Are you a Disciple of the Jesus who Whipped People?

Are you a disciple of the Jesus who whipped people?  Before you answer in the affirmative or negative, let me ask a few more questions and provide some background.  This is a biblical interpretation exercise, so let’s take a look at the text:

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” John 2:13-17

At first glance, and without imposing our personal views and definitions of violence, justifiable physical force, and wrath, it appears as though there is little question that Jesus did whip people. But, the construct of the language in this passage can be a little difficult. Young’s Literal Translation states it this way:

“and having made a whip of small cords, he put all forth out of the temple, also the sheep, and the oxen; and of the money-changers he poured out the coins, and the tables he overthrew.” (John 2:15) It would appear that a more literal translation confirms that Jesus used the whip against people. The idea here is that he used it against the people and “also” the sheep and oxen.

While most commentators would agree that Jesus did actually whip people and most translations infer the same, I think there can be a case made for an alternate translation. If we accept the translation as: “Jesus … drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen,” then regardless of your views on violence, you’ll have to accept it as fact. If however you translate it as: “Jesus … drove them all from the temple, the sheep as well as the cattle,” then there’s no reason to include the people because the whip was limited to the sheep and cattle. In an analysis of the grammatical construct of John 2:15, (particularly the Greek words te kai) and in comparison with eighty other occurrences in the New Testament, seventy-six instances support the translation of “sheep as well as the cattle” and not “as well as sheep and cattle.”*

Linguistically however, I don’t think we can get past the fact that Jesus whipped people. As to the whip itself, some suggest that it was more of a symbolic “weapon” than a device that could do real and physical harm. I don’t think though, that this would solve any philosophical problems with regard to violence. Imagine if you went to the nearest church that peddles the prosperity gospel, went in, and started smacking people around with a pool noodle. I’m almost certain that folks would accuse you of violent behavior, and you might even get charged with assault and battery.

So, neither the material of the whip nor the severity of the whipping (assuming Jesus only whipped “lightly”) help those who would deny that Jesus did actually whip people. It seems then that the only way we can arrive at the understanding which proposes that Jesus didn’t whip people is by a bias conceptualization which is contradictory to the text.

Good biblical interpretation requires that we put aside both of our extreme views of pacifism or warmongering and try to get at the text’s true meaning and application. I’d like to do that via a few questions +1:

1. What, in your opinion is violence?

2. Will God, or does He now, assault or battery anyone?

3. Can we arrive at a philosophy of pacifism or the justifiable non-sinful use of force from this passage?

4. Are you a disciple of the Jesus who whipped people?

*Lasserre, The Whip in the Temple, p. 37.


0 thoughts on “Are you a Disciple of the Jesus who Whipped People?

  1. While it is inconclusive, I don’t think we can make that interpretive leap. Without question Jesus drove them out, but there is no evidence that He struck people. Scholars have debated this for a long time, but for me, if there is interpretive uncertainty, than I would look for the interpretation most in keeping with the wider character of Jesus. Thus, I do not believe He struck people.

  2. Genoise says:

    1) in my opinion, violence is a type of force used that has a destructive and malicious intent.
    2) I do not believe God uses “violence” on anyone. I believe we have an Adversary who certainly uses violence, but whether that is with or without God’s permission does not mean God’s is intent on using violence to coerce people (did that make any sense?)
    3) I think we can surmise from the passage that force used to bring about order; like we see in nature the way a storm cleanses the environment (thank you, Sandy…), or a mama bear cuffs or bites at her cubs to teach them a lesson, or when parents discipline their children (even without spanking, force is still being used during a time-out to control a child’s behavior); is indeed acceptable and normal. whether that allows for war or not is another issue… (I like how G.K. Chesterton addresses this issue, but I can’t remember which of his books contains it. Anyone???)
    4) I am a disciple of the Jesus who not only whipped people but healed and fed them as well. Do we really dare separate the two? Must it be an either/or proposition? I say this as a mother who has had her share of opportunities to discipline her children as well as offer comfort and care from the same set of hands… One more thing, discipline is different for each situation and for each child, as well as each age and stage; if it weren’t, we would be living in a dictatorship, not a family.

