Problem: Accounts differ over when Jesus cleansed the temple
Verses: Mark 11:15-19, John 2:12–25; Status: Minor

A famous incident found in all four gospels is the cleansing of the temple. This is Mark 11:15-17:

And they came to Jerusalem. And 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 pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." (ESV)

Matthew and Luke, who based their gospels on that of Mark, have similar accounts. So too does John. This is John 2:13-16:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." (ESV)

These seem like accounts of the same event. The problem is that the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) place this event a week or so before the death of Jesus, whereas John has it near the start of his gospel, years before Jesus was crucified.

The obvious explanation is that Jesus cleansed the temple (at least) twice. The Apologetics Press suggests this, for example. It's conceivable. However, none of the gospels say this. I think it's more likely that there was just one such incident, and John and Mark - writing decades after the fact - disagreed about when it occurred.

Updated: 2010-03-27

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