After Jesus’ death on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea went to the Roman governor Pilate to request Jesus’ body. Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had visited Jesus at night to ask questions about God’s Kingdom, accompanied Joseph. The two men were granted custody of Jesus’ body, and they immediately began to prepare the body for burial. Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb. The sheer amount of burial spices would seem to indicate that Nicodemus was a rich man and that he had great respect for Jesus:

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight (John 19:39).

Following Jewish custom, they wrapped the body in strips of linen and mixed in myrrh and aloe. However, it was the Day of Preparation—the sixth day of the week, just before the Jewish Sabbath—and it was late in the day. So Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly placed Jesus in Joseph’s own tomb, located in a garden near the place of Jesus’ crucifixion.

It was not until early on the first day of the week (our Sunday) that the women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).

Did the women not know that Joseph and Nicodemus had already prepared Jesus' body for burial? Or was the act of anointing Jesus' body different from the Jewish tradition of preparing a body for burial?

What is the significance in the women wanting to anoint the body of Jesus?

  • 2
    Did you notice how much the exposition of that Question obscured the subject? After Jesus’ death… Joseph of Arimathea went to governor Pilate and was granted custody of Jesus’ body. Nicodemus brought a preposterous 75 pounds of spice to assist Joseph's preparations… clearly not about wealth or respect though it might (just, at a huge stretch) represent an effort to preserve the body over the extra sabbath day. This being late on the sixth day, just before the Sabbath suggests Joseph and Nicodemus failed to finish their work… which the women knew, and set about correcting ASAP. Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 22:33
  • 1
    @RobbieGoodwin - Actually, no, I didn't think that the exposition obscured the subject. I thought (perhaps foolishly) that the exposition showed evidence of my own research and helped by placing the events into context. I wondered if there was any significance behind the word "anoint" as opposed to preparing a body for burial. Jesus was anointed at his baptism (by the Holy Spirit) and before his death he was anointed with precious perfume. After all, Jesus was no ordinary man! To anoint (even a body) seems to me to be significant, but perhaps I'm mistaken.
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:15
  • Of course anointment is never a mere function; always a ceremony with ritual significance. Everything about preparing a body for burial is necessarily significant, whether the significance is religious, spiritual or merely hygienic and that’s hardly the point. Still another time, perhaps less detail? Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 23:57
  • 1
    I don't believe the biblical account says the women wanted to prepare Jesus' body for burial. It says they came to anoint his body. If you have any information on ancient Jewish burial rites, please share with us.
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 9:23
  • 1
    Simple Answer The answer is not complicated at all. More than just coming to show respects, it was necessary in olden times to make up for the lack of refrigeration and modern embalming methods. As is common, bringing fragrant spices to mask the odor of decay was proper for the women to do (three days later, "He stinketh"; see Lazarus burial too). This practice is still carried on in poor Mideast countries. Continually adding spices as long as there were visitors to the diseased is not out of the question.
    – ray grant
    Commented Jan 29 at 22:24

8 Answers 8


There is a parallel account in Matthew 27:

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The wrapping itself was a common practice.

Act 5:5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

The amount of spices mentioned in John 19:39 was uncommon:

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.


“Aloes” are not elsewhere mentioned in the New Testament, but they are joined with myrrh in the Messianic Psalm 45:8. The aloe is an Eastern odoriferous wood—to be distinguished from the aloes of commerce—and chips of the better kinds are now said to be worth their weight in gold. The myrrh and aloes were probably pulverised and mixed together, and then placed in the linen in which the body was wrapped.

The quantity is clearly much more than could have been placed in the linen which surrounded the body; but the offering was one of love, and part of it may have been placed in the sepulchre.

Joseph and Nicodemus were in a hurry because of the approaching Sabbath evening. Later in Mark 16:1

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.


