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.