Do all the passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John regarding the anointing of Jesus speak of the same incident?


The short answer is: No, they do not.

Luke’s account of Christ’s anointing occurred prior to the events described by the other gospel writers; they did not take place in the same city; and the women anointing Christ were not the same.

We read in Luke 7:36-50 that Christ went to the house of a Pharisee, Simon, to eat with him, when a “woman in the city who was a sinner” washed Christ’s feet with her tears, wiped them with the hair of her head, kissed His feet and anointed them with fragrant oil which she had brought. The Pharisee questioned that Christ was a prophet, since He allowed the woman to do this, even though she was a sinner. He reasoned that if Christ had known who the woman was, He would not have permitted her to touch Him.  However, Christ said that the sins of the woman, which were many, were forgiven her, because she loved much, and He told her that her faith had saved her.

It appears from verses 1 and 11 that this episode took place in the city of Capernaum or Nain or another city nearby. The city itself where the woman lived is not identified, but many think that it was Capernaum.

However, when turning to John 12:1-8, we find ANOTHER anointing of Jesus described. It occurred six days before Passover (John 12:1), in Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Christ had resurrected. A supper was made for Jesus, and Lazarus, Martha and Mary were all there. We read that Martha served, as she had done before; so the implication is that the supper took place in the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. We read that Mary took a pound of very costly oil, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. When Judas Iscariot complained about the “waste of money,” Jesus responded that Mary had kept the oil for His burial.

Many seem to think that this incident is the same as the one described by Matthew and Mark. However, this is not the case, either.

In Matthew 26:6-13, we also read about a woman (she is not identified as Mary) who poured very costly fragrant oil on Christ’s head, and that His disciples (not just Judas) became indignant, claiming that the oil could have been sold and the money been given to the poor. Jesus responded that in pouring the oil on His body, the woman did it for His burial, and that her action will be told as a memorial to her. Even though this account is similar to the one in John, we read in Matthew 26:2 that it took place “two days” before Passover (not six days, as in John 12:1), and that it took place in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper. Neither Lazarus, Mary nor Martha are mentioned in this record.

Mark 14:3-9 describes the same incident, as reported by Matthew. Mark 14:1 tells us as well that it occurred two days before Passover, and verse 3 states that it took place in Bethany, at the house of Simon the leper. The unidentified woman poured very costly oil on Christ’s head, and some became indignant over the “waste of money.” Christ’s response was the same as it was recorded in Matthew’s account.

We see, then, that the gospel writers tell us about at least three episodes, when women anointed Jesus’ feet or head.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states the following about the account of Luke, regarding the first episode, when a sinner anointed Christ, explaining that the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe events on at least three different occasions:

“[The] woman [sinner] in the city [was not] Mary Magdalene, spoken of in Luke 8:2 under another character; and is a different person, who had not been taken notice of by the evangelist before; nor Mary the sister of Lazarus, who is said to anoint the feet of Christ, and wipe them with her hair, John 12:3… this was in Galilee, and that in Bethany; this in the house of Simon the Pharisee, that in the house of Lazarus; this was some time before Christ’s death, and after this he went a circuit through every city and village, that was but six days before his death, and after which he never went from those parts;

“nor is this account the same with the history, recorded in Matthew 26:6 for that fact was done in Bethany also, this in Galilee; that in the house of Simon: the leper, this in the house of Simon the Pharisee; that was but two days before the death of Christ, this a considerable time before; the ointment that woman poured, was poured upon his head, this upon his feet: who this woman was, is not certain, nor in what city she dwelt; it seems to be the same in which the Pharisee’s house was; and was no doubt one of the cities of Galilee, as Nain, Capernaum, or some other at no great distance from these:

“which was a sinner; a notorious sinner, one that was known by all to have been a person of a wicked life and conversation; a lewd woman, a vile prostitute, an harlot… the word, sinners, seems to be used elsewhere by Luke; see Luke 15:1 compared with Matthew 21:31. Some think she was a Gentile, Gentiles being reckoned by the Jews sinners, and the worst of sinners; but this does not appear…”

While the woman in Luke’s account was a well-known sinner, the woman in John’s account was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, who was a very dedicated servant of Christ; and the woman in Matthew’s and Mark’s account is not identified—but it is unlikely that it was again Mary, anointing Christ a second time.

What we need to conclude from this is that the well-known sinner in the city of or near Capernaum, who was the first one anointing Christ, served as a motivation for Mary to do something similar. While the prostitute anointed Christ’s feet, Mary anointed His head. And Mary’s example motivated and inspired another woman in the same city of Bethany to do the same four days later. Christ accepted this service in every case. He forgave the sinner because of her living faith; and He defended Mary’s and the unidentified woman’s conduct, saying that they had done it for His burial and that they will be remembered wherever the gospel is preached.

Let us carefully review what exactly Christ said about the women:

In Luke 7:47-50, Christ spoke these words about and to the “sinner”: “… her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much… your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Since we cannot have forgiveness without repentance and the faith in Christ’s Sacrifice, it appears that somehow, this woman must have known that Christ came as the Savior of the world, and that He would die for the world and for her.

In John 12:7, we read Christ’s words to Judas regarding Mary; “Let her alone; she has kept this [costly oil] for the day of My burial.”

Mary must have believed that Christ would die for her and all of mankind, and her action manifested her belief in Christ’s death.

In Matthew 26:10, 12-13, Christ said to His disciples, on behalf of the unidentified woman who anointed Him four days later:

“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me… For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

In Mark 14:8, His words are virtually identical with His saying in Matthew, except that these interesting comments are added: “She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.”

Again, we see that this woman, following Mary’s example four days earlier, must have understood about Christ’s death, and she also manifested her belief by her work.

The conduct of all of the women is a beautiful example of living faith in action. As James said, faith without works is dead (James 2:20). When we truly believe, we will prove our faith by how we live.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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