefore making him believe that two cleansings did take place.
    So then the question is, did John take this story of Jesus cleansing the temple and place it earlier in his gospel and if so, is that wrong? If John did write this event out of order, it does cause a little bit of confusion (as it is clearly seen by this post) but the intent behind it would be to allow his reader to have a better understanding of Jesus fulfilling the identity of the new temple, the real way of redemption, something he has been emphasizing from the beginning in John 1:1-18. Moving the cleansing of the temple then I think is fine because the fact of salvation is in play over the idea that all the events have to be in chronological order.

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  19. I literally do not have a clue with this question in the slightest. I was praying asking God what His thoughts are on this and the thought came to mind how His heart must hurt. The place where He longs to be with His people, they are making into a market. How He longs to have them worship and praise Him! To see them dance before Him with smilies on their faces. To see them talking with one another about His faithfulness in their lives and encouraging one another. But rather, the temple is full of merchants, selling animals at high prices.
    Kostenberger writes, “His holiness and righteousness could not bear to see
    how God’s house was desecrated whenever he observed such abuse,”(Kostenberger, 64).
    God’s heart was not please with this, for this was His holy house.
    I do not know if there was two temple incidents or one, but I do not that God does not like when
    we use His house for our own benefit. His House is to be honored above all.
    Today, we see this.
    We see this in the church.
    We see how it is like the world, consuming things for one self.
    The church is like this and how we come with the “please me” mindset.
    We desire the music to be to our taste, the sermon to feed us for the week, volunteers to open the doors for us,
    kid programs to our standards, youth groups that are entertaining, adult bible studies that only have the people we like in them
    and so much more.
    But God’s heart is for His house to be pure!
    For it to be filled with prayer and worship.

    “My love for you has my heart on fire!
    My passion consumes me for your house!
    Nothing will turn me away,
    even though I endure all the insults of those who insult you.”
    Psalm 69:9

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  20. If I am being honest, prior to this semester, I have not spent a lot of time reading and working through the Gospel of John, so I would not have noticed that the Temple Incident was placed out of order of Jesus’s other signs. As mentioned, many scholars believe there was only one temple clearing, which would go along with the Synoptic Gospels, chronologically. I am not quite sure if I agree with the idea that John had moved the event to earlier on in his Gospel for his own theological motivations. I believe I cannot make that decision for or against it; I would need more information surrounding that idea. However, some scholars entertain the idea that there were two different instances of Temple Incidents, which could make sense. I did like how Tori makes sense of the possibility of two instances. There is the possibility that a doublet had occurred in the writing of the Gospels, meaning there are “two occurrences of the same type of even during Christ’s ministry.” (Köstenberger 62) It could be possible that Jesus had been a part of two Temple Incidents. Could it have been possible that Jesus had had more than one incident at the Temple? In keeping with the idea that Jesus cleared the Temple once, Jesus could have gone to the Temple multiple times and the people would not listen or change their actions, so Jesus had to keep coming back, until finally he was fed up with their actions and completed the sign of overturning the money changer tables and cleansed the Temple.

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  21. I would say Johns placing of the Temple Incident would be okay if it lined up with his theological point he was attempting to get across. As we’ve been learning in class John is very different than the Synoptics and with that being said I don’t have any reason as to why the placing of it historically would be a problem. Though people have their own opinion, like said above “Most scholars think that there is only one temple clearing” (Long para 2), there is only one real answer and unfortunately only God knows how many of them there actually were. According to Kostenberger “two occurrences of the same type of even during Christ’s ministry.” (62) It could be very possible that there were two of these occurrences, and Jesus had been a part of both. But, John does have some similar versions of stories that the Synoptics provide us with, so in all actuality John could just be repeating what had happened before. I personally don’t like putting Christ in a box and limiting what he could do, if he’s done it once why wouldn’t he do it again if he had a legitimate purpose. This relates back to when he flipped the tables in the place of worship, maybe these people rebelled again, against the command that was made the first time. So Jesus once again had righteous anger and did it all over again, in hopes that the second time would make them change. As mentioned in Jeremiah 4:22 “For My people are foolish, They know Me not; They are stupid children And have no understanding They are shrewd to do evil, But to do good they do not know” The people could just have simply ignored Jesus the first time and acted foolish, stupid etc. and all together ignored Jesus. Thus proves the second Temple Incident to be true.

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  22. Reading through the idea of the timeline in which Jesus was in the temple flipping over the tables and clearing it out. I believe that there was only the one-time Jesus did this compared to the two times that it could’ve happened according to this article. The article talked about Jesus getting crucified after the time he had in the temple and that could’ve been part of the reason he was crucified. But thinking that if that was a reason and he did it twice why wouldn’t they kill him after the first time in his ministry if there was a first time and let him walk from that and wait to get him the second time. That doesn’t make much sense at all. Along with that people would remember the mass chaos that broke out while Jesus did this so after the first time, I think that the people would think twice about doing that again and remember that the temple was God’s home on earth. Another point about ruining the timeline with this idea that Jesus flipped the tables at the end of his ministry would also make sense because Jesus was the Messiah and the new heaven and way to heaven on earth. Jesus was talking a lot about the temple and what would happen to it so he might be also talking about what the temple should look like and be. Jesus talked a lot about himself what if this idea of Jesus flipping the tables of all the “Sin” that was in the temple that as Jesus is the temple he soon too will be filled with our sin. So thinking about these points of thinking I believe that there was only the one time that Jesus flipped the tables in the temple.

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  23. I really believe that there is only one temple incident. I think that John has his own style of writing and way that he saw things. He experienced things in different ways then the other Gospel writers. As far as him shifting the temple incident to the beginning of his book I do not see a problem with it. Once again he was a witness to what he saw and every eyewitness account varies to a degree so maybe he recalled the incident earlier than the other disciples. Or perhaps the theory that he moved it to the front of his book for theological reasons is plausible. In this case where there are discrepancies we just have to trust God because he is sovereign over all and knows why some things do not make sense to us. To God all things make sense.

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  24. The temple incident is sort of my favorite story of Jesus because it shows his anger in the most righteous way. I can see how people/scholars think that there could be more than one temple cleaning. But I like to think of it this way, Jesus came to this temple incident, and drove the corruption out. The temple was being used in the wrong way which makes sense that Jesus would have been upset about this in order for Him to get upset. I also think of the temple clearing of a foreshadow of the work Jesus did on the cross. HE wanted to clear His temple (the world) because of the corruption and sin of the world and wanted to clear the world of sin. If this makes sense, it seems like a great illustration. However, I think that there was one specific clearing, because things were just not right within the temple.

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  25. I had never thought of two separate events only as one just perhaps out of order. And had always viewed this story in a different light. Especially as a younger person always imagined Jesus in a sort of rage running and hitting the merchants, but in fact I would be a justified righteousness anger. Especially in the second cleaning as the practice would have become pervasive and overwhelming the intended purpose of there service. It makes much more sense given the historical context of sacrifices and offerings.

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