This verse records a further stage in the embalming. What had been done on the Friday evening had been done in haste, and yet sufficiently for the preservation of the sacred body, if that had been needful, from decay. The remaining work could be done more carefully and tenderly at the tomb.

Why did the women want to anoint Jesus after his body had already been laid in the tomb?

Before the Sabbath, the men Joseph and Nicodemus did what they could quickly to wrap Jesus' body and spread the spices on the body and inside the tomb. After the Sabbath, the women intended to perform more meticulous work on Jesus' body.

  • fascinating background information and details. What I would like to know is whether embalming a body is the same as anointing a body. In the Bible, anointing is done for kings and priests - obviously, while they live. But could there be something more behind the desire of the women to anoint Jesus' body?
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:29
  • 2
    Matthew 6:17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, There was also the practice of ordinary anointing.
    – user35953
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:39

It appears the anointing the women want to perform is the same as what Nicodemus helped Joseph do. The main possibilities then are:

  1. They were unaware the men had performed the burial rites;
  2. The men, being hurried, had not completed the process;
  3. The women wanted to add their honour to the honour given by the men, much as if there were 20 bouquets at a friends' funeral, you would still want to add your bouquet.
  • 1
    How do you read Matthew 27:61?
    – user35953
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:34

I think the OP has answered the question. Jesus died late on Friday and the preparation for burial takes some time. Since the Sabbath was almost there, they did not have enough time to finish preparing the body.

Thus, the women came Sunday morning at first light to finish the job of embalming Jesus' body.

On Friday, the body had only been hurriedly wrapped. Two wealthy mean, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus provided the expensive materials - linen and aloes but the women were to do the work.

These women were NOT from wealthy families and could not have provided such grand funeral arrangements including a grave cut from the rock, expensive linen and such a large amount of expensive aloes. This was to fulfill the prophecy in Isa 53:9 -

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

and with a rich man in His death,

  • Thanks for quoting Isaiah 53:9. Question for you - you suggest the women turned up early on Sunday morning "to finish the job of embalming Jesus' body". However, Scripture says they came to "anoint" the body. Is that the same as embalming? Any thoughts?
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:24
  • 1
    @Lesley - the word "anoint" ἀλείφω means to smear with oil and was part of the preparation for the dead and embalming process.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 21:05

Answering the Question, and, more specifically, the questions at the end of the Question requires, first of all to check, if the narrations of the different Gospels about Jesus' burial are compatible. In my opinion they only are compatible if we make an assumption on the role of Joseph of Arimathea and of Nicodemus, in particular in the Gospel where they play the largest role: the Gospel of John

A possible "harmony" between Luke's and John's account of Jesus Burial

Let’s look closely at The Burial of Jesus, concentrating on Luke as representative of the three Synoptics, on one side, and on John, on the other side. These are the relevant passages, respectively.

50 Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man. 51 (He had not consented to their plan and action.) He was from the Judean town of Arimathea, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth [sindon], and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock, where no one had yet been buried. 54 It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 23:56 Then they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:50-56 - italics added)

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. 39 Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph [N.B. the text ONLY says êlthen, "arrived"], carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. 40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth [othonia] according to Jewish burial customs. 41 Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there. (John 19:38-42 - bolding added)


It is quite evident that Luke’s account (and the other Synoptic accounts) of the Burial of Jesus (only wrapped in a linen cloth [sindon] without anointing, and John’s account (with anointing and with wrapping of the body in “strips of linen cloth” [othonia]) are severely incompatible.

Hint: perhaps a key is in Luke, who uses both words: sindōn (Luke 23:53, before the Resurrection) and othonia (Luke 24:12, after the Resurrection).

