Selling in the Temple?

It seems strange that there were vendors set up in the Temple courts selling animals.  Usually Christians think of these people in a very negative light, since Jesus does run them out of the place and calls then a bunch of thieves.  Christian preachers sometimes over-emphasize that the sellers were taking a very high profit from the Passover visitor who must by an animal at the Temple.  I myself am guilty of drawing an analogy to buying food at an airport, it is always more expensive since there is no free market.

But is this a fair reading of these “sellers and money changers”?   Who are these people selling animals and changing money in the Temple?

It was very difficult to travel to Jerusalem with a lamb for the Passover sacrifice. If it was injured or found to be in some way unclean, then the worshiper would not have a sacrifice for the festival. To assist people in their Temple authorities sold “pre-approved” lambs for people traveling from the Diaspora for the Passover Festival.

The sellers are vending oxen and pigeons along with sheep. These might be thought of as the high and low end of the sacrifice scale. A wealthy man may choose to sacrifice an ox while a poor person could only afford a pigeon. Doves were required for women making a cleansing sacrifice, only the High Priest was required to make a sacrifice of a bovine. Both of these types of sacrifices would be difficult to deliver to Jerusalem, especially if the worshiper was traveling from a distant city such as Ephesus or Rome. It would be virtually impossible to bring an ox that distance, a pigeon might not last the whole trip!

These sellers are therefore providing a reasonable service to travelers arriving at the Temple. The pilgrim could be sure that they could purchase an acceptable animal once they arrived at the Temple.

Why would they sell the animals in the Temple courts? Ed Sanders questions whether anyone would sell animals in the court of Gentiles since there would be a great deal of straw, excrement, and noise – all of which would be offensive to the worshipers entering the Temple. There were shops outside the Temple which could be used to sell animals and change money.

Von Wahlde, however, points out that Sanders may be correct for normal times in the Temple service, but during Passover such a huge number of sacrifices were required that it is possible that booths were allowed in the court of the Gentiles in order to handle the crowds. None of the Gospels imply the whole Gentile court was given over to the selling of animals.  Perhaps a larger area was open for sales during the Passover, at other times sales were prohibited.  Either way, for the most part these sellers were providing a service most people found helpful.

If this is true, what was Jesus problem with the sellers and money changers?

13 thoughts on “Selling in the Temple?

  1. If suggest that his problem had to do with the market’s corruption in. Connection to the temple’s corruption. The Sadducees were in the high priesthood as a result of regular bribery of roman officials. The high priesthood was handed around between members of a particularly wealthy family. The temple markets were run by a nephew of the current high priest… Some scholars suggest that significant corruption existed in this setup, the market was a money making venture… Ripping off the people. Further, the money changers were exchanging Roman currency for temple currency at a steep exchange rate. They did this because roman money featured the face of Caesar, a graven image. The Jews considered it sinful and unfit for offering in the temple. So they minted their own money and robbed the people blind just to make an offering. Jesus’ objection was to the “den of thieves” who were fleecing God’s people.

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  2. The priest of that day were pre-clearing those animals, but they had defects and the priest were in on the take.

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    • I think this is the most obvious form of corruption, based on Malachi’s condemnation of the priests just after the exile. But I am not aware of an actual report in the first century AD of this kind of practice. PatchingCracks (the comment above yours) suggests the aristocracy was getting kickbacks on money exchanges, etc. Again, possible if not likely, but I am not sure about the evidence.

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  3. In Matthew 21:13 before Jesus accuses the the people in the temple to be a bunch of thieves, he says something that I believe to be very important, “My house will be called a house of prayer”. The temple was therefore not being used as a house of prayer at the time. “The money changers were turning God’s house from a house of prayer into a ‘den of robbers’” (Strauss 481). I believe that this is something that is often neglected when looking into the reason Jesus turned over the tables in the temple. His problem with the money changers was that they were turning the house of prayer into a market. They were practicing religion just as the religious leaders were. Would Jesus flip over tables because social injustice was being served? I do not believe so. The flipping of tables was done because of how the temple was being used. Jesus was upset because the temple was not being “A house of prayer for all nations” Mark 11:17, it was a marketplace. God desired the temple to be used for so much more than offering sacrifices. Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” The people in the temple were not concerned with relationship. They were instead concerned with tradition, and that is a major factor into why I believe Jesus was upset with the money changers and sellers.

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  4. I agree with what Jake says, Jesus says that His house is a house of prayer. I would say that this means that the temple was made to glorify the Lord and to offer sacrifices to Him. Over time, people began to understand the difficulties of traveling long distances in order to bring a sacrifice to the Lord, so they made it more convenient. It is a lot like how texting has made communication easier, but at the same time has altered the way people speak to one another in person (in a bad way). Good intentions, but bad results. There are obviously pros and cons for texting, and there are definitely pros and cons for selling sacrificial animals in the temple.
    It is a lot easier to take advantage of someone who has no other option. Like you said, people were traveling from far off lands and the animals simply couldn’t survive the trip. So by providing the only sacrificial animals, it is not surprising that the cost could be inflated. Also like you said, it is just like an airport. There is no other way to buy food except what is in the airport. So the cost is going to be much higher then it should be.

