Why does Jesus cleanse the temple in John 2?

The gospel lectionary reading for Lent 3 in Year B is John 2.13–22, the Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus ‘cleansing’ the temple and driving out the traders and money-changers. After quite a bit of immersion in passages from Mark’s gospel, it is an interesting contrast to be back in John. No driving narrative here, but a much more crafted, ‘literary’ shape to the passage, with careful structuring. And instead of teaching us things through the placing of one event after another—communicating by putting things next to each other in parataxis—this gospel does its work by double meaning—communicating by overlaying things on top of one another!

Our passage follows on from the miracle of water into wine at the wedding at Cana, but in between there is a brief topographical and temporal reference: ‘He went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days’ (John 2.12). The comment combining his biological family and the new family of faith is intriguing; we only know of Capernaum as his ministry base from Matthew 4.13, but here as elsewhere the writer of the Fourth Gospel assumes that we have read the other three.

From Cana in the hills, you must ‘go down’ to Capernaum by the lake, and similarly you must ‘go up’ to Jerusalem, since it is at a higher altitude. (In both Greek and Hebrew, the phrases ‘go up’ and ‘go down’ are a single verb.) Whereas we tend to view movement by compass direction, looking from above at a map with north being ‘up’ (so from where I live in Nottingham, I would ‘go down’ to London), here the movement is viewed from the ground, so what matters is whether you climb or whether you descend. Such topographical detail marks out this gospel, which (despite being thought of as the ‘spiritual’ gospel) has more and more accurate topographical references than the others.

Jesus the word become flesh in John 1

Every now and then, I catch myself tuning in to the Antiques Roadshow, mostly in order to see the reaction of those who have brought along heirlooms when they discover their value. Last week a woman brought in two not very impressive plates, one of which was broken in half and poorly held together with … Continue Reading

Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael in John 1

The gospel lectionary reading for the Second Sunday in Epiphany is the next stage in Jesus’ initial encounter with the first disciples in John 1.43–51, in which Philip introduces Nathanael to Jesus. Like other passages in this early part of the Fourth Gospel, it is quite a sparse narrative, but laden with significance, including anticipations … Continue Reading

Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael in John 1

The gospel lectionary reading for the Second Sunday in Epiphany is the next stage in Jesus’ initial encounter with the first disciples in John 1.43–51, in which Philip introduces Nathanael to Jesus. Like other passages in this early part of the Fourth Gospel, it is quite a sparse narrative, but laden with significance, including anticipations … Continue Reading

John the Baptist’s testimony in John 1

The lectionary gospel reading for Advent 3 is John 1.6–8 and 19–28, which picks out parts of John the Baptist’s testimony from the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel. Despite being highly selective from this remarkable opening chapter, it nevertheless contains key words and ideas that are carried through the whole gospel. Perhaps the most … Continue Reading

The testimony of John the Baptist in John 1 video discussion

The lectionary gospel reading for Advent 3 is John 1.6–8 and 19–28, which picks out parts of John the Baptist’s testimony from the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel. Despite being highly selective from this remarkable opening chapter, it nevertheless contains key words and ideas that are carried through the whole gospel. Come and join … Continue Reading

What does it mean to ‘love God with your mind’?

Is Christian faith about an affective encounter with God, or about becoming convinced about the case for Christianity? You will immediately be crying ‘False dichotomy!’—but it is worth reflecting on the balance between these two ideas in contemporary expressions of faith. There was a time when the tradition of rational enquiry was most influential, but … Continue Reading