A possible “harmony” between Luke’s and John’s accounts

The followiing is my proposal of what happened, that would reconcile Luke's and John's accounts

  1. The Body of Jesus was taken down from the Cross by Joseph of Arimathea. Then he was wrapped in a "linen cloth" [sindon] and put in the tomb by Joseph. (Luke 23:53)

  2. "The women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it" (Luke 23:55), BUT DID NOT anoint it, because “It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning” (Luke 23:54), so there was no time. “Then they returned [to their accommodations] and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56), with the plan of returning to anoint Jesus “on the first day of the week” (Luke 24:1). Before they went, the women saw Joseph rolling a great stone across the entrance (Matt 27:60-61)

  3. In the meantime, Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, arrived and joined Joseph [unseen by the women], carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. Then they [only Joseph and Nicodemus - notice that there is no mention at all of women at the burial of Jesus in John's Gospel] took Jesus’ body [out of the sindon] and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth [othonia] "according to Jewish burial customs".

  4. On the morning of Easter Sunday, the "Pious Women", having found the stone rolled, the tomb empty and the angels who told them about the resurrection, reported these things to the Eleven.

  5. Peter (according to the Gospel of John accompanied by "the other disciple") ran straight to the tomb. Bending down inside the tomb, he saw only the strips of linen cloth [othonia], and was puzzled because all he knew was that Jesus had been left in the tomb quickly wrapped in a "linen cloth" [sindon].


The story actually makes no sense; Jewish burial customs did not allow touching a body once it was entombed. It would be akin to desecration and it would also defile the person or persons doing the act.

The sole purpose of using spices was so the body didn't smell during the funeral procession.

Anointing an already buried(entombed) body is unheard of.

It is a great way to further the story of the women finding the tomb empty.

Sorry folks. It makes no sense.

  • 3
    "The record in the gospels is that the body was taken down in haste and wrapped in a linen wrap, and a cloth for the face. Because the Sabbath was starting (evening and morning, the first day— the day begins at night), they were forbidden to work. So, a quick wrap for the body, and rest on the Sabbath, then on Sunday they would prepare spices and do a burial wrapping, which would include perfumes. Such wrappings would take several hours, typically. It was forbidden work, for many men, but women could do it without breaking Torah". Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 19:02
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    – agarza
    Commented Jun 18, 2021 at 23:45

It appears to me that the accounts of all four gospel writers are essential to weave a complete account of the events following the crucifixion.

There appears to be some measure of tradition obscuring attempts to find clarity in this matter, i.e., the assertion of a sixth day ("Friday") crucifixion. Scripture makes no such assertion but a gentile unfamiliarity with "sabbath" observation may account for it.

First, the day of Preparation (14 Nisan), when Christ was crucified, is followed by the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, a "special" or "high" sabbath, NOT the weekly seventh-day sabbath (cf. Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:6-7; John 19:31).

Every gospel records that Joseph, and Joseph alone (with help, presumably), removed the body of Jesus ["Joseph had taken the body and laid it in his tomb, wrapped in "A" clean white linen (Gk. sindoni)"] and was observed doing so by the women. But the women are not recorded as having observed Nicodemus whom John mentions "also came," but doesn't mention when (anachronism is not uncommon to John; cf. Jn. 11:2 & Jn. 12:3).

Luke, ever the careful reporter, records Joseph's actions laying the body in the tomb in a "sindoni," but after the resurrection records Peter observing the "strips of linen (i.e., Gk. "othonia")" in the empty tomb. How did the cloth get replaced with strips of cloth?

Here, I believe, is what transpired: Joseph, observed by the women, in what little time remained before the festival sabbath (6 pm), negotiated with Pilate, gathered up the body, transported it to his tomb, quickly wrapped it in a singled cloth and, just with enough time to get home before sundown, placed it in the tomb with little ceremony and rolled the stone in front. The women saw where it was and how it was not fully prepared for burial in accordance with expected practice. They had to be home themselves in time for sabbath and determined to make preparation for proper burial.

