Last Sunday I preached a message on the anointing of Jesus by a sinful woman from Luke 7:36-50 under the title, Extravagant Love for Christ. Before I got into the exposition I did some teaching on the passage and the question of its relation to the anointing recorded in the other Gospels. Here are my notes:
Before we begin our exposition, I want to address one teaching point. The question is how this passage is related to accounts we read in the other Gospels of a woman anointing Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:7-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-11). Is this the same event or something different?
There are at least two arguments in favor of it being the same event:
1. All the Gospel accounts describe a woman anointing Jesus with costly ointment.
2. Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 say this anointing took placed in the home of a man named Simon.
In response to these, however, we might observe that Jesus was often invited into people’s homes, and it is very possible that he might have been greeted by grateful disciples with lavish homage (like anointing him with costly ointment) on more than one occasion.
As for the mention of Simon, we should know that Simon was a very common name among first century Jews. In the New Testament there are about a dozen people with the name Simon and the Jewish historian Josephus mentions over twenty persons with this name in his writings. What is more, Matthew and Mark refer to their Simon as “Simon the leper” and not, as in Luke, as Simon the Pharisee (cf. Luke 7:36, 40, 43, 44).
Contrariwise, there are at least four solid reasons to say that the anointing Luke describes is not the same as that in the other Gospels:
1. The anointings take place in different places. In Luke, the setting is Galilee. In the others, it is in Bethany in Judea.
2. The anointings take place at different times. In Luke, the setting is early in Jesus’ public ministry. In the others, it is near the end of his public ministry and just before he goes to the cross.
3. The anointings are done by different persons. In Luke she is a woman who is known as a sinner (Luke 7:37). But the woman in John 12:3 is identified as Mary the sister of Lazarus, who is otherwise known not as a notorious sinner but a godly woman of good report.
4. The purposes of the two anointings are different. The anointing in Luke is a demonstration of God’s saving grace (see Luke 7:48, 50). In the other anointing, Judas duplicitously complains of the waste and how the costly ointment might have been given to the poor. Jesus says the poor will always be with them but praises the woman for preparing his body for burial (cf. Matthew 26:11-12; Mark 14:7-8; John 12:7-8).
The best conclusion is that the anointing Luke describes in chapter 7 is a unique event in the life of Jesus that only he records. This also means that Luke omits the later anointing by Mary in Bethany which the other Gospels do record.
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