Cleansing of the Temple

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Washington version, by El Greco
Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (El Greco, Washington)

The cleansing of the Temple narrative tells of Jesus expelling the merchants and the money changers from the Temple, and occurs in all four canonical gospels of the New Testament.

In this account, Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem for Passover, where Jesus expels the merchants and money changers from the Temple, accusing them of turning the Temple into "a den of thieves" through their commercial activities.[1][2] In the Gospel of John Jesus refers to the Temple as "my Father's house", thus, making a claim to being the Son of God.[3]

The narrative occurs near the end of the Synoptic Gospels (at Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12–17, and Luke 19:45–48) and near the start in the Gospel of John (at John 2:13–16). Some scholars believe that these refer to two separate incidents, given that the Gospel of John also includes more than one Passover.[4]


Scarsellino - Driving of the Merchants From the Temple
Herod's Temple, referred to in John 2:13, as imagined in the Holyland Model of Jerusalem. It is currently situated adjacent to the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Jesus is stated to have visited the Temple in Jerusalem, where the courtyard is described as being filled with livestock, merchants, and the tables of the money changers, who changed the standard Greek and Roman money for Jewish and Tyrian money.[1] (Gentile money could not be used at the Temple because of the graven images on it.) Jerusalem was packed with Jews who had come for Passover, perhaps numbering 300,000 to 400,000 pilgrims.[5][6]

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade."[Jn 2:13–16]
"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves."

In Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 Jesus accused the Temple authorities of thieving and this time names poor widows as their victims, going on to provide evidence of this in Mark 12:42 and Luke 21:2. Dove sellers were selling doves that were sacrificed by the poor who could not afford grander sacrifices and specifically by women. According to Mark 11:16, Jesus then put an embargo on people carrying any merchandise through the Temple—a sanction that would have disrupted all commerce.[4][7] This occurred in the outermost court of the gentiles.

Matthew 21:14–16 says the Temple leaders questioned Jesus if he was aware the children were shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David." Jesus responded by saying "from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise." This phrase incorporates a phrase from the Psalm 8:2, "from the lips of children and infants," believed by followers to be an admission of divinity by Jesus, thus confirming his divinity via prooftexting the Old Testament.[4][7]


Main article: Chronology of Jesus
Theodoor Rombouts: Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple

Claims about the Temple cleansing episode in the Gospel of John can be combined with non-biblical historical sources to obtain an estimate of when it occurred. John 2:13 states that Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem around the start of his ministry and John 2:20 states that Jesus was told:[8][9]

"Forty and six years was this temple in building, and you want to raise it up in three days?".

In the Antiquities of the Jews, first-century historian Flavius Josephus wrote that (Ant 15.380) the temple reconstruction was started by Herod the Great in the 18th year of his reign 22 BC, two years before Augustus arrived in Syria in 20 BC to return the son of Farhad IV and receive in return the spoils and standards of three Roman legions (Ant 15.354).[9][10][11][12] Temple expansion and reconstruction was ongoing, and it was in constant reconstruction until it was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans.[13] Given that it had taken 46 years of construction to that point, the Temple visit in the Gospel of John has been estimated at any time between 24–29 AD. It is possible that the complex was only a few years completed when the future Emperor Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.[8][9][14][15][16]


David Landry suggests that "the importance of the episode is signaled by the fact that within a week of this incident, Jesus is dead. Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree that this is the event that functioned as the "trigger" for Jesus' death."[17] While most artistic renderings have a more dramatic depiction of Jesus thrashing the merchants, Nathan W. O'Halloran's reading of the Greek word pantas indicates that Jesus took some ropes he found lying around "to drive out the sheep and oxen, like any shepherd or cattle herder would do", followed, no doubt, by their owners.[18] He also notes that the Synoptics do not make mention of a whip; and that Mark uses the word "drove", as it was used elsewhere for the spirit "driving" Jesus into the desert, or Jesus himself "driving" out demons.

O'Halloran identifies the actions of Jesus with "a calculated prophetic action evocative of the temple condemnation in Jeremiah 7:1-15".[18] The Gospel of Mark uses the phrase, "Then he taught them..." as Jesus references the prophet Jeremias. The full quotation from Jeremias reads:

Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: "We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again"? Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? I too see what is being done, says the Lord.(Jeremiah 7:9-11)

According to later sources

Toledot Yeshu

As with other parts of Jesus's story, there are a number of later embellishments to the narrative of the incident that are generally regarded as legendary or polemical by scholars. The Toledot Yeshu, a parody gospel probably first written down about 1,000 years later but possibly dependent on second-century Jewish-Christian gospel[19] if not oral traditions that might go back all the way to the formation of the canonical narratives themselves,[20] claims that Yeshu had entered the Temple with 310 of his followers. That Christ’s followers had indeed entered the Temple, and in fact the Holy of Holies,[21] is also claimed by Epiphanius, who claims that James wore the breastplate of the high priest and the high priestly diadem on his head and actually entered the Holy of Holies,[22] and that John the Beloved had become a sacrificing priest who wore the mitre,[23] which was the headdress of the high priest.

Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea

According to the apocryphal Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, Demas, one of the two robbers who were crucified with Christ,[24] stole the ‘secret deposit’ of Solomon from the Holy of Holies, an act which Judas blamed on Christ:

He [Demas] made attacks upon the rich, but was good to the poor…And he set his hand to robbing the multitude of the Jews, and stole the law itself in Jerusalem, … And to Caiaphas and the multitude of the Jews it was not a Passover, but it was a great mourning to them, on account of the plundering of the sanctuary by the robber … Judas says to the Jews: Come, let us hold a council; for perhaps it was not the robber that stole the law, but Jesus himself, and I accuse him.[25]

Yeshu was likewise accused of robbing the shem hamphoras, the ‘secret name of god’ from the Holy of Holies, in the Toledot Yeshu.[26]

In art

The cleansing of the Temple is a commonly depicted event in the Life of Christ, under various titles.

El Greco painted several versions:


See also

Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels

Portals: Christianity Bible

 Book:Life of Jesus



Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cleansing of the Temple.
  1. 1 2 Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993.
  2. Ehrman, Bart D.. Jesus, Interrupted, HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 0-06-117393-2
  3. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by Geoffrey W. Bromiley 1988 ISBN 0-8028-3785-9 page 571–572
  4. 1 2 3 The Bible knowledge background commentary by Craig A. Evans 2005 ISBN 0-7814-4228-1 page 49
  5. Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993. p. 249
  6. Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998.
  7. 1 2 The Fourth Gospel And the Quest for Jesus by Paul N. Anderson 2006 ISBN 0-567-04394-0 page 158
  8. 1 2 Paul L. Maier "The Date of the Nativity and Chronology of Jesus" in Chronos, kairos, Christos: nativity and chronological studies by Jerry Vardaman, Edwin M. Yamauchi 1989 ISBN 0-931464-50-1 pages 113–129
  9. 1 2 3 Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible 2000 Amsterdam University Press ISBN 90-5356-503-5 page 249
  10. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 pages 140–141
  11. Encyclopedia of the historical Jesus by Craig A. Evans 2008 ISBN 0-415-97569-7 page 115
  12. As stated by Köstenberger & Kellum (page 114) there is some uncertainty about how Josephus referred to and computed dates, hence various scholars arrive at slightly different dates for the exact date of the start of the Temple construction, varying by a few years in their final estimation of the date of the Temple visit.
  13. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, page 246 states that Temple construction never completed, and that the Temple was in constant reconstruction until it was destroyed in 70 AD/CE by the Romans, and states that the 46 years should refers to the actual number of year from the start of the construction.
  14. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John by Paul N. Anderson 2011 ISBN 0-8006-0427-X page 200
  15. Herod the Great by Jerry Knoblet 2005 ISBN 0-7618-3087-1 page 184
  16. Jesus in Johannine tradition by Robert Tomson Fortna, Tom Thatcher 2001 ISBN 978-0-664-22219-2 page 77
  17. Landry, David. "God in the Details: The Cleansing of the Temple in Four Jesus Films", Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 13, No. 2 October 2009, University of Nebraska at Omaha
  18. 1 2 O'Halloran SJ, Nathan W., "Jesus, the Whip, and Justifying Violence", The Jesuit Post, Patheos, March 7, 2015
  19. Price, Robert (2003) The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 40.
  20. Alexander, P. ‘Jesus and his Mother in the Jewish Anti-Gospel (the Toledot Yeshu)’, in eds. C. Clivaz et al., Infancy Gospels, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck GmbH & Co. KG, 2011, pp. 588-616.
  21. Goldstein, Morris. Jesus in the Jewish Tradition. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1950, p. 152.
  22. Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, p. 45.
  23. Eisenman, Robert, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians, and Qumran: A New Hypothesis of Qumran Origins. Nashville, TN: Grave Distractions Publications, 2013, p. 10.
  24. Matthew 27:38.
  25. The Catholic Encyclopedia,, Narrative of Joseph of Arimathæa, 1.
  26. Zindler, Frank R. The Jesus the Jews Never Knew. Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2003, pp. 318–319, 428–431.
Cleansing of the Temple
Preceded by
Wedding in Cana in John 2

or Triumphal Entry in the Synoptic Gospels

New Testament


Succeeded by
Jesus & Nicodemus in John 3

or Fig Tree Cursed in the Synoptic Gospels

External links

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