HomeArticlesAnswering Bible Contradiction: Calling Disciples and Temple Cleansing

Answering Bible Contradiction: Calling Disciples and Temple Cleansing

Often times critics charge the Bible with contradictions because they expect to find them instead of attempting to see how various accounts could be reconciled. One cause of these alleged contradictions is due to shallow development of chronological sequences found in the Gospels. Here we will assess the call of the disciples and the cleansing of the Temple, which, when placed in the proper sequence chronologically, clears away any alleged contradiction and gives interesting insights.

Note that in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus calls the disciples in Galilee (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11), while John’s Gospel places a meeting with Christ presumably at “Bethabara beyond Jordan” where John the Baptists was baptizing (John 1:28-51). Following this through as a chronological development, we find clarity from any alleged contradiction. There were two different callings of the disciples which has been acknowledged since the earliest attempt to produce a chronological harmony of the Gospels by Tatian in his Diatessaron placing the events of John 2 and Luke 4 between the callings.1)The Diatessaron of Tatian, Sect 5; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (edited by Allan Menzies, D.D.), Henrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, 2012), Vol. 9, pp. 50-51 More recently, A. T. Robertson has also presented this in his harmony of the gospels2)A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, Harper and Brothers Publishers (New York, NY: 1922, 1950), pp. 23-33

We see that there were indeed two different calls of these four men to discipleship with Christ and John’s Gospel gives us their introduction to Christ’s ministry after He returns from the temptation recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). After being baptized by John, Christ goes into the wilderness to be tempted 40 days (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2) and returns to the place John the Baptists was baptizing when John speak to two of his disciples calling Jesus the “lamb of God” (John 1:29). The next day, John again points out Christ as the “lamb of God” (John 1:35-36) so they “follow Jesus” (John 1:37). These two were Andrew, Peter’s brother (John 1:39) and an unnamed disciple who we know to be the apostle John. Andrew brings Peter to the Lord Jesus (John 1:41-42), and the following day they go into Galilee (presumably Bethsaida) and find Phillip (John 1:43-44), who in turns find Nathanael to follow Christ (John 1:45-51).

In John 2, these five disciples are with the Lord Jesus in Cana at a wedding where they see His first miracle of turning water into wine and believe on Him (John 2:1-11). After this, Christ with His mother, brethren and disciples went to Capernaum for “not many days” (John 2:12) until they headed down to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast (John 2:13-25). Here He is recorded to have cleanse the Temple of the sheep, oxen and overthrew the tables of the money changers with a whip (John 2:14-15). Many scholars here invoke a contradiction3)Wilbert F. Howard, The Interpreter’s Bible, Abington Press (Nashville, TN: 1952), Vol 8, p. 448 as the Synoptic Gospels place this event at the end of Christ’s ministry (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-46). Some scholars have claimed John imports the Temple cleansing in the beginning of Christ’s ministry for a literary and theological purpose.4)Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2009), p. 374 This supposes Christ cleansed the Temple only once at the end of His ministry in order to provoke His martyrdom as suggested in Luke 19:47 and because false witnesses were used to say He stated He would destroy the Temple (Mark 14:58).

It is true that ancient historian standards permitted the rearrangements of events to fit topically for rhetorical purposes. Events could be rearranged to produce symmetry in a text.5)Steve Mason, “The Writings of Josephus: Their Significance for New Testament Study,” Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (ed. Tom Holmen and Stanley E. Porter), Brill (Boston, MA: 2011), Vol. 2, p. 1678-1679 However, John seems more focus to depict a chronology in his Gospel account which makes it less likely he rearrange this event in the Temple. Much of the chronology of John is based on John 2:20, which offers some ambiguity. The word translated as “building” ᾠκοδομήθη being in aorist could be taken as  implying the Temple had been completed at a point in time, forty-six years ago; or has been in the process for an extent of time expressing an ongoing activity.6)Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1996), p. 560-561 Many take the English translation naturally to mean the extent of time as it is in continual building7)Dan Bhat, “Jesus and the Herodian Temple Mount,” in Jesus and Archaeology (ed. James H. Charlesworth) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publshing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), p. 300, 8)Paul N. Anderson, “Aspects of historicity in the Gospel of John,”  in Jesus and Archaeology (ed. James H. Charlesworth) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publshing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), p. 592, fn. 12 which would place the event of John 2 in A.D. 27/28. By understanding it as a completed work, as others do9)Jack finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1964, 1998), p. 346-349, 10)Harold W. Hoehner. Chronological Aspecs of the Life of Christ, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1973, 1977), p. 44 the date of this first Passover would be A.D. 29/30.

