John 2:20

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

Read John 2:20 Using Other Translations

Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?"
“What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?”

What does John 2:20 mean?

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible
John 2:20

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 1 Kings 6:38 ) . 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, (owdwrwh Nyynb) , "the building of Herod" F7; and say of it, that

``he who has not seen Herod's building, never saw a beautiful building.''

And this, according to Josephus F8, 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 F9, 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 F11 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.


FOOTNOTES:

F7 T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 4. 1.
F8 Antiqu. Jud. l. 15. c. 14.
F9 Antiqu. Jud. l. 20. c. 8.
F11 R. Isaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 43. p. 434.
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