Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
(20) They profess to seek a sign for evidence; they use it for cavil.Forty and six years was this temple in building.—It is implied that it was not then finished. The date of the completion is given by Josephus (Ant. xx. 9, § 7) as A.D. 64. The same author gives the eighteenth year of the reign of Herod the Great (Nisan 734—Nisan 735, A.U.100) as the commencement of the renewal of the Temple of Zerubbabel (Ant. xv. 11, § 1). This would give A.U.C. 781-782, i.e., A.D. 28-29, as the date of the cleansing. In another passage Josephus gives the month Kislev A.U.C. 734, as the date of the festival connected with the building of the Temple (Ant. xiv. 16, § 4). This would fix our present date as the Passover of A.U.C. 781, i.e., A.D. 28. St. Luke furnishes us with an independent date for the commencement of the ministry of John the Baptist. If we count the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius (comp. Note on Luke 3:1) from the commencement of his first reign with Augustus (A.U.C. 765, i.e., A.D. 12), this date will be A.U.C. 780, i.e., A.D. 27. The present Passover was in the following year, i.e., as before, A.D. 28. The sole reign of Tiberius commenced two years later (A.D. 14), so that while we have certainly no discrepancy between these independent dates, we have probably a very striking coincidence. Its bearing upon the authenticity of the present Gospel is evident.
Rear it up represents the same Greek word as “raise up,” in the previous verse; but the word fits the double meaning. It is the regular term for raising from the dead; but it is also used of rearing up a building, as, e.g., in 3 Ezra 5:44; Ecclesiasticus 49:11.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
2:12-22 The first public work in which we find Christ engaged, was driving from the temple the traders whom the covetous priests and rulers encouraged to make a market-place of its courts. Those now make God’s house a house of merchandise, whose minds are filled with cares about worldly business when attending religious exercises, or who perform Divine offices for love of gain. Christ, having thus cleansed the temple, gave a sign to those who demanded it, to prove his authority for so doing. He foretells his death by the Jews’ malice, Destroy ye this temple; I will permit you to destroy it. He foretells his resurrection by his own power; In three days I will raise it up. Christ took again his own life. Men mistake by understanding that according to the letter, which the Scripture speaks by way of figure. When Jesus was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered he has said this. It helps much in understanding the Divine word, to observe the fulfilling of the Scriptures.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Then said the Jews … – The Jews, either from the ambiguity of his language, or more probably from a design to cavil, understood him as speaking of the temple at Jerusalem. What he said here is all the evidence that they could adduce on his trial Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58, and they reproached him with it when on the cross, Matthew 27:40. The Jews frequently perverted our Saviour’s meaning. The language which he used was often that of parables or metaphor; and as they Sought to misunderstand him and pervert his language, so he often left them to their own delusions, as he himself says, “that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand,” Matthew 13:13. This was a case which they “might,” if they had been disposed, have easily understood. They were in the temple; the conversation was about the temple; and though he probably pointed to his body, or designated it in some plain way, yet they chose to understand him as referring to the temple itself; and as it appeared so improbable that he could raise up that in three days, they sought to pervert his words and pour ridicule on his pretensions.Forty and six years … – The temple in which they then were was that which was commonly called “the second temple,” built after the return of the Jews from Babylon. See the notes at Matthew 21:12. This temple Herod the Great commenced repairing, or began to rebuild, in the eighteenth year of his reign – that is, sixteen years before the birth of Christ (Jos. ‘Ant.,’ b. xv. Section 1). The main body of the temple he completed in “nine years and a half” (Jos. ‘Ant.,’ xv. 5, 6), yet the temple, with its outbuildings, was not entirely complete in the time of our Saviour. Herod continued to ornament it and to perfect it even until the time of Agrippa (Jos. ‘Ant.,’ b. xx. chapter viii. Section 11). As Herod began to rebuild the temple sixteen years before the birth of Jesus, and as what is here mentioned happened in the thirtieth year of the age of Jesus, so the time which had been occupied in it was “forty-six years.” This circumstance is one of the many in the New Testament which show the accuracy of the evangelists, and which prove that they were well acquainted with what they recorded. It demonstrates that their narration is true. Impostors do not trouble themselves to be very accurate about names and dates, and there is nothing in which they are more liable to make mistakes.
