Cleansing of the Temple: Before or after Palm Sunday?


In the Synoptics, the two events take place in quick succession. In Luke, the Cleansing of the Temple follows immediately, the same day as the Triumphal Entry. Mark says it was the next day, and Matthew apparently agrees with Mark. References: Matt 21:1-16, Mark 11.1-17, Luke 19:29-46.

In John, the Cleansing of the Temple occurred a few days before Passover (John 2:13-17), but in an earlier year.

From what I’ve read, it seems that Catholic commentators are divided between those who go for John’s timing and those who go for the Synoptics, while Protestants and others either go with the Synoptics or simply don’t bother to raise the question of timing at all. Is there, in fact, any consensus on the question?



The Synoptic Gospels have more of a historical approach whereas John’s Gospel, which was written later on, is more of a theological text. John intended more to explain the spiritual significance of events and because of that different approach in the purpose of the book should not be looked to for historical accuracy - its not that its inaccurate just that it does not intend to convey historical details, but rather to give broad brushstrokes of what happened and then to explain the significance of events (e.g. the “Bread of Life” dialogue in John 6 or the “In the beginning was the Word” text in John 1).


For an orderly Gospel I would have to go to Luke’s, as he stated:

(Luk 1:1 KJV) Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,



Why cannot both accounts be true? Maybe Jesus was in the habit of cleansing the Temple whenever he visited Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2: Holy Week - From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, touches upon this subject briefly on page 18, saying:
While the majority of exegetes assumed until recently that John’s chronology is “theological” and not historically exact, today it is becoming clearer that there are good reasons to consider John’s account chronologically accurate as well—here, as elsewhere, he shows himself to be very well informed concerning times, places, and sequences of events, notwithstanding the profoundly theological character of the material.


There’s really no consensus on the question. If anything, most people tend to take the synoptic chronology over John’s; as in peter26’s post, they usually explain the order in John’s gospel as John moving the event to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry for theological reasons. The reason why many prefer the synoptic chronology (which places it during Holy Week) is because they think the Temple incident really helps explain why the chief priests saw Jesus as a threat: He was making a disturbance in a highly-volatile season such as Passover. Not to mention it helps explain how and why Jesus’ supposedly threatening the temple was used against Him during Good Friday.

Personally, though (this is now me talking - you don’t have to agree with me), I nowadays kind of go against the grain and take the opposite approach: what if John’s version is actually the historically-accurate detail and it was the synoptics who moved the incident?

Here’s the thing: many people are kind of biased against John’s gospel; they’re really put off by the long discourses John’s Jesus gives every now and then and the work’s very high Christology. You might say that they think the ‘lower’ Christology of the other three gospels has a higher degree of verisimilitude and thus are more accurate representations of the historical Jesus. It used to be that John was seen as the least historically reliable of any of the four gospels.

But they’re throwing the baby with the bathwater. Nowadays, times are changing; as many scholars noted, John’s gospel is actually the only one that has a proper chronology and the one that can be reconstructed on a map (the synoptics, by contrast, are very episodic and thus, really kind of jumps all over the place). When comparing the synoptics to John, John is actually held to be the more ‘authentic’: his representation of things around Jerusalem is often superior to that of the synoptics, and his portrayal of certain events in Jesus’ life (such as Jesus being crucified before Passover or the simple interrogation session before the high priest Annas as opposed to the full-blown ‘trial’ in the synoptics) are held to have a higher degree of historical plausibility, or at least, historical verisimilitude. In fact, it is easier to fit the synoptics within John’s narrative framework than to explain John’s narrative within the framework of any of the synoptics.

IMHO it could be possible that John’s version - Jesus cleansed the temple early in His ministry - is the ‘historically accurate’ detail, and it was actually the other evangelists who moved the incident later, mainly because in the synoptics there is really only one recorded Passover (whereas John has three). It’s probable that the synoptics combined incidents from the different Passovers of Jesus’ public ministry with the final one that they did include. Or as Todd mentioned, Jesus could have probably had the habit of making yearly demonstrations in the Temple Mount. Who knows?


When Pope Benedict and Patrick457 find themselves on the same side of an argument, we need to take their words seriously! I haven’t read Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth books, but I think I will now. When the first one came out I glanced through it standing up in a bookstore, and decided to give it a miss. That may have been a mistake.

Thank you all very much.



John has three Passovers, but if you look at Luke his Passover stories bridge a chapter, with the money changer story being first.

Luke could have put all his Passover stories about Jesus in together- not having an accurate time reference.

Looking at secondary characters in the NT as they are written about in secular works- Josephus in particular- a time line can be derived that validates John. The key string of events analyzed is John the Baptist- the start of his ministry, his arrest, his execution- and Antipas’ subsequent invasion of Nabotea.


I have had a quick look at the passages in the Jewish War and in Book 18 of the Antiquities, but Josephus doesn’t go out of his way to be helpful with the dating. I have read that the sequence of events went something like this (paraphrasing from memory):

AD 6, Archelaus deposed, Judea comes under direct rule (prefects or procurators). Aretas takes advantage of the temporary power vacuum to grab a slice of Galilean (Judean?) territory and add it to his own kingdom of Nabatea.

(Date unknown) Rome intervenes to restore the peace. As part of the settlement, Antipas takes Aretas’s unnamed daughter as his wife.

(Date unknown, sometime after the death of John the Baptist). Fighting breaks out again between Aretas and Antipas.

When I say “date unknown,” I mean unknown to me. Presumably there are historians who must either know the exact dates or at least have a pretty shrewd idea of them.

