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Did Jesus whip the money changers when he drove them out?

cleansing the Temple

Bernardino Mei | Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 03/02/24

The verse in the Gospel of John seems to indicate that Jesus only whipped the animals, though some claim that he did in fact whip the people in the temple.

One of the most confusing passages of the entire Bible is when Jesus appears to have a violent streak and physically assaults the money changers.

Many painters over the centuries have reinforced this interpretation of the Gospels, showing an angry Jesus whipping people left and right.

The passage itself, as translated into English, is not the clearest of biblical verses.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.

John 2:14-14 RSVCE

The Douay-Rheims has a similar translation of the same passage, though appears to separate the driving out of the animals and the people.

And when he had made, as it were, a scourge of little cords, he drove them all out of the temple, the sheep also and the oxen, and the money of the changers he poured out, and the tables he overthrew.

John 2:14-14 DRA

According to Fr. Nathan W. O’Halloran, “Up until Augustine, no one interpreted John 2:15 to condone violence or even to imply that Jesus had struck any human beings.

Fr. Hugh Barbour for Catholic Answers makes the point that Jesus didn’t have to strike anyone with his whip. His appearance would have been frightening enough:

Consider that it would have been impossible to drive out so large an assemblage of men and animals and furniture, unless it were by some miraculous power. One should consider also that Our Lord would not have done physical violence to anyone, or need to. He was never in extremes. So, like little me with my parents, his appearance and that of his whip was more than enough to set them all running. They certainly did not wait to find out what might follow. So it was a miracle perhaps, but a very understandable one.

Divided interpretations

Modern-day biblical commentators are divided, with many who believe that Jesus whipped people, and others who believe he only whipped the animals.

You can easily find Catholics on both sides of the argument.

It is a heated debate, as many claim that Jesus’ actions seem to approve violence.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear, however, about violence, highlighting Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill,” and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

CCC 2262

This doesn’t exclude “legitimate defense of persons and societies,” which the Church believes is compatible with Jesus’ teachings.

The above passage from John is a tricky passage, one that requires further study, but above all, prayer. If you struggle with it, ask God for help to understand it.

BibleJesus ChristWar
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