However, these are clearly two separate accounts of the Temple being cleansed by Christ11)David Cloud, Things Hard to be Understood, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1996, 2006), pp. 168-169, 12)Timothy Berry, From Eden to Patmos: An Overview of Biblical History, Livingwithamission.com (CreateSpace, 2015), p. 134, 13)Harold W. Hoehner. Chronological Aspecs of the Life of Christ, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1973, 1977), p. 38, 14)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 1, p. 373, 15)A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, Harper and Brothers Publishers (New York, NY: 1922, 1950), p. 32 as only John mentions sheep, oxen and a scourge; while the synoptic Gospels mention only people who sold doves without the scourge. John’s account identifies two Greek words, ἱερόν referring to the Temple precinct at large while ναός is specifying the Holy Temple. This distinction is consistent in John and in Josephus,16)Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1977), p. 41 who indicates ἱερόν  “defines the Herodian extension.”17)Dan Bhat, “Jesus and the Herodian Temple Mount,” in Jesus and Archaeology (ed. James H. Charlesworth) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publshing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), p. 304 Both Josephus18)Josephus, Against Apion, 2.103-103; The New Compplete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded edition by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 966 and the Mishna19)Kelim 1.8; The Mishna (Trans Herbert Danby) Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1933, 2016), p. 605-606 describe varying degrees of holiness when entering deeper from the Temple precinct into the Temple proper. All Gospels confirm the events took place in the Temple precinct, as unclean things were not allowed to enter the Holy Temple itself.  Animals would render the Temple unclean through their excrement. We know the Herodian extension of the Temple continued to be in construction until A.D. 62/63, but Christ used the word ναός referring to the Holy Temple which was ᾠκοδομήθη “building,” causing the ambiguity of precisely timing the events. It appears to mean a continuing work not yet finished, from considering Ezra 5:16 in the Septuagint, “Then that Sabanazar came, and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem: and from that time even until now it has been building [ᾠκοδομήθη], and has not been finished.”20)The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha with an English Translation and with Various Readings and Critical Notes, Samuel Bagster and Sons Limited (London: undated), p. 623 The logical reading of John 2:19-20 would be interpreted as the Jews contending with Christ saying, “the construction of this Temple continues these 46 years so how will you destroy it and raise in up in three days?” Therefore, the date A.D. 27-28 seems to be the meaning which would indicate the beginning of Christ ministry.

Whatever the exact timing was, by reconciling these two accounts we find that:

1) The first Temple cleansing occurred in the beginning of Christ ministry.

2) It caused the Jewish leaders to stop bringing the larger animals (sheep and oxen) into the Temple precinct, but doves would remain in cages and continued to be brought in still during the second Temple cleansing.

3) This would be a major event to catch people’s attention to establish His ministry on a national level as all Jews took the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover (John 4:45).

4) It caused the disciples a great deal of fear for the first time about being associated with this new comer who might get them killed.

This fear was not enough to cause the disciples to forsake the Master as of yet since they were eyewitnesses of the Nicodemus account in John 3 (note the “we” in John 3:11). It is also likely that the house this took place in belonged to John21)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 1, p. 383 as the son of a wealthy man who owned a prosperous fishing company and having connections with the aristocrats of Jerusalem (John 18:15).22)Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1858, 2011), Vol 1, p. 414 It is said in early Christian tradition that John owned a house in Jerusalem which he stayed at until Mary the mother of the Lord Jesus died (John 19:26-27).23)Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1858, 2011), Vol 1, p. 424, fn. 1

We find the disciples performed baptisms for Christ in Judea before John the Baptist was arrested (John 3:22-23). The second call of the disciples in Galilee occurs after John the Baptist is in prison (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14). We see the disciples with the Lord Jesus as they leave Judea (where they were performing baptisms) and went through Samaria to Galilee (John 4:1-4). At this point the Lord and His disciples are aware of growing opposition from the Pharisees which may have resulted in more fear for the disciples (John 4:1). Christ spent some time in Galilee (John 4:45), preaching repentance and the kingdom (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:14-15) before He heads back to Nazareth where He hears of John the Baptists being imprisoned (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14). At some unspecified point the disciples went back to fishing in Galilee and the Lord Jesus went to Nazareth and began His custom of preaching in the synagogue (Luke 4:16). The disciples and Christ separating at this point could have also been provoked by Christ having associated and being received by the Samaritans (John 4:40-42) since James and John remained vengeful towards them (Luke 9:54).

