John 12:1-11 – The Anointing at Bethany

Jesus stays with Lazarus and his family at Bethany prior to the Passover. During a meal given in his honor, Mary anointed Jesus with an expensive perfume (verses 1-8). This is a rare story in John since the episode also appears in in Matt 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, and perhaps Luke 7:39-50.  This is an opportunity to study John’s use of his sources since it would appear that this was a well-known story by the time he wrote his Gospel.

Mary anointing Jesus's feetThere are a few differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew and Mark we are told that the anointing took place at the home of Simon the Leper and the woman is unidentified (see this post on the story as it appears in Mark). In Mark she anoints Jesus’ head, while in John she anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair. In John she wipes his feet with her hair, as did the woman in Luke 7.

How is this related to a similar incident in Luke 7:39-50? All three synoptic gospels agree a woman came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of myrrh (ἀλάβαστρον μύρου). But other than the perfume used to anoint Jesus, there is little in Luke which is the same as the even described in John 12.First, The name Simon appears in Luke and Mark/Matt, but the name Simon was extremely common in the first century. In fact, two of Jesus’s disciples are named Simon! There is nothing which requires Simon the Leper of Mark 14:3 to be Simon the Pharisee of Luke 7:40. Second, Luke omits the location (Bethany), but the story is placed before the travel narrative (beginning in Luke 9:51). This implies that the meal hosted by Simon is in Galilee, not Bethany (near Jerusalem). Third, the woman in Luke is described as having a bad reputation, there is nothing in the Synoptic Gospels or John that imply Mary, the sister of Lazarus had a negative reputation. Finally, Luke also omits the words of Jesus praising the woman for her actions, saying that her deed will be repeated wherever the gospel is preached. Instead, Jesus responds to Simon’s critical thoughts with a short parable and pronounces the woman’s sins forgiven.

It is possible John has combined two events (Luke 7 and Matthew 26 / Mark14), or it is possible Luke has move the event to an earlier point in Jesus’s ministry. It seems to me, however, what Luke records is a different event in the life of Jesus. A notorious sinner encounters Jesus and receives forgiveness and acceptance and responds with lavish worship at Jesus’s feet. John (Mark and Matthew) record an event just prior to the Passion week in which Mary honors her teacher with a lavish gift which foreshadows his death and burial. The obvious objection is the oddity of a woman anointing Jesus twice during his life.

John has repeated key elements of the story verbatim (the words of Jesus), yet added a few details which were omitted in Mark and Matthew. For example, the name of the woman (Mary) and the disciple who objected to the expensive display of affection (Judas). John has re-told the story to highlight the difference between Mary’s devotion to Jesus and Judas’s misunderstanding of Jesus.

2 thoughts on “John 12:1-11 – The Anointing at Bethany

  1. I believe it is possible that these two events could have been combined, but I also believe that it could have been possible, no matter how rare it is, that there could have been two instances where two women anointed Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God, so why would it be weird for multiple people to want to anoint him and bow at his feet? As for Mary, Luke puts a negative aspect on her life, but he has to remember that we are all sinners. Mary was a devoted lady, as explained by Kostenberger, “in her devotion to Jesus, she may break etiquette and defy common sense, but as Jesus points out, by doing so she anoints Jesus for the day of his burial,” (Kostenberger, 118). In this passage, she demonstrates this by using her hair to wipe his feet, and I believe disapproves Luke’s theory that she is a negative person because she has seem to be devoted to Jesus. This can be seen also earlier when we start to see Mary. It is curious as to why look portrays this because in another part of his story he says that, “she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the LORD’s feet listening to what he said,” (Luke 10:39, NIV). From the beginning, according to this verse, Mary has been listening to Jesus and devoting her time and thoughts to him because as the verse goes on, Jesus says Mary was doing the right thing. So overall, Mary has devoted her life to Jesus and she portrays this throughout the Gospels.


  2. This is an amazing story and the implications are even more increadable. This happens just before Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he rides down the mount of Olives and up into the city of Jerusalem. The thing about the anointing, is that this is something that would have normally happned to kings and royalty. Kings would have been anointed with this special perfume and fragrence and would have always walked around with the aroma of royalty. This smell would have likley stayed on Jesus’s body for days. He would have rode into Jerusalem smelling of Royalty and quite possibly been doing his ministry durring his last days smeeling like a king. People would hace noticed that. It might have even been possible that Jesus still had an aroma of royalty even while hanging on a cross. The fact that this has happened at least twice in Jesus’s lifetime is not suprising considering he is the King of Kings. He is the anointed one, the Messiah!


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