Lent 3B

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This page is part of the Lectionary series within the Living with Jesus Now project.


  • Exodus 20:1-17 and Psalm 19
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
  • John 2:13-22

Torah ... guidelines for life together

This week all three major western lectionaries use the same reading from the Hebrew Bible as well as the same reading from the Gospels. The first reading is the classic account of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments.

This ancient summary of the principal obligations on those who wish to live within the covenant community has had a long and complex history, with the more recent episodes involving public controversy about the publication of the Ten Commandments in public schools within the US.

The Religious Tolerance web site has a number of articles about the Ten Commandments, covering topics such as:

  • Overview of the Ten Commandments: What they are; Legal challenges concerning their display in public property
  • Text of the Ten Commandments: The text and groupings of the Ten Commandments.
  • Who wrote the Ten Commandments?
  • Possible origin of the Ten Commandments
  • Analysis of the individual commandments:
  • Comparison of Qur'an verses with the Hebrew Scriptures' Ten Commandments
  • Current status of the Ten Commandments
  • Modern versions of (and replacements for) the Ten Commandments

They also have considerable material on the recent legal disputes in the US about public display of the Commandments in schools, courts and other places.

Numbering the Decalogue

The biblical commandments are traditionally numbered from one to ten, as required by the ancient designation of "the ten words" (see Exodus 34:28). In fact, there are (at least) eleven (11) commandments in the list:

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;

[01] you shall have no other gods before me.
[02] You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
[03] You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
[04] You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
[05] Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

[06] Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

[07] You shall not murder.
[08] You shall not commit adultery.
[09] You shall not steal.
[10] You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

[11] You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. [Exodus 20:1-17]

Different religious communities combine some of the commandments in various ways to achieve the desired number of ten:

  • In the Jewish tradition, vs. 2 is considered to be the first commandment, while vss. 3-6 are combined to form a single commandment prohibiting false gods, including idols (both their manufacture and their use).
  • In the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions, following St Augustine in the ancient church, vss. 2-6 are combined into a single commandment, while splitting vs. 17 to form two separate commandments:
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; and
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, ...
  • Ancient Patristic sources, as well as most Protestant churches, typically combined vss. 2-3 to form a commandment demanding exclusive loyalty to YHWH, while vss. 4-6 are also combined to form a single prohibition on idolatry.

5 for God, 5 for neighbour

Some modern scholars have suggested that the series did not originally include the commandment concerning honor of father and mother, and may have been as follows:

1. No god/s but YHWH

2. Make no images
3. No worshipping of idols
4. No false swearing ...
5. Keep the Sabbath holy ...

6. No murder ...
7. No adultery ...
8. No stealing ...
9. No false witness ...

10. No coveting

If this is correct, then the original tradition had 5 duties to God and 5 duties to the community, with respect for parents being a later addition and requiring some compression of the preceding injunctions.

While the passing of some period of time is required for such a development to take place, there seems no need to presuppose an early date for the Decalogue in the ancient Jewish world. The codification of traditional lore into a set of ten commands, with two matching sets of five for religious and communal obligations, itself presumes a well-established society with a cadre of sages with the leisure and the education to pay attention to such matters. The absence of explicit reference to the Decalogue in the prophetic critiques of ancient Israel and Judah also tends to suggest that the Ten Commandments are the results of the prophetic movement rather than one of its formative sources.

Gospel: Jesus and the temple

The story of the incident in the Temple at Jerusalem occurs just before the arrest of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, but in GJohn it is placed near the beginning of Jesus' public activity as if to set up the pattern of conflict with the Judean authorities that will be typical of that gospel.

For texts related to these readings, along with brief notes and commentary, see the relevant material in the Jesus Database section below.