  3. David Woods says:

    I think there is also room for common sense on top of simple linguistic translation.

    The point was not to drive people out of the temple, but to do away with the selling of merchandise. No one would expect one who has been whipped to be won to a true relationship with God through whipping, and was that not the point?

    There is also no point to whipping people. My views on violence or about Jesus have nothing to do with it. My common sense tells me if you drive someone’s livelihood (animals) out of the temple, the owners are going to follow. Also, you start whipping people, two or three of them are going to tackle you. You start driving their livelihood out of the temple, they are going to be too busy trying to wrangle their animals to worry about you. If I can figure these things out, Jesus could.

    He wasn’t looking for a fight, He was looking to cleanse the temple. It’s a pure motive, and one that fits Him very well. I see nothing in scripture to suggest that He whipped people, nor do I see any logical reason for Him to have done so.

    (Also, if He had, his punishment on the cross would have been for a valid reason in Pilot’s eyes, and the eyes of other’s)

  4. Carolyn says:

    Saying that he did not hit anyone with the whip is our trying to restrict Jesus actions to our picture of him instead of just looking at the report and allowing that to speak for itself. We do that with scripture often. Quite frankly upending the tables is a violent act. And the animals were either tied or caged so “herding” would not necessarily be involved. If it says he prepared a scourge, we need to simply allow the fact that he may have intended to use it, and from that ask him how it went and why… his answers might surprise you… and you can hear him.

    Just because he went like a lamb to the slaughter and did not defend himself does not mean he is “non-violent”. The kingdom of heaven does allow violence and the violent take it by force. If you want something that heaven has prepared for you, you may really need to aggressively pursue that end – even when God wants you to have it!

  5. Miguel says:

    With regard to this topic, I can remember Mark Driscoll saying,

    “There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.”

    I think he overstates his case. This text should not be used to prove that Jesus was a pacifist or that he is “the ultimate fighter.”

    How we arrive, as a community of faith to it’s proper application speaks volumes about the Jesus we do serve.

    To say either way to someone that the Jesus they’re a disciple of is a false Jesus may be reaching too far.

  6. There is not really conclusive proof one way or the other in this text. As such to either respond that Jesus did or did not whip people is to make an argument from silence. The details we have are he used a whip and drove people out, no commentary on how he did this using a whip. Actually in driving cattle, it’s quite possible to not necessarily even need to use the whip on the cattle, many times the commotion is enough to start cattle moving.

    But even then there is quite a scale in what it might mean to be violent in such a way. What I read accounted in this and the synoptic passages sounds much more like guerrilla theater as prophetic act – using action to make a specific point than Jesus going kung fu on a bunch of people.

    I think the more interesting question is why Jesus was opposed to this. On the surface these traders are providing services to help ease the process of worship, services which greatly aided those who had to travel great distance to get to the temple. There’s good likelihood that the issue is more one of disrupting worship for the Gentiles (trading happened in the court of the Gentiles, as far in as a non-Jew could go) than just that these services were being provided.

    • Neil says:

      The reason He was opposed was because of what they had done. They did two things to ‘rob people’-first, they would often refuse the sacrifice that people had brought on the grounds that the animal wasn’t pure; as if the people didn’t know what they were doing. And second, they would only accept ‘temple currency’, which the people would have to change at a high exchange rate.

  7. jenn says:

    got struck with the comments here! almost everything are highly scholarly! am learning a lot of things. God bless us all people of God, thanks for enriching my spirit and even my mind for such great great insights of yours.

  8. jenn says:

    Dear God…………. will you please give me knowledge and wisdom like these folks…? Amen.

  9. Amy says:

    Hi Miguel,

    Is there any way “with” might be interpreted “by means of?” Might He have driven them all out by means of driving out the sheep and oxen? I mean, when a greedy person’s livelihood is let loose doesn’t it prompt him to chase it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.