• Temple Cleansing "Contradiction"

    When did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?

    Contradiction hunters may have done Bible-believers a favour when it comes to their old favourite, “when did Jesus cleanse the Temple?” In each of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – the event comes at the end, only days before his arrest. However, St. John’s book doesn’t say that. He describes a temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry shortly after attending the wedding at Cana. (John 2:11-16) The occasions are similar enough to assume they were the same event but different enough to assume someone made a mistake. Surely this “contradiction” deserves to go to the top of the pile of those touted by the skeptics?

    A common reply is that John’s focus is theological, and his writings not intended to be followed in date order, but such an answer is inadequate. Wasn’t the book of Galatians also theological in focus, yet it contains specific date information concerning the history of the early Church? (Gal 1:18 – 2:1)

    Also, cynics are quick to point out how often John says, “after this” and “following that” and “sometime later,” indicating sequence. John’s primary purpose may well have been theological but, like the synoptic gospels, he still meant to write things as they happened. He simply got the temple incident wrong they say. Bad luck to the fundamentalists! Another inspired writer makes a mistake!

    So the problem remains, but did the contradiction hunters do us a favour in pointing it out? Perhaps so, because it is Christian artists themselves who depict cowering traders getting the bite at the end of Jesus whip. Matthew never said so; neither did Mark; neither did Luke. Only John mentions a whip but in the context of cattle. He made the whip to drive cows and sheep, not people – though it might be suggested sensible people got out of his road.

    Actually Christian apologists have been blest by the criticism because it forces us to better research the abuse going on in the temple at this time, and in exploring it; some interesting background has been unearthed. The historian Josephus mentions the “bazaars of Annas.” This wealthy high priest had four sons and apparently the family was making double profit, firstly by selling sacrificial animals to folk coming to do sacrifice. Secondly, by declaring Roman and Greek coins with inscriptions of Caesar ‘unclean’ due to the pagan image, they required such coins be exchanged for Jewish “kosher” money. The money-changers made handsome profits. Even the sale of doves, according to another Jewish source, had become a racket. Dove sacrifice was designed by God for the poor but it had become so expensive that ordinary people could barely afford it.

    If anything, scenarios of the temple as painted in secular records confirm our biblical descriptions. People traveled to Jerusalem and purchased animals from the market at the temple and it had become a rip-off. Jesus challenged these ungodly practices and in so doing challenged the authority of the High Priest himself.

    Nevertheless, the original question remains. When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?

    Jesus Cleared the Temple Twice!

    If there really was a contradiction between John and the other gospels concerning the clearing of the temple, it would be a single error about timing. John says it happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry but Matthew, Mark and Luke say at the end. Now, when an author makes a mistake, he is unlikely to combine three or four errors for good measure. However, timing wasn’t the only difference in this case. So, when the reader notices not one but several differences, we may be excused for wondering if there might be another explanation. Could it be there was no mistake made at all and Jesus cleared the temple twice?

    Take, for example, the route Jesus used to get to Jerusalem. In the closing weeks of his ministry he came up via Jericho, having traveled on the eastern side – modern day Jordan. This is explained in the synoptic gospels due to his wish to avoid Samaria. However, in the first year he used the direct north-south route. John says concerning his journey home, “So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria.” (John 4:3-4)

    It might also be worth noting how, when he arrived home, his ‘temple cleansing’ episode was the ‘talk of the town’ among the Galileans. “When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.” (John 4:45) These folk were particularly vulnerable to the sacrificial temple trade because of cattle transport distance.

    Of course, the journey back from Jerusalem highlights an even more obvious difference between the two ‘cleansings.’ On the second occasion Jesus never got back; he was arrested! On the first occasion after he cleansed the temple, he left, spent some time baptising, (John 3:22) then proceeded home as we have noted.

    A significant discussion took place in John’s account which is not recorded by the others. In the exchange the Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20) This information enables historians to date the year at AD 27 because Herod the Great began construction in 19/20 BC. (Herod’s reign is well documented) It follows therefore, that, if the temple stories were all the same incident, Jesus’ death must have also been AD 27. However, that year is too early for the crucifixion, suggesting rather that a temple cleansing occurred twice.

    Finally, it might be asked if Jesus’ actions did any good apart from venting righteous anger. Well, no cattle are mentioned being whipped out of the temple on the last occasion so maybe they partially reformed the abuses by taking the cattle stalls out of the temple precincts. We don’t know for sure, but that would explain why no whip was made that time. Even so, the doves and money changing continued as before, hence a final judgment on the practice at the end of Jesus’ ministry.

