The Ministry of the Messiah, 2:1-12:50

7. Jesus the resurrection and the life, 11:1-12:36

iii] Mary anoints Jesus for his burial


"On the Saturday before Palm Sunday (as we would say) there was a supper in Jesus' honor in Bethany at which Martha acted as a waitress and Lazarus figured among the guests. At it Mary anointed Jesus' feet with some expensive perfume before drying them with her hair, so that the fragrance filled the house. Judas, allegedly concerned for the poor, protested at the extravagance. In fact, comments the evangelist, he was a thief and not above raiding the disciples' common purse which he carried. Jesus leapt to Mary's defense. She had anticipated his death by an act of inspired devotion", A.M. Hunter.


Jesus' death is a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of broken humanity.


i] Context: See 11:1-44. Chapter 12 consists of two narratives and a dialogue / discourse. We have the Anointing at Bethany, 12:1-8, linked to the plans of the authorities to not only kill Jesus, but Lazarus as well, v9-11. The second narrative covers Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, v12-15, linked to the confusion of the disciples and the despair of the Pharisees, v16-19. Then follows the discourse / dialogue which addresses the significance of Christ's passion. The arrival of Greeks seeking to meet Jesus, v20-23, points to a pathway of inclusion which skirts around the cross, but for Jesus, "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." The discourse ends with the rather sad observation, "Jesus departed from them and hid himself", v20-36.


ii] Background: Mary of Bethany. Mary is mentioned in the gospels of Luke and John. In Luke she is described as the one who sat and listened to Jesus while Martha busied herself in the kitchen, Lk.10:38-42. All four gospels have an anointing, but the details are different, with only Mark's account fairly close to John's account. In Luke, the anointing is by a woman who is a "sinner", Lk.7:37-50. It has been suggested that this woman was Mary Magdalene, a woman who was exorcised by Jesus, Lk.8:2. If this is the case then Mary of Magdala is the same person as Mary of Bethany. This is possible, but unlikely. It also seems unlikely that the woman who anointed Jesus in Luke's gospel is the same person who anointed Jesus in John's gospel. In fact, as Origin suggested, Jesus was probably anointed on a number of occasions and the stories have converged somewhat within the oral tradition of the early church. Look, for instance, at the pronounced differences between Luke's account of the anointing and John's account. None-the-less, Luke and John do seem to be making the same point.


iii] Structure: Mary anoints Jesus for his burial:

Mary anoints Jesus, 12:1-8:

A dinner in Jesus' honor, v1-2;

The anointing, v3;

Judas' objects, v4-6;

Jesus' response, v7-8:

"let her keep it for the day of my burial."

("she has anointed my body beforehand for burial", Mk.14:8).

The plot against Jesus, v9-11.


iv] Interpretation:

It is interesting how John has the anointing before the triumphal entry, while Mark has it following. With this arrangement John may be shaping it, not so much as a funeral rite, as in Mark, but as a coronation rite, the anointing of the messiah. Certainly Barrett takes this line arguing that the anointing serves "as a means of expressing the royal dignity of Jesus in preparation for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem." Brown strongly disagrees seeing it as "a figurative representation ...... of a future embalming." Given verse 7, the story does seem to be a preparation for Jesus' death; "he is anointed as one would anoint a corpse", Dodd. In that sense John aligns with Luke in presenting Jesus as "one who is about to die for the sins of men", Marsh, rather than with Matthew and Mark who present the anointing "as an act of devotion with clear regal and messianic meaning", Marsh. Lindars takes a slightly different line. He recognizes that the anointing is a symbolic anticipation of Jesus' burial / his departure, but also notes the link with the washing of the disciples' feet by Jesus and the treachery of Judas. Schnackenburg sums up John's intention as follows: "Jesus, who will not be with his friends much longer, is for believers secretly glorified even in his death and is for the community the figure to whom honor and worship are due."


v] Synoptics:

Each of the gospels has an anointing story, but Luke's version seems quite different to that of John and Mark, indicating a separate source. Matthew's account, on the other hand, reflects elements of both sources.