Wilt thou … – This is an expression of contempt. Herod, with all his wealth and power, had been engaged in this work almost half a century. Can you, an obscure and unknown Galilean, accomplish it in three days? The thing, in their judgment, was ridiculous, and showed, as “they” supposed, that he had no authority to do what he had done in the temple.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
20. Forty and six years—From the eighteenth year of Herod till then was just forty-six years [Josephus, Antiquities, 15.11.1].
Matthew Poole’s Commentary
The Jews understood his words of that material temple in which they at this time were, which the best interpreters think was the temple built by Ezra and Zerubbabel; but how to make it out that it was forty six years building, they are not well agreed. Some say, Cyrus reigned thirty, Cambyses eight, Darius six; these added together make forty four. Others say that the Magi reigned two years more. Some reckon to Cyrus thirty one, to his son Cambyses nine, Darius six. Others say that the years wherein the building was hindered during Artaxerxes’s time, Ezra 4:21, added to the two years of Darius, Ezra 4:24, in whose sixth year it was finished, are reckoned together. The Jews thought it strange that our Saviour should undertake in three days to rear a building which had cost their forefathers so many years.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
Then said the Jews,…. Unto him, as read the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions:forty and six years was this temple in building; which cannot be understood of the temple as built by Solomon, for that was but seven years in building, 1 Kings 6:37. But rather of the temple, as built by Zorobabel, commonly called the second temple, and might be more properly said to be “this temple”; the calculations of this made by learned men, are various and endless to recite. Daniel’s seven weeks, or forty nine days, which are so many years, can have nothing to do with this account; since they regard not the building of the temple, but the city of Jerusalem; though from the second year of Cyrus, in which the temple began to be built, to the thirty second of Darius exclusive, were just forty six years; Cyrus reigning three years, Artaxerxes Ahasuerus fourteen years, and Artaxerxes Darius thirty two; but their account is more likely, which begins at the first of Artaxerxes Longimanus, who reigned forty years, and ends in the sixth year of Darius, his successor, in which year the temple was finished, Ezra 6:15. But to me it seems rather, that Herod’s temple, or the temple as rebuilt, or repaired by Herod, is here meant; and which the Jews call, , “the building of Herod” (g); and say of it, that
“he who has not seen Herod’s building, never saw a beautiful building.”
And this, according to Josephus (h), was begun in the “eighteenth” year of his reign, in the “thirty fifth” of which Christ was born, who was now “thirty” years of age: so that reckoning either the eighteenth year of Herod, or the thirtieth of Christ, the present year exclusively, just forty six years had run out, since the rebuilding or reparations were first begun; and which were not yet finished; for some years after this, the above writer observes (i), the temple was finished, even in the times of Nero and Agrippa: and agreeably to this, the words may be rendered, “forty six years has this temple been building”; and which still adds more force to the following reasoning of the Jews:
and wilt thou rear it up in three days? the thing is impossible and impracticable; it is madness to the last degree, to talk at this rate: thus from the length of time which had run out from Herod’s first beginning to repair and beautify the temple, till now, and yet not finished, they argue the absurdity of his pretending to raise up such a fabric, should it be demolished, in three days time; they understanding him either ignorantly or wilfully, to speak of the material temple, when his sense was otherwise, as appears from the words of the evangelist, in the next verse. The Jew (k) objects to this account, of the temple being forty six years in building; he observes, that
“according to the sense of the Nazarenes, this was the building of king Herod, that was in the time of Jesus; and the whole time of his reign were but seven and thirty years, as is manifest from the book of Joseph ben Gorion, c. 65. Besides, that which Herod built, was built in eight years, as is evident from the same author, c. 55, wherefore the number of forty six years, in the words of the writer, (the evangelist,) is, a palpable error.”
To which may be replied, that admitting there is an error in this number, it is not the error of the evangelist, but of the Jews, whose words the evangelist relates; and supposing this was a mistake of theirs, either ignorantly or wilfully made, to aggravate the absurdity and impossibility of Christ’s rebuilding the temple; and that even the evangelist knew it to be a mistake; yet he acts the most faithful and upright part, in repeating the words of the Jews, as they delivered them; and it lies upon the Jew to prove, that these words were not said by them, or that it is not credible that they should: that this was the building of Herod which is here referred to; and that he reigned but thirty seven years, will be granted; but this is no objection to its being forty six years in building, since in this account it is not said that it was forty six years in building by Herod; the sense is only, that such a number of years had passed, since it first began to be built by him: as for what Joseph ben Gorion says, of its being built by him in the space of eight years, it is not to be depended upon, since he is not the true Josephus, that wrote the history of the Jews, and is to be corrected by the genuine historian; and from what has been before observed, from the time which, according to the true Josephus, this building was begun, to this present year of Christ, when this discourse was had, were just forty six years; and admitting, that the main of the building was finished in eight years time, yet additions were continually made to it, so that it was not finished entirely, until many years after.
