I agree with the many other Christians who think that this is a horrible argument. It's quite a stretch to go from Jesus's temple action to killing people. Of course if Jesus, say, stabbed somebody to death in the temple then we might have something to talk about. But that's not what happened. To be sure, the word "violence" could be used to describe Jesus's actions, but that's a far cry from giving us a warrant to kill.
And yet, there is something much less talked about and debated regarding Jesus's temple action.
Specifically, many months ago I was reading a book by David Graeber, anarchist activist and one of the intellectual leaders of the Occupy Movement. In the book Graeber was describing how one the questions most hotly contested in activist communities is if it is ever okay to break a window during a protest. And if so, when?
A strict non-violent approach to activism would argue that it's never okay to break a window, for both practical and ethical reasons. But more militant strands of activism would say that while we should never hurt human beings there are times when it's justifiable to destroy property. That is, when we talk about the use of violence a distinction can be made between property and people.
In recent months this distinction--violence toward property or people--has also come up in the wake of property destruction associated with the protests against police brutality in cities like Baltimore. For example, in their recent "Cost of Freedom" conversation at Biola University Cornel West and Robert George talk about the property/people distinction in relation to the protests in Baltimore (pick up at the 1:35 mark).
I bring this up to make two observations.
The first observation is that while I don't think the violence of Jesus's temple action can be used as a warrant for violence against people the situation is murkier when it comes to violence toward property. The temple action was a symbolic, public and visible act of protest against economic and political corruption that involved some violence toward property. Jesus left the moneychangers and dove sellers with a bill.
Now, to be very clear, I think it's hard to draw ethical implications from Jesus's temple action.
For example, it's hard to tell if Jesus was trying to change the system or trying to provoke the system into a violent response, picking a lethal fight to shame the Powers That Be. Either way, Jesus's temple action wasn't politically effective, unless you consider execution by the state a mark of success. Basically, it's hard to get a sense of what Jesus was trying to accomplish in the temple action.
In addition, if Jesus did destroy property during the temple action he took full public responsibility for it. Jesus wasn't an anonymous anarchist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. What we see in Jesus's action, if we believe that he destroyed property, is more akin to acts of civil disobedience where property is destroyed and those engaging in the action do not flee but stay to be publicly identified and arrested. An example of this would the Catonsville Nine.
So again, it's hard to know exactly what, if any, lessons we should take away from Jesus's temple action. Which brings me to the second point I'd like to make, a point that is more about the hermeneutics of the temple action than about the ethics.
Specifically, many of the Christians who use the violence of the temple action to justify killing or violence toward people are very often the same people who decry violence toward property during protests.
Which is very strange if you think about it.
Specifically, hermeneutically speaking it's a real stretch to use the temple action as a warrant for killing because, as we know, Jesus didn't kill anyone during the action.
However, a coherent hermeneutical case could be made that Jesus did engage in violence toward property as a part of a protest against economic and political exploitation. I'm not saying such a case should be made or that it's justified, simply that a stronger case could be made for violence toward property as opposed to killing.
And yet, many of the Christians who use the violence of the temple action to justify killing or violence toward people are often appalled by the violence toward property in protests against economic and political oppression.