Stein, Robert H. Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 155 pp. Pc; $18.00.   Link to IVP

This short book is an extension of Robert Stein’s work on the Gospel of Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. I have frequently thought a monograph on the Olivet Discourse would make a good contribution to scholarship, Stein provides good introduction to Mark’s version of Jesus’ discourse on his return which attempts to solve many of the interpretive difficulties of Mark 13.

Stein, Jesus and the TempleIn Chapter 1 Stein introduces the reader to the basics of historical Jesus research including a brief history of the field. He provides a summary of the criterion of authenticity, although he the authenticity of the Jesus sayings in Mark 13 is not the main theme of the book. His goal in this book is to understand what the Evangelist Mark meant when he wrote Mark 13, in essence a “traditional, author-based hermeneutic” (p. 38). While the Gospel of Mark is an accurate, reliable account of the life and teaching of Jesus” most likely written by John Mark (p. 39), proving these assumptions are not the goal of the book.

Chapter 2 describes the main problems the interpreter faces when reading Mark chapter 13. For example he compares several suggested outlines for the chapter. He does not assume Mark created stories out of nothing and put them in the mouth of Jesus, nor is he interested in this book in determining Mark’s sources. At best, Mark is a “conservative editor of the Jesus Traditions” (p. 47).

Chapter 3 examines the first four verses of chapter in order to show the whole chapter is concerned with the destruction of the temple. The disciples observe the magnificence of the Temple buildings, leading Jesus to predict the temple will be destroyed. Stein thinks the key to understanding Mark 13 is the two-part question asked by Jesus’ disciples. They first asked when will “these things” be and then they ask “what will be the sign that “all these things” are about to be accomplished?” Jesus gives his answer to the first question as a prediction of the destruction of the temple (“these things”). The second question refers to the future coming of the Son of Man (“all these things”).

Chapter 4 concerns the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the signs of that coming distraction. Stein demonstrates that Mark 13:5-23 is a unit concerned with the immediate future and the destruction of Jerusalem in the disciples’ lifetime. The unit is a chiasm: the appearance of false messiahs function as inclusio (13:5-6 and 21-23). The coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27) is in the next section outside of this clear unit. But from the perspective of Mark and his readers, there are two horizons present. First, Jesus answers the first part of the disciples’ question about the destruction of the Temple and warns them to flee when they see these things happening. The second horizon is Mark’s collection of these predictions in order to teach his readers something about Jesus (p. 100-1).

Chapter 5 is brief but concerns in the future aspect of this chapter the coming of the Son of Man. There is a temporal gap between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man “in those days” and “after that tribulation” (p. 105). Stein shows that this description of the coming of the Son of Man is consistent with the Hebrew Bible and do refer to a real, visible return of Jesus (p. 113). Stein is not interested in overly literal interpretations of these events nor interpretations which demythologize them (p.114). Here he seems to be trying to chart a course between popular dispensationalism and some of the equally popular dismissals of any predictions of a future return of Jesus in Mark 13 (N. T. Wright, for example). In many ways his observation of a gap between the fall of Jerusalem and the Coming of the Son of Man resonates with premillennialism, but he stops well short of making this point since his goal is Mark’s purpose (not our interpretation of Mark’s Gospel, a “third horizon”).

Chapter 6 is a short examination of the parable of the fig tree in Mark 13:28-31. Since Stein has already argued there is a difference between “these things” and “all these things,” he has less exegetical problems with “this generation” in Mark 13:29-30 than other expositors do. Finally chapter 7 examines the parable of the watchmen as an exhortation to be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. This parable reflects Mark’s pastoral interest in encouraging his readers to remain awake and look forward to the soon appearance of the Son of Man.

Stein’s final chapter is an interpretive translation of Mark 13. This is really more of an appendix to the book, and in the introduction he recommends some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading his exegetical discussion.

Conclusion. I found this short book to be a good introduction to the problems an exegete faces when attempting to interpret Mark 13. This is not a comprehensive exegetical study; Stein offers a framework for interpretation which, in his view, solves many problems. But many of the exegetical details are left for more technical commentaries. He intends to point the way for further study and reflection on Mark’s goals when he collected and edited the material in Mark 13. A pastor or teacher working through the Gospel of Mark should consider reading the book and wrestling the two horizons Stein suggests.