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  5. Was it actually impossible for Jews to get an ox or pigeon from Rome to Jerusalem? Or was it just really difficult? Or was it just really expensive and costly? I am sure those selling in the temple started out with good intentions. It would be more convenient to just simply buy an animal perfect for a sacrifice right there at the temple instead of dealing with the burden of having to take care of it. But when worship is easy it is dull. And pretty soon it isn’t even worship anymore. That’s how we people are. We become apathetic when things don’t mean a lot to us. And that ox or dove or lamb didn’t mean much to the people who were coming to buy them. What is God, Jesus, really frustrated about here? Jesus quotes Jeremiah 7:11 by calling the temple a den of thieves. In Jeremiah God is frustrated that the people believe lies about what it means to worship the Lord and becoming complacent because of their false beliefs. It sounds a lot like what is happening in Jesus’ day in the Temple. So it seems Jesus’ problem with the moneychangers is the lie they are telling God’s people that worship can be easy. That having someone die for your sins is just another step to be carried out in the life of a Jew or Israelite.

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  6. According to Mark 11:15-17 these sellers and money changers were doing BIG business. Jesus was mad about the open and freely visible sin and injustice. The inflated exchange rate enriched the money changers, and the ridiculous prices of animals made the merchants wealthy. Their stalls were set up in the temples court of the Gentiles, making it all but impossible for non-Jews to spend any time in worship (Isaiah 56:6, 7). Jesus had every right to be angry at the fact that Gods house of worship had become a place of coercion and an obstacle to Gentiles who wanted to worship. I completely agree with Von Wahlde. Because of the probable crowds during Passover, I can imagine sellers and money changers taking sections of the Gentile court. This does seem very helpful to the traveling Jews and worshippers, but I bet Jesus wouldn’t have had a problem with a fair price taking place somewhere in the city where the temple was close by. Obviously that’s speculation which is probably a bad thing. Those folks did it and because they did it we have a valuable lesson given.

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  7. When I was reading this post, I had the same thought that Sanders did. These “sellers” may have been providing a service, though it’s not certain that all were, but why sell them IN the Temple? Why not near it? In the passage of Matthew 21 where this happens, Jesus seems to focus on worship as the reason he was so upset. The Temple was to be the house of God, a sacred place for people to come and worship God like nowhere else. Even though the people selling these animals in the Temple may have been providing a service for people to make worship easier, (I doubt everyone doing it was to provide a service), it was still a use of the Temple that was not worship. Treating the Temple like a market and a bank is not treating it as a place of worship. I think that was Jesus’ main issue.

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  8. Even though the sellers and money changers may have been doing a service to the temple, they were not doing it the right way. I feel like could have been just as easy to do these things just outside the temple rather than inside it. In Matthew 21:13, Jesus describes the temple as “The house of prayer.” In this time, people were not using the Temple for these reasons and it began to upset Jesus. The Temple was to be a place of worship and prayer and the sellers turned it into something completely different. They turned it into a market and a place of greed instead of focusing on what was truly important.

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  9. It does seem that it was a helpful service, but just because it was a helpful service, does not mean that was the right spot to be selling and buying animals. Jesus came in and was in obvious anger about how the Temple was being used, we can be certain what they were doing was not right by how Jesus reacted. I think he was mad about the heart of the people who were selling and buying. They were selling at high prices to make more profits, the Temple should have been a place to worship and to glorify God, and this is not what people were doing.

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  10. This is a very interesting article. I have never heard the background of this story until now. It kind of makes sense why Jesus is upset. The purpose of the temple is to glorify God and to worship him. I understand that the animals were sold so people could do sacrifices to glorify God and I understand that the coins needed to be exchanged to not represent a different god, but all of that can be done outside of the temple. I know this quote has been used but I think it does a really good job of illustrating the motivation of Jesus to cleanse the temple. “Jesus objects that the money changers and sellers are changing God’s house from a house of prayer into a “den of robbers” (Strauss 480). Even at age 12, Jesus knew that the temple was His father’s house (Luke 2:49). How can people build a relationship with God if they are destracted by other things that are going on in the temple? God had the temple built because he was inviting people to come and worship him.

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  11. I really agreed with Jessica’s take on this. I wonder if the issue was not just in the Temple’s outrageous prices (although they could have been outrageous) or even selling poor-quality sacrifices (which, again, could have become an issue at some point). I wonder if rather it was an issue with the very spirit of the Mosaic Law. The Law was not supposed to be easy to follow. Although it made allowances for socio-economic differences (seen in the various options given for animals to sacrifice), the Law was never meant to be an easily attainable goal. Rather, the Law was given to show us how sinful we are apart from God. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20).

    Could it be that the heart of Jesus’ frustration was the over-simplification of the Law? If worshippers could purchase sacrificial animals at the Temple without any difficulty, did that in some way defeat the purpose? I think it is worth considering that maybe the Law was supposed to be difficult, and Jesus viewed the practices going on as lazy and rather un-worshipful. On top of the attitude issue, the atmosphere of worship was being disrupted by the commerce taking place, as well as monetary corruption which was likely going on.

    Jesus was consistently concerned with people’s heart attitude toward the Law, as evidenced in Matthew 15. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules” (Matt:15:8-9).

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