Friday, October 5, 2012

Entrapment in the Temple

Jesus and the Disciples have arrived in the area of Jerusalem for the first (Synoptics)/last (John) time. They will bounce in and out of Jerusalem to the towns and territories surrounding Jerusalem, but Jesus will not leave the region before being crucified.

With some form of pageantry, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey's colt, or maybe on a donkey and her colt, in order to fulfill the prophesy of how Israel's king would come to them.

Entrapment in the Temple
Entrapment is an act in which innocent people get purposefully lured by the authorities into breaking the law so that they can be arrested. In general, people find entrapment to be unscrupulous, if not flat out immoral, but that is not how God sees it. In part of a previous post, we discussed how God would send a miracle-working false prophet just to see if the Jews would faithfully hold to the one true God. In this study, we will see how actually obeying God's Law got turned into sinning against God by Jesus.

In all four Gospels, there is a story of Jesus clearing the Temple grounds of merchants. But Matthew 21:12-13 and Luke 19:45-48 are apparently significantly cropped versions of Mark's longer account. John's version is ever-so-slightly different. So let us look as both Mark and John side-by-side:

Mark 11:15-18 (NIV)John 2:13-17 (NIV)
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as He taught them, He said, "Is it not written:
" 'My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"

The Chief Priests and the Teachers of the Law heard this and began looking for a way to kill Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed at His teaching.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father's house into a market!"

His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."

Basically, the two accounts are similar. Though it is not stated in this section, Mark's version also happens close to the Passover festival (Mark 14:1). So Jesus goes into the Temple courtyard, finds merchants, and kicks them out. You can tell that He was zealous about it, too, as Mark has Jesus preventing any more merchandise through and John has Jesus take the time to make a whip to accomplish the task. Two independent witnesses testifying to apparently the same event should add credibility to the story, but there are some veracity issues that we will cover in a moment. First, though, let us consider the situation.

Why is Jesus upset here? I know, that seems like a dumb question, right? Obviously Jesus was filled with righteous indignation at the "market" established on Temple grounds, but was He justified in that anger? No, not really. To find out why Jesus is really being unreasonable here, we have to turn back to the Old Testament.

Jesus threw out people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as money changers, but they were there for a righteous purpose. This was not just some casual consumer meat market and currency exchange. Rather, this "market" was established to facilitate worshiping God and complying with His Law. In God's Law there are many references to specific animals being used for specific sacrifices, such as bulls (57+ times), rams (68+ times), goats (57+ times), sheep/lambs (4+/69+ times), and doves (6 times). If you did not own livestock, such as if you owned a vineyard, and you wanted/needed to provide a sacrificial offering to God, then (in most cases) you needed to buy an animal.

What about the money changers? Let us consult Leviticus 27:25 here:
Every value is to be set according to the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. NIV
You have to remember that this law was established in a time when money was not as standardized as it is today, and gold and silver coins could have had different weights depending on their precise origin, so God set the standard for His own House. God required that every financial transaction, such as redeeming a person, must be done according to weight of the "sanctuary shekel" (mentioned 25 times). That is why these money changers were on the Temple grounds. They helped people comply with God's Law by changing out their coinage for the supremely sanctioned sanctuary shekels. (Say that phrase ten times fast!)

God's Law, while not creating this "market" per se, established the need for this market to be in close proximity to the Temple's sanctuary. Given the Temple's ample courtyard, the most logical place for the market was on Temple grounds. Furthermore, unlike the sanctuary of the Temple, the courtyard was not considered to be sacred ground, as 2 Chronicles 29:16 indicates.

So if Jesus was justified in His righteous indignation, then God set up the Jews for this transgression, and thereby has practiced entrapment; ironically through the necessities in complying with God's Law. Alternately, I suspect that the real Jesus may have actually done such a deed as disrupting the market, or at least voiced his discontent of the situation of the market on Temple grounds, but that his actions in this case were born from pious ignorance; being unaware of how the Law made the market necessary. That did not stop the Gospel writers from incorporating the event into the overall story and including some tweaks to make the anecdote prophetic.

A Prophetically Different View
Speaking of prophesy, these two versions vary in Jesus' words and in their associated prophesies. In the Synoptics, including Mark, Jesus Himself quoted prophesy, and made it seem as though the merchants were dishonest by calling the market a "den of robbers." However, having Jesus prevent anyone from bringing in more merchandise is suggests a general problem with the market being there. That general problem is what we find with John's Jesus. But, in John, it was Jesus' Disciples who tied in the prophesy. So what about these prophesies?

In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is partially quoting Isaiah 56:7. The whole prophesy at least includes Isaiah 56:1-8, but may extend beyond there. When you read it, you will notice that it was wise for Jesus to only quote part of the prophesy. Isaiah 56:1 tells us that God's Salvation was coming soon... which was written at least 500 years before Jesus. Isaiah 56:2 stressed the importance of keeping the Sabbath, something that Jesus was more lenient about.

Even more interesting is the section Isaiah 56:3-7, which includes the verse Jesus quoted. There, God addressed eunuchs and foreigners who chose to worship God by keeping the Sabbaths and obeying His Law.

To the eunuchs, whose concern was that they would have no offspring for God to bless as a reward for worshiping Him, God told them that their names would be recorded as "a memorial" in the Temple, bringing them eternal fame. This implicitly indicates that there is no eternal afterlife reward awaiting the faithful!

To the foreigners, God would "bring them to [His] holy mountain" (which is implicitly Mount Zion in Jerusalem) where He would accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices! That is in direct contradiction to Jesus ending the need for sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1-18).