The traditional material dealing with Jesus' words about the temple's fate is particularly complex. That, in itself, may be an indicator of the sensitivity of the core question for Jesus' earliest followers and especially so after the Jewish War of 66/73CE ended with the temple in ruins. There seem to be four intertwined traditions that have an explicit reference to the fate of the temple:

(1) A saying of Jesus threatening to destroy the temple

(2) A saying where Jesus foretells the siege of the city and its destruction
(3) A saying of Jesus predicting total destruction of the imposing structures (not one stone upon another)

(4) An incident where Jesus threatened or symbolically enacted the destruction of the temple

Jesus ben Hananiah

Before noting the comments of selected scholars, it is salutary to recall Josephus' description of another Jesus who was remembered for his prophetic denunciation of temple and city:

Four years before the war [62 CE], when the city was at peace and enjoying the greatest prosperity, an uneducated peasant, one Jesus ben Hananiah came to the feast when all the people make booths for God [i.e., Sukkoth]. /301/ Suddenly he began to cry out through the temple:
"A voice from the East, a voice from the West,

a voice from the four winds:
a voice against Jerusalem and the temple,
a voice against the bridegroom and the bride

a voice against all the people!"

Crying this day and night he went through all the streets.
/302/ But some of the prominent citizens, upset by this evil announcement, arrested the man and tortured him with many blows. But without a sound concerning himself or for the persons of his persecutors, he kept on crying the "voices" as before.

/303/ So thinking that the man was moved by some greater force, as indeed he was, the rulers brought him up before the Roman governor. /304/ Although he was there flayed to the bone by scourges, he neither begged nor wailed. But bending his "voices" to greater laments, he responded to each blow: "Woe to Jerusalem!" /305/ When Albinus,...who was then governor, asked him who he was and where he was from and why he uttered these things, he did not respond at all to these questions. But he would not stop repeating his lament for the city, until Albinus judged him a madman and released him. [Jewish War 6.300-305]

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg devotes chapter 7 of his Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus to a discussion of Jesus and the Temple, with an extended treatment of the texts found in this cluster. He begins with a brief study of Temple ideology in the Second Temple period, citing the interesting parallel from Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 which retains that traditional ideology even when reinterpreting "temple" as reference to the physical body of the Christian:

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?

If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person.

For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Like Crossan (see below), Borg understands the "disruption in the Temple" as a prophetic or symbolic act (p. 182) that would never have been without some prophetic pronouncement to clarify its significance (p. 184). Borg seeks to identify that presumed prophetic saying by studying the complex set of sayings relating to the fate of Jerusalem and its Temple that are placed on the lips of Jesus in our sources.

He identifies 8 texts as example of "words against the Temple" and works his way through them carefully. Four of these sayings (Mark 14:58; 15:29-30; John 2:19; Acts 6:14) speak of Jesus as the agent of the Temple's destruction and promise its replacement. They are also typically attributed to the enemies of Jesus. Another set of 4 sayings (Mark 13:2; Luke 19:42-44; 21:20-24; 13:34-35) are more likely to have originated from the prophetic oracle of Jesus that must have accompanied his symbolic act in the Temple. Borg also associates the enigmatic "desolating sacrilege" saying with this group.

... if Jesus did not prophesy about Jerusalem, then who was the insightful prophet in that generation [after him] who was responsible for both this concern and this use of the Hebrew Bible? Of course, the rhetorical question does not imply that the oracles contain the ipsissima verba Jesus, but it does imply that they reflect the ipsissima vox Jesus. Quite probably the Jesus movement and perhaps the evangelist reworked the language of the threats, but without an initial impulse from Jesus, it is difficult to account for their presence in the primitive tradition. (p. 203)

Then Borg draws upon the sayings of Jesus that speak of a threat of war coming on the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Luke 13:1-5; 23:27-31; 17:31 (= Mark 13:14b-16); Matt 26:52b.

Unlike Crossan, Borg observes that Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction was not because Jesus opposed the Temple:

... the destruction was not threatened because of an in-principle objection to Temple worship ... Indeed, about the role of the Temple in Jewish worship (including sacrifice), Jesus did not say much. There is only the vague notion of "another Temple" coming from the mouths of accusers and mockers. Though the early Christian movement rapidly spiritualized the understanding of the Temple ... there is little evidence for this in the synoptics. They never report that Jesus opposed the Temple on the grounds that it was obsolete, or that he objected to sacrifice in principle. Indeed, about the Temple as cult there is silence. (p. 211)

John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan [Historical Jesus, 354-60] begins by noting the work of Jonathan Z. Smith ("The Temple and the Magician," 1977) who established that a deep tension between traditional sacred places and the emerging role of the sacred person was typical of hellenistic societies in the last two centuries before the Common Era. Crossan goes on to outline the structural conflict between Jesus and the Temple as follows:

