Q. In our weekly Bible study, a discussion arose about the cleansing of the temple by Jesus. One of the individuals in the study said that there are two separate instances where Jesus cleanses the temple. He sited the synoptic gospels as one account, and John’s as a separate account. Is there only one time when Jesus cleansed the temple or were there two? If there is only one, how do I explain to my brother they are all the same account?
A. First realize that none of the Gospel accounts carries more than one Temple cleansing. Logic tells us that if there were multiple cleansings, at least one of the gospel writers would have said so.
Second, none of the gospel writers set out to write a purely historical account. They all wrote to different audiences and sometimes they moved events around to help them make their point. For instance, Matthew put the cleansing on Palm Sunday, but Mark has it the next day in order to place it between the two incidents involving the withered fig tree. The fig tree symbolizes Israel appearing to be alive but bearing no fruit, because its roots were dead, meaning they were no longer connected to God. Putting the Temple cleansing between the two references helps illuminate that fact.
Out of everything Jesus did, John chose only 7 miracles, 7 “I am” statements, and 7 discourses. In essence his gospel covers only 21 days out of the Lord’s 3.5 year ministry, and spends 10 chapters on the last week. He put the Temple cleansing right after the wedding in Cana to contrast the pure relationship the Lord wants with the corrupt religion man had produced.
Both Gospel writers wanted to demonstrate the inadequacy of the religious system and positioned the Temple cleansing to best support their view.