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Note of the Day – January 21

This is the concluding portion of an extended note on the “Cleansing of the Temple” narrative in John 2:13-22, posted on Jan 19 and 20. Here I will discuss the Temple saying in vv. 19ff:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Connection to the question in verse 18. There is a parallel structure between the two verses:

  • Introduction: “Therefore the Judeans judged from (this) [a)pekri/qhsan] and said [ei@pan] to him”
    • Question: “What sign are you showing that you (should) do these (things)?” (v. 18)
  • Introduction: “Jesus judged from (this) [a)pekri/qh] and said [ei@pen] to them”
    • Answer: “Loose this shrine and in three days I will raise it” (v. 19)

The verb a)pokri/nomai indicates responding back to something one has considered (“judged”); in simple narrative, as here, we would say “answered/responded and said…”. Previously I mentioned the possibility that the saying in verse 19 was originally separate from the “cleansing” episode, and that the Gospel writer has joined the two traditions together. Whether or not this is the case, the parallelism indicated above demonstrates precise, careful handling of the material; one might extend the structure, by considering v. 18-19a as a chiasm introducing the saying:

  • The Judeans answered/responded and said
    • “What sign are you showing…?”
  • Jesus answered/responded and said…

It is a bit difficult to determine just how the saying relates to the Judeans’ question (whether at the historical level or in the Gospel narrative). In spite of the different (Johannine) vocabulary, the question would be similar to that in Mark 11:28 par (“in what authority are you doing these things?”). Jesus’ response could then be paraphrased as “I have authority/power even to (destroy and) rebuild the Temple”. The imperative lu/sate seems to put the challenge to the Judeans—i.e. “(Even) if you were to destroy/dissolve this Temple…” or perhaps “Go ahead and destroy this Temple…”—but there is some uncertainty that this represents the original form of the saying (see below).

Relation of this Saying to the later ‘charge’. The saying in Jn 2:19 is similar to that presented at Jesus’ ‘trial’ before the Sanhedrin, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark and Matthew). Here are the three sayings:

Mark 14:58

We heard him saying that
“I will loose down [katalu/sw] this shrine th(at is) made-with-hands and through [i.e. by/within] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands”

Matthew 26:61

This (man) said
“I have power [i.e. am able] to loose down [katalu=sai] the shrine of God and through [i.e. by/within] three days to build (it again).”

John 2:19

Jesus answered and said to them
“Loose [lu/sate] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (up again).”

Even though the account in Mark/Matthew states that these were false and/or contradictory witnesses, most critical scholars would hold that Jesus made some declaration or prophecy along these lines. The charge was reasonably widespread (cf. also Mark 15:30 par, and Acts 6:14), and all three Synoptics record a prediction that the Temple would be destroyed (Mark 13:1-3 par.). And, of course, it would seem to be confirmed by the saying in Jn 2:19. What is the relationship between the Johannine saying and the Synoptic (false) saying? There are several possibilities:

  • They reflect separate sayings or traditions
  • It is the same saying—John records the exact form, the Synoptics show how it was misrepresented at the ‘trial’
  • It is the same saying, recorded by the Synoptic ‘witnesses’ with general accuracy, and modified slightly in John

The second option is probably closer to being correct, though critical arguments could be (and have been) made for the third. What do the Synoptics (Matthew/Mark) mean when they state that the saying as reported is “false” witness (Mk 14:57; Matt 26:60 [Luke omits the incident])? Do they deny that Jesus ever made such a statement (contrary to Jn 2:19)? Or is it a matter of misrepresenting what Jesus said? How then was it misrepresented? There are only a few ways this could have been done:

  • Altering the saying so that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple (“I will destroy/dissolve…”). By comparison, in John the imperative is used, directed at the Judeans (“[Go ahead and] destroy/dissolve…”). Interestingly, the version in Matthew (“I have power to destroy/dissolve…”), while differing in vocabulary, is not so different in meaning from the saying in John.
  • The reference to destroying the Temple that is made with hands (xeiropoi/hto$) and building in its place one made without hands (a)xeiropoi/hto$). These qualifiers are absent from the versions of the saying in Matthew and John. However, the sort of spiritual replacement of the Temple suggested by the terms is consonant with later New Testament theology, and could have originated with Jesus. For a somewhat comparable interpretation in the Gospel of John itself, see below.
  • There are two other small differences between the Synoptic and Johannine sayings: (1) the trial witnesses use the phrase “dia/ [through, i.e. by/within] three days”, while Jesus says “e)n [in] three days”; and (2) the trial witnesses use the verb oi)kodome/w (“build [a house]”), while Jesus uses the verb e)gei/rw (“raise”). It is hard to know how far these differences alter the meaning, other than that the language in John better fits the interpretation of the saying given in Jn 2:21 (see below).

