Why do the accounts of the clearing of the temple in John and the other gospels differ as to timing?
While reading the book of John, I noticed that Jesus drives out the moneylenders out of the temple long before the triumphant entry in Jerusalem. This differs from the other 3 gospels which shows the scene of cleansing the temple just after the triumphant entry. What do you think of this?
There are two responses offered to explain this seeming contradiction.
1. John is an author who gives relatively little attention to chronology and much attention to thematic presentation in his gospel. He is putting an incident that happened quite late in Jesus’ ministry at an earlier point in his account for thematic reasons.
2. Jesus caused an incident the temple twice (or perhaps even more than twice!)–once near the beginning of his ministry and again somewhere around three years later.
Oh, there is a third possibility:
3. John is simply wrong. He is claiming that this event happened at a time when it did not in fact happen. His account in irretrievably in contradiction to the synoptic accounts–proving the Bible is not inspired by God.
Personally, I lean toward the second explanation. The details in John and in the synoptics are sufficiently different that I believe these are two separate, although somewhat similar events. John surely was well aware of the account in Matthew when he wrote his gospel. Explanation #3 is not a reasonable one! Surely he knew that Jesus overturned the tables during his last week. John could not have been mistaken. Even if his memory was wrong on the timing (very unlikely), he was surely aware of Matthew’s version of the events. In the account in John 2:13-25, Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove the animals out of the temple court. In Matthew 21:12-17 there is no mention of him driving animals out of the temple court. This difference in the accounts is no slam dunk supporting my explanation, but it is worth noting.
I have heard the argument against explanation #2 that it is impossible that Jesus could have done what he did as recorded in John 2 and then to have been able to do it again three years later. The argument is that the temple officials would have permanently barred Jesus from the temple courts. To me, this is not a strong argument. Although Jesus did make a rather big stir early in his ministry, as recorded in John, when he came to Jerusalem the week of his death he was received by the people with great acclaim. Hundreds if not thousands received him as he entered Jerusalem, declaring Hosannah! The temple officials were afraid of this popular preacher. To me it is not at all surprising that they let Jesus into the temple courts and that he again publicly rebuked the hypocrisy of those who were selling items for profit–taking advantage of the poor right there in the temple. Clearly, from John 2, we know that this really disturbed Jesus. So, I prefer explanation #2 above, I completely reject explanation #3 and think explanation #1 is possible, but not likely.