The next day no regular work could be done; markets are all closed. So everyone waits for 16 Nisan. Markets don't open at sundown (the start of the day), so they wait till daybreak. In the morning, the women go to market where they "bought spices (Mark 16:1)." Preparation is not a matter of throwing it in a microwave. It involves the purchase (time consuming, since in the Middle East haggling is expected), then the cleaning of the produce, the chopping, cutting or trimming, then cooling, boiling, and/or mixing of the items until they are "prepared." This is an all-day process. Consequently, 16 Nisan passes and, again, they wait during the sabbath, the weekly one this time. Little do they know (since he's a secret disciple) that Nicodemus "also came" to the tomb, after the festival sabbath, but with 75 lbs. of spices where he, and others, did their own preparation at which time the "sindoni" was torn into the strips of the "othoniois" and the body mummy-wrapped as was appropriate. The women know none of this and so, while both rest on the weekly sabbath, 17 Nisan, the women are determined to come the next day, 18 Nisan, and do what they, having seen Joseph take no proper care, believe is necessary. While still dark ("deep dawn"), as the sun is just illuminating the east while still hidden behind the horizon, the women arrive to find the tomb empty. How does all this fit into the week?

Jesus is crucified and dies at 3 pm on 14 Nisan (Wednesday). He is quickly interred in a single linen cloth by Joseph in a tomb observed by the women. The sun sets and first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the special sabbath (Jn 19:31), commences. Everyone rests on 15 Nisan (Thursday).

The following day, 16 Nisan (Friday), markets open, women shop and go home to prepare. Nicodemus, who already has his provisions, comes to the tomb and finishes the job Joseph began. The weekly sabbath, 17 Nisan (Saturday), arrives and everyone rests again.

Sometime either just before or after sundown on 17 Nisan, Christ rises from the grave. As light dawns the following morning, 18 Nisan (Sunday), the women discover that Jesus, who had been in the heart of the earth "three days and three nights* (Matt. 12:40)," is not in the tomb.

*Irrespective of Jewish traditions for counting partial days as full days, the declaration of three days AND three nights prohibits this application.

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 22:37

Not contradictory at all when you consider each account was written independently of the others. Obviously also from information given by first hand witnesses such as the women who came to the tomb. If all accounts were in perfect alignment then one might suspect collusion of some sort. However each writer writes independently as he is led by the Holy Spirit making collusion much less likely. In addition if collusion were the intent then it is likely that the women would not have been mentioned at all, since women in that day would not have been considered to be reliable witnesses.

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 17:35

Not only does anointing a body after 2/3 days make no sense, the sequence of events are very contradictive. Small sample;

When did they go

Matt 28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Mark 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they went to the tomb.

John 20:1 "Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb."

Who went to the Tomb

Matthew 28:1 "Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher." "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him." (Mark 16/1).

"And the women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and beheld the tomb, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them." (Luke 23:55 – 24:1)

What did they see / hear

Matt 28:2 "And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it."

Matt 28:4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

Matt 28:8 So they hurried away from the tomb in fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.

(means the removal happened at the same time)

Luke 24: 1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.

John 20:1 1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

John 20:12 - two angels in white clothes. One sat near the head, and the other near the legs

Mark 16: 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

Mark 16:8 So the women left the tomb and ran away, trembling and bewildered. And in their fear they did not say a word to anyone.

Luke 24:10-11 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,

Who did they see at the tomb

John 20:10-11 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Matthew 28:5-10 "And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples, He is risen from the dead; and lo, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. And behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail.

Luke 24: 6 He is not here, but has risen. 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 12 - However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened. Mark 16:9 - Early on the first day of the week, after Jesus had risen, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had driven out seven demons.

who did Jesus meet first

Matt 28:16-18 - 11 disciples all at the same time in Galilee

Mark 16:12-13 - 2 disciples while “walking in the country”

Luke 24:13-16 – “two of them were going to a village”

John 20:19-20 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together

1 Corn 15:5 – “and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”


Clearly all the stories related to the visits to the tomb and event shortly after do not merry and there is no clear indication as to which gospel is accurate.

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