The Reaction to the Saying in v. 20. One common element of the references to the Temple saying (with the possible exception of Mark 14:58) is that those who heard it assumed that Jesus meant he would destroy the actual (Herodian) Temple. The Synoptic Gospels record that Jesus, in fact, did predict its destruction (Mk 13:1-2 par). How people understood the second half of the saying is not as clear: the Markan version presented at the ‘trial’ indicates that Jesus would build a Temple “made without hands”, by which probably was meant a real (physical) building, but one produced miraculously (possibly coming down out of Heaven). In John, the Judeans naturally question how Jesus could rebuild something comparable to the Herodian Temple (which took “forty-six years to build”) in just three days. This is an example of the wordplay, and theme of misunderstanding, which appear frequently in the Fourth Gospel—Jesus’ audience takes his words at the (superficial) level of their apparent meaning, and miss their deeper (true, spiritual) significance. This is clear from the Johannine interpretation which follows in vv. 21-22.

It is worth noting that many critical scholars believe that (the historical) Jesus meant the words literally (more or less as presented in the Synoptic ‘trial’ narrative)—that he said he would destroy (or that God would destroy) the Herodian Temple, and a new (miraculous) Temple would rise in its place. A new/rebuilt Temple was certainly part of the exilic/post-exilic prophecies (already found in so-called Deutero-Trito-Isaiah [cf. Isa 44:28; 56:1-8; 60:3-14; 66:18-24], and see especially in Ezek 40-48), tied to the idea of the restoration of Israel and, in post-exilic Jewish writings, to the dawn of the Messianic age (e.g., Tobit 14:5ff; 1 Enoch 89-90; and the Qumran Temple Scroll). It is also certain that the Herodian Temple was far from the idealized Temple of the new age—witness the critiques of the Qumran sectarians, and the “Cleansing” by Jesus—and, therefore, the coming of the Messiah would require the rebuilding of a pure new Temple. While some of Jesus’ followers may have expected this of him, there is precious little evidence for such a conventional “Messianic” emphasis in the Gospel narratives as they stand. Indeed, by the time the later New Testament books were written (including, it would seem, the Gospels of Luke and John, c. 75-90 A.D.), there is hardly a trace to be found of expectation for a rebuilt Temple.

The Johannine Interpretation (vv. 21-22). These verses, by the Gospel writer, finally determine how one must interpret the saying in the text as it stands. This interpretation is summarized first in v. 21—

But that one [i.e. Jesus] related/spoke about the shrine [nao/$] of his body

and then is expounded (parallel with verse 17) in v. 22—

Therefore when he was raised [h)ge/rqh] out of [i.e. from] the dead (ones), his learners [i.e. disciples] remembered that he had said/related this, and they trusted in the Writing and the account [i.e. word] which Yeshua {Jesus} had said.

The Temple saying as recorded by the Synoptics (at the ‘trial’) also uses the word nao/$ (“shrine”), presumably for the Temple as a whole (also in v. 20 here), even though the word more properly applies to the inner Sanctuary (“Holy Place”). Similarly the term i(ero/n (“sacred-place”), though it also could be used for the entire Temple (precincts), in the “cleansing” episode almost certainly it refers to the outer court (i.e. of the Gentiles). By bringing these two traditions together, the Gospel writer here creates an important juxtaposition between i(ero/n and nao/$—the nao/$ Jesus was speaking of was the (inner) sanctuary/shrine of his body. In this regard, the significance in his use of e)gei/rw (“raise”) in v. 19 is obvious. Here, too, we see the Johannine theme of Jesus replacing, or fulfilling, the Old Testament religious types and symbols—the focus moves away from the physical Jerusalem Temple (both sacred-precincts and shrine) to the Person of Jesus. This theme will recur, in various forms, throughout chapters 3-12, as Jesus appears in Jerusalem during the various feasts and holy days (Sabbath, Passover [twice more], Sukkoth/Tabernacles, and Dedication/Hanukkah). Ultimately, Jesus will be depicted as the sacrificial (Paschal) Lamb slain (on the cross) on the eve of Passover (Jn 19:14, 31-36).

This diminishing of the Temple’s importance, of priority given to the Spirit over the physical/material, is reflected elsewhere in the Gospel of John (see esp. Jn 4:21-24; 6:63). In the Johannine book of Revelation, the Heavenly Temple of God is mentioned (Rev 7:15; 11:19; 14;15-17; 16:1, 17), virtually to the exclusion of the earthly (11:1-2). In the final vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, it is stated that there is no Temple [nao/$] in it—for the Lord God Almighty is its Temple [nao/$], along with the Lamb (21:22).

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