The Cleansing of the Temple – All four gospels give an account of an indignant Jesus striding boldly into the temple for the purpose of forcefully cleaning out what he referred to as “a den of thieves.” Once there he proceeded to literally wreck the place. But this much repeated story has problems, big problems. First, none of the gospel accounts agrees with the others as to exactly what took place. According to Mark 11:15-18 he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. Matthew 21:12-16 repeats Mark but adds, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” Luke 19:45, tells us only that he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought. In John 2:14-15 not only did he drive out the dove sellers and the moneychangers; he also drove out all those selling sheep and oxen. Then the writer of John tells us that he “Then made a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and the oxen, out of the temple and proceeded to pour out the coins of the money-changers and overturn their tables.”
The second problem is one of timing. When exactly did the temple cleansing take place? According to the synoptic gospels it was at the end of Jesus’ ministry shortly before his death. In John, however, it took place three years earlier at the beginning of his minister. Were there two cleansings?
A third problem surfaces when we realize that the gospel writers obviously had no concept of the true size of the temple. It was huge by the standards of those days covering in excess of thirty-five acres, enough space to accommodate thirty-four football field. In order, therefore, to actually carry out the acts as described in the gospels Jesus would had to have been accompanied by a large group of armed followers since armed guards were always stationed in the temple for the purpose of keeping things moving smoothly. Yet, according to the gospel accounts Jesus acted alone.
The animal sellers and moneychangers, referred to by Jesus as thieves and robbers, were in fact operating legitimate business providing much needed services. First, they offered pre-approved sacrificial animals so the worshipers, some of whom had walked for long distances, would not have to bring their own. Second, for the purchase of these animals and other temple items only Jewish money could be used because Roman money, then if general circulation, was stamped with “adulterous” images of Caesar. So, there was a real need for the moneychangers as well as the animal sellers.
This story has to be pure fiction.