This post is part of a series looking at misquoted verses of the Bible. Click here to see others.
Most people reading this know that I work at a church which earns the title of “megachurch.” According to Christianity Today, this is used for any church with at least 2000 people in weekly attendance. Depending on who you ask this is either exciting to be a part of or an abomination of what church should be. The specifics as to why you might hear either of these responses differ greatly. Let me tackle one of them.
At Central we have a bookstore (pictured above). Actually, we have some version of a bookstore at most of our campuses. This is common for a church of our size. For full disclosure, the bookstore even falls under my area of oversight. One of the comments I’ve heard repeated over the years is a joke (sometimes said sarcastically without humor intended) about Jesus coming in and overturning the tables of our bookstore. Depending on how familiar you are with the Bible, this may or may not make sense. It’s a reference to when Jesus made a scene at the temple. Here’s the scene:
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:12-13
As you hopefully figured by now, this is another misquoted verse. To see why, we first must consider that Jesus is quoting from a phrase in Jeremiah. Whenever a passage quotes something else it’s always a good idea to check for the context of the original source as it usually helps you better understand the context of why it’s being quoted. Here’s the passage Jesus was referring to in what He said:
“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord. Jeremiah 7:9-11
What the prophet Jeremiah tackles in chapter 7, and what Jesus tackles in Matthew 21, is when the religious gathering flips its role. Where instead of serving as a beacon of truth, of worship, of community, and of all that is of God, it instead becomes a safe place to harbor and protect all that is opposite. The Jewish Annotated New Testament summarizes this passage in Jeremiah well by saying that “it refers not to where people steal but where thieves go to feel safe.” When it becomes an environment to do “detestable things.”
I don’t think God is offended when you have the opportunity to buy a new Bible or Christian book to help encourage you in your relationship with God. What He passionately cares about is the Church being focused on the things of God. This isn’t about whether money is exchanged at church, but rather that we are never to allow Satan and his kingdom of the world to have a foothold in our gatherings together in Jesus’ Name. Could a church get carried away with what they sell and put too much emphasis on it? Absolutely. That’s why we must constantly check the spirit of our gatherings to make sure they align with what we see from Jesus and the early church.
Just don’t quote Matthew 21 any time you see someone purchase something at a church.