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.

10 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.

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  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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  3. I’ve never thought about the possibility that the story of Jesus getting anointed by the woman could have been two separate events. The details are different enough that it is very plausible that they were indeed two different women. The action of anointing with perfume is so unique that to have it happen to Jesus twice, let alone once, would really be saying something about who Jesus is. It could be that John did combine stories to make one, but even then, there are facts that don’t line up completely. Either way, these women or woman has shown faith in who Jesus is and has anointed him with expensive perfume. Kostenberger points out that the passage in John reflects on the faith that Mary (who is the woman in this passage) has compared to the cunning mind of Judas who would betray Jesus. This anointing of perfume was seen as a step closer to Jesus’s death and burial which Judas would later put into effect. The identity of the woman doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but rather the heart behind her actions. There is a devotion which she shows clearly through the anointing while those who are supposed to be known as Jesus’ followers are the ones rebuking the honorary action toward their Lord.

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  4. Judas really showed his colors when he was upset with Mary for anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. Judas was so filled with greed that all he could think about was the money. He was upset with Mary for using such expensive perfume on the savior of the world. And do you know why? Because he wanted to get the money for himself. All he could think about is the money and not the fact that he was there with the savior of the world who was going to die for him. Mary’s heart was so pure and true she loved Jesus so much that she did the only thing she knew how to do love deeply from the heart and she anointed him. She did not care about the money or what people thought she only cared about Jesus and her love for him. That is how our love should be for Jesus unhindered and not caring what other people think but only about our love for Christ.

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  5. We can argue about where the story took place and when or we can focus on what the point of the story is. A woman brings to Jesus a bottle of perfume that is worth the amount of a years wages. That’s one expensive bottle of perfume! the point of the story is that what she did was not only clearly expensive but somewhat unusual. Usually cleaning the feet of a guest was done by a slave/servant. when she did the act of wiping Jesus’s feet she humbled herself to the position and status of a humble servant. What else is unusual is that she used her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet. Because in Jewish culture women wouldn’t have undid their hair in public places, let alone wipe the feet of someone else with their hair. The perfume was meant to foreshadow the death of Jesus because that specific perfume was used during burials.

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  6. I definitely don’t think this was not the same event that occurred in John 12 due to the backdrop of the situation in Luke 7. Even though similar actions and characteristics were mentioned in both events, the content behind the woman’s background did not match. First, the woman in Luke was recognized as a sinner whom Jesus accepted and forgave according to your post. On the other hand, Mary was devoted to Jesus because He raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. The backdrop of Luke’s narrative leaves many unanswered questions regarding the woman and the language in his narrative. Although the backdrop of Luke’s story is different from Johns, the actions that transpired in both gospel have some similarities. As described in Luke’s event, the woman poured perfume on his feet and wiped his feet with her hair just as in John 12. Kostenberger states only Mark and John tell us the value of this perfume, which was equivalent to a year of wages valued at 300 denari (Kostenberger, 134). Given that both Mark and John’s narrative tells us the value of the perform, this feature is what draws some conclusion for this to be the same event. Although the significance of the perfume is in both narratives, I still think the backdrop between both women is entirely different for this to be considered the same event in John 12 and Luke 7.

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  7. After looking at the example in Luke 7, we can clearly see that these are two separate events, although very similar in story. I’d like to believe that these are twp separate stories, with two separate women. Luke describes this woman as a sinner, someone who Jesus had to forgive. This directly contrasts what John describes Mary as. This too me just depicts a second situation in which another woman came and anointed Jesus. Although I’d like to believe that Jesus could assume mary to be this sinner who needs forgiveness, yet we see no theme of that happening in John. mary brought an exspensive bottle of perfume, gave it to the Lord, which speaks volumes as to what she thinks of Jesus. These are two different stories, and each has it’s very important aspects of character.

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  8. Both possibilities, that Jesus was anointed twice at different times in his ministry or that His anointing only happened once, are both plausible, and in my opinion, the first one is particularly attractive. As discussed in class, when something is repeated in the Bible, it highlights the importance of it. Perhaps John, as he would have already known about the story from the Synoptic Gospels, decided to synthesize them into one cohesive story to draw attention to the importance of it. The event itself is indicative of the death of Jesus, and of course at this point in His Gospel he is trying to make the reader aware of it. Thus, it is feasible to suppose that he used the Synoptic Gospels as his resource to cite the story, but nevertheless added some details that are essential to the Passion story. He wanted his readers to know that His death was immanent. Within the story itself, I think the dichotomy between Mary and Judas is fascinating. Kostenberger, in his review of this portion of Scripture, claims that John made these details obvious to the reader to define two different responses to Jesus. The great question that John is posing throughout his Gospel is: What will you do with Jesus? And, thus, all of his writings relate back to this thesis, and the present story being discussed is no exception. Judas, closely associated with Jesus and trusted by Him, chooses to rebel in His heart and turn away; Mary, on the other hand, marginalized in society is devoted to Jesus and proves this by her lavish gift. In other words, no matter who you are, you may have the correct response to Jesus. There are no prerequisites to understanding who Jesus is–no prior conditions or particular requirements. Jesus welcomes everyone.

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  9. This story is one that is told quite often, at least in my childhood it was. I believe that it is often seen as a loving act that Mary washed Jesus’s feet with perfume. However, while this story touches on that, it may have been another reason why Mary did this. Anointing Jesus was sort of like worshipping him. I cannot remember if Mary had known that Jesus was the Messiah at this point, I am assuming she would have considering she had just witnessed him raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Was Mary influenced by God to anoint Jesus unknowingly in preparation for his death and burial? In reference to this event taking place in other Gospels, I agree that the event here in John 12 and the event in Luke 7 could be completely different events. In Luke, the woman is not named, and the event takes place almost immediately as Jesus enters the home and the home mentioned belongs to Simon. In John, based on what John wrote, the event takes place once food had been served, so likely Jesus’s feet had already been washed considering feet were typically cleansed prior to their meal because of the close proximity to their meals. The home mentioned in John also belongs to Lazarus, not Simon. Because of how the stories are written, I find that the anointing of Jesus’s feet in John 12 and Luke 7 are separate events.

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  10. After reading this blog, and then looking back on both the stories in John and in Luke I can see where things can be super confusing when looking at them as the same event. It isn’t a great defense to say they are different because of the story or plot line itself because as we know the Synoptics are not completely in line with John; but it’s much rather the details in each story that points to my belief that they are two separate events. For example Luke describes the women as a sinner, someone whom Jesus is forgiving as she comes to Him in guilt and sorrow. This without a doubt, couldn’t be Mary due to the fact that she is not described in this way in John. Now everyone is a sinner and I’m not saying Mary wasn’t but this isn’t the theme of John, and forgiving wasn’t the moral of this story presented in this specific Gospel. She has a very expensive bottle perfume and gives it to the Lord, which goes to show how much appreciation she has for Him. Now though these stories are similar, but so very different I think it is all in the detail needless to say.

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