In John 11:2 why did John reference Mary anointing Jesus’ feet before this occurred in chapter 12?

It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. (John 11:2, ESV)

John obviously expected his readers to already be familiar with this account before reading later about the account. Either 1) the readers were familiar with this account because the Synoptic Gospels were already written, or 2) this account was already widely known through oral tradition. Is there other evidence within the Gospel of John that would more clearly indicate that the Synoptic Gospels were already written.

Not directly related to the question, but if John didn't make this identification in 11:2, the only identification of which Mary in John 12 is that it occurred in their house.

  • John is known for his use of appositions, and this passage is no exception.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 8:36
  • I posted an answer then realized it didn't really answer the question. If you happened to read it please ignore
    – user33515
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 14:44
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Why did John write in this seemingly time-bending way?
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 9, 2020 at 23:24
  • user33515 you have the best answer if you undelete it.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 0:34

3 Answers 3


i was under the impression she did it twice, Lk 7:44; Jn 12:3 (cf 21:6; Lk 5:6). Once when she'd first received Christ; and at the end when she, unlike all the others, received His word that He'd die. Regardless of Lk 7, i'm convinced John wrote His Good News in the AD 90s, though that may be irrelevant--when what this woman has done shall also be told as a memorial of her Mt 26; Mk 14. Like any writer, John's under zero obligation to write things like a video recorder or chronologically in every sense, Jn 3:24. He's welcome to interplay with his readers, 20:30-31; 1:13-14. (Though I've also always understood John's, the last, to be very chronological.)


I am not as acquainted with the ESV, but in the KJV in John 11:2 it reads, "(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)" In the KJV, the parenthesis indicates clarification the translator(s) are including to help the reader while italics mean the italicized word(s) were not in the original text but is/are being provided, again, to help the reader. Perhaps because there were several major players in the New Testament who were followers of Jesus, including his own mother, who were named Mary they felt it was helpful to insert that line in that spot to help keep things straight. In addition, chronology seems to often take a back seat in much of scripture. As to why this is, I do not know! A number of publishers have gone as far as to rearrange the books to make them more chronological in fact.

  • This may be evidence to support that the other Gospels were well known when John wrote his Gospel. There is other evidence to support this.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 10:02

I think John wanted to clarify which Mary because Martha served… I think Martha learned a lesson( Jesus talked to her about being busy) about being busy and so she served at someone’s house . And I don’t think it was Martha’s house.. because why would we need to know Lazarus sat with Jesus at the table .

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