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Was Jesus Violent When He Harassed the Temple Money-Changers?

When considering “was Jesus violent?” one incident often comes up – the time when he overturned money-changers’ tables in the temple compound in Jerusalem.

Was Jesus Violent?To discuss “was Jesus violent” at this event I am assuming that the reports are fairly accurate. Let me point out a few things – to help us avoid the idea that Jesus here promoted the kinds of violence we tend to indulge in.

What Went On Back Then? WAS Jesus Violent? (12 items)

[Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-17, John 2:13-17]
  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 encourage anyone to imitate this particular behavior, either on a specific occasion or as a general principle.
  4. Nor did he offer any teaching about the event. If he wanted to emphasize it’s significance as a “ministry” or reform technique he would have made that clear.
  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.
  9. He was making a very powerful visualization of crucial moral priorities through this very low level of “violence”, and partly because of the rarity of this kind of action.
  10. It was not a pattern.  It was not Jesus’ standard procedure or on-going policy, nor a procedure recommended to us or anyone, 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, it was apparently quite intentional, and it loudly made a point.  (“Your house is left to you desolate!” probably referring to their much revered Temple.)
    … to help us avoid the idea that Jesus here promoted the kinds of violence we tend to indulge in.

Was Jesus violent?  If so, shouldn’t we also be violent?  No, and No.

So for today – It Was, and It Wasn’t

I. This moment of “violence” in Jesus’ life WAS

a bloodless illustration of God’s anger at:

  • 1. the worship of money-making and extortion while there is pretended focus on God,
    • (After all, according to Paul, “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.”)
  • 2. financially ripping off the vulnerable by those with clout, in the name of the worship of God.

II. Jesus’ behavior on this occasion – or on any other – WASN’T, and 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 and elsewhere);
  • shooting, bombing, and torturing tens or hundreds of thousands of people to death or disability as on-going national policy;
  • deploying and supporting local “death squads” and other enforcers of our agenda in other countries;
  • 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 our massive violence

in Iraq (or any other misuse of force in our world) IGNORES what Jesus was really doing here.  It’s a fraudulent argument.  Let’s just say, if this incident endorses violence by Jesus’ followers today, it also hints loudly that they should limit their violence to the same very mild level – eh?  No bombs.  No guns.  No torture.

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

Was Jesus violent?  I’d say no, not in any ways the word is actually used.

But he sure was expressing outrage at the misuse of religion by the money-changers, in the service of greed,

and at the abuse of the common people for that 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 uncontested this event in Jesus’ life as an argument in defense of violence. Violence in our world – as in Jesus’ day – has a very different flavor than this expression of anger at religiously justified hypocrisy and greed.

See also on this site “Turn the Other Cheek” and “Pope Francis’ Experience with Right-Wing Violence.”

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  • This is an incident that is completely misunderstood. Mostly because people haven’t read closely enough in scripture. There was no violence nor physical confrontation between Christ and the money changers. He made a whip, and drove animals out of the temple, as anyone who would move a herd of animals at the time… he then turned to the money changers and turned over their tables and told them not to use the temple as a money making facility. Nowhere does it say he raised a hand to the money changers, nor perpetrated any act of violence against anyone.

  • I once read what I consider the most logical explanation for this incident, but I do not remember the source. In it Jesus was said to have risen early like 6 AM and went on to the temple grounds and began to preach. By that time he was drawing huge crowds of people (think, rock concert). In their eagerness to hear what he had to say people crowded onto the temple grounds and tried to get as close to him as possible. In the process they climbed over the money-changers tables, knocking over cages, standing on the tables, and releasing the animals just so they could crowd in closer. The moneychangers wouldn’t get there until 10 AM (think, banks). By that time the place was a shambles because of the crowd’s passion to hear Jesus. So, without so much as lifting a finger, Jesus restored the proper function of the temple to a place that one went to hear the word of God. He effectively and non-violently “ejected” the moneychangers simply by the power of his personality and his message. I like this interpretation very much. Does anybody out there know where I read it?

  • So following the example of Jesus, if someone in church responds to a stock market alert on their cell phone, it would be acceptable for anyone to grab their phone from them and smash it on the floor?

  • Looks to me like that’s why Jesus was killed. Why didn’t Jesus just tell everyone there that it was wrong to do business in the temple?, instead of wrecking all their stuff. I think it’s going to be impossible for me to ever spin this into anything right. Although I still think Jesus was correct about heaven.