In this age of violence, I notice many trying to justify or excuse violence by using a single event in scripture to support their narrative of a violent non-pacifist Jesus. I shake my head because it’s the same problem I see day in and day out when it comes to scriptures. People do not use exegesis, they rely on eisegesis. This is a major, major no-no when it comes to scripture.
A brief explanation of the 2 terms may be in order for those who don’t know what this means:
exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and discoverable meaning of its author, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text.
In a nut shell, exegesis is studying scripture to find out what IT says, eisegesis is studying scripture to make it tell what YOU say. So instead of “reading” the text, you are “reading into” the text. All this does it provide confirmation bias, which is:
the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.” (source: Wikipedia)
So now that I have established a few terms, let me get to the meaty matter at hand. I am directly speaking of the events in the temple, where Jesus overthrew the money changers tables and chased out the animals and the money changers. You see, people use one scripture found in John 2:15 to support the most violent, repugnant acts:
15 After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. (HCSB)
Now due to this single scripture, somehow, all of Jesus’ messages of non-violence, His rebuking of the sons of thunder, His live by the sword, die by the sword, His laying down His life, His disciples all living lives of non-violence up until their deaths, the church fathers living by Jesus’ non-violent message, every message of Jesus pointing towards living, and dying, by non-violence, somehow becomes null and void to a subsection of Christians.
They also seem to forget to read verse 16:
16 He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!” (HCSB)
I’m trying to figure out why those selling doves were still there after He supposedly whipped the ever living snot out of everyone engaging in that type of behavior and drove them out.
Now I’ve always heard the 2 or 3 witness rule when trying to come up with some type of new doctrine, and interestingly enough there are 4 accounts of this event, yet only 1 mentions a whip of chords. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I am saying that for some reason the other gospel writers didn’t feel it was a weighty matter to mention.
Why would that be?
Well, here we have to make an educated guess.
You see, Jesus did not come onto the temple grounds with Indiana Jones’ whip. If this account is to be believed, He picked up scraps of what was lying around in the temple grounds. A whip of chords like what He would have had to quickly make wouldn’t have caused much harm, it would have been used to wave in the air, make a snapping sound in the air, and startle the animals into movement, if used to strike anything we can deduce it would be the stubborn oxen. But, I would consider that the sheep would not have been struck if this whip was capable of physical harm. If in fact the sheep would have been struck, that would also support the hypothesis of this being an object that causes no physical harm because shepherds took great care of their sheep, the sheep needed to be unblemished for sacrifice. So if Jesus in fact caused harm to their flesh He would have had to reimburse the shepherds for their sheep.
I also find it interesting that the doves were not startled enough to bring harm to themselves or each other. If a commotion occurs near birds they typically flutter violently. Again, if Jesus would have brought harm to any of the animals being sold for sacrifice He would have been responsible for the animal per the law that Jews were under. You can take your own time to read scripture and study Jewish history to see what responsibilities Jesus would have had if he caused harm to another man’s livestock.
Look, the moneychangers and such left the temple because they knew in their hearts what they were doing was wrong. Picture them as the same as the people who sulked away when He said "He who has not sinned, throw the first stone." They didn’t like it, they were mad about it, but they knew they had no leg to stand on, so they left. As did the moneychangers and such. Also, Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy, one of many while He walked the earth. This event served a purpose. Not a purpose to support violence, or for someone to read violence into His actions, it was for the people in that time and age, to see Him fulfilling prophecies that only the true Messiah could. Jesus was not a violent man, period. You cannot follow proper exegesis when reading this scripture and say it supports violence, or Jesus as a violent man.
If Jesus’ would have struck even one man, He would have been arrested. During His trial as charges were levied against Him to Pilate, do you notice that He never was charged for this event? That would have been the perfect time to recall this event.
Now, you could try to accuse me of committing eisegesis when reading these verses, but I would have to disagree, let me break it down for you and explain how to read scripture.
While reading the scripture did I?
1. Take into account historical context? Check.
2. Take into account cultural context? Check.
3. Study applicable terms and uses? Check.
4. Look for 2-3 witnesses to the account, and study their accounts? Check.
5. Research extra-biblical sources, such as commentaries, accounts written in the time, bible scholar’s notes, etc.? Check.
6. Make myself knowledgeable of the character of the Person the scriptures refer to based on other actions, behaviors, teachings, or words attributed to them? Check.
7. Research what in only 1 scripture is described as a whip, and find out historically what this would have entailed of based on items used to make it? Check.
8. Research the writing of the author to understand his way of writing and manner of speech? Check.
I think you get my point. I have tried to be as diligent as I can to engage in proper exegesis.
Now those that support using this scripture to prove Jesus’ was violent, what do they do?
1. Read the scripture
2. Say Jesus used a whip to whip people
3. Somehow take that to mean you can carry guns, bomb people, kill your enemies, go to war, etc. etc. etc.
Again, I think you get my point. This is a perfect example of eisegesis. All those who support violence have done is to force their own interpretation onto the text, point blank, and when you call them out on it, they pull up scriptures from other places, typically the OT which do not directly relate to this scripture, nor the event in question, just to yet again, commit eisegesis of those scriptures, and they don’t realize that they are not reading, understanding, or using the bible correctly.
It may also come as a surprise to many that this text was never interpreted to condone violence, or to support that Jesus’ struck any human, for about 300 years!! It took 300 years for someone to finally poison this scripture into supporting violence.
Now, just to play devil’s advocate (how fitting of a term when relating to those who support violence), even if this occurred in the manner those who preach violence believe, what is the actual practical use, or actions, of this example in the world today? Some would say that you can chase away preachers that preach false doctrine, or knock over racks of books, or a coffee stand, in a church. But, wait, hold on just a moment!!
This event happened in the temple of the old covenant, it was directed towards behavior at the temple, and only occurred at the temple. We, now, as believers in Jesus have a new covenant, there is no temple that you go to for God’s presence or to make a sacrifice.
The veil has been torn!
There is no high priest in the flesh that intercedes on your behalf.
A church building is not a replacement for the temple regardless of what some preachers tell you.
A “man of God” is not your conduit between you and God regardless of what some preachers tell you.
You are the temple. You, now, your own body is the temple. There is only one intercessor between God and man, Jesus, and Jesus lives in you. So, the practical use of this scripture, if Jesus in fact would have promoted violence, and wants you to walk in violence yourself, would be to whip the aspects of yourself that go against His ways, that are greedy and selfish, and to overthrow and chase out your own selfish desires.
So, in closing, you cannot use this scripture to support violence, and even if you could, the violence would need to be directed at yourself and the cleansing of your personal temple. This use of violence would not correspond to bombing the hell out of your enemy, occupying their land, imprisoning them behind walls, carrying weapons, etc. etc. etc.
You can disagree, but then you would have to be honest and admit that it’s not scripture that is guiding you to support violence, and paint these lies about Jesus as well as completely slander His Name and His character, it’s your own fleshly need for hate, vengeance, scapegoating of the “other,” and desire to kill your neighbor. That’s the reality of what is guiding that behavior in you.
You know not what spirit you are of.