Anointing Jesus

In Mark 14:3-9 Jesus is anointed by a woman at a meal given in his honor. There is a serious source critical problem with this story. Mark and Matthew agree on many details, and John 12:1-8 appears to be the same story. But there is a similar story in Luke 7:36-50. Luke’s story is so similar it is often assumed Luke has heavily redacted the story he found in Mark and moved it to another point in Jesus ministry. It is true the name of the host is the same and the use of an expensive perfume is similar.

AnointingAll three synoptic gospels agree a woman came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of myrrh (ἀλάβαστρον μύρου), containing “oil of nard” (νάρδου πιστικῆς), derived from the aromatic spikenard plant. In John’s Gospel Mary has large quantity of the oil, a “pound” in the ESV.  The Greek λίτρα is a Roman pound (327.45 grams or 11.5 ounces), significantly more than an alabaster vial or perfume.

There are other differences:

  • In Luke, Simon is a Pharisee in Galilee hosting Jesus in his home. In Mark, the home is owned by Simon the Leper, while in John 12 the meal appears to be hosted by Lazarus in Bethany.
  • The identity of the woman is unknown in both the three synoptic Gospels, but in Luke she appears to be a well-known sinful woman. There is no implication of sinfulness in Matthew and Mark. In John, the woman is identified as Mary, presumably the sister of Lazarus and Martha.
  • In Mark she anoints Jesus’ head, but in Luke 7 she anoints his feet. In John 12 she anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair just as the woman in Luke did.
  • The objection to the anointing in Luke is voiced by Simon the Pharisee rather than one of the twelve. In Mark the objection to the anointing comes from “someone,” in Matthew it is one of the twelve disciples, and by the time John was written, the objection comes from Judas (John 12). John 12:6 indicates Judas was already “helping himself” money from the common fund and he was going to steal from the profit on the perfume.
  • 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.

All things being equal, I think these are two separate incidents. While it might seem strange women keep turning up to anoint Jesus, the anointing at Passover is in keeping with Passover traditions and anticipated Jesus’ suffering, execution and burial. In Luke, the anointing is a vivid example of radical grace and forgiveness.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

oil-lampThis parable in Matthew 25 is an interesting example for parable study since it is often dismissed as a creation of the later church to explain the long-delay of the return of the Lord. The parable is an allegory created by Matthew to explain why Jesus did not return as quickly as anticipated. For example, Eta Linnemann said that this parable “is certainly a creation of the early Church. A Christian prophet or teacher unknown to us uttered it in the name and spirit of Jesus.” (Parables, 126).

I would rather read this parable in the context of the other parables in Matthew 24-25, as well as the whole of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple his final week.  The parable was intended to use common typology for Israel’s relationship with God found in the Hebrew Bible. For example, the relationship of God and Israel is pictured in the Old Testament as a marital relationship (Isa 54:4-6, 62:4-5, Ezek 16, Hosea).

If we follow Blomberg’s method for interpreting parables, then the bridegroom is the central character, the two sets of bridesmaids are the contrasting characters. This would imply strongly that the bridegroom is God / Jesus, since in most of these sorts of parables God is in that central position. The ten virgins or bridesmaids would then refer to the followers of Jesus who are waiting for his return. Five are prepared for a long interim, the other five are not.

But other elements are not intended to be typological at all. For example, the oil is sometimes equated to good works, or the merchants with the Church. (If you want to be ready for the return of Jesus, go and do good works in the Church?)  This is very “preachable,” but I am not at all convinced that was Jesus’ original point.

What makes the bridesmaids “wise” or “foolish”? It cannot be that they fell asleep since both the wise and foolish get drowsy and fall asleep. The delay was so long that normal life had to go on. The issue is that the foolish five are unprepared for the long wait. The type of lamp they used would need to be refueled when the groom arrived. By preparing themselves, the five wise bridesmaids are allowed to join the groom and enter into the wedding feast.

But what about the unprepared virgins? Why are they judged harshly? The shutting of the door is an indication of final judgment: there is no longer any way for them to get into the kingdom, they have missed out. The groom’s response to their please is that he does not know them.

The groom’s response is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 7:23 and is a rabbinical formula used to dismiss a student. The implication is that they had the same opportunity to be ready, and that since they were not ready at the right time, they will have no part in the kingdom. They remain outside, in the dark. The fact is, they were always in the dark and only thought that they would enter into the Wedding Feast.

