Holy Week is a time when we Christians find ourselves discussing Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple because in the Gospel of Mark 11.11-26 it follows the Triumphal Entry (11.1-10). But there is another account of the Temple cleansing in the Gospel of John 2.13-24 that places the Temple Cleansing at another point in Jesus’ life. What are we to do with this? There are a few options:
(1) Jesus purged the Temple twice.
I find this improbable. It seems to be the same event as far as how it is depicted. I think the only reason to postulate two events is an attempt to reconcile the chronology of the Gospels, but I think this is a more modern concern for strict chronology being applied to authors of documents who did not share the same concern.
(2) The Markan order is accurate.
Mark’s reason for placing the cleansing here is quite obvious. He seems to be connecting the event with Jesus’ murder. This was the thing that pushed the ruling elite past the breaking point.
(3) The Johannine order is accurate.
It seems that John may have felt that Mark misplaced the story (a chronological concern that would be rare) and/or that he thought Jesus’ campaign as an alternative source of authority to the Temple (e.g. like the Qumran community) was announced very early in his mission. John the Baptist is mentioned in chapter one, so maybe this is another way of connecting Jesus to John in that they seemed to have shared anti-Temple messages.
(4) We cannot recover the historical event, but we do have the literary points.
It may be that the best we can do is acknowledge “why” Mark and John placed the event where they did. We have no idea when the event occurred in the life of Jesus.
(5) The event did not happen.
I find this the most improbable. That the Evangelists would feel compelled to tell the story of this event to the point of placing it in completely different places seems to me to indicate a real Temple Cleansing occurred.