I would have liked one additional chapter, and I think Stein is well-qualified to write it: How was this material developed by Matthew and Luke? Assuming Markan priority, the other two Synoptic gospels appear to use Mark 13 in different ways. Tracing the trajectory of their interpretations might clarify some of Mark’s goals as well. I would also suggest it is possible Mark 13 is the framework for Revelation 6, although this is less accepted. This shortcoming of the book is not critical; it is simply beyond Stein’s stated purpose.

 

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on November 19, 2014 on Reading Acts.

While Jesus is in the high priest’s house being interrogated, Peter and another disciple have followed from a distance. This other disciple seems to be known by the servants of the high priest, since he arranges for Peter to be allowed into the courtyard. This “other disciple” could be the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” the apostle John. That is the simplest answer, but it is strange that John would not identify himself as the eyewitness to this sequence of events.

Peter's DenialIn addition, some find it odd that a Galilean fisherman would have access to the courtyard of the high priest and be known by the servants. One suggestion is that John is not a laborer, but rather a wealthy owner of a fishing business. He may have delivered fish to the high priest’s home in the past and had access to the grounds.

Peter has an opportunity at this point to speak up and declare his loyalty to Jesus, but does not (John 18:15-18). The girl who asks him if he was a follower of Jesus is a young girl using a diminutive form of the word for servant (παιδίσκη). The fact that Peter swears he does not know Jesus when confronted by a young girl stands in contrast to his words at the last supper and his attempt to defend Jesus in the Garden.

Peter denies his Lord twice more while warming by a fire himself in the courtyard (18:25-27). The third denial was to a relative of the man Peter had attacked in the garden! Perhaps Peter knew this and he feared that he would be arrested as well. Regardless, he wastes no time in denying that he was a follower of Jesus.

Immediately he heard the crow of a rooster and the words of Jesus at the last supper were fulfilled. It has only been a few hours since Peter swore loyalty to Jesus, and even less time since he pathetically tried to defend Jesus in the Garden. Yet while Jesus was inside bearing witness to the truth before the highest Jewish and Gentile authorities, Peter was on the outside denying that he even knew the man.

It is easy to relate to Peter as the “silent bystander” who witnessed a crime and said nothing. It is actually a bit worse than that in Peter’s case because he not only was silent, he contributed to Jesus; isolation by denying him three times. I have pointed out that Peter is perhaps the most faithful of the disciples since he was at least there – but when the moment for him to bear witness to his Lord he failed.

We have an advantage over Peter, we serve a risen Savior, we know how the story ended and that Jesus did in fact have victory over sin and death. We have the promised Holy Spirit to strengthen us and to enable us to stand up to persecution.

This is why our silent denials are even more scandalous than Peter’s.

In Luke 22:41-46 Jesus prayed “let this cup be taken from me.” This phrase might be interpreted to mean that Jesus would like to not have to go through the upcoming torture and death. It may, however, refer to the fact that the physical pain he was suffering was going to kill him too soon, before he could die on the cross.  The idea of Jesus praying for strength to continue parallels with Heb. 5:7-8, which says that he cried out to God to be saved from death and that he “learned obedience to the Father.”

Cup-of-Gods-wrathAnother possibility is to understand “this cup” as a metaphor for punishment drawn from the Hebrew Bible.  Rather than asking to get out of the torment of the cross, Jesus is looking forward to the time when the punishment for sin will be over and he will be restored to complete fellowship with the Father.

Craig Blaising notes that Jesus applied Isaiah 53:12 to himself before going to the garden, and suggests that Isaiah 51:19-22 may hold the key to interpreting the desire to have the cup removed.  In Isaiah, the cup of God’s wrath is taken away from the people after they have experienced it.  They received the punishment in full, but afterwards the cup is removed and they experience the blessings of the Lord in the Kingdom.  Rather than asking to avoid the crucifixion, Jesus is praying that after he “drinks from the cup of wrath,” he have that cup taken away so that he can enjoy fellowship again.

Blaising says:

The implication for Jesus’ prayer is this: As in this passage, where God will remove the cup of his wrath from his people after they have drunk it, so Jesus prays that the cup of God’s wrath for sin, which he drinks for all, will in the same way be removed from his hand by the Father after he has drunk it (335).