(g) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 4. 1.((h) Antiqu. Jud. l. 15. c. 14. (i) Antiqu. Jud. l. 20. c. 8. (k) R. Isaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 43. p. 434.
Geneva Study Bible
Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Meyer’s NT Commentary
John 2:20. An intended deductio ad ahsurdum. Τεσσαράκ. κ. ἓξ ἔτεσιν] length of time named without ἐν. Bernhardy, p. 81; Winer, p. 205 [E. T. p. 273]. The great number of years stands emphatically first.
ᾠκοδομήθη] i.e. so far as it was already complete. The proposed enlargement and renewal of the temple of Zerubbabel was begun in the 18th year of Herod the Great’s reign (autumn of 734–5; see Joseph. Antt. xv.11. 1), and was first completed, according to Josephus, Antt. xx. 9. 7, under Herod Agrippa II., A.D. 64. How the 46 years named here prove that the passover then being held was that of the year 782 (A.D. 29), corresponding with the year of the Baptist’s appearance according to Luke 3:1 (August 781–2), see on Acts, Introd. § 4. Wieseler, p. 166, reckoning onwards from Nisan 735, places the end of the 46th year exactly in Nisan 781; comp. also Wieseler in Herzog’s Encykl. XXI. 546.
 Ewald reckons from B.C. 20 to A.D. 28, and, counting only the full intervening years, he gets the 46, thus omitting B.C. 20, the year in which the rebuilding began, and A.D. 28, the year of the passover named in our text.—For the rest, it must be remembered (in opposition to Keim’s doubts in his Gesch. J. I. p. 615) that the statement in the text does not necessarily oblige us to suppose an οἰκοδομεῖσθαι without any interruptions. The building had been going on now for 46 years.
Expositor’s Greek Testament
John 2:20. The Jews naturally saw no reference to His own body or to its resurrection, and replied to the letter of His words, τεσσεράκοντα.… The Temple was begun to be rebuilt in the eighteenth year of Herod’s reign that is the autumn of 734–735. Jewish reckoning the beginning of a year was reckoned one year. Thus forty-six years might bring us to the autumn of 779 and the Passover of 780, i.e., 27 A.D. would be regarded as forty-six years from the rebuilding; and this is Edersheim’s calculation. But several accurate chronologists think the following year is meant.
The Synoptical Gospels insert a similar incident at the close of Christ’s ministry, and there alone. Harmonists accordingly understand that the Temple was twice cleansed by Him. “Bis ergo Christus templum … purgavit” (Calvin). It is easy to find reasons for such action either at the beginning or at the close of the ministry. On the whole it seems more appropriate at the beginning. The Messiah might be expected to manifest Himself at the Temple.
The next paragraph extends from John 2:23 to John 3:21, and contains (1) a brief description of the general result of Christ’s manifestation in Jerusalem (John 2:23-25), and (2) a longer description of an instance of the kind of faith and inquiry which were produced by this manifestation and of the manner in which Christ met it.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
20. Forty and six years, &c.] This was the third Temple. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Zerubbabel’s was rebuilt by Herod the Great. The Greek implies that the building began 46 years ago, but not that it is now completed. “The building of the Temple, we are told by Josephus (Ant. xv. ii. 1), was begun in the 18th year of Herod the Great, 734–735 a. u. c. Reckoning 46 years from this point, we are brought to 781 or 782 a. u. c. = 28 or 29 a.d. Comparing this with the data given in Luke 3:1, the question arises, whether we are to reckon the 15th year of Tiberius from his joint reign with Augustus, which began a.d. 12; or from his sole reign after the death of Augustus, a.d. 14. This would give us a.d. 27 or 29 for the first public appearance of the Baptist, and at the earliest a.d. 28 or 30 for the Passover mentioned in this chapter.” S. p. 65. So that there seems to be exact agreement between this date and that of S. Luke, if we count S. Luke’s 15 years from the joint reign of Tiberius. It is incredible that this coincidence can have been planned; it involves an intricate calculation, and even with the aid of Josephus absolute certainty cannot be obtained. “By what conceivable process could a Greek in the second century have come to hit upon this roundabout expedient for giving a fictitious date to his invention?” S. p. 67.
rear it up] Better, raise it up; the same verb as in John 2:19. For other instances of gross misunderstanding of Christ’s words comp. John 3:4; John 3:9, John 4:11; John 4:15; John 4:33, John 6:34; John 6:52, John 7:35, John 8:22; John 8:33; John 8:52, John 11:12, John 14:5.