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 12:1

The anointing at Bethany, v1-8. i] A dinner in Jesus' honor, v1-2: Jesus now moves toward the "Passover" event, namely the giving of his life for the salvation of his people. He comes to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, and stays (according to Mark) at Simon the Leper's home. Martha helps with the meal - she "waited on him", Moffatt. Lazarus is mentioned among the guests, but it is unclear whether it is his home. If it is his home his presence would be assumed.

oun "-" - therefore. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

eJx "six [days]" - six [days]. John has the commencement of Passover on the Friday evening of the crucifixion, so six days proV "before" is a Saturday evening, the Sabbath having ended with the setting of the sun.

pro + gen. "before" - before [the passover jesus came into bethany]. Temporal use of the preposition; "before". The placement in the Gk. text of pro before e}x hJmerwn, "six days", which then takes the genitive following pro, is an idiomatic construction of the time, and is translated "six days before the Passover", not "before six days of the Passover." An accusative of time following e}x is the more normal construction.

oJpou "where [Lazarus lived]" - where [lazarus was]. Local, expressing space.

ek + gen. "from [the dead]" - [whom jesus raised] from [the dead]. Expressing source/origin - separation, "out of the dead."


It is interesting how, in describing this domestic scene, John has Martha serving, cf., Lk.10:38. We may excuse Lazarus for his "reclining", given that he may still be recovering from his near-death experience, but of course, it's what the blokes did - not so much today though!

oun "then" - therefore. Inferential, establishing a logical connection, "so, consequently." As a consequence of Jesus being in Bethany where he had raised Lazarus to life, a dinner is given in his honor.

autw/ dat. pro. "[Here a dinner was given] in Jesus' honor" - [they made / gave a supper, dinner there] to him [and martha was serving]. Dative of interest, advantage; "a dinner was prepared there for him (Jesus)." The "they" is not identified, although some suggest Lazarus was the host. The noun deipnon, "meal", refers to the main meal of the day, usually held in the evening, so "dinner".

ek + gen. "[Lazarus was] among" - [lazarus was one] from. Here the preposition serves in the place of a partitive genitive; "Lazarus was one of those who reclined at the table."

twn anakeimenwn (anakeimai) pres. part. "those reclining at the table" - the ones reclining. The participle serves as a substantive. For us it is "sitting at the table", but they did actually recline on cushions around a low table.

sun + dat. "with [him]" - with [him]. Expressing accompaniment / association.


ii] Mary anoints Jesus, v3: Mary of Bethany takes half a kilo of spikenard scented oil and anoints Jesus' feet. By doing this Mary takes a position of great humility, the position of a servant. A Jewish woman would never display her hair in public (only to her husband), but Mary openly uses it to wipe off the excess oil. Not using a towel indicates intimacy in this loving act.

oun "then" - therefore. Transitional, as v1.

labousa (lambanw) aor. part. "took" - [mary] having taken. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "anointed / she poured".

litran (a) "about a pint" - a litra. A Roman pound = 325 grams. In rough terms we would say one pint, or half a liter.

murou (on) gen. "-" - of scented oil, ointment. The genitive is adjectival, partitive. Technically the word refers to Myrrh, extracted from the Balsam plant, but here used commonly for any nut oil suitable for diluting an essential oil.

nardou (oV) gen. "nard" - [of genuine expensive, pure] nard. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / of material, identification; "a pint of (made up of, consisting of) expensive spikenard", limiting "perfume / aromatic oil." The aromatic oil Spikenard is extracted from the Nard plant.

pistikhV (oV) gen. "pure" - genuine. As with polutimou, "expensive", the genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "nard"; "a pint of genuine, expensive, spikenard aromatic oil." The word is unknown, so possibly "real / pure / genuine",.. although spikenard by itself is too strong to be applied to the skin. It would be diluted with a rubbing oil, say pistachio nut oil. The concentration of the spikenard would reflect its purpose. For anointing the dead it would be highly concentrated, and therefore, very expensive, in which case the word may mean "strong / concentrated". On the other hand, the word may mean "diluted", eg, "mixed spikenard anointing / massaging oil".

hleiyen (aleifw) aor. "she poured it" - she anointed [the feet of jesus]. "And anointed Jesus' feet with it", Barclay.

