Q&A: The Anointing of Jesus - Matthew 26:6-7 and Luke 7:36-38

The Anointing of Jesus - Matthew 26:6-7 and Luke 7:36-38

Question

Atheists point to these two different renderings of the anointing of Jesus and state that the Bible is unreliable. In one Jesus' head is anointed, in the other his feet. In one it is an unnamed woman, and in the other it is Mary.

Answer

Matthew 26:6-7 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

Luke 7:36-38 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisees house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

There is no discrepancy. These are not the same events. Hendriksen and Kistemaker maintain:

It is claimed by many interpreters that, in describing the beautiful deed of Mary, the evangelist borrowed from Luke 7:36-50, and that the Mary mentioned in John 12:3 is the same as the sinful woman of Luke 7; or, that, while the two events are distinct, the author of the Fourth Gospel got his sources mixed and simply added to the story which he had found in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:39 the detail concerning the wiping of Jesus feet, which feature he had found in Luke 7.

Compare the Accounts

In Luke:

(1) The Occasion: The dinner was in all probability occasioned by the desire of a certain unfriendly Pharisee to examine this famous rabbi, perhaps in order to confirm his suspicions with respect to Jesus. Note the unfriendly manner in which he treated the Lord. See Luke 7:44-46.

(2) The Place: The house of a Pharisee.

(3) The Main Female Character: A woman who was in the city, a sinner. Even according to Luke, this woman was not Mary the sister of Martha, for these sisters are subsequently introduced as new personages (in Luke 10:38-39).

(4) The Act: This woman wept. Her tears dropped on Jesus' feet. She then proceeded to wipe off these tears. She also kissed and anointed them.

(5) The Result: Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisee. He praised the woman and dismissed her with a friendly and encouraging word.

In John

(1) The Occasion: The dinner is in all probability occasioned by the desire of a group at Bethany friendly to Jesus to honor him and to express their gratitude.

(2) The Place: The house of Simon the leper, according to Matthew 26:6.

(3) The Main Female Character: Mary of Bethany, a devout disciple of Jesus. She is mentioned in connection with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus.

(4) The Act: Mary did not weep. She did not wet Jesus' feet with her tears. She anointed these feet with ointment and then wiped off the excess ointment. It is clear, therefore, that even the detail concerning the wiping of the feet is completely different in the two accounts. '

(5) The Result: Jesus rebuked Judas Iscariot for criticizing Mary. He defended Mary's deed in the light of its purpose.

So, the anointing of Jesus recounted in Luke 7:36-50 is a different incident from this anointing by Mary, which is related also in Matthew 26:6-12 and Mark 14:39.

Reference:

Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 1-2: New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to John. (John 12:3). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).