    Jesus’ Ministry was 3½ Years

    The “2-cleansings” debate has done us another favour as well. By resolving a superficial contradiction, the timeline of Jesus’ ministry comes into clear focus. Was it two years or three? Some have even asked if it lasted a mere one year, since the temple incidents were (they say) the same Passover.

    The truth is, John’s gospel offers step by step, order-of-event information but, because its chronological integrity has been compromised by weak apologies, the 3½ year ministry and its significance has been obscured. Likewise its connection to ancient prophecy, speaking of a 3½ year messianic span has been obscured, although this aspect is beyond our scope here. For the sake of brevity we will limit this article to John’s dating from the first cleansing of the temple through to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

    John begins by pinpointing his first Passover at April AD 27. As explained previously, it was forty-six years after Herod the Great began building the temple. (John 2:20) Now, this is about as reliable as dates get because Herod the Great began construction in 19/20 BC.

    After this, John’s narrative continues in the order things happened. Yes, he omits things, selecting miracles that fit his theme (John 20:30-31) but not out of sequence as the temple story has been supposed. In chapter five Jesus went again to Jerusalem to the next public festival. It would have been the ‘feast of Tabernacles’ since that was in October AD 27, following in natural sequence from the Passover in April.

    Then, in chapter six the second Passover, April AD 28, is referenced. Its context with the ‘feeding of the 5000’ anchors the middle of Jesus ministry to a solid date since this miracle was recorded by all four gospels.

    The feast of Tabernacles comes around again in October AD 28. As we might expect, it is the subject of chapter seven. And it seems as if Jesus remained in Judea from October till December AD 28 because the narrative continues through to the winter festival of Hunukkah. (John 10:22) After that, Jesus went across the Jordan River and “here he stayed.” (John 10:40) Notice, he did not pass through this place but lodged and taught there, making the time early AD 29.

    During this period, Jesus heard of the death of a friend and said, “Let us go back to Judea.” (John 11:7) So, when did Lazarus die? Was it before the AD 29 year Passover or after? We can’t say exactly, but what we do know is that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he and his disciples left Judea again, changed house again, and resided in yet another village. (John 11:54) By this time Passover would have been and gone and it would have been about mid AD 29.

    So, apparently Jesus did not go to the third Passover. He didn’t go to AD 29 Tabernacles either and the reason was this: the Jews were trying to kill him and he didn’t want to be killed … yet. The reason he didn’t want to be killed ‘yet’ was because it was not ‘time,’ as his death had to fulfil the 3½ years. (Compare John 7:6, Matt.26:18, Dan 9:27)

    Then came the fourth Passover in April AD 30. This, of course, was his last supper and was recorded in detail from chapter twelve as well as by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Is the date right? It surely is. (See related blog here) Did St. John contradict the synoptic writers? On the contrary! He provided the chronological framework for them, not the least of which included the timing of the first temple cleansing.
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. Saved7's Avatar
      Saved7 -
      Very well done. You did your homework on this one, for sure.
    1. claybevan's Avatar
      claybevan -
      When did Jesus cleanse the temple?
      I suppose, when the cleaner was off sick wasn't the answer you were looking for?
      So glad he loves even the simple folk like me too.
      I am really enjoying this site, some real thought provoking stuff, thank you again.
    1. Cyberseeker's Avatar
      Cyberseeker -
      lol, I reckon they would have needed more than one cleaner especially with all those doves and cattle.
    1. ebed's Avatar
      ebed -
      What has always Amazed me, is that the very same crowd that claim contradictions in the Gospels, will then turn around and claim the accuracy of gnostic hacks like the "Gospel of Thomas"! I suppose that it should be assumed that the Blind will act blind! The hard part for me, is to see them as "the deceived", and not enemies of Christ, especially when they try to defame our Lords' Name intentionally!

    1. WSGAC's Avatar
      WSGAC -
      If John's gospel is historical,
      If the Jesus of the synoptics told his disciples to go out and "teach all that I have commanded you",
      If John's Jesus indeed made the great "I AM" claims, (ie. I am the gate, I am the bread, I am the way truth life, I am the resurrection...etc),
      Why did not one of those Johanine statemements by Jesus make it into any of the other gospels?
      If Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and "teach ALL that I have commanded you", then these omissions are quite striking!
      Hence, trying to reconcile John's gospel with the synoptics is Tom Foolery!
    1. Eyelog's Avatar
      Eyelog -
      First, well done. But, of course, you should not proclaim that Jesus cleared the temple twice, but that he did so at least twice. The Gospels are hardly an exhaustive chronology, I am sure you agree.

      So far as WSGAC's comment: Use of high fluting adjectives like "Johanine" do more to undermine your position than establish your credibility. But that is just a personal pet peeve, rather than a substantive point. I digress.

