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Disclaimer: I've already asked this question on Christianity SE and got a great answer. I'm asking it here to get an expert response (and because it is one of my favourite stories). If the community here thinks that is an unnecessary duplication, I won't mind if they vote to close.

The story of Jesus being anointed with perfume is recorded in all four Gospels (which itself might be a fulfillment of Jesus' words):

Is this the same event, or multiple events?

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Two events, Separate locations, but one woman she did this earlier when she met Jesus at Pharise's house and again before his crucifixion. In in Matt, Mark & Luke the woman is not named, John identifies her as Mary John 11:2 –  user2784 Oct 12 '13 at 13:34
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6 Answers 6

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It seems that there were probably two incidents, one described in Matthew, Mark and John, and one described in Luke. The accounts in Matthew, Mark, and John all seem to be one account:

  • All take place in Bethany
  • Mark and John both mention that it is pure nard
  • Mark and John both mention the figure of 300 denarii
  • In all three, some of the disciples are indignant that the perfume wasn't sold for the poor
  • Jesus mentions that this is to prepare him for his burial
  • All take place around the time of the triumphal entry

Luke's account reads a bit differently:

  • It takes place at the home of a Pharisee, probably in Galilee
  • Chronologically, it seems to occur much earlier in Jesus' ministry than the account in the other three
  • The indignation raised about the event is by the Pharisee that the woman is a great sinner
  • Jesus uses the opportunity to tell a parable

There are differences between John and the Matthew and Mark accounts, but these aren't nearly as difficult to reconcile. However, the position, purpose, and details of the Luke account are disparate enough that many scholars consider that to be a separate story. In fact, some think that John's mention of Mary wiping Jesus' feet with her hair is a mistake and that John confused the two accounts. However, Carson points out that in both Matthew and Mark, Jesus says that the perfume was poured "on my body" and suggests that John has different theological reasons for mentioning the feet than Matthew and Mark have for mentioning the head.

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This is one event, told four separate ways but included in all four gospels to fulfill Jesus prophesy about her. Luke’s account, for whatever reason, is simply not in chronological order.

If we allow all four of theses stories to harmonize, watch what happens… there is something really special. In Luke’s account (LK 7:40), Jesus begins by telling Simon the Pharisee, at who’s home this is occurring, a parable about gratitude. Why this story? Why make this point to Simon the Pharisee unless Simon should have had a far greater degree of gratitude for something. The point of the parable is that the person who had been forgiven much, would love more. Jesus is not talking about the woman, he is talking about Simon!

Simon the Pharisee was holding a dinner in Jesus honor. He was indeed grateful for something Jesus had done for him but not grateful enough to understand that his need for Jesus was just as great as this sinful woman. He is still blind. He could not see that he too had been “forgiven much.”

If we allow these events to harmonize, and take a look at the larger picture, we see Simon the Pharisee not only as the Pharisee, but as Simon the Leper… the healed Leper, for a Leper could not host a banquet (or even a snack) if he had not been healed! He would have been forbidden such close contact with other people.

This is one account fulfilled in the four Gospels.

By the way, the woman is actually Mary, the sister of Lazarus. (John 11:2)

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Thank you for this answer. I came to a similar conclusion myself about Simon and was curious if anyone else had. But it also says something about Mary: she was (in Luke's account) a sinful woman who was one of Jesus's best friends. –  Wikis Dec 15 '13 at 17:10
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Mary was indeed dear to Jesus. While some of the writers describer her as a sinful woman, John tells you exactly who she was, the Sister of Lazarus. John 11:2. When I first saw this, it hurt a bit. I always saw Lazarus sister, Mary as an upright young lady. Turns out... she's just like us! –  user3108 Dec 16 '13 at 5:49
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These are two events. Mary the sister of Lazarus, has listened long seated at Jesus feet, and so knows the story of the sinful woman in Galilee who loved and was forgiven in the earlier days before the death of John the Baptist. Moved with joy and wonder at the raising of her brother, which has only recently occurred, Mary is overwhelmed with her unworthiness and gratitude, and she decides to imitate the other woman's actions. Taking it a step further by pouring the costly scent on Jesus' head like the anointing of a king, then applying it to the other exposed place, his feet. They are already seated in the house of a leper. So different a setting from the house of the Pharisee. It is the world of Jesus' perspective, the upside down world where the first are last and the last first. Mary's presence in Simon's house affirms Jesus love of such outcasts as lepers and she further ascents to this perspective by her own identification with the sinful Galilee woman in her act of loving extravagance. Nothing is said in Luke of the value of the Galilean's perfume. It could well have been less expensive in material terms. That Mary is more well-to-do and has access to this expensive scent is plausible. This also makes huge moment of Jesus comment that she has done this for his burial. In other circumstances this would be a bleak remark to give to the one who has done this thing of extravagant love and beauty. But Mary now knows differently. Jesus has raised her brother to life only the other day! So Jesus remark is redolent with hope for Mary. It points to the resurrection . . . and hope, a hope more extravagant even than Mary's beautiful act.

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Johns Gospels says the event took place 6 days before passover while Matthew and Mark say 2 days before. Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that it took place at Simon's home or Simon the Leper. Johns account says that it took place in Bethany but does not specify the home. It says there was a banquet given in Jesus honor. Martha is serving and Lazarus is there but John doesn't say it was their home. Therefore it could have been Simon's home.

It is difficult but I believe I am leaning toward 1 single account. Luke seems to be focusing on the Pharisee's reaction while the other Gospels are focusing on the disciples reaction.

In Luke's account at the beginning of Luke 8 it says after this and then verses 1-3 of chapter 8 are certain to have followed the anointing event. Verse 4 says, "When a large crowd was coming together" and in verse 22 it says, "now on one of those days". This leads me to believe that Luke is telling a true event in the anointing but that his placement is for emphasis and not for accuracy with chronology to Jesus life.

I believe it is one event:)

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  • All event is the same because all happen in one town were Bethany was the home of Simon the Leper as well as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

  • All of them tell of a woman which John Named. All states that the perfume could be use for other reasons.

  • All events took place two days before the past over and sometime after Lazarus was raise from the grave.

  • All of the events tell of Jesus' anointing; however it seems the writers saw the anointing of Jesus at deferent time, which was from His head to His feet it would seem from reading the passage.

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Looking at the previous chapter in John, I think the text implies it was a single event. John 11:2 says:

This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.

John doesn't say, "one of the women..." but "the... one". This implies (to me) that it was a unique event.

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Very curious to hear feedback on this answer - is my reasoning sound? –  Wikis Apr 19 '12 at 20:22
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It's a good argument; however, it still leaves the work of reconciling Luke's account. Also, one could read it as John distinguishing between Mary's - i.e. this Mary, who poured perfume unlike the other Mary. –  Soldarnal Apr 20 '12 at 1:11
    
@Soldarnal: good point there were plenty of Marys around at the time! –  Wikis Apr 20 '12 at 5:29
    
From what I've read, Mary was a very common name at the time. –  Mallioch Apr 20 '12 at 12:17
    
@Mallioch: Roughly 1 in 5 women in Jerusalem at that time were named Mary according to evidence of period ossuaries (i.e., burial bone boxes). –  Jon Ericson Apr 20 '12 at 15:41
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protected by Daи Jan 9 at 3:43

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