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Was Jesus Violent? The Temple Money-Changers Incident

Jesus and the Money Changers' Greed and CorruptionOne incident often comes up in discussions of Jesus and the generally non-violent flavor of his teaching – the time (or two) when he overthrew money-changer’s tables in the temple compound in Jerusalem. [Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:8]

I am assuming that the reports are accurate. I would like to point out a few things – to help us avoid the idea that Jesus here promoted the kinds of violence we tend to indulge in.

… to help us avoid the idea that Jesus here promoted the kinds of violence we tend to indulge in.


  1. So far as we know he did not physically hurt any person or animal.
  2. He did not torture or kill anyone.
  3. He did not offer any teaching about the event or encourage anyone to imitate this particular behavior. Given his general style and priorities I assume that if he wanted to emphasize it’s significance as a “ministry” or reform technique he would have made that clear.
  4. He never asked anyone to do anything similar to this, either on a specific occasion or as a general principle.
  5. This action was directed against financial exploiters of people trying to worship God, and of those worshipers’ vulnerability in that particular setting.
  6. It was not directed against those who had to use the “services” of those exploiters.
  7. He was not trying to physically enforce his program or views, or he would have repeated the activity frequently. He would have stayed around to forcibly ensure these legal crooks did not re-establish themselves.
  8. It was very non-violent in the sense that no blood was spilt, no arrests made, no beating or torture practiced – not even once; such events were certainly not established as a pattern.
  9. In spite of this very low level of “violence”, and partly because of the rarity of this kind of action, he was making a very powerful visualization of crucial moral priorities.
  10. It was not Jesus’ standard procedure or on-going policy, but a very tiny proportion of his public activity over those three years.
  11. Thus it was not at all the focus of his work or the substance of his plan for his disciples or for the transformation of the world.
  12. But it did happen, and it was apparently quite intentional.


I. This moment of “violence” in Jesus’ life was a bloodless illustration of God’s anger at

  • the worship of money-making and extortion where there is pretended focus on God, and
  • the financially ripping off of the vulnerable by those with clout, in the name of the worship of God.

II. Jesus’ behavior on this occasion – or on any other – in no way justifies:

Violence in our world – as in Jesus’ day – has a very different flavor than this expression of anger at hypocrisy and greed.
    • men (or women) being physically abusive to their spouses, children, or others;
    • invading and occupying small weak nations for no reasons or for reasons only of ego and greed (as the Romans were doing in Judea and Galilee, and we Americans are doing in Iraq);
    • shooting, bombing, and torturing tens or hundreds of thousands of people to death or disability as on-going national policy;
    • lying about and misrepresenting some or all aspects of a situation in order to justify any of the above violent behaviors.

Added in late 2016:

  • threatening with guns anyone whose behavior or attitudes we don’t approve of
  • verbally insulting or threatening with physical violence people because their race or religion differes from what we think is ok
  • US government agencies physically assaulting non-violent activitists protesting illegal and / or destructive activities within our own country


Using this incident in Jesus’ life to justify the massive violence of our presence in Iraq (or any other misuse of force in our world) IGNORES what Jesus was really doing here.

He was physically expressing very appropriate outrage.

He was not arresting, injuring, torturing, or killing anyone, neither the guilty parties nor innocent bystanders.

Do not use or allow others to use this as an argument in defense of the use of violence. Violence in our world - as in Jesus' day - has a very different flavor than this expression of anger at hypocrisy and greed.Click To Tweet

He was expressing outrage at the misuse of religion in the service of greed,

and at the abuse of the common people for the same purpose.

I have no doubt that God is outraged today with some American Christians for similar reasons.

Please. If you agree with what I have written above, do not use or allow others to use this event in Jesus’ life as an argument in defense of the use of violence. Violence in our world – as in Jesus’ day – has a very different flavor than this expression of anger at hypocrisy and greed.

Hits: 43


  • Someone said Peter cut off a soldier’s ear needs to reread the bible. It was the ear of a the servant of the high priest. No Roman soldiers were in that mob that took Jesus that night. He was arrested by local authorities and handed over to Pilate in exchange for Barrababus(sp?)

    The disciples had swords because God permits one to defend their life and family if threatened by another. He was told to put it back in its place.

    No, Jesus would not object to animal sacrifices. They were necessary until he Finished the final sacrifice in which he was the lamb that shed his blood. After that it would not be necessary.

  • The money changers were thieves and stealing from the poor.

    just as they do in the 21st century. an ounce of gold is still an ounce of gold but the dollar is worth less.

    We make more bricks with the same amount of sticks … hmm .. just like the slaves did for the Pharaoh

  • I wonder, if our Lord walked among us today, if he would come into the places in which we worship and turn over tables. I actually think he would… I think we sometimes get wrapped up in “blaming” the money changers in this story of our Lord, but I’m wondering if it’s less to do with money and more, the simple prevention of worship. Whether it was money or otherwise, I think Jesus was ticked that the Worship was being shifted FROM the Father to something else. In this story, the “something else” was money… What is it at your place of worship???

  • Jesus was angered because the Court of the Gentiles had been completely taken over for commerce. This denied the Gentiles access to their Court in the temple which was the place they could pray, worship, and request relief from injustice. Jesus was clearing this court to restore the place of the Gentiles (that’s you and me unless you’re Jewish) and passing judgment on the establishment that denied access to the gentiles by appropriating their Court, and also denying access to the poor by overcharging for the convenience of location. Jesus was seen as a threat to the Temple commerce, and the exclusivity of the Jew. As a threat to the Temple, he was also a threat to Rome; since Rome had thoroughly corrupted the temple, using it to rule the people. As a result he was arrested and crucified.

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