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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:
Epistle to Gregory and Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John.: Chapter XVI

Early Church Fathers  Index     

16.  The Story of the Purging of the Temple Spiritualized.  Taken Literally, It Presents Some Very Difficult and Unlikely Features.

We shall, however, expound according to the strength that is given to us the reasons which move us to recognize here a harmony; and in doing so we entreat Him who gives to every one that asks and strives acutely to enquire, and we knock that by the keys of higher knowledge the hidden things of Scripture may be opened to us.  And first, let us fix our attention on the words of John, beginning, “And Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” 5056   Now Jerusalem, as the Lord Himself teaches in the Gospel according to Matthew, 5057 “is the city of the great King.”  It does not lie in a depression, or in a low situation, but is built on a high mountain, and there are mountains round about it, 5058 and the participation of it is to the same place, 5059 and thither the tribes of the Lord went up, a testimony for Israel.  But that city also is called Jerusalem, to which none of those upon the earth ascends, nor goes in; but every soul that possesses by nature some elevation and some acuteness to perceive the things of the mind is a citizen of that city.  And it is possible even for a dweller in Jerusalem to be in sin (for it is possible for even the acutest minds to sin), should they not turn round quickly after their sin, when they have lost their power of mind and are on the point not only of dwelling in one of those strange cities of Judæa, but even of being inscribed as its citizens.  Jesus goes up to Jerusalem, after bringing help to those in Cana of Galilee, and then going down to Capernaum, that He may do in Jerusalem the things which are written.  He found in the temple, certainly, which is said to be the house of the Father of the Saviour, that is, in the church or in the preaching of the ecclesiastical and sound word, some who were making His Father’s house a house of merchandise.  And at all times Jesus finds some of this sort in the temple.  For in that which is called the church, which is the house of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth, 5060 when are there not some money-changers sitting who need the strokes of the scourge Jesus made of small cords, and dealers in small coin who require to have their money poured out and their tables overturned?  When are there not those who are inclined to merchandise, but p. 394 need to be held to the plough and the oxen, that having put their hand to it and not turning round to the things behind them, they may be fit for the kingdom of God?  When are there not those who prefer the mammon of unrighteousness to the sheep which give them the material for their true adornment?  And there are always many who look down on what is sincere and pure and unmixed with any bitterness or gall, and who, for the sake of miserable gain, betray the care of those tropically called doves.  When, therefore, the Saviour finds in the temple, the house of His Father, those who are selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting, He drives them out, using the scourge of small cords which He has made, along with the sheep and oxen of their trade, and pours out their stock of coin, as not deserving to be kept together, so little is it worth.  He also overturns the tables in the souls of such as love money, saying even to those who sell doves, “Take these things hence,” that they may no longer traffic in the house of God.  But I believe that in these words He indicated also a deeper truth, and that we may regard these occurrences as a symbol of the fact that the service of that temple was not any longer to be carried on by the priests in the way of material sacrifices, and that the time was coming when the law could no longer be observed, however much the Jews according to the flesh desired it.  For when Jesus casts out the oxen and sheep, and orders the doves to be taken away, it was because oxen and sheep and doves were not much longer to be sacrificed there in accordance with Jewish practices.  And possibly the coins which bore the stamp of material things and not of God were poured out by way of type; because the law which appears so venerable, with its letter that kills, was, now that Jesus had come and had used His scourge to the people, to be dissolved and poured out, the sacred office (episcopate) being transferred to those from the Gentiles who believed, and the kingdom of God being taken away from the Jews 5061 and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it.  But it may also be the case that the natural temple is the soul skilled in reason, which, because of its inborn reason, is higher than the body; to which Jesus ascends from Capernaum, the lower-lying place of less dignity, and in which, before Jesus’ discipline is applied to it, are found tendencies which are earthly and senseless and dangerous, and things which have the name but not the reality of beauty, and which are driven away by Jesus with His word plaited out of doctrines of demonstration and of rebuke, to the end that His Father’s house may no longer be a house of merchandize but may receive, for its own salvation and that of others, that service of God which is performed in accordance with heavenly and spiritual laws.  The ox is symbolic of earthly things, for he is a husbandman.  The sheep, of senseless and brutal things, because it is more servile than most of the creatures without reason.  Of empty and unstable thoughts, the dove.  Of things that are thought good but are not, the small change.  If any one objects to this interpretation of the passage and says that it is only pure animals that are mentioned in it, we must say that the passage would otherwise have an unlikely air.  The occurence is necessarily related according to the possibilities of the story.  It could not have been narrated that a herd of any other animals than pure ones had found access to the temple, nor could any have been sold there but those used for sacrifice.  The Evangelist makes use of the known practice of the merchants at the times of the Jewish feasts; they did bring in such animals to the outer court; this practice, with a real occurrence He knew of, were His materials.  Any one, however, who cares to do so may enquire whether it is in agreement with the position held by Jesus in this world, since He was reputed to be the Son of a carpenter, to venture upon such an act as to drive out a crowd of merchants from the temple?  They had come up to the feast to sell to a great number of the people, the sheep, several myriads in number, which they were to sacrifice according to their fathers’ houses.  To the richer Jews they had oxen to sell, and there were doves for those who had vowed such animals, and many no doubt bought these with a view to their good cheer at the festival.  And did not Jesus do an unwarrantable thing when He poured out the money of the money-changers, which was their own, and overthrew their tables?  And who that received a blow from the scourge of small cords at the hands of One held in but slight esteem, was driven out of the temple, would not have attacked Him and raised a cry and avenged himself with his own hand, especially when there was such a multitude present who might all feel themselves insulted by Jesus in the same way?  To think, moreover, of the Son of God taking the small cords in His hands p. 395 and plaiting a scourge out of them for this driving out from the temple, does it not bespeak audacity and temerity and even some measure of lawlessness?  One refuge remains for the writer who wishes to defend these things and is minded to treat the occurrence as real history, namely, to appeal to the divine nature of Jesus, who was able to quench, when He desired to do so, the rising anger of His foes, by divine grace to get the better of myriads, and to scatter the devices of tumultuous men; for “the Lord scatters the counsels of the nations 5062 and brings to naught devices of the peoples, but the counsel of the Lord abideth for ever.”  Thus the occurrence in our passage, if it really took place, was not second in point of the power it exhibits to any even of the most marvellous works Christ wrought, and claimed no less by its divine character the faith of the beholders.  One may show it to be a greater work than that done at Cana of Galilee in the turning of water into wine; for in that case it was only soulless matter that was changed, but here it was the soul and will of thousands of men.  It is, however, to be observed that at the marriage the mother of Jesus is said to be there, and Jesus to have been invited and His disciples, but that no one but Jesus is said to have descended to Capernaum.  His disciples, however, appear afterwards as present with Him; they remembered that “the zeal of thine house shall devour me.”  And perhaps Jesus was in each of the disciples as He ascended to Jerusalem, whence it is not said, Jesus went up to “Jerusalem and His disciples,” but He went down to Capernaum, “He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples.”



John ii. 13.


Matt. v. 35.


Ps. cxxv. 2.


Ps. 22:2, 3, 4.


1 Tim. iii. 15.


Matt. xxi. 43.


Ps. xxxiii. 10.

Next: Chapter XVII