taiV qrixin (ix icoV) dat. "with [her] hair" - [and wiped off the feet of him] in the hairs [of her]. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV; "with her hair."

ek + gen. "[the house was filled] with" - [and the house was filled] from, out of [the smell = odor]. Expressing source/origin, but leaning toward cause, "because of", and/or means, "by"; the house was filled from the perfume source. "Filled with the fragrance given forth from the perfume", Cassirer.

tou murou (oV) gen. "of the perfume" - of the ointment, scented oil. The genitive is adjectival, limiting the noun "smell", possessive, identifying a derivative characteristic, or attributive / idiomatic, "of the odor which wafted from the ointment." Other classifications are possible: verbal, subjective, "the odor made by the ointment"; or ablative, source/origin, the odor from the ointment." "The house was filled with the fragrance given forth by the perfume", Cassirer.


iii] Judas objects, v4-6: Matthew notes that it was one of the disciples who was indignant on this occasion; John identifies Judas as this disciple. John also notes that it is Judas who will betray Jesus. The value of the oil is put at 300 denarii by Judas. A laborer was paid a denarii a day so 300 denarii is close to a years wage. John notes that Judas' indignation is not out of concern for the poor, but rather that he is a sneak-thief. This is the only occasion in the gospels where we are given an insight into the faulty character of Judas. Obviously, John is of the opinion that Judas betrayed Jesus for financial gain. As they say, money is the root of all evil, but there are another six deadly sins that should not be ignored! Judas' rap sheet is fairly serious, and no one has a good word for him (especially Luke - "the son of perdition"), but I have always wondered whether he was beyond redemption; see Matt.27:3-10 and Acts:1:15-26 - note the use of metamelomai, "to change one's mind / repent", and his admission "I have sinned." He did commit suicide and some hold that suicide is an unforgivable sin, although this opinion is without scriptural warrant. So, is betrayal an unforgivable sin?

de "but" - but/and [judas iscariot says]. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, here to a contrast, as NIV.

ek + gen. "[one] of [his disciples]" - [one] from [the disciples of him]. Variant reading, taking the place of a partitive genitive, as NIV.

oJ mellwn (mellw) pres. part. "who was later" - the one being about. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to Judas; "Judas Iscariot, the one who was about to betray him"; "Judas Iscariot (who was to betray him), said, ...", Moffatt.

paradidonai (paradidwmi) pres. inf. "to betray [him]" - to deliver over [him]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle "being about".


dia + acc. "why" - because / on account of [why this aromatic oil = perfume not sold of three hundred denarii and given to poor]? Causal; "because why?" = "Why?"

ptwcoiV adj. "[given] to the poor" - The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object.

triakosiwn dhnariwn gen. "it was worth a year's wages" - [sold] of three hundred denarii. The genitive is adverbial, measure / price; "sold for three hundred denarii." Given that one Denarii is a day's wage, three hundred indicates that it was a highly concentrated spikenard perfume / oil. The base used for perfumes today is mainly alcohol, rather than a nut / seed oil.


John tells us that Judas was a petty-thief - when he was short he raided the offertory plate. The disciples are rightly angered by the fact that one of their own betrayed Jesus, and as far as John is concerned Judas' pilfering provides the motive for his betrayal of Jesus.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, here to a comment on the behavior of Judas; "It was not out of concern for the poor that Judas said this ....."

oJti "because" - [he said this not] because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why Judas has made this comment.

autw/ dat. pro. "he [cared]" - [it was a concern to] him. Dative of direct object after the verb "to be concerned about."

peri + gen. "about [the poor]" - about [the poor]. Expressing reference / respect; "not because he cared about the poor", Rieu.

alla "but [because he was a thief]" - but [because he was a thief]. Strong adversative in a counterpoint construction, "not because ....., but because ......", as NIV. Tradition has not served Judas well; his failings are enshrined in the scriptures. Thankfully, our failings are not so well recorded. One gets the impression that his fellow disciples didn't think too highly of him, and probably with good reason, yet there is stealing and there is stealing, and we will never know how light-fingered he actually was.