For me, it makes a great deal of sense to follow Blaising’s lead here and read the cup of God’s wrath in the sense found in Isaiah.  The fact that Jesus constantly refers to Isaiah 40-55 is evidence that this is what he has in mind in the garden. In addition, I worry about what it says about Jesus if he was praying to avoid the cross if at all possible.  The cross was not just a possibility, it was the whole reason for the incarnation.  Jesus would not consider avoiding the cross since he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Bibliography: Craig A. Blaising, “Gethsemane: A Prayer Of Faith” JETS 22 (1979):  333-343.

At the Last Supper, Jesus predicted the disciples would all fall away, even Peter. Peter, as the leader of the disciples, denies this vehemently! Jesus declares to Peter that not only will he deny him, he will do so three times before the night is out! Jesus says Peter would disown him in only a few hours, not dawn. Westerners miss this since we start the day at midnight and usually associate a rooster crowing with dawn. The rooster was used to mark the changes in watches during the night, thus it is only a few hours until Jesus is arrested.

Malcus earPeter’s statement might be a reaction to a ‘slur” on his loyalty. Peter is willing to fight to defend the Lord, he is ready to be killed defending the Lord, he is completely loyal. Remember Peter is the first disciple to grasp who Jesus was, in Mark 8 it was Peter who declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Even though at that time he understood properly, he does not understand here that the Messiah was going to suffer and die, he will defend the Lord, and die by his side. But that is not the plan, the Messiah is to be abandoned. Peter is speaking as a representative of the disciples, after he speaks, all the disciples join in with him in declaring their loyalty.

Yet when the time for action arrives, Peter does attempt to defend Jesus and wounds a servant (John 18:8-11). When the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus, Peter attacks the servant of the High Priest, cutting off his ear with a short dagger (μάχαιρα). This servant, Malchus, is named in John’s Gospel, although he is unknown to us. The name appears in inscriptions, although almost exclusively for Gentiles and Nabatean Arabs (BDAG).

Why attack the servant of the High Priest? It is possible he was leading the group to the garden to arrest Jesus. Malchus was not a slave carrying a torch for the people in charge, he was the personal representative of the High Priest. JoAnn Watson points out “The servants of the high priest were known to perform the underhanded dealings of the high priest” (“Malchus (Person),” ABD 4:487).

It is likely that this is a badly aimed attack rather than an attempt to maim the man so he was no longer permitted to enter the Temple. Maiming priests by cutting off their ears is well known in the Second Temple Period. Rather than a blundering attempt to save Jesus, this may have been a calculated attack on the man in charge of the arrest. Rather than killing him, Peter humiliated him and rendered him useless as a servant of the High Priest.

Peter’s actions are sometimes dismissed as laughable, but they represent the actions of the most zealous of Jesus’ followers. Jesus wanted to protect them by giving himself up to the arresting guards, but Peter seizes the moment and “starts the revolution.” Even if this is a colossal failure, it is better than the response of the rest of the disciples! Jesus orders Peter to put his sword away, telling everyone that he intends to “drink the cup the Father has given him,” is a reference to the cup of God’s wrath, the crucifixion which he is about to face.

Peter is therefore not a bumbler who can’t do anything right, but the most faithful of Jesus’ disciples and seems willing to attack an important and potentially powerful member of the High Priest’s household.

Judas leads a group of soldiers and guards to the garden to arrest Jesus (John 18:2-9). Judas’s role as betrayer is to lead the temple guard to the place where Jesus is camping.  It is likely that there are a number of campsites on the Mount of Olives, the Passover crowds probably made finding the exact spot where Jesus was nearly impossible.  In addition, it is possible that another person could substitute themselves for Jesus, Judas provides a positive identification of his master.

ArrestThe solders include Temple guards (who make the actual arrest) and Roman soldiers.  Two observations are important about these two groups of soldiers. First, it is historically plausible that the Romans would assign a few soldiers to accompany the Temple guards to arrest Jesus.  Passover was a celebration of the Exodus, the time when Israel’s God redeemed his people from their slavery.  That imagery was a vivid reminder that the Romans were now the power which “enslaved” God’s people. Jesus was claiming to be the anointed one of God, he selected twelve disciples who form a new Israel: he rode a donkey into Jerusalem just as Solomon did when he was crowned king, the son of David. The Romans therefore were present to “keep the peace,” or at the very least they were there to keep Jesus from initiating a nationalistic riot.

Second, the two groups represent both Jews and Gentiles.  Both come to arrest Jesus and both will have a hand in his execution. Darkness and light are powerful images in the Gospel of John.  That the arrest occurs at night is important, since Jesus is the light of the world, yet the world prefers to remain in the darkness. The arresting guards carry “lanterns and torches,” a detail which is sometimes questioned since Passover occurs at the full moon.  But the detail has the ring of truth to it, since even during a full moon additional light was needed to find a man camping in an olive garden!