Not only John the Baptist but, even more, Jesus, fit within that wider and profounder antinomy. John offered an alternative to the Temple but from another fixed location, from desert and Jordan rather than from Zion and Jerusalem. Jesus was, as we have seen, atopic, moving from place to place, he coming to the people rather than they to him. This is an even more radical challenge to the localized univocity of Jerusalem's Temple, and its itinerancy mirrored and symbolized the egalitarian challenge of its protagonist. No matter, therefore, what Jesus thought, said, or did about the Temple, he was its functional opponent, alternative, and substitute; his relationship with it does not depend, at its deepest level, on this or that saying, this or that action. (p. 355)

In seeking to unravel the complexities represented in this cluster of sayings, Crossan notes the "intensive damage control" to be observed in Mark 13, 14 and 15. Mark is at pains to argue that Jesus did not threaten to destroy the Temple himself; only his enemies make that assertion in Mark's Gospel while Jesus (in ch 13) pointedly schedules the destruction of Jerusalem some time prior to the parousia [royal arrival] of the Son of Adam. Still, as Crossan observes, that Markan spin only seeks to underline the fact that in certain Christian circles prior to and contemporary with Mark, there had been a belief that Jesus had said or done something to threaten destruction of the Temple and also that the destruction of the Temple was understood to be associated with the parousia.

Behind the confused set of sayings about the fate of the Temple there lies the incident in which Jesus is described as taking some action to disrupt the functioning of the Temple. We seem to have two independent versions of this tradition: Mark (with Matt and Luke parallels) and John (where it occurs near the start of Jesus' ministry). Mark's version makes it clear that this event was a prophetic condemnation of the Temple, as the events in the Temple are bracketed by the story of Jesus cursing a useless fig tree and then returning to find it withered and dead.

Crossan proposes that there was some historical action by Jesus that symbolically destroyed the Temple (at least to the extent of some disruption to its functioning), and that this action was accompanied by a prophetic saying by Jesus in which he foretold the complete and utter destruction of the site.

Subsequently, according to Crossan, the story of the action in the Temple developed with various biblical texts being drawn into service to explain and justify Jesus' actions. Meanwhile the saying came to be reinterpreted as either a reference to the resurrection or to the parousia.

Paula Fredriksen

Paula Fredriksen [Jesus of Nazareth, 207-14] discusses the so-called Cleansing of the Temple; a label she rejects but still uses as a sub-heading in her text. She works from a concern to counter any historical method that opposes Jesus to his contemporaries over issues of ritual observance. Drawing on Josephus' description of the Jews' universal piety and reverence for the Temple's rites, Fredriksen asks "how then do we fit this report of Jesus' action into the solid evidence we have that Jews everywhere overwhelmingly supported the Temple service?" (p. 209)

In addition to other gospel accounts of Jesus' attitude to the Temple, Fredriksen cites the widespread apocalyptic "expectation that, in the new age, in God's kingdom, God would splendidly renew the current Temple or establish a new and more glorious one." (p. 210) She then concludes that Jesus' action in the Temple had a symbolic meaning:

By overturning the tables, Jesus was symbolically enacting an apocalyptic prophecy: The current Temple was soon to be destroyed (understood: not by Jesus, nor by invading armies; but by God), to cede place to the eschatological Temple (understood: not built by the hand of man) at the close of the age. (p. 210)

Jesus Database

  • 049 Temple and Jesus - (1) Thom 71; (2a) Mark 13:1-2 = Matt 24:1-2 = Luke 21:5-6*; (2b) Luke 19:41-44*; (2c) Mark 14:55-59 = Matt 26:59-61; 92d) Mark 15:29-32a = Matt 27:39-43= (!)Luke 23:35-37; (2e) Acts 6:11-14; (2f) Mark 11:15-17 = Matt 21:12-13 = Luke 19:45-46; (2g) Luke 13:34-35*; (2h) Mark 13:14a = Matt 24.15a = Luke 21:20*; (3a) John 2:13-17*; (3b) John 2:18-22. Note: Texts marked with * are not in Crossan's inventory.

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: