Is that what that passage means?

And [Jesus] made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out… (John 2:15).

Let me ask you, have you ever had a person justify their actions by quoting the Bible, but you thought to yourself, “I don’t think that is the meaning to take away from that passage.” In the second chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus makes a whip and drives away people that are bothering Him. Therefore, the New Testament gives tacit approval to assault with a dangerous weapon. Hence, a Christian can drive people away using a whip if they are being bothered. I hope you get that I’m not serious with this interpretation; moreover, I hope you disagree with this application of John 2:15.

Accepting this disagreement, why do you disagree? For one thing, this explanation does leave out several details to the narrative. You’ll notice that I worded it simply as ‘people were bothering Jesus’; however, that’s not a very accurate description of what was going on in that story. I intentionally abridged the quotation of John 2:15 at the top of the article. You will notice that after the word “out,” there are ellipses, which means the omission of words from the quotation. What I left out was this event happened at the temple in Jerusalem, and it was during the Passover. The text describes the temple as having more the flavor of a marketplace than a house of worship. There was an alternative system in place than the one described in Deuteronomy, 14:25-26. Worshipers who were to bring a temple tax (Ex. 30:13) as an act of devotion, needed to exchange their Roman money (with images of emperors and pagan symbols) for temple currency. So, they were using the temple as a money exchange. All of this was detestable in Jesus’ eyes. He saw this system as converting the house of prayer for all nations (Mk. 11:17), into a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13). Therefore, it’s relatively inaccurate to describe John 2:15 as “Jesus got annoyed with some people and drove them away with a whip.”

Perhaps you saw last month, a pastor in Baltimore ripped up a cease and desist order regarding COVID-19 restrictions and church gatherings. He cited Hebrews 10:25 (loosely King James or New King James) as justification. However, verse 25 is not the beginning of the author of Hebrew’s thought. The thought begins in verse 24. Therefore it would be worth quoting the entire statement: “[A]nd let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25 NASB). Let us then consider if the author’s intention applies to COVID-19 restrictions.

First, please note, there was no singling out of Christians regarding COVID-19 restrictions. No ordinances or executive orders targeted Christian meetings but allowed other religions (non-Christians) to meet without restrictions. Moreover, Las Vegas and Disney World were also under restrictions. [Acknowledgement: federal lawsuit case, people of faith and state discrimination in New York]

Second, there are three imperatives in this passage. First, focus our minds on stimulating (Greek: rouse or provoke) each other to love and good deeds. Second, not to forsake (leave helpless, utterly abandon, G1549) assembling. Finally, encourage one another even more as the day approaches [The Greek is unclear as to the identity of the day; therefore, two possibilities coming judgment, i.e., 70 AD or the second coming of Christ].

Now the author does not elaborate on who the “some” are that are in the habit of not meeting together or the rationale for not meeting (mere laziness? Forming a rival meeting?). However, the word translated forsake is used elsewhere in the New Testament (Mk. 15:34, Acts 2:31), communicating the leaving of one stranded. That is a point worth noting. Is a temporary hiatus on in-person gathering the dynamic equivalent to total abandonment? Another factor to consider is with today’s technology, can we meet the first and third imperatives (stimulate each other to love and good deeds and encourage one another) during a temporary hiatus of in-person gatherings? That I will answer yes, with online or DVD sermons, communion meditation, and live video prayer time. I would dare say we can meet all three imperatives; although I concede meeting the second online is not the ideal.

Therefore, Christian, it is a bad Bible reading that justifies bad behavior. COVID-19 restrictions are not dynamic equivalents to the Sanhedrin’s restrictions on the Apostles in Acts 4 and 5. Finally, I hope a believer’s actions reflect more Peter or Paul and less Pelosi.

Ozzy Osborne is associate pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Montrose.

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