John 2:20. Ὠκοδομήθη, was built [was in building]) by Herod the Great, and subsequently. See, besides others, Witsius in Misc. T. ii. p. 311.—καὶ σύ, and wilt thou) For this reason, the more they seem to have taken Jesus’ words literally, because He was called a workman. Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter?” comp. Matthew 26:61; Matthew 27:63, [The Pharisees, after the crucifixion, to Pilate] “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.” Stupidity often, in the case of malice, is of advantage [proficit, prevails, makes progress, i.e. as to its own wicked purpose].
Verses 20, 21. – The immediate reference of the words to the building before them was only one of a thousand misapplications of the words of Jesus. The seeds of truth which his words contain would take root in after days. Meanwhile the Jews answered and said – taking the obvious and literal sense of the words, and treating them with an ill-concealed irony, if not scoff, to which our Lord made no reply – In forty and six years was this temple built as we see it today. This is one of the most important chronological data for the life of our Lord. Herod the Great, according to Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 15:11 1), commenced the rebuilding of the second temple in the autumn of the eighteenth year of his reign. We find that his first year reckoned from Nisan, A.U.C. 717-718. Consequently, the eighteenth year must have commenced between Nisan, A.U.C. 734-735 and 735-736. The forty-sixth year after this would make the. Passover at which this speech was delivered – the spring of A.U.C. 781 (Wieseler, ‘Chronicles Synopsis of the Four Gospels,’ translation; and Herzog, ‘Encyc.,’ 21:546. The fact that Josephus, in his ‘Bell. Jud.,’ 1:21, gives the fifteenth year of Herod’s reign instead of the eighteenth, is shown by Wieseler to be an error of the transcriber, see p. 152, note), which, if we compare with the other hints, is a fixed point from which to reckon the birth year and death year of our Lord. The “about thirty years old” of the Lord at his baptism throws us to about A.U.C. 751, B.C. 2, for the year of his birth, and if there be only one Passover mentioned in John’s Gospel between this and the last Passover, it gives A.U.C. 783 for the year of his death. This date is at least coincident with the date derived from the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, as that of the commencement of the mission of John (see my examination of these dates in appendix to ‘John the Baptist’). The temple which Herod began to repair in the eighteenth year of his reign was not completed until A.D. , under Herod Agrippa II., a very short period before its utter destruction. The irony and scorn are manifest: Wilt thou raise it up in three days? John shows, in ver. 21, that, in the deep sense in which our Lord used the words, he abundantly justified his promise. But he – ἐκεῖνος, the Lord, not the people, not the disciples – spake of the temple of his body. This is the reflection which was made upon the word of Jesus by the evangelists in after days. Even Mark (Mark 14:58) reveals the presence of a spiritual interpretation of the words by some of his unsympathetic listeners. It must not be forgotten that, in the synoptists, we find the presence of the idea that his service was a temple service, and that he was greater than the temple (Matthew 12:6; cf. also Hebrews 3:6; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:15; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 1:22, 23; with Ephesians 2:19-22). Nor must it be forgotten that the Logos itself was, in the figurative language of Philo, spoken of as the house, or temple, of God. Later rabbinical representations also describe “the body of man as the temple in which the Shechinah operates” (Wunsche). A difficulty arises from the Lord’s having claimed in these words to be on the point of raising himself from the dead, whereas elsewhere his resurrection is referred to the mighty power of God, as in ver. 22; Acts 2:24; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Romans 4:24; Romans 8:11; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:20, etc. Without doubt, God and the Father, the Supreme Power, was thus seen in living activity; but the Divine nature of Christ not infrequently so steps forward into hisconsciousness that he can say, “I and the Father are one;” and (ch. 10:17, 18) “I will lay down my life that I may take it again” (cf. Ephesians 4:8-10).
Vincent’s Word Studies
Forty and six years was this temple in building (τεσσαράκοντα καὶ ἓξ ἔτεσιν ῷκοδομήθη ὁ ναὸς οὗτος)Literally, In forty and six years was this temple built. It was spoken of as completed, although not finished until thirty-six years later.
The position of the Greek pronoun makes it emphatic.
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