The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables.15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Translation: And the passover of the Judeans was near, and Jesus went up into Jerusalem. In the temple, he found the ones selling cattle, and sheep, and doves, and the ones who change large money into small, sitting. And making a whip out of cords, he threw out all out of the temple, the sheep and the cattle, and of the moneychangers, he poured out the small coins and turned over the tables. And to the ones selling the doves, he said, "Take away these things from here. Do not make the house of my father a house of merchandise." His disciples call to mind that it was written, "The zeal of your house will consume me." Then, the Judeans answered and said to him, "What sign will you show us that you can do this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it." Then, the Judeans said, "Forty and six years this temple has been under construction and you will raise it in three days?" But he was saying this concerning the temple of his body. After he was raised out of death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they trusted what was written and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Background and situation: We are at the beginning of the fourth gospel. This episode follows immediately after the wedding at Cana story.
The contrast between the Cana story and this week's episode is dramatic. Cana is in a small town in Galilee. The Temple is the heart of religious power in Jerusalem. The wedding at Cana is a story of joy and abundance. The Temple is a place of contention and division. In the Cana story, Mary trusts Jesus and the lowly servants know what happened. At the Temple, the powerful Judeans want a sign and misunderstand what Jesus says.
After the wedding at Cana (2:12), the fourth gospel says that Jesus, "his mother, his brothers, and his disciples" went to Capernaum and "stayed a few days." Is this an indication of a family-led movement using Capernaum, the major city on the Sea of Galilee, as a base?
The attack on the Temple: Quite abruptly, the text then says that the "passover of the Judeans" was near and Jesus "went up" to Jerusalem. This is his first trip to Jerusalem in the fourth gospel. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus' only trip to Jerusalem was his last. (I am obviously translating ioudaioi as "Judeans" rather than "Jews." Ioudaioi wasn't translated as "Jews" until after the Bar Kochba revolt in AD 135. Misunderstanding of ioudaioi has caused no end of trouble throughout the past 2000 years.)
Passover was a lively affair. The population of Jerusalem would quadruple as Jews made their pilgrimage to the city for this most important festival of the year. Streets and alleys would be packed with people. The crowds would include soldiers, zealots, "knife-men," priests, children, religious fanatics, wonder workers, magicians, hellraisers, pietists, and animals.
Jesus is described as going directly to the Temple. The suddenness of his appearance recalls Malachi 3:1: "...the Lord whom we you seek will suddenly come to his temple." When he got there, he saw various animals and "the ones who change large money into small"--kermatistas, (Reinecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament).
Indeed they did. These "moneychangers" operated by a kind of franchise agreement with the Temple. The owners, or "bankers," were the wealthy families of Jerusalem, though the moneychanging tables themselves were probably manned by family flunkies or low-level employees.
Roman coins were forbidden within the Temple, which meant that people needed to get their Roman coins changed into Temple coins. The moneychangers would perform this "service"--"service" used in the same sense as Don Corleone used it--and their exchange rate could run as high as 50%.
Jesus makes a "whip of cords" and "threw out all out of the temple"--pantas exebelen ek tou eirou. The incident is often called "the cleansing of the Temple," but that is an unfortunate way of phrasing it. Jesus "cleansed" nothing. He "threw out all."
The scene is historically implausible. For a lone figure to throw "all" out of the Temple precincts, an area the equivalent of 25 football fields, would either have been impossible or a miracle. Most likely, the fourth gospel is telling a "theology in narrative form." The "theology" is that Jesus goes up against the religious power in Jerusalem, and attacks the economic basis of the Temple.
Jesus then speaks specifically "to the ones selling the doves"--that is, to the ones who supplied sacrificial animals for the poor and who were, moreover, exploiting the poor. In The Politics of Jesus, Obrey Hendricks says that Simeon, the son of the great rabbi Gamaliel, protested the inflated pricing of sacrificial doves. As a result of Simeon's protest, the price of sacrificial doves was lowered by 99%--and the merchants still made money!
"Take away these things from here," Jesus said. "Do not make the house of my Father a house of merchandise." Get the sacrificial animals out here, in other words. My Father's house--the first mention of his connection with the Father in the fourth gospel--is not a place for buying and selling (emporium).
This appears to be an attack on the entire sacrificial system. For the fourth gospel, Jesus replaces the Temple as the locus of forgiveness of sins. The peoples' access to God is not through the Temple-based mechanism of sacrificing animals, but through Jesus himself and "the temple of his body."
The zeal of the Temple will consume him: Suddenly, Jesus' disciples are mentioned for the first time. To this point, Jesus has been portrayed as alone at the Temple, but now, whether they were there or hear about the incident later, "his disciples call to mind that it was written, 'The zeal of your house will consume me.'"
NRSV has "zeal for your house will consume me," which would indicate that Jesus' own zeal on behalf of the Temple will end his life. To me, the likeliest rendering of ho zelos tou oikou sou kataphagetai me is "the zeal of your house will consume me."
"Zeal" carries the definite article, i.e. "the zeal," and the most natural rendering is tou oikou sou is "of your house," not "for your house," although the latter is possible. (It depends on whether you regard it as an objective genitive or a subjective genitive. The default position would be "of.")
If my translation is correct, that would mean that the "zeal" of Temple power will consume Jesus, which is exactly what did happen. Moreover, this view is more consistent with the over-all theme of the fourth gospel, which is not that Jesus is zealous on behalf of the Temple, but that the Temple opposes Jesus--indeed, is zealous in opposing him.
The Judeans ask Jesus, "What sign--seimeion--will you show us that you can do this?" Many people, generally those of the crowds, believe on the basis of "signs" in the fourth gospel, but many, generally Jesus' opponents, also do not.
As is common in the fourth gospel, Jesus speaks on one level, but people understand on a different, usually more literal, one. Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it." The Judeans understand this at a literal level. They relate that it has taken 46 years to build the Temple so far, and it wasn't done yet. (Construction on the Temple began in 18-20 BC, and was nearing completion when it was destroyed in AD 70.)
The fourth gospel tells us that "he was saying this concerning the temple of his body." Much as Nicodemus will be understanding on a literal level in the very next episode, so the Judeans understand at a literal level here. In both cases, however, Jesus was speaking at a different level. (I'm tempted to say "more spiritual level," but that would be to equate "spiritual" with "higher" which is not sound Christian theology.)
"After he was raised out of death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they trusted what was written and the word that Jesus had spoken." The disciples--again "remembering," but after the resurrection--trusted in the scripture witness and the "word" of Jesus. (The word is pisteuein which is better translated as "trust" than "believe." "Word" is logos, of course, identified as Christ himself right off the bat in the fourth gospel (1:1).)
The fourth gospel takes a more charitable view toward the disciples than does, say, the gospel of Mark. In the fourth gospel, the disciples are those who follow Jesus, love Jesus, trust Jesus, act like Jesus, and participate in the community of Jesus.
That the disciples trust Jesus here is a strong point in their favor. One of the major themes of the fourth gospel is encouragement of trust. As the book closes, we are told directly that the purpose of the whole book has been to inspire trust: "These things are written so that you might come to trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through trusting you might have life in his name" (20:31).
Image: Jeffrey Weston