After almost being killed at Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30), Christ enters Cana where He is requested by a nobleman to come to Capernaum to heal his sick son (John 4:46-54). This is the second miracle He does in Galilee (John 4:54). He goes to Capernaum of Galilee (Luke 4:31; Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14). Here in Galilee the second calling of the disciples occurs. Luke’s account is the longest and most detailed (Luke 5:1-11). Matthew and Mark have Jesus walking along the sea finding Simon and Andrew casting their nets when He calls them (Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18). Luke says Christ saw two boats with the fisherman outside of them washing their nets (Luke 5:1-2). This clearly indicates that Simon and Andrew were casting their nets while John and James of the second boat were washing their nets and Luke is conflating the actions of the four men. Luke reveals that Christ entered Simon and Andrews ship and cast off a little way to teach the people on the land (Luke 5:3). After His sermon Christ has these fishermen cast their nets into the sea and they catch such a large amount of fish they beckon to James and John in the other boat still on shore to come help them and their net began to brake (Luke 5:4-10). It is at this point Simon Peter confesses his sinful state and is called by Christ to catch men (Luke 5:9-10). They soon bring the boats to land and forsake all to follow Christ (Luke 5:11), which is picked up with Matthew and Mark who both indicate Christ walked a little further from Simon and Andrew’s boat toward where James and John had docked, who were at this moment mending the nets because they were broken from the large catch of fish (Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20).

An interesting insight we infer from this is that Christ originally called five disciples in John 1, but the second calling only consists of four men. This indicates that Nathanael was with Christ the whole time and would be the eyewitness of the events at Nazareth. Additionally, Nathanael is said to be from Cana (John 21:2). John’s gospel has Christ leaving the Samaritans in chapter 4 into Galilee (John 4:43), which is followed by the comment, “For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country” (John 4:44). Luke places this expression during the moment the Nazareans attempted to kill Christ (Luke 4:24, 28-29). Luke next has Christ entering Capernaum (Luke 4:30), but John has him going to Galilee (John 4:45), specifically in Cana where He hears of the nobelman’s servant to heal, immediately after making His comment about prophets being rejected in their home town (John 4:44). That implies John quoting Christ about prophets being rejected is summing up the entire ministry and rejection at Nazareth and His second calling of the apostles in Galilee is occurring in Capernaum where Matthew places His dwelling place (Matthew 4:10-13) prior to the second calling (Matthew 4:18-22). The linking of Nathanael from Cana and Christ being in Cana after leaving Nazareth also indicates Nathanael as the eyewitness in Nazareth and the reason why he and Christ entered Cana where they heard of the nobleman’s servant needing healing in Capernaum which brought them to the location to call the other four disciples. Richard Bauckham also thought the textual evidence “strongly suggests” Nathanael was the source for the events of Cana.24)Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Second Edition), Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 2017), p. 563, n. 34

After this He preached around Capernaum for a while before returning to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast of the Jews (John 5:1). Alfred Eresheim placed the disciples leaving Christ after the wedding at Cana25)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 1, p. 457 with the second calling after the unnamed feast of John 5,26)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 1, pp. 423, 460-61, 474 probably because the disciples are not mentioned during the healing account in John 5, but this seems too late and cannot account for their presence throughout John 3-4. Norman Geisler implies the disciples first call only lasted one day, citing John 1:39.27)Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL: 1992), p. 405 However, John 1:39 is only referring to the disciple Andrew and John before Peter, Philip and Nathanael were called the first time. Furthermore, that would cause the net full of fish to be the miracle causing the disciples to believe on Christ instead of the turning water to wine which is specifically said to be the “beginning of miracles” in Galilee (John 2:11). The large catch of fish has to be placed after the second miracle performed in Galilee (John 4:54). A. T. Robertson accurately places John 5 after the second calling of the disciples,28) A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, Harper and Brothers Publishers (New York, NY: 1922, 1950), pp. 42-43 though he sets the rejection at Nazareth after healing the nobleman’s servant in Capernaum.29)A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels, Harper and Brothers Publishers (New York, NY: 1922, 1950), pp. 31-32 The problem with Robertson’s chronology at this point is Matthew 4:12 and Mark 1:14 set Christ coming to Galilee after hearing of John the Baptist was imprisoned, but He was in Nazareth when hearing this news (Matthew 4:13).

It is evident that it is not reasonable to claim there is a contradiction, nor is there any need to claim a literary style was used changing the chronology for theological reasons to attempt to reconcile the Temple cleansing. The Gospels are accurately recording the historical events precisely as they happened.



Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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