Mary’s Anointing of Jesus

Question from a Site Viewer
The Gospels of Mathew and Mark record the anointing of Jesus by Mary as two days before the Passover, while the Gospel of John says that Mary anointed Jesus six days before the Passover.

Even the interpretive challenges view (such as the different way that northern Jews and southern Jews calculate days) cannot reconcile the four days difference. Can you please explain this discrepancy?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question. I wonder if you have considered the possibility that these may be two different anointings. The anointing in Matthew 26:6-13 occurred in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper. The woman had an alabaster flask of very costly oil and poured it on Jesus’ head as He sat. His disciples were indignant and being very utilitarian thought the bottle should have been sold and the money given to the poor. They could not imagine simply expending a large sum of money on a momentary anointing of Jesus. Jesus responded by saying that the woman did this for His burial, and that what she did would be a memorial to her. We find from the Mark account in Mark 14:3-9 that the oil was spikenard, that it represented a year’s wages and that it took place two days before the Passover. These two accounts are consistent with each other.

The John account is different. We learn right away that this was six days before the Passover. Again, the anointing was in Bethany. This time Mary and Martha made a supper for him. We find that Mary took a pound of spikenard, also worth a year’s wages, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. Judas Iscariot raised the question of why the spikenard was not sold and the money used for the poor. Jesus said that Mary had kept this for His burial.

The points of agreement between the accounts are that both took place in Bethany, both involved a woman anointing Jesus, both involved the same amount of spikenard, both had people questioning the practicality of the action, and in both Jesus defended by saying that the woman had done this for His burial.

The points of disagreement are the time, the location in Bethany, where the oil was placed, and who raised the question.

Many have tried to reconcile the two accounts and some will even try to reconcile these accounts with Luke’s account of yet another anointing in Luke 7:36-50 which also involved an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, the anointing of the feet by a woman, a person questioning the event, and Jesus responding. But Luke’s account occurred before the feeding of the 5,000, far earlier in Jesus’ ministry. I would not be surprised if this oil also was spikenard worth a year’s wages, although we are not told the oil or the value.

My take on the matter is that the Holy Spirit was working through two different women to convey a truth about Christ that his disciples did not understand. If you start in Matthew 16:21, Jesus told his disciples that He was going to die and rise again with increasing frequency (see Matthew 17:12, 22; 20:18; 26:2, 12, 24, 28, 31-32). Yet, they never understood. I see these two anointings as part of this consistent testimony to the disciples that Jesus was about to die, and soon. One anointing occurred early in the last week of Jesus’ ministry, and one toward the end of that week. That both were in Bethany is no surprise because that week Jesus apparently spent the nights in Bethany (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:11). Even with both anointings, the disciples still did not understand.

Matters and events are often repeated in Scripture. There are two feedings of great crowds of people (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39; 16:8-11) designed to teach a single lesson. They both have many points in common, but there are enough differences to let us know that these are not the same event, and Jesus references both in a teaching moment with the disciples. There was the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and the Sermon on the Plain in (Luke 6:17-49), both teaching similar lessons. There were two healings on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-5 and 6:6-11). There were two times Jesus confronted the Jews in the temple, once at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22) and once at the end of His ministry (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48). And there are many other double accounts of similar healings, miracles, teachings, etc. There is a reason. When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s two dreams for him, Joseph told Pharaoh that the dream was repeated twice “because the thing is established by God and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Genesis 41:32). I see the same as being true here. There were two anointings precisely for the reason that the death of Christ was established by God and that God would bring it shortly to pass. I heard an old preacher once say that these double events and accounts in Scripture convey the principle of the “double knock.” It is the “verily, verily” of the Old King James translation, the “truly, truly” of more modern translations, which is sometimes translated as “most assuredly” in many of our translations. In the Greek, it is the “amen, amen” (John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18). The double repetition is God’s way of saying that it is established and we need to pay close heed. The two anointings, I think, serve the same purpose.

I do not find it surprising that both events involved the same amount of spikenard. Spikenard was an imported oil and would have probably come in standard sizes. It was an easy way to keep a year’s worth of wages in a small container. These bottles probably represented a person’s savings. To spill them on Christ was precisely the point that the Holy Spirit wanted to make. Both women were doing this for His upcoming burial. The women understood that He was going to die and they were willing to sacrifice all to worship Him. The two events were designed to be a teaching moment for the disciples. Judas Iscariot protested the first time. The other disciples were willing to let that one go, probably because they knew Mary and Martha very well and would not question Mary. But when the second anointing occurred, this was too much for them and they raised their voices in protest. At least this is how I read the accounts.

I cannot say for certain that my harmony is the correct one, but it makes far more sense to me than the attempts of others to blend these into one anointing. I hope this helps you.

May the Lord Jesus guide your heart into a deeper and deeper love for and worship of Him.

a fellow pilgrim,


10 thoughts on “Mary’s Anointing of Jesus”

  1. I like your teaching on this it makes perfect sense the way you have put it, and you have certainly put my mind at rest and thrown light – I agree regarding God’s repetition of teaching in order to make His point and I am so grateful that you answered in the way you have thank you very much.

  2. As one who is frequently saying “Am I remembering this correctly?” and “Where is that scripture?” I truly appreciated your thoughts and references in regards to these anointings.

  3. Excellent piece. The only edit I would change is your choice of the word “spill” on our Lord. The idea of “spill” relates to an accidental incident. That is swatting at a gnat, I know, but just a though. Good job.
    -Dr. Mike Briley

  4. Having just done a thorough study of this question, I would agree. I knew there had to be at least two anointings, because of the time difference between Luke 7 account and the others, but now I see that Mary did it twice. In John 11:2, Mary is identified as the woman who did this in Luke 7, (anointed his feet). John 11 was the time of Lazarus’ raising, so it preceeded by weeks or more, the next time Mary would do it. Both times, Mary went for the feet. She loved Jesus’ feet and always seemed to be found there.

    1. Thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful research. It has helped me greatly. I love God’s Word and try hard to use Bible-based helps like your. I’m an 83-year old widow and I’m still trying to learn more–after studying/teaching it for over 60 years! God bless your ministry.

  5. I agree and love your interpretation. But, how do we know that it is the same person who anoints Jesus, Mary, in the John interpretation?

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