April 12, 2017

The Anointing of Jesus by Mary and the Unnamed Woman



In the events of Holy Week, there are two different recorded occasions when a woman anoints either the feet or head of Jesus. Many scholars combine both events because of their similarities; however, by studying them as two separate events, we are able to learn of some powerful symbolism in the possible timing of these events. [1]

The first anointing, as recorded by John (John 12:1-8), took place on Saturday, six days before the Passover, in an unnamed home in Bethany by Mary, the sister to Martha and Lazarus wherein she anointed only the feet of Jesus. The second anointing, as recorded by Matthew and Mark (Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9), took place on Wednesday of Holy Week, two days before Passover, in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany by an unnamed woman who anointed only the head of Jesus. Both women used ointments valuing 300 or more pence, and both women were criticized by a disciple for their acts of service towards Jesus.

Chart comparing the two anointings (adapted from Brown, page 450)
To understand the significance of these anointings, we first must understand that the word Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek both mean ‘the anointed one.’ In other words, Jesus Christ would actually mean Jesus the anointed. [2] In the Old Testament, there were three groups of people referred to as being anointed, that of prophets, priests, and kings.

By following the chronology of John and placing the anointing on Saturday, it may be that John was trying to foreshadow how Jesus, being anointed the day before the triumphal entry, was symbolically being anointed as the king of Israel. [3] Remember that one of the reasons it was so significant that Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey was because when Solomon was recognized as the king of Israel, he likewise rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (see 1 Kings 1:32-34). [4]


If we follow the chronology of Mark and Matthew and place the anointing by the unnamed woman on Wednesday, the day before his Last Supper, it may be that Mark and Matthew were trying to show that Jesus was being anointed as the great High Priest, who would intercede on our behalf as he entered the garden of Gethsemane. [5] The high priest wore a breastplate with 12 stones, and two shoulder stones engraven with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel representing that Israel was always to be near his heart, and that he was to carry the burdens of Israel upon his shoulders at all times (see Exodus 28:29 and 28:12). What a perfect description of Christ while in Gethsemane when he took our sins and sorrows upon himself.


It is also interesting to compare the anointings by the two women and the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus during the Last Supper (see John 13:1-17). All three took place during a dinner. All three events are criticized; in the Gospel of John Judas criticizes Mary, in Matthew and Mark an unnamed disciple criticizes the woman, and in John during the Last Supper, Peter criticizes Jesus for washing the feet. I can’t help but wonder that if while Peter’s feet were washed, he thought back five days before of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus. Perhaps he protested, in part, because he did not feel worthy to have a similar honor bestowed upon him.

Was there only one woman that anointed Jesus during Holy Week? We simply cannot tell from recorded scripture. [6] What we do know is that Mary, and perhaps this unnamed woman, will always be remembered for the incredible service they gave to their Lord and Master. A service, that perhaps, pointed to the Savior’s most often used title, that of Christ, the anointed one.

[1] See Eric Huntsman, God So Loved the World, page 133
[2] See Mashiach (Hebrew) and Christos (Greek) in Strong's Concordance
[3] Huntsman, page 133
[4] See Why would a king ride a donkey instead of a warhorse?
[5] Huntsman, page 133
[6] For an argument for only one woman anointing Jesus during Holy Week see Raymond E. Brown The Gospel According to John page 449-452

2 comments:

  1. Bro, great, good information, (for like me, as Im Professor of Computer Scince cant work like this to get such valuable information) It would help me to edify spiritually - the purpose of Jesus anointing. May God bless you bro

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    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!

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