Differences in John and Why They Matter, Part 2

Differences in John and Why They Matter, Part 2 February 29, 2024


As we continue to consider the differences in John and why they matter, what we must pay attention to is where the synoptics phrase “den of crooks” comes from. A den of thieves and robbers is not where theft is taking place but where the thieves retreat, thinking they are safe after their theft has been committed. The temple functioned in exactly this fashion for the elites and powerful in the temple state. They could oppress the “foreigner, the fatherless or the widow” while practicing their religious piety and claiming they were still in good standing with the God of the Torah because they were still practicing the ritual ceremonies of the temple:

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

“Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury . . . and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe;—safe to do all these detestable things?” (Jeremiah 7:9-10)

“Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

Consider how this theme appears in the book of Isaiah, another Hebrew prophet:

“The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

  When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts? 

  Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them. 

  When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I hide my eyes from you;

even when you offer many prayers,

I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

  Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight;

stop doing wrong.

  Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed. 

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17)

For the prophets, God is much more concerned with social justice than with all the people’s religious ritual observances. It’s this Hebrew, prophetic justice tradition that Jesus is standing squarely in in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

But in John’s gospel, this tradition is wholly erased and Jesus’ motive is the exact opposite. We’ll discuss this difference and why it matters in our final installment, part 3.


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About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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