exwn (exw) pres. part. "as keeper of [the money bag]" - [and] having [the money box]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as causal; "it was not because the poor meant anything to him that he said this, but because he was a thief, for he had charge of the money-box, and he pilfered from what was deposited in it", Barclay.

ebastazen (bastazw) imperf. "he used to help himself" - he was lifting, removing. The use of the imperfect probably serves to indicate ongoing pilfering from the common purse.

ta ballomena (ballw) pres. pas. part. "what was put into it" - the things being thrown, put into it. The participle serves as a substantive, accusative direct object of the verb "to lift, remove".


iv] Jesus' response, v7-8: Although scented oil is primarily used for festive occasions, Jesus recognizes the closeness of his death and interprets Mary's anointing as a symbolic embalming. He includes Mary in this interpretation. Although Jesus' words are somewhat obtuse, the sense probably is that she intended initially using the perfume for the purpose of anointing Jesus' body at the time of his death, but has chosen to do so in the present, anointing her living Lord while he was still with her. Clearly Mary has sensed that Jesus is about to leave them through suffering and death. Jesus welcomes this action by Mary. The time when the disciples can express their love for Jesus is fast running out; the immediacy of his death supersedes the needs of the poor.

oun "-" - therefore. Transitional, as NIV, or inferential, establishing a logical connection; "consequently ...."

afeV authn "leave her alone" - [jesus said] allow her. The sense here may be either, "her allow" = "Don't pick on her", or "allow her ....." = "allow her to perform this duty."

iJna + subj. "it was intended that" - that [she may keep it]. The construction here causes some difficulty.

The conjunction iJna + subj. will often introduce a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that she may keep", but sometimes it is consecutive expressing result, although unlikely here. As a purpose clause, it doesn't make sense for Jesus to tell the disciples to leave here alone, in order that she can keep the oil for his embalming at the time of his death.

It may serve as an imperative, "keep this essential oil till the day of my burial", ie., use it for my embalming. So, is Jesus telling her not to anoint him?

Brown follows the sense of a weak reading "she has kept", a reading obviously intended to overcome the problem. He doesn't accept the reading, but argues it is the intended sense, ie., "(unknowingly) she was keeping it until now to embalm Jesus."

Carson argues that the clause is elliptical (some words are missing, namely, "she has done this"), "leave her alone, she has done this in order to keep it for the day of my burial."

The NIV assumes the clause is elliptical by adding the words "it was intended", so making the hina clause a dependent statement of perception expressing what she intended, namely, to hold the oil eiV "for" the day of Jesus' embalming.

As a follower of Jesus, Mary has thrhsh/ "kept, preserved" this essential oil for Jesus' death and embalming, and out of devotion, sensing that his death is imminent, symbolically performs the embalming at this opportune time.

eiV "for [the day]" - into [the day]. Here expressing purpose / goal / end-view, "for the purpose of using it on the day of my burial."

tou entafiasmou (oV) gen. " of [my] burial" - of the embalming. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, idiomatic / temporal, "the day when I am buried / embalmed"

mou gen. pro. "my" - of me. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, identifying the possession of a derivative characteristic, or verbal, objective, "the embalming performed on me."


This comment by Jesus does not provide an excuse for the withholding of compassion toward the poor, but rather notes that right priorities should motivate behavior. The comment is particularly apt when seeking direction on the application of resources (time, talent and tinkle) to social work and evangelism. Finding the right balance demands the wisdom of Solomon, especially today with the church so damaged by the issue of pedophile priests. This verse is not found in some of the better manuscripts and so it may have been adopted from Matthew 26:11. Metzger gives it an "A" rating.

gar "-" - for. More reason than cause, introducing an explaining of what lies behind Jesus' comment about Mary, v7.

meq (meta) + gen. "among" - the poor you have] with. Expressing association / accompaniment.

eJautwn gen. refl. pro. "you" - yourselves [always]. The reflexive pronoun is used here for the personal pronoun autwn.

pantote adv. "always [have me]" - [but/and me not] always [do you have]. Adverb of time. Brown argues that the statement reflects rabbinic theology where a work of mercy (eg., preparing someone for burial) exceeds a work of justice (eg., almsgiving).


