Christ’s Cleansing of the Temple: Can Mark and John Be Reconciled?
By Hank Hanegraaff
In his book Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, posed the following as the first of many errors and inconsistencies in the Bible:
The Gospel of Mark indicates that it was in the last week of his life that Jesus “cleansed the Temple” by overturning the tables of the money changers and saying, “This is to be a house of prayer…but you have made it a den of thieves” (Mark 11), whereas according to John this happened at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry (John 2). Some readers have thought that Jesus must have cleansed the temple twice, once at the beginning of his ministry and once at the end. But that would mean that neither Mark nor John tells the ‘true’ story, since in both accounts he cleanses the temple only once. Moreover, is this reconciliation of the two accounts historically plausible? If Jesus made a disruption in the temple at the beginning of his ministry, why wasn’t he arrested by the authorities then?
Ehrman concludes by dogmatically asserting, “Historically speaking, then, the accounts are not reconcilable.”1
Is Ehrman right? Is this just one more in a litany of errors made by a pseudonymous gospel writer? Or is this just indicative of a professor gone wild?
First, it is not only uncharitable but unquestionably wrong-headed to suggest that neither Mark nor John (who Ehrman demeans as “illiterate”) could be telling the “true” story had the temple been cleansed twice. As is no doubt obvious to even the most unlettered of Ehrman’s students, neither gospel writer provides an exhaustive account of everything Jesus said or did. As the apostle John communicates in hyperbolic parlance (no doubt lost on a wooden literalist), “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25 NIV).
Furthermore, the gospel of John itself provides a more than historically plausible insight…
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