This is yet another example in Jesus’ teaching of a shocking reversal. Those who think that they ought to be in the kingdom do not get in, they remain on the outside.  I think that the context supports this reading – what else do you seen in Jesus’ final week that supports this conclusion?  Who should we identify as the “wise” and “foolish” in the immediate context of the parable?

Watch out for False Messiahs!

At the very beginning of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns his disciples to watch out for people who will appear claiming to be the Messiah (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ χριστός) (Matt 24:2-5). Similarly, in Matt 24:10-13 he warns against pseudo-prophets (ψευδοπροφῆται) and in 24:23-28 both false messiahs and false prophets (ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται). In each case, these false prophets/messiahs will cause people to wander (πλανάω), a verb usually denoting deception. It is used often for Israel’s “going astray” in the LXX (Deut 4:19; Isa 17:11, for example). In Jer 23:32 the people of Israel are led astray by “those who prophesy lying dreams” and these false-prophet’s “lies and recklessness.”

Not the MessiahIn the literature of the Second Temple Period, false prophets are associated with the eschatological age. In the post-Maccabean text Testament of Judah 21:9, “Like a whirlwind shall be the false prophets: They shall harass the righteous.” Following this prediction Judah says “each other and conflicts will persist in Israel…until the salvation of Israel comes, until the coming of the God of righteousness, so that Jacob may enjoy tranquility and peace, as well as all the nations” (22:1-2).

Qumran community had experience with false teachers and prophets, although most of these refer to the Temple aristocracy from whom they had separated. For example, in a commentary on Isaiah 9:13-16, the prophet, the Teacher of Lies is “the tail” cut off by the Lord in judgment, and “[Those who lead this people lead (them) astray, and those who are led by him are swa]llowed up.” In the Apocryphon of Moses (4Q375 Col. i:4), false prophets were to be punished harshly: “However, the prophet who rises up to preach [apostasy] to you, [to make] you [tu]rn away from God, shall die.” The Temple Scroll also warns of false prophets who will try and turn the community from the Lord.

The Temple Scroll (11Q19) Col. liv:8-13 If among you there arises a prophet or a dreamer of dreams and gives you a sign or an omen, and the sign {and} /or/ the omen comes to you about which he spoke to you saying: “Let us go and worship other gods whom you do not know” do not listen to the word of that prophet or of that dreamer of dreams because I am putting you to the test, in order to know whether you love YHWH, the God of your fathers, with all your heart and all your soul.

In the seventh Sibylline Oracle (late second century, possibly Christian), prior to the restoration of the world false prophets will attempt to persuade the righteous:

Sib. Or. 7.132–138 But they will endure extreme toil who, for gain, will prophesy base things, augmenting an evil time; who putting on the shaggy hides of sheep will falsely claim to be Hebrews, which is not their race. But speaking with words, making profit by woes, they will not change their life and will not persuade the righteous and those who propitiate God through the heart, most faithfully.

Jesus’ warning concerning false prophets and messiahs is therefore consistent with other warnings from before and after Jesus. But the presence of false teachers, prophets and even messianic pretenders is not an indication the end is near. What is important here is Jesus warning to not led astray by people who claim this war or that earthquake is a sign of the end, since they are not signs at all, but the normal course of life until tine final judgment happens.

There are quite a few ways to use this warning to evaluate contemporary preaching and teaching on the end times. I often agree with the general point a writer makes, but I become very skeptical with they “set dates” or claim an event somehow fulfills prophecy. How should we apply Jesus’ warning to “not be deceived” today?

Jesus and Jewish Eschatology

Jesus as MessiahIn Mark 13:4 (Matt 24:3, Luke 21:7) the disciples ask Jesus “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus had just predicted that at some point, the beautiful Temple would be destroyed, “not one stone would be left on another.” For many Jews living in the first century, the idea of an eschatological age that restored a kingdom to Israel was a very real hope. But there were a number of general expectations that went along with this idea of restoration. Each of the Synoptic Gospels includes a long teaching section after Jesus’ teaching in the Temple. It is remarkable how closely Jesus aligns with Jewish thinking about the coming age.

Persecution. The restoration of Israel would be accompanied by a time of intense testing. This period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.

Messiah. A new David would appear in those days to establish the kingdom in Jerusalem just as the first David had done. This messiah will appear at the end of the persecution to rescue the righteous remnant from their suffering, in the same way that the Maccabees rose up against Antiochus IV Epiphanies and re-dedicated the temple. He will establish the throne of God in Jerusalem and judge both the righteous and the sinner.

