The Anointing at Bethany
A few days after Jesus arrived in Bethany, not long before his arrest and crucifixion, he was in the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). Lazarus and his sisters were also present, and Mary is identified as the one who anointed the Lord with very costly spikenard oil (John 12:1-8). According to Matthew and Mark, she anointed Jesus’ head (Matt. 26:7; Mark 14:4), whereas John reports that she anointed his feet (John 12:3).
Rather than an “either-or” discrepancy, the combined accounts provide a “both-and” narrative. As a sign of honor and/or blessing, the customary practice was to anoint the head (Psa. 23:5; 133:2; Luke 7:46; cf. Ex. 29:7; Lev. 8:12; 21:10), which Mary did as reported by Matthew and Mark. John, however, focuses on the extended act of humility and reverence in the anointing of the Lord’s feet (perhaps a prelude to 13:1-17), although the other writers also include a reference to his anointed “body” (Matt. 26:12; Mark 14:8). Instead of merely reiterating the twice-documented, customary head-anointing in the earlier Gospels, John fills in the detail of the less conventional feet-anointing elsewhere unreported.1
A similar account is found in Luke 7:36-50, but this appears to have involved a different woman on a different occasion in another place. In Luke’s record the host is Simon the Pharisee, not Simon the leper, living in Galilee instead of Judea, and the incident occurred about a year into Christ’s public ministry rather than at the end. In contrast to the subsequent event, Luke describes “a woman in the city who was a sinner,” shedding tears, kissing the Lord’s feet, and receiving forgiveness. Luke also reports the disgust of the homeowner, whereas the other occasion involved the indignation of the disciples (Judas in particular).
Words Spoken from Heaven?
In Matthew’s record of Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven is quoted as saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Mark and Luke, however, record the statement as follows: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Was the voice speaking in the third person about Jesus, as Matthew reports, or in the second person to Jesus, as Mark and Luke report?
Matthew’s account highlights the onlookers’ perspective, as they hear words of recognition and affirmation that Matthew’s Jewish readership needed to understand as well. The other accounts take notice of Christ’s vantage point, as he receives a message of support and reassurance. As Greek translations of what was probably spoken in Aramaic, the respective renderings capture the essence of what was said.
Order of the Lord’s Supper?
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, Matthew and Mark note that he first broke bread, followed by offering the cup of the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25). Luke, however, says Jesus took the cup first, then broke bread, followed by offering the cup again (Luke 22:14-20).
Rather than being confused about how to observe the Lord’s Supper, we just need to consider the context. Jesus and his disciples lived under the Mosaic Law and faithfully observed its rituals and regulations. It was in the context of the Passover feast that Jesus instituted the sacred memorial of his impending death. According to the Mishnah (an ancient record of Jewish traditions), during the Passover meal celebrants were to drink four times from the cup (Pesahim 10.1). Whatever relevance this might have to the earthly life of Jesus,2 it helps us realize that Luke simply provides additional information about the observance of a Jewish convention, whereas Matthew and Mark limit their focus to the Lord’s Supper itself.
In 1 Cor. 11:23-26, long after Jewish feasts were rendered obsolete under Christ’s new covenant (cf. Gal. 4:9-11), Paul delivers to his Christian readers what he had received from the Lord concerning the bread and cup, eliminating potential confusion.3
--Kevin L. Moore
1 See The Triumphal Entry.
2 “This literature must be read with discernment since it does not always reflect perspectives contemporary with NT times; nonetheless, it provides a wealth of material useful in interpreting various NT texts” (J. B. Green and L. M. McDonald, The NT World 4).
Image credit: https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/2014/11/questioning-convention-its-part-of-growth.html