HOUSMAIL HM#034 - THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE 6 September 1999 _________________________________________________________________________
John 2:12-13 records the incident when Jesus drove the stock merchants and their flocks from the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers. It is often suggested by non-pacifists that this story tells us that Jesus must have used physical violence. And they jump from there to justify Christian participation in war, or violent response to aggression against themselves.
However a careful reading of this passage will show that it cannot be used to build a case either FOR or AGAINST the use of physical violence against others.
It doesn't say specifically that Jesus used actual physical violence against the stock sellers and money changers. (And to be fair, it doesn't say specifically that he didn't!)
There are many different types and shapes of whips, used for different purposes. This story tells us that the whip was made from "cords", but apart from that, it doesn't describe it in enough detail to allow us to decide how it might have been used. It certainly doesn't say that Jesus actually hit any person with the whip, and it doesn't even say that he used the whip to hit the animals.
Have you ever seen Australian stockmen using whips to drive a flock? They seldom strike the animals. They simply "crack" the whip to make a noise like a rifle shot. That is usually enough to get the flock moving. And once the flock is moving, the stockmen HAVE TO FOLLOW to avoid losing some of it!
We can only speculate about what actually did happen in the Temple. But I suggest that it is neither reasonable, or acceptable, to speculate that Jesus breached His own plain teaching about non-violence!
But it is not beyond reasonable speculation that once the flocks were on the move, down the steps of the Temple, and out into the streets of Jerusalem, all mixed together, those frantic Jewish merchants would have been running after them at record breaking speeds, to try to recover their "investment"! It wouldn't really have required ANY physical violence from Jesus to "drive them out"!
Same with the money changers. There was all their precious money scattered all over the temple courtyard! Just imagine their PANIC as they scrabbled to pick it back up, before some opportunists amongst the crowds visiting the Temple beat them to it and said "finders keepers"!
Certainly there is nothing in the story that could be used to justify any next GIANT LEAP to support the making of international or civil war!
Nor does it say anything that sounds even remotely like permission for christians in opposing armies to shoot at each other with intent to kill.
Nor does it discuss in any way, the use of violence in defence of one's person, possessions, or "rights".
To learn what Jesus did plainly teach about non-violence, we look to The Sermon On The Mount. There we are told plainly that peacemakers will be called the children of God. (NOT warmakers!)
Disciples are enjoined to:
For me, it makes much more sense to read the story of the "cleansing of the Temple" in HARMONY with THAT teaching. And that would mean that Jesus was able to achieve His goal of cleansing the Temple, without PHYSICALLY ASSAULTING anyone!