The plot against Jesus, v9-11. Those who had witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead find out that he is now staying in Bethany and so they head out from Jerusalem again to see both Jesus and Lazarus. The religious authorities get to hear that many of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus are now committing themselves to Jesus and so they plan, not only to kill Jesus, but Lazarus as well. It should be noted that some commentators think that the editor has mishandled his received tradition (the Johannine tradition???) at this point, that he "has got himself into difficulties by his rearrangements, and the idea that Lazarus should also be put to death, is an unhappy consequence of his own work, deriving not from the tradition", Lindars. The more conservative commentators like Morris and Carson see no incongruities in the record of events.

oun "meanwhile" - therefore. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

oJ ocloV poluV "a large crowd" - a/the large crowd. Here poluV is in the predicate position making the article irregular. Variant readings drop the article to correct the grammar. The real difficulty lies with what crowd this is. As Brown notes, at this point in the gospel three crowds are mentioned: a) the crowd that comes to Bethany, as here; b) the large crowd that comes out to meet Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, v12, 18; c) the crowd that saw Jesus raise Lazarus and now believes in him, v17. Brown argues that the v9 crowd is the same as the one that saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, ie., the v17 crowd - they have come out for a second look; possibly Judeans living in Jerusalem / Jerusalemites. The v12 crowd is a different crowd, possibly made up mainly of pilgrims. Of course, John may not intend any distinction between these crowds.

ek + gen. "of [Jews]" - from [the jews]. Here the preposition is used in the place of a partitive genitive, so "a large crowd of Jews." John seems to be using the term "the Jews" here in a neutral sense, rather than in the sense of unbelieving Israel; "Judeans", Carson. "A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany", TEV.

oJti "[found out] that" - [knew] that [he (jesus) was there. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what "the Jews" knew. "They came to know that Jesus was there." "They came, not just to see Jesus, but also to see Lazarus."

ou dia + acc. "not [only] because of" - not because of [jesus only]. Causal, "because of, on account of."

all (alla) "but [also]" - but [and = also]. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not because ....... but also to see Lazarus."

iJna + subj. "to [see]" - that [they may see lazarus]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that ...."

ek + gen. "from [the dead]" - [whom he raised] from [dead]. Expressing separation, "away from", or source / origin, "from".


de "so" - but/and [the chief priests took counsel, planned]. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative, here to the response of the religious authorities to the growing popularity of Jesus, given his raising of Lazarus. Their response was to plan the death of Lazarus as well.

iJna + subj. "to [kill Lazarus]" - that [they might kill lazarus]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the plan, "they planned to put Lazarus to death", or possibly serving to introduce a final clause expressing purpose, "they made plans in order to put Lazarus to death", so Novakovic.

kai "as well" - and. Here adjunctive, "also".


oJti "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why the authorities planned the death of Lazarus as well as Jesus, "because many of the Jews / Judeans were abandoning Israel's authorized faith / the teachings of the chief priests and putting their faith in Jesus."

di (dia) + acc. "on account of [him]" - [many of the jews] because of [him]. Here introducing a causal clause explaining why "the Jews" were abandoning ..... and believing in Jesus, "because of / on account of him" = "because of what had happened to him / Lazarus", TH.

twn Ioudaiwn gen. adj. "[many] of the Jews" - The adjective serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, partitive, as NIV.

uJphgon (uJpagw) imperf. "were going over" - were drawing away, departing, leaving. The imperfect may be inceptive, "began to withdraw", Harris. Here introducing an elliptical clause. Possibly "going away to Bethany", or "going over to Jesus, but more likely "drawing away from the chief priests", ie., leaving "their former Jewish allegiance and way of life to become disciples", Barrett, so Harris. "Many of the Judeans were rejecting the authorized religion of Israel and were putting their faith in Jesus."

eiV + acc. "[believing] in [him]" - [and were believing] into [jesus]. Expressing the direction of action and arrival at; for "believing" the sense is the same as en, "in/on". Believing in Jesus", ESV.


John Introduction


TekniaGreek font download


[Pumpkin Cottage]