When Jesus speaks, the crowd “drew back and fell to the ground” (18:4-7). Jesus asks the crowd who they are seeking, recalling the first words of Jesus in the book, spoken to two disciples who began to follow him:  “What do you want?” When a group representing the whole world arrives, Jesus demands to know their intentions. Jesus’ response is “I am,” and the guards and soldiers “fell to the ground.”  The phrase is rare, the adverb χαμαί appears in Job 1:20, Job “fell to the ground in worship” (cf., Dan 2:46 (Old Greek), Nebuchadnezzar fell to the ground to honor Daniel, also Ant. 20.89).

It is hard to know what the solders expected when they went out to the garden, but it was not hearing the voice of God, so powerful that they are driven back in worship! Why does John include this rather spectacular response to the words of Jesus? Is he intentionally alluding to the Hebrew Bible when he says “I Am” or is this a coincidence?

Last Supper - BreadThere is perhaps another hint of eschatology in the Last Supper. Craig Evans suggests that the broken piece of bread which Jesus distributes is the afikoman (ἀφικόμενος, אפיקומן, Wikipedia). At the beginning of the Seder, a small portion of bread is broken off, to be consumed at the end of the meal. The bread represented the whole of the Jewish people and the broken portion represented “what the Messiah will eat when he returns to celebrate with Israel.”(Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 390).

This was first suggested by David Daube (He That Cometh), although D. B. Carmichael, (“David Daube on the Eucharist and the Passover Seder” 45–67)  finds additional support for this understanding of the bread in Melito of Sardis, a second century writer who creates a “Christian Haggadah.” Melito uses the term ἀφικόμενος twice with reference to Jesus as the coming Messiah.

If the breaking of the bread does reflect the afikoman tradition, then it explains how Jesus could say that bread somehow represented him and his body.  The bread already represented something, the Messiah. Jesus is making a claim that he is in fact the Messiah when he breaks the bread. This is how the disciples understood breaking of bread in Luke 24 as well.  If the breaking of bread was a messianic self–revelation then it would be strong evidence in favor of the Last Supper as a messianic banquet.

Unfortunately there is no solid evidence that this traditional use of the bread was current in the first century, so Evans suggestion may not be helpful in showing that the bread is an allusion to messianic themes.

In Mark 14:25 Jesus states that he will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until he drinks it anew in the Kingdom of God. Since the emphasis is on drinking wine when the kingdom comes, this should be taken as an allusion to an eschatological banquet which celebrates the final victory.  Craig Blomberg states that the Last Supper was a “foreshadowing of the messianic banquet” and connects the event to Isa 25:6–9.  Similarly, Allison says “Jesus announces that he will feast at the messianic banquet.”  But what is there in this saying which implies a connection to the eschatological feast I described earlier in chapter 3?

Last Supper - BouveretFirst, the description of the meal is laced with allusions to shared meals in the Mosaic and New Covenant passages. For example, Gundry suggests Jesus is blending Exod 24:8, Isa 53:12, and Jer 31:31.  The “blood of the covenant” in Exod 24:8 is followed by a meal on Sinai in which Moses, Aaron and the seventy elders eat and drink before God. This meal at the establishment of the first covenant is the foundation on which the meal at the establishment of the new Covenant is built in Isa 25:6–8. As I have already observed, rather than a meal restricted to only the leaders of Israel at Sinai, the eschatological banquet includes all people at Zion.

Second, Jesus clearly alludes to the new covenant text (Jer 31:33). Jeremiah 31 combines both an eschatological meal and a marriage metaphor to describe the restoration of Israel’s relationship with her God at the end of the Exile. That a covenant was ratified with the blood of a sacrifice is commonplace in the Hebrew Bible, but of primary importance is the sacrifice which accompanied the first covenant in Exod 24:8. Dunn includes the Last Supper in his section on “heavenly banquet.” (Jesus Remembered, 427). Vincent Taylor sees the meal as eschatological and describes verse 25 as an allusion to the messianic banquet: Jesus’ “messianic consciousness is manifest” (Mark, 547). C. S. Mann describes the section as “thoroughly Jewish” and contains an allusion to the messianic banquet (Isa 25:6–8) (Mark, 580). Robert Gundry thinks this saying is a prediction that Jesus will return to “transform the Passover meal into the messianic banquet.” (Mark, 843).

