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I stumbled on this verse again and would like some clarification:

Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? John 2:20 (KJV)

  • Was the temple 46 years old at that time?
  • Was the temple built in 46 years?

If it's the second option, how could it be true that the temple took so long to build? Were they short of labour, money, etc.?

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The Jews replied, "It was taken forty-six years to build this temple; and u are going to raise it in three days?" (NIV) – regis Jun 2 '13 at 12:20
Liverpool Cathedral's foundation stone was laid in 1904, and it was only completed in 1978, with modern construction techniques. For a building the size of the Temple to take only 46 years using far more primitive techniques is extraordinary -- but it's remarkable that it took so short a time. – Andrew Leach Jun 2 '13 at 12:26
Solomon's temple took less:… - 7-8 years – tunmise fashipe Jun 3 '13 at 19:53
@tunmisefashipe it was also a fourth of the square footage. which in a 3D world is more like 1/8 the material and work. So that would be about right. – Joshua Jan 7 at 1:33
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It means it took that long to build. This is apparent from the fact that they were challenging Christ's claim that He would build it in three days, when it's taken 46 years of work thus far.

From Barnes' Notes on the Bible

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.

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My question was based on the dedication of people of those times, and I believed this should have made them to finish it earlier. Didn't know the government had hand in it. According to this link, Solomon's temple took lesser time:… – tunmise fashipe Jun 3 '13 at 19:50
Be aware that large buildings often took decades to build. Even a thousand years later the great cathedrals were taking decades, even centuries, to build, whoever was doing it. – DJClayworth Apr 3 at 15:34

We read regarding the building of Solomon's Temple (i.e. the 1st Temple) that "the stone was made ready before it was brought thither" so I think the sames rules applied when building Herod's Temple (i.e. the 2nd Temple) which would mean that all the materials had to be prepared a distance away from the holy place and then transported to the construction site which would take considerable time, this may account for the length of time it took to build it, see

1Ki 6:7 And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe [nor] any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an answer. However, without some historical references showing that Herod's temple was built under the same strictures as Solomon's this is really just speculation. See: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, I do hope you'll stick around and browse some of the other questions and answers here. – Lee Woofenden Apr 3 at 16:38

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