      Argument from silence is a tricky business, bucko. You oughta support your position with details which justify your sweeping generalization.

      For instance, will you say that all the 'i am's' are interpolations in the book of John or would you say the entire book is one big interpolation in the NT?

      Moreover, textual criticism aside, would you suggest that the synoptic gospels were not based on eyewitness testimonies, which depend upon what stood out to the particular person whose info was transcribed?

      Glib quips filled with inuendo do not edify. They betray wounded pride alone, ... unless they are an invitation to discuss at length. How about starting a thread on the subject?
    1. pilgrim77's Avatar
      pilgrim77 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saved7 View Post
      Very well done. You did your homework on this one, for sure.
      Actually, I've always understood that He chased out the moneychangers from the temple every year of His public ministry. Which would mean 3 times, since His public ministry lasted about 3 1/2 years. After all, the Passover was a yearly event and the same moneychangers were there every passover to try and make money off of the poor. And, of course, if that were the case then there's no contradiction since He cleansed the temple once at the beginning of His ministry and another time in the middle and the 3rd time at the end of His public ministry. In other words, the reason there is a discrepency in the time table of when this "cleansing occurred is because the writers of the gospel were referring to different passovers, not the same passover.
    1. Cyberseeker's Avatar
      Cyberseeker -
      His ministry spanned 4 Passovers - AD27, 28, 29, 30. I think he stayed away from Jerusalem during the AD29 Passover because it was shortly after raising Lazarus and assassination plans were being plotted more seriously than before.

      As for the AD28 Passover Im not guessing. Two recorded events are clear tho.
    1. ScanMan's Avatar
      ScanMan -
      I think the simplest answer is best...the writer of John made a chronological error concerning the temple cleansing. To say that there were two temple cleansings is a major stretch...it is such a specific event...it would be like hearing that Jesus raised Lazarus twice. And of course, the big question is, if there were two temple cleansings, then why didn't the writer of John and the other gospel writers mention both events in the same text?
    1. esper88's Avatar
      esper88 -
      I liked your article, but I personally don't need to figure out the little details of the gospel. God will reveal his meanings when the time is right for me to know them. All these supposed inconsistencies will be explained by God himself in the next life, and I trust he will have a better explanation than any of us.
    1. 12jtartar's Avatar
      12jtartar -
      I am very impressed with your obvious study of the scriptures. I came to the same conclusion you did about the two Temple cleaning.
      I have a little difference with you about the time Jesus appeared as the Messiah, the time of his baptism, by John, Matt 3:13-17.
      At Like 3:15, we are told that the people were looking for the Messiah. This was about the time that Jesus appeared, that is why they asked John the Baptist if he was the Messiah. The reason that the Jews were looking for the Messiah was because they were familiar with the prophecy at Dan 9:24-27.
      Notice that at Dan 9:24, we are told about a seventy week period that had been determined on the Israelites, and their city, in order to terminate transgression, to finish off sin, to make atonement for error, to bring in righteousness, to imprint, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy, Verse 25 tells us from the going forth of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, UNTIL the MESSIAH, the Prince, there would be 7 weeks and 62 weeks. The street would be rebuilt, and the wall, but in troublesome times.
      In other words the Messiah, Jesus would appear in 7 weeks AND 62 weeks.
      That makes a period of 69 weeks. As you know, of course, many prophecies cannot be understood unless you were there, a Jew, or you waited until the prophecy was fulfilled to understand it. Since the prophecy was fulfilled, here is the fulfillment. In some prophecies days stood for years, as at Num 14:34, where it was a year for a day. The same principle was used at Eze 4:4-6.
      So, we have 7 weeks was 49 years, 7 days in a week times 7 weeks.
      This shows us that Jesus the Messiah would appear in 49 years plus 483 years, 62 weeks times 7 is 434. The exact time tthat the Messiah would appear would be 483 years, BUT from what date???
      In verse 25 we were told that from the going forth of the command to rebuild and restore, until the Messiah would be 483 years.
      If you turn to Nehemiah, Chapter 2:1, we are told about the 20th year of Artaxerxes. If you read the following verses to verse 8, you will see that in the 20th year of Artaxerxes is when the command to rebuild Jerusalem went forth. A close perusal of history will show that the year 455BCE was the 20th year of Artaxerxes.
      Now, if you add 483 years to 455BCE you will come to the year 29AD, as there was no ZERO year.
      So the Messiah appeared in 29AD, or CE. Of that there can be no doubt, because that is why the Jews were looking for the Messiah at that time, luke 3:15.
      In the next verses of Daniel's prophecy 26,27 we are told that after the 62 weeks, meaning both the 7 and the 62 weeks, because these dates are about time. At the 7 weeks the Temple was rebuilt. This is recorded at Ezra chapter 1. This tells about the first full year of Cyrus the Persion who let the Israelites go home to rebuild the Temple in 537BCE. 49 years later it was rebuilt, also in the stream of time.
      Notice that Dan 9:27 tells that the Messiah would be cut off in the middles of the week, meaning in the middle of the 70th week, exactly when Jesus was killed, 3 1/2 years into Jesus' ministery.
      Notice that it says that God would confirm the Covenant with the MANY, for the ONE WEEK. This was the prophecy about the nation of Israel would have another sex months, before the opportunity for the Gentiles to come into the Christian Congregation and remain uncircumcised. The first uncircumcised Gentile was Cornelius, Acts 10th chapter.
      If you look closely you will understand that Peter used the third Key that Jesus gave him, Matt 16:19. The first Key was when the Jews and proselytes were baptized on Pentecost 33CE, and became the first to become, what would be a little later called Christians. he second Key was when Peter went to Samaria and used to second Key to allow the Samaritans to come into the Christian Congregation, Acts 8:14-17. When the third Key was used that marked the end of the Seventy Weeks , 490 years. Peter alluded to him being used to open the Christian Congregation at Acts 15:7-9.
      Even though there has benn much disputing about Daniela prophecy, this is the only way that all the parts fit exactly, and this only after the fulfillment, when we could look back and analyze exactly what happened during the seventy weeks time period, from 455BCE to 36AD, 490 years.
    1. Cyberseeker's Avatar
      Cyberseeker -
      Hello 12jtartar and thank you for your comments. Im not surprised that your study of Daniel led you to the temple cleansing. When we realise how Messiah was to be cut off in the middle of the 'week' the matter of his ministry being 3½ years becomes an issue.