Third, the messianic banquet text in 1QSa sheds some light on the Last Supper as an anticipation of the eschatological meal. As I argued in chapter 6, 1QSa was initially thought to describe a Eucharist–like meal, although this has been (rightly) abandoned for the most part in recent scholarship. However, there are still remarkable comparisons and contrasts between the two meals. The participants in the meal in 1QSa are seated according to their rank, with the Messiah of Israel at their head. After the Messiah blesses the food, they drink new wine and eat the first–fruits of the bread. At the last supper Jesus eats with his twelve disciples, a number invoking the twelve tribes of a reconstituted Israel. Jesus indeed blesses the bread and wine, although there is no reference to sharing these among the participants at Qumran. The meal at Qumran was to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, so also here in the Last Supper. Jesus declares to his disciples that the New Covenant in imminent and that he will not drink wine again until he drinks it “new” in the Kingdom of God. Like the Qumran community, Jesus’ celebration of Passover is an anticipation of the coming eschatological age.

In summary, the Last Supper is an anticipation of the messianic banquet. As such, it is an intertextual blending of several traditions beginning with the covenant meal in Exod 24 and the restoration of the marriage of Israel and her God in Jer 31. Because discussion of the Last Supper is usually laden with theological questions about later Christian practice, the Jewish eschatological implications can be overlooked. Jesus finally reveals himself as the one who will initiate the New Covenant and restore Israel to her rightful place.

Are there other eschatological overtones to the Last Supper (either from the Passover or the Prophets) that might illuminate the meaning of this important meal?

A few years ago the media went wild over the ‘Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic text which (it was claimed) described Judas as a faith disciple of Jesus, chosen to be the betrayer because he was so faithful. I first encountered this idea through William Klassen’s book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Klassen argued that Judas was not the betrayer, but rather the most faithful disciple. Jesus had to be handed over to the authorities, so he entrusted this job to Judas. In order to make this theory work, Klassen has to make the “anti-Judas” statements into “later additions” by the church.  This includes the brief note in Luke that “Satan entered him” and the much later references to Judas as a thief in John’s gospel.  He makes much of the fact that Paul never mentions the betrayal or Judas.

Thirty Peices of SilverKlassen does have a point, the later texts do indeed offer a more pernicious view of Judas.  In John 12:1-8, Judas is described as a thief. He is embezzling from the disciples, and when a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume, he feels that he has been “cheated.” The perfume was not sold, he could have skimmed quite a bit from the sale (in John 13:28-30 Judas is the keeper of the funds for the disciples.) Greed could be a factor in Matthew 26:14-16 as well – Judas asked the priests “What will you give me….?”

Another answer is that the “perfume incident” forced Judas to understand that Jesus was not the Messiah, at least exactly as he understood the Messiah. One option is that Judas was convinced by the anointing that Jesus was not who he claimed, and the Pharisees were right all along. Jesus had to be destroyed as a false teacher. A second option is that Judas was shocked when he finally understood that Jesus was literally going to his death. He may have expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, but not to die. He may have wanted to ‘force’ Jesus to use his power to destroy the Romans.

At the time of the Last Supper, Judas had already made his choice to betray when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as “entering” anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is this: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Satan’s role in the killing of Jesus is an indication of the arrogance of the devil. Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, that he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave. Another option, although less likely, is that Satan was playing the role laid out for him, and that he was not truly a free agent in the whole affair.

Thirty pieces of silver was not a great deal of money, he would not have won many friends by betraying his teacher.  I suspect that his motivations were good, he wanted to help Jesus establish himself as the Messiah and to assist him in starting a Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

But from a purely human perspective, what did Judas hope to gain?

Bibliography: Klassen also wrote the Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Judas Iscariot”, 3:1091-1096. For a more balanced approach, see D. J. Williams, “Judas Iscariot”, in DJG, 406-408; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:208-211.

Why does this anonymous woman anoint Jesus in Mark 14:1-8? To honor a prestigious guest with oil is not unusual, but this is an extravagant act on the part of the woman. The oil is an “alabaster flask of perfume.” The version of the story in John 12 indicates the perfumed oil could have been sold for 300 denarii, or about a year’s wages. According to Pliny the Elder, the best perfumes came in alabaster flasks, the neck of which would be broken to let the perfume out.  Nothing could be held back; all of the oil was used to anoint Jesus.

