15 On reaching Yerushalayim, he entered the Temple courts and began driving out those who were carrying on business there, both the merchants and their customers. He also knocked over the desks of the money-changers, upset the benches of the pigeon-dealers, 16 and refused to let anyone carry merchandise through the Temple courts. 17 Then, as he taught them, he said, “Isn’t it written in the BIble, My house will be called a house of prayer for all the Gentiles, But you have made it into a den of robbers!” 18 The head priests and the Torah-teachers heard what he said and tried to find a way to do away with him; they were afraid of him, because the crowds were utterly taken by his teaching.
Then Yeshua entered the Temple grounds and began driving out those doing business there, 46 saying to them, “The Bible says, ‘My House is to be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it into a den of robbers!”
47 Every day he taught at the Temple. The head priests, the Torah-teachers and the leaders of the people tried to find a way of putting an end to him; 48 but they couldn’t find any way of doing it, because all the people were hanging onto his every word.
Today I have printed out a) what Luke was reading in his source, the Gospel of Mark and b) what he made of it in his own Gospel.
Perhaps the modern reader will think that Luke has simply cut out irrelevant detail to make the bones of the story clear. At closer inspection however we can see that the detail is actually quite interesting.
Mark tells us the this happened in the “courts” of the temple which reminds us of its structure: the holy of holies, the holy place, the court of the priests, the court of the women, and the court of the Gentiles, the outer court. Mark’s readers would have understood that the traders were in the court of the Gentiles. He describes the kind of trading in detail, merchants, money-changers, and pigeon sellers. Some were trading in pilgrim tat, some in animals for sacrifice, other in the special shekels needed to pay the temple tax. Although the detail is not lavish, it gives a picture of the commercial interests which had invaded the place where Gentiles might want to pray to Israel’s God.
That’s why the words of the biblical quotation are so important; the temple is supposed to be “a house of prayer for all the Gentiles”. Mark depicts Jesus’ action as specifically in favour of Gentiles. Moreover, the quotation he uses from Isaiah 56: 7 is part of a prophecy about the future messianic age when the barriers between Israel and the Gentiles will be abolished and all people will have access to the One God. Mark wants his reader to see that with this action Jesus publicly declares that the messianic time has arrived, and the great change is about to take place. The head priests and Torah teachers understand only too well the challenge that Jesus is making, but they are baffled by the response of the people, who are drawn to the Teaching of God’s Messiah in his Temple, even if they have not identified him as such.
Luke’s account in comparison is not only briefer, but also simpler. It does not carry any of the inner drama of Mark, and in fact the issue of the Gentiles is excised, and the quotation from Isaiah is arbitralily truncated, to point only to the temple as “a house of prayer”. As far as Luke is concerned Jesus’ action is solely in favour of ordinary Jews who want to worship their God in peace and without being ripped off.
Why has Luke edited his source in this way?
The answer is that Luke especially has presented Jesus as identifying with the poor and the outcast amongst the people. Now in the Temple, he acts on behalf of these very people, whose faith is being abused by those who have made the temple a market, in ways that are familiar to visitors of religious sites today. For Luke’s Jesus the distinguishing mark of the place of God’s presence should be its openness to all who “seek God.” Luke is more concerned to show this consistency in Jesus’ ministry than with the drama of his messianic status.
We are not forced to choose between these versions of the Jesus story, or indeed between much greater differences in presentation for the Councils of the Church decided that we should have four gospels with their overlapping but quite distinct presentations of Jesus. Those who have tried to do so, know that they cannot be fully reconciled to make one complete narrative, but require to be taken in their own integrity as differently faithful pictures of the character, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of the one Jesus. This is absolutely not a disadvantage but rather a great enrichment of the experience of all readers, believers and non-believers alike. There is not one scientific, orthodox history of Jesus, but four complementary, albeit sometimes contradictory, stories which represent the differing memories and understandings of Jesus held in the early Christian Assemblies. They are intended to guide readers through history to the living Jesus whose life can be shared now.