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§ 117. The Purifying of the Temple.

DURING the feast of the Passover Jesus appeared at Jerusalem in his prophetic calling, and accredited it by miracles.262262   Although the purifying of the Temple doubtless belongs to an early period of Christ’s teaching, it is by no means clear, from John’s account, that Christ had not taught and wrought miracles before; indeed, the manner in which the priests addressed him rather shows the contrary. On visiting the Temple, he found its worship disturbed by disorders which desecrated the holy place—a picture of the general secularization of the Theocracy.263263   Here a difficulty arises: the cleansing of the Temple is placed by John at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, during his first stay at Jerusalem; by the other Evangelists at the end of his labours, during his last stay there. Unless the same event took place twice, and in the very same way (which is hardly probable), either John or the others must have deviated from the chronological order. It may appear more probable that an act implying so great power over the priests, and the throng of buyers and sellers, was done after his last triumphal entry, when the people were, for the moment, enthusiastic in his favour, than at the beginning of his labours. On the other hand, he would have had more occasion, after his triumphal entry, to avoid every thing that could occasion public disturbance, or wear the appearance of employing earthly power. As for the difficulty of the thing at his opening ministry, no one can say what influences the immediate power of God might produce upon the minds and feelings of men. It is certainly less easy to account for such an anachronism in John, whose account is all of a piece, and accurate in chronological order, than in the other Evangelists; the latter might naturally connect a fact like this, well adapted to oral tradition, with the last entry, which was the only one mentioned in the circle of accounts which they compiled. According to John (ii., 18), the Jews put the question, “What sign showest thou us?” &c.; in Luke, xx., 2, the Sanhedrim ask, “By what authority doest thou these things?” &c. It might be supposed that this last question suggested the statement of the event which gave rise to it, if it were certain (as, indeed, it is not) that in the passage in Luke it has this special reference to the act, and not a reference to Christ’s teaching in general at that time.


For the convenience of the Jews from a distance who wished to offer sacrifices, booths had been erected in the Temple-court, in which every thing necessary for the purpose was kept for sale, and moneychangers were also allowed to take their stand there; but, as might have been expected from the existing corruption of the Jewish people, many foul abuses had grown up. The merchants and brokers made every thing subservient to their avarice, and their noisy huckstering was a great disturbance to the worship of the Temple.

It was Christ’s calling to combat the corruptions of the secularized Theocracy, and to predict the judgments of God against them. And as the general desecration of all that was holy was imaged in these profane doings at the Temple, he first manifested against them his holy anger. Threatening the traders with a scourge of small cords, he drove them out of the Temple; and said to those who sold doves, “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.”264264   John, at most, alludes to Isa., lvi., 7; Jer., vii., 11: but the other Gospels give direct citations. This is another proof of the originality of John’s narrative.

These words are not only applicable to the special case, but also contain a severe reproof of that carnal tendency which debases God’s house into a merchant’s exchange. The lifting up of the scourge could not have been in token of physical force, for—apart from Christ’s character—what was one man against so many? It could only be a symbolical sign—a sign of the judgments of God that were so soon to fall upon those who had corrupted the Theocracy.265265   How absurd would it be to attribute the invention of such an incident as this to a man of Alexandrian culture! Its utter repugnance to Alexandrian views is shown by the fact that Origen considered it one of the greatest objections to the credibility of the narrative.

There was no miracle, in the proper sense, wrought here, but a proof of the confident Divine power with which he influenced the minds of men; an example of the direct impression of Divinity, of the power of the manifestation of the Holy One as a punisher, in rousing the slumbering conscience. Origen, who found many difficulties in this narrative,266266   T. ix. in Joann. and was inclined to regard it as ideal and symbolical, thought 170that if it were to be received as history267267   Origin, however, exaggerated the throng that Christ had to expel into thousands. John, more simply than the other Evangelists, speaks only of the expulsion of the sellers; they, of the buyers also. the miracle would be greater than the change of water into wine, or, indeed, any other of Christ’s deeds; as in this case he would not have had to act upon inert and lifeless matter, but upon living beings capable of resistance. But, on the contrary, no miracle, in the proper sense, was wrought, precisely because Christ had to operate upon men, endowed, it is true, with a will capable of resisting, but also with susceptibilities that had to yield to the moral and religious force of an immediate Divine impression, and with conscience, that slumbering consciousness of God which man can never wholly abnegate, and which may be roused by a commanding holy power, in a way that is not to be calculated. There are many things in history that must be regarded as myths by minds that judge only by the standard of every-day reality.

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