Harmonizing the Accounts of Jesus’ Anointing in Bethany

Thursday, 15 Aug 2019

Jean from Blackburn, England writes,

Hi! My husband and I have just listened to WHI-1477, Jesus’ Death Foretold. In that show you seemed to suggest that the account of the anointing in John 12 is the same one as in the Synoptics. We always thought they were different, as Luke Chapter 7 mentions that the woman was a sinner, of the city, and also that that incident took place in Simon the Pharisee’s house. It just seems a very different account. John on the other hand seems to locate it in the house of Lazarus and his sisters. Thanks again for your shows.
Excellent question, Jean. I wrestled with this quite a bit when I was teaching through the Gospel of John at my own church, and so I ended up creating a chart that helped me to see the parallels and differences regarding the incident you’re inquiring about. After studying all the narratives closely, I ended up coming to the conclusion that Luke 7 is actually referring to the same episode as John 12, although Luke’s material is presented out of chronological order. According to all three of the Synoptics, this event took place at the residence of a man named Simon, but I think John helps us to see that it was more of a neighborhood party, rather than a private dinner, which is why Martha and Mary were both present. According to Matthew and Mark, Mary anoints Jesus’ head, but according to Luke and John she anoints his feet. In reality, she anointed both his head and his feet, but the various Gospel writers are emphasizing different things, which is actually quite common (scholars refer to this sort of thing as literary spotlighting).
 

With regard to the comment we find in Luke 7:37 that the person who anointed Jesus was a “woman of the city who was a sinner,” I don’t see this as being incompatible with anything we find in the other Gospel accounts. We don’t know the full story behind all the members of the Bethany family, but when we put all the facts together, it appears that Mary had some kind of a sinful past (of what kind we are not told), which is why Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36) was offended with the fact that Jesus had allowed her to touch him. If you’re interested in reading more about Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, and why it’s presented differently in each of the four Gospels, Richard Bauckham has an excellent chapter related to this in his book, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple.

Also, take a look at the chart I created via the link below.

The Perfume Incident as Related in All Four Gospels

Shane Rosenthal
White Horse Inn

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