Objections to the Authenticity of Mark 11:17 Reconsidered -- By: Barry D. Smith

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:2 (Fall 1992)
Article: Objections to the Authenticity of Mark 11:17 Reconsidered
Author: Barry D. Smith


Objections to the Authenticity of Mark 11:17 Reconsidered

Barry D. Smith

Few doubt that Jesus did something controversial in the temple during his last week. Debate has raged, however, over just what he did and, more importantly, what he intended by what he did. Many are skeptical about how much Mark’s account of the event corresponds to what exactly happened. This is especially true of Jesus’ explanation of the temple incident in Mark 11:17: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations; you have made it into a den of thieves.” Many claim that Mark 11:17 is a later addition to the tradition of the cleansing of the temple, and, therefore, did not originate with Jesus. It will be argued in this paper, however, that objections to the authenticity of Mark 11:17 are groundless.

Two types of arguments—often in combination—have been offered in support of the view that Jesus could not have taken offense at the presence of the money changers and the sellers of doves in the temple, as implied in Mark 11:17. These are the literary and historical. From a literary point of view, it is claimed that there exists a seam between 11:15–16 and 11:17, indicating that the connection between these two literary units is secondary. Mark 11:17, in other words, did not originally belong to the narrative Mark 11:15–16 as the explanation of Jesus’ action, and, therefore, cannot go back to the historical Jesus. From a historical point of view, it is argued that there was nothing objectionable about offering a service for the exchanging of currency in order that pilgrims could pay the temple tax nor about the selling of doves for offerings required by the Torah. Both were essential services. It makes no sense to have Jesus overturn the tables of the money changers and the stools of the merchants to drive the money changers and the sellers of doves out of the temple, and then to accuse them of making the temple, which was supposed to be a house of prayer, into a den of thieves, as if what they were doing was morally reprehensible. We shall examine these two objections to the authenticity of Mark 11:17.

I. Literary Arguments

Mark 11:17 begins with καὶ ἐδίδασκεν καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς,

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