      If you would like to discuss the details of Daniels prophecy or things such as Artaxerxes reign you would do well to start a topic in the Eschatology or Bible chat area of this forum. Incidentally, welcome to Bible forums and I hope you like it here.
    1. Aservantonthemount's Avatar
      Aservantonthemount -
      Look what happens when the believers think objectively.
    1. guero's Avatar
      guero -
      You are supported by the Church Fathers in your analysis.

      John Chrysostom explained this in his Homily XXIII on the Gospel According to John, written sometime in the latter 4th century (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.iv.xxv.html).

      "But on going up to Jerusalem, what did He, a deed full of high authority; for He cast out of the Temple those dealers and money changers, and those who sold doves, and oxen, and sheep, and who passed their time there for this purpose. Another Evangelist writes, that as He cast them out, He said, Make not my Father’s house 'a den of thieves,' but this one, ('Make not My Father’s house) an house of merchandise.' They do not in this contradict each other, but show that he did this a second time, and that both these expressions were not used on the same occasion, but that He acted thus once at the beginning of His ministry, and again when He had come to the very time of His Passion. Therefore, (on the latter occasion,) employing more strong expressions, He spoke of it as (being made) 'a den of thieves,' but here at the commencement of His miracles He does not so, but uses a more gentle rebuke"

      Besides the use of the scourge, we also see that He quotes Isaiah 56:7 in the Synoptic Gospels. We also see that in the Synoptic Gospels those in the Temple set out to destroy Him afterwards, whereas in John they merely challenge His authority.

      They may have been shamefaced because the area of the Temple that was turned into a bazar was the one area where Gentiles were free to worship.
    1. Cyberseeker's Avatar
      Cyberseeker -
      Hey thanks Guero. I never knew John Chrysostom said that.
    1. Nebulous's Avatar
      Nebulous -
      Quote Originally Posted by Cyberseeker View Post
      His ministry spanned 4 Passovers - AD27, 28, 29, 30. I think he stayed away from Jerusalem during the AD29 Passover because it was shortly after raising Lazarus and assassination plans were being plotted more seriously than before.

      As for the AD28 Passover Im not guessing. Two recorded events are clear tho.
      Good research, but I think your chronology is one year off. His ministry began in Sept/Oct of A.D. 27, and the four Passovers were in the years A.D. 28, 29, 30, and 31. I would have to find the article, but an analysis was done on the Jewish calendar whereby there were three Sabbaths before Sunday during the Passover, and the only possible year is 31 A.D. He died on a Wednesday (April 25, 31 A.D.), not on a Friday.

      Well found a different article, take a look at this one:


      The conclusion is wrong, but there is some research in there for the Wednesday crucifixion of April 25, 31 A.D. The year 30 A.D. is not an option.
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