Steve, does this pattern fit your own view of the course of events? If it’s wrong, can you please supply the requisite corrections?



It’s a big topic, and there are threads on it somewhere. Didn’t we go 'round on this before??

Basically, the Gospel of Mark starts when Jesus flees to the Galilee after Antipas imprisoned John the Baptist.

And a key passage in Josephus is on the execution of JB. Nothing is mentioned of Herodias and the dance of her daughter Salome. John was arrested and imprisoned in Macherus for fear he would disrupt Antipas’ troops.

The assumption is that Antipas’ troops were nearby in the south Perea area preparing for war with King Aretas.

Also in Josephus is a passage about Tiberius’ anger at Aretas defeating Antipas’ army, and so he sends Vitellius to avenge it.

So google those passages in Josephus and re-evaluate your position- if you have to.

Jesus’ movements in the Gospel of John fits very nicely in with Josephus…


Yes, I remember now. We were discussing the date of the Crucifixion. In the end, as I recall, we agreed to disagree.


I did not agree to disagree. I think the true end was that you didn’t have an answer for the evidence I presented and stopped posting.


Well, would you believe it? :tiphat: Me and the Pope in agreement. :aok:


Hi Bart. Actually, Ive thought about this subject a lot. Would you consider my article about it here? In short, I believe that the temple was cleared twice.


No, you are wrong. That is not what happened. Take a look at that thread:

In my post #36, addressed to you, I wrote:*

Notionally, at least, it is possible to construct a time-chart for the Nabatean invasion and Vitellius’ arrival in Jerusalem, but there will be nothing in it that will be of any help in dating the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus.*

You never produced any evidence to contradict that assertion. If you have found any such evidence in the meantime, feel free to post it here.


Thank you, Cyberseeker. I’ve downloaded your article. It’ll take me a little while to work my way through it, but I’ll get back to you later.




In your article you make a strong case for the possibility that the Cleansing of the Temple may have happened more than once. In particular, your citation of John 4:45 lends strong support to this idea. “When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.”

At first sight, there is another possible explanation of that verse. Perhaps the Cleansing of the Temple happened only once, and John has got the timing right while the Synoptics’ timing is wrong.

On the other hand, if the Synoptics’ timing is wrong, that leaves a different question unanswered. If the Cleansing of the Temple didn’t happen in Holy Week, but a year or two earlier, that would surely mean it couldn’t have had any immediate connection with the decision by Annas and Caiaphas to have Jesus arrested and sentenced to death. Are we prepared to accept that there was no such close connection between the two events?

One last question: assuming that it happened twice, why was it only the second time that it prompted the Temple authorities to act as they did? Why not the first time as well? — The 3½ year prophecy doesn’t answer this question, by the way. It might explain why Jesus decided that the time had not yet come, but it wouldn’t explain why Annas and Caiaphas decided to take no action against him on that occasion, would it?



Just my opinion.

Just because the temple incident could have happened earlier doesn’t necessarily mean that it had no close connection with Jesus’ crucifixion. The demonstration at the temple was what put Jesus on the map, but it wasn’t the definitive deal breaker (‘Jesus must die and soon’) that the synoptics make it out to be.

The common argument against an early temple cleansing (assuming it happened only once) is that it would have been too early; it is claimed that the disturbance would not have gone unpunished for two or three years. But that’s only assuming that the cleansing was a sort of huge riot like you see in the movies, something that the text doesn’t really require. (Who knows, it could have been just a small-scale demonstration. Enough to make the priests antagonistic, but not big enough to make them arrest Him on the spot.) Not only that; even the synoptics share the same problem of delayed response by the authorities. (In the synoptic timeline, it takes them several days before they get around to arresting Jesus.) In any case, John 5 claims that the Jewish authorities already want to kill Jesus by His second visit to the city.

But even if the Jewish authorities did want to arrest Him, they could never do so because He was too slippery for them, and because whenever He was in Jerusalem He was surrounded by His Galilean followers and admirers. Arresting Him outright would be too risky.

If anything, I don’t see the need to regard the version in John’s gospel as somehow being less historical (as admittedly a few authors did): that the raising of Lazarus was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The temple incident antagonized the Jewish authorities toward Jesus; the incident with Lazarus (and possibly the connected triumphal entry too) made them want to definitively get rid of Him.

Reports of Jesus’ miracle-working confirmed the fears of Jewish leaders that the people were seeing Him as a sort of prophet or a messianic figure. I mean, the temple incident was still relatively minor when compared to that: Jesus at best could still be dismissed as a madman or an attention-seeker. But in a public festival such as Passover, just about anything could be a cause of unrest. Jesus attracting attention to Himself by His (claimed) resuscitation of the dead, making Himself look like a prophet or a messianic figure, in the environs of Jerusalem during Passover season, wouldn’t have helped. The danger scale just went upward.


Patrick, if I’ve understood you correctly, you’re saying that the “last straw” incident, the one that finally persuaded the Temple authorities that the death sentence was called for, was one or the other of these two:

If you go with the Synoptics’ timing of Holy Week, it was the cleansing of the Temple, with (perhaps) Jesus’ implied self-identification with God, “My house …” (Mark 11:17).

But if you go with John’s timing, it was the raising of Lazarus, with Jesus’ demonstration (as the authorities saw it) of his messianic or prophetic status.

… And, furthermore, that you are personally inclined to favor John’s version.

Is that correct? Or am I reading too much into your words?



Careful, Patrick.

I think Bart is laying a trap for you.


Read my post #38, two posts after yours, in the same thread for my response.

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