Anointing at BethanyIt might be simply an honor given to a special guest at a pre-Passover gathering. But the connection with Passover may have more to do with the symbolism of a sacrificed lamb at Passover. Many of the animal sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible are accompanied by oil (daily sacrifices Exodus 29:38–42; the guilt offering Leviticus 14:12–13).

On the other hand, this anointing may anticipate Jesus coming as king. Kings were anointed when they began their roles. One particularly important example is 1 Chronicles 29:22, where Solomon is anointed as “prince of the people” by Zadok the high priest. Jesus will soon be mocked as a king (Mark 15:2, 12) and even crowned with thorns and given a royal robe (Mark 15:16-20). The charges on the cross will call Jesus the “king of the Jews” (Mark 15:26).

Ultimately, this anointing anticipates Jesus’ death and burial. This is how Jesus himself interprets the action in Matthew 26:12, although the purpose is left more open in the Gospel of Mark. (In Luke the story has nothing to do with the death and burial of Jesus). Since the dead were anointed with spices and oils (including myrrh), the woman’s action foreshadows the women who visit Jesus’ tomb in Mark 16:1 to anoint his body.

In Mark and Matthew, a disciple objects to the woman’s display of generosity saying the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. In John 12, Judas is the disciple who objects, but he also reflects this common practice of almsgiving at feasts and festivals. For example, the intertestamental book Tobit describes the righteous Tobit risking his life to bury the dead at Pentecost. Alms giving is praised in Sirach and other Second Temple sources.

It is true that an expensive gift like this could have generated enough money to care for many poor people. That the bottle cost a year’s wages is important-this is more than a small gift honoring Jesus! Rather than spend money on an expensive, non-essential like a bottle of perfume, the money would be better used for ministry!

What is wrong with this objection? I do not think that the objection itself is wrong, although Judas’ motive was false. Judas seems to represent the thinking of a good Jewish person wanting to honor God at the time of the Passover by making good use of the money the perfume could bring.

In Mark 14:3-9 Jesus is anointed by a woman at a meal given in his honor. There is a serious source critical problem with this story. Mark and Matthew agree on many details, and John 12:1-8 appears to be the same story. But there is a similar story in Luke 7:36-50. Luke’s story is so similar it is often assumed Luke has heavily redacted the story he found in Mark and moved it to another point in Jesus ministry. It is true the name of the host is the same and the use of an expensive perfume is similar.

AnointingAll three synoptic gospels agree a woman came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of myrrh (ἀλάβαστρον μύρου), containing “oil of nard” (νάρδου πιστικῆς), derived from the aromatic spikenard plant. In John’s Gospel Mary has large quantity of the oil, a “pound” in the ESV.  The Greek λίτρα is a Roman pound (327.45 grams or 11.5 ounces), significantly more than an alabaster vial or perfume.

There are other differences:

  • In Luke, Simon is a Pharisee in Galilee hosting Jesus in his home. In Mark, the home is owned by Simon the Leper, while in John 12 the meal appears to be hosted by Lazarus in Bethany.
  • The identity of the woman is unknown in both the three synoptic Gospels, but in Luke she appears to be a well-known sinful woman. There is no implication of sinfulness in Matthew and Mark. In John, the woman is identified as Mary, presumably the sister of Lazarus and Martha.
  • In Mark she anoints Jesus’ head, but in Luke 7 she anoints his feet. In John 12 she anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair just as the woman in Luke did.
  • The objection to the anointing in Luke is voiced by Simon the Pharisee rather than one of the twelve. In Mark the objection to the anointing comes from “someone,” in Matthew it is one of the twelve disciples, and by the time John was written, the objection comes from Judas (John 12). John 12:6 indicates Judas was already “helping himself” money from the common fund and he was going to steal from the profit on the perfume.
  • Luke also omits the words of Jesus praising the woman for her actions, saying that her deed will be repeated wherever the gospel is preached. Instead, Jesus responds to Simon’s critical thoughts with a short parable and pronounces the woman’s sins forgiven.

All things being equal, I think these are two separate incidents. While it might seem strange women keep turning up to anoint Jesus, the anointing at Passover is in keeping with Passover traditions and anticipated Jesus’ suffering, execution and burial. In Luke, the anointing is a vivid example of radical grace and forgiveness.

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Phillip J. Long

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I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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