In John's Gospel, the Disciples associated Jesus' behavior with a partial quote from Psalm 69:9. Psalm 69 is a song allegedly written by the Jewish King David. Being a song, as opposed to being an explicit prophesy, I would argue that it is not necessarily intended to be prophetic. Yet if we are considering this song to be prophesy, then obviously we should consider the entire song, right? Most of the song is about how David had many enemies who were mocking and mistreating him without cause, and how even his own family rejects him because of his zeal for God. That kind of sounds like Jesus, right? Psalm 69:21 even speaks of being given vinegar for thirst, just like Jesus was given on the cross (Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, John 19:29). But that is not the whole story...

In Psalm 69:1-3, David had not seen God's help, despite calling out for God for a long time. In Psalm 69:5, he said that God knew the sins he had committed. In Psalm 69:19-28, he prayed for his enemies to suffer as opposed to praying for their enlightenment and Salvation. Speaking of Salvation, he did pray for God's Salvation of himself in Psalm 69:29-30. None of these concepts correspond to Jesus; who was often in prayer with God and saw His power through miracles, who was sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21), who said to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44), and who, through Himself, was supposedly bringing Salvation.

Interestingly enough, in Psalm 69:32-36 does end on a note that sounds prophetic. The last two verses, Psalm 69:35-36, are particularly noteworthy:
...for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of His servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there. NIV
What you have here is a terrestrial prophesy... rebuilding cities... in Judah (a region of Israel)... people settling there... children inheriting the land, implicitly after people die. This is not the prophesied afterlife of Christianity.

So, despite their differences, neither the Synoptic Gospels nor John managed to find an accurate prophesy to associate with this event. In fact, the prophesies appear to be pointing to something other than what Jesus offers.

(On a side note, the "den of robbers" phrase used by the Synoptic Gospels is sometimes associated with Jeremiah 7:11 where the same phrase is used. However, Jeremiah 7 is a part of a pre-Exile prophesy, where among the associated transgressions is idol worship, which was never mentioned as a problem by Jesus.)

Wait, When Did That Happen?
You may have noticed something odd about John's Temple-clearing event; specifically the chapter number. Chapter 2? Yes, that is right. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke portray Jesus clearing the Temple near the end of His public ministry, John shows that it occurred near the beginning of it. In fact, in John, Jesus recruited the Disciples, then changed water into wine, and then cleared the Temple, making it the second major event in His public ministry.

It is possible that these are two separate clearing events, but it seems unlikely. Yet the Synoptic Gospels only record Jesus making one trip to the area of Jerusalem during His ministry, while John records four visits there, so it is difficult to make a case one way or another beyond circumstantial evidence built on an argument from silence.

However, as noted above, there is no reason for Jesus to have enacted this spectacle if He was truly knowledgeable about the Biblical sacrifice requirements of the Law. So I lean towards thinking that this was a real, single event by a (sadly mistaken) real Jesus. However, I do not think that this necessarily happened at either the beginning or the end of Jesus' ministry. It was just an event that happened at some time. So when the Gospel writers came to including this anecdote, they had some liberty on where to put it. Mark put it near the end. Matthew and Luke (as usual) followed Mark's lead. John, which was developed independent of Mark's Gospel, put it at the beginning.

Or, of course, there is always the possibility that this anecdote had no foundation in Jesus' actual history.

The fact that it shows up in both the Synoptics and John, and the fact that there are significant differences in the associated prophesies, provide at least a little more circumstantial support for this event being derived from actual history, or at least included in the earlier origins of the entire Jesus story. I believe that such an early inclusion also supports the idea of this being derived from a real event.


  1. Good analysis. Having not read the old testament yet myself, I am always interested to read about how the new testament poorly references it.

  2. Actually, you've pretty much missed the point altogether. The Isaiah 56 reference to foreigners having a place to pray and worship speaks to the real problem of the money-changers in the temple court. Those changing money into temple-currency and those selling sacrifices to travelers could have easily set up shop off of the temple grounds or otherwise found a way to conduct their business.

    However, their placement essentially pushed out the Gentiles (foreigners/not Jewish) from the one place that they were allowed to go in order to worship God in the temple. The anger was not directed at a mere marketplace, but instead at a group of people who had basically denied a people the opportunity to get close to God in the place where it was believed that He lived. Therefore, the prophesy is that all people will be included in the Messianic age (not merely the Jews or Israel) - a prophesy which has come true in the Christian Church.

    Also, in reference to the discrepancy in John's Gospel against the other three - each one writes with a specific goal in mind. They have only included those stories which they most believe that point to the truth that the writer wishes for the reader to see, not unlike how you have written this blog. You included information that supports your case, ordered it in a specific logical sense, and you hope that I agree with your analysis at the end of the day. Truth is, my response works the same way ...

  3. @Anonymous

    I am sorry, but it appears that you are ignoring several details, and pursuing a theory unsupported by the text. For example, you said:

    "However, their placement essentially pushed out the Gentiles (foreigners/not Jewish) from the one place that they were allowed to go in order to worship God in the temple."

    Where, exactly, does it say that this market pushed out the Gentiles? Not in Jesus' words, nor anywhere else in the Bible. Instead, we have a reference to a "den of thieves", which points more to the morality of the people involved in the "market" than your theory that they were taking up too much space.

    You said that " Therefore, the prophesy is that all people will be included in the Messianic age (not merely the Jews or Israel) - a prophesy which has come true in the Christian Church."

    However, the prophesy specifically mentions animal sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath, both of which were abandoned in the Christian Church.

    You need to consider all of the details. It is the only way you will get close to the truth.