Differences in John and Why They Matter, Part 1

Differences in John and Why They Matter, Part 1 February 29, 2024


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:13-22)

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If you’re familiar with this Social Jesus Blog, Weekly eSights, Jesus for Everyone podcast, or weekly YouTube show Just Talking, you won’t be surprised by the stark differences between this version of the Jesus story, which emerged out of the Johannine community, and the earlier gospels in our sacred canon, the synoptics Mark, Matthew, and Luke. 

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus’ protest in the temple state’s courtyard comes at the end of the the story and is the reason the state executes Jesus on a Roman cross. John was written much later than any of the other canonical gospels, and by that time, Jesus’ death on the cross was far removed from his protest in the temple. The protest happens at the very beginning of the story and the crucifixion comes at the end. These events have nothing to do with each other in the Johannine community’s gospel.

It’s not only the narrative location of this story that is different between these gospels. Jesus’ motive is vastly different as well. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus’ protest is rooted in zeal for the masses who are being marginalized and crushed by the Temple State’s complicity with the Roman empire. Consider Mark’s version of the story:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of crooks.’” (Mark 11:15-17)

Jesus’ words in Mark’s story combine two passages from the Hebrew scriptures, the first from Isaiah and the later from Jeremiah.

“These I will bring to my holy mountain

and give them joy in my house of prayer.

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for my house will be called 

a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)

“If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you 

do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent 

blood in this place, Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of crooks to 

you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:5-11)

What we must pay attention to in Jeremiah is where the phrase “den of crooks” comes from. This detail magnifies one important differences in John and why it matters. We’ll unpack Jeremiah’s and Mark’s use of this phrase, next.

(Read Part 2)


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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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