Judgment. When God acts on behalf of Israel will sort out the “righteous” from the “sinner” and give justice to all. Everyone will receive what they deserve and will either enter into a restored kingdom or they will be cast out of that kingdom. This involves a judgment on those who have persecuted true Israel including Gentiles and corrupt Jews (at least in some texts.) The fate of the Gentiles runs from complete annihilation to conversion and inclusion in the new age.

Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The hope of the Old Testament prophets is for the restoration of the nation after the long period of punishment. A repeated theme in the prophets is of God’s desire to restore his people after a period of discipline. The period after the Maccabees fell far short of the ideal kingdom expected, causing a variety of reactions to Hasmonean rule. This is not the “end of the world” in the sense of a destruction of this universe, but rather a renewal of all things to the way God had intended it in the first place. The Jews of the first century would not be looking for the end of the world but rather a very much “this world” shalom of peace and prosperity. This restoration will be a resurrection of the nation based on Ezekiel 37 and may very well involve a real resurrection of those who lose their lives as martyrs will live again at the time of restoration.

The source of this hope of restoration of the kingdom is to be found first in the prophets of the Old Testament, but also in the massive literature post-dating the Hebrew Bible. The idea of restoration and the themes of Messiah and persecution are expanded and developed in this period by a variety of writers, each contributing to the messianic worldview of the first century.

That these expectations are present in the teaching of Jesus is clear, but the extent to which they are present is a problem. Did Jesus fully accept the messianic expectations of the intertestamental writings, or did he seek to correct and temper them with his own, ethical teachings?

Why Were There Money Changers in the Temple?

All Jewish men over the age of 20 were required to pat a half-shekel tax to the Temple by the 25th of Adar.  “If one chose to pay the tax in the Temple, there were 13 shofar-chests in the Temple court which were used to collect different offerings (m. Shekalim 6: 5). One was inscribed ‘New shekel dues’ which was for that year” (Franz, 82; cf., Köstenberger, John, 105).

m.Seqal 1.3  On the fifteenth of that same month [Adar] they set up money changers’ tables in the provinces. On the twenty-fifth [of Adar] they set them up in the Temple. Once they were set up in the Temple, they began to exact pledges [from those who had not paid the tax in specie]. (Tr. Neusner, The Mishnah, 252).

Moneychangers were required because the half-shekel Temple Tax had to be paid with a Tyrian tetradrachma. Many popular preachers will explain this money exchange by observing that the Tyrian coin did not have the image of a Roman emperor who claimed to be God on it, making it more acceptable for the Jewish Temple tax (virtually every commentary says this!).

Temple Tax

But Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has disputed this majority opinion by pointing out that the Tyrian coin used an image of the god Melkart (Herakles).  Melkart (“King of the city”) was more or less equivalent to Baal of the Hebrew Bible. The coin was replaced during the revolt against Rome by the Judean shekel, indicating the rebels thought the coin was offensive.

Perhaps there was a more practical reason coins were exchanged for Tyrian tetradrachma: this coin had a higher silver content than other coins (Carson, John, 178). According to Franz, “These coins average 14.2 gm in weight and were minted with good silver” (82).

Why then does Jesus attack these sellers and money-changers? As I observed in a previous post, most people assume the vendors were making an outrageous profit by selling in the Temple. Popular preachers often use the analogy of vendors at an airport or sports arena. Since they had a captive market, they were free to price-gouge on sacrifice prices. But as Carson says with reference to the Temple Incident in John’s Gospel, “there is no evidence that the animal merchants and money-changers or the priestly authorities who allowed them to use the outer court were corrupt companions in graft” (John, 179).

Since this exchange of coins was restricted to the outer courts, Köstenberger suggests the main point of Jesus’ attack is that the sellers are taking up the area of the Temple where the Gentiles are permitted to worship (John, 106). I am not sure how many Gentiles actually came to Passover to worship and it is not certain the money changers and animal vendors took up the entire area.

But it is true the coin exchange (in order to obtain the best silver) and any profit on the animals sold was not the purpose of the Temple in the first place. Even if the vendors were providing a useful service for worshipers, they distracted from the real point of the Temple. “These activities would have detracted. . . from the proper function of the temple as a house of prayer for all nations” (Smith, 267).

How does this historical background help shed some light on Jesus’ intentions in the Temple Action? What is his symbolic action saying about the worship in the Temple?

Bibliography: Gordon Franz, “‘Does Your Teacher Not Pay The [Temple] Tax?’ (Mt 17:24-27),” Bible and Spade (1997) 10 (1997): 81-89. Barry D. Smith, “Objections to the Authenticity of Mark 11:17 Reconsidered,” WTJ 54 (1992): 267-71.