New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #20


So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises.

If you were to interpret the anointing of Jesus (Mark 14:3-9) as both a burial and a royal anointing, what would this imply about Jesus? If you view this event as only a burial anointing (i.e., see Jesus as simply a martyr) or only a royal anointing (i.e., see Jesus as simply a king), what are you missing?

(adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)

To say that I’m obsessed with the story of the anointing of Jesus would be a gross understatement. I wrote my MA thesis on it and then (many years later) revised it for publication as an essay which you can read here. I discussed how Mark’s story of the anointing is related to Luke’s here.

In short, I think the story of Jesus’ anointing is a treasure hidden in plain sight. It is hidden  because we assume that a story involving a woman is not so important. (Note that we usually call it “The Anointing at Bethany” and not “The Anointing of Jesus.”) But the story announces and reveals Jesus’ true identity in way unparalleled in the gospels. (Note that “messiah” is a Hebrew word meaning “anointed one” and “Christ” is a Greek word with the same meaning.) In short, the woman’s act prophetically proclaims Jesus’ identity as sufferer, priest, and king. Not only that, but the story functions as a hinge in Mark’s text by bridging the stories of Jesus’ life and death. It also draws heavily on allusions to various biblical texts. The JST emphasizes the importance of the woman’s act (as I explain in the first link above).

Jesus says that wherever the gospel is preached, what this woman did should be told. I think we should listen to him.

2 comments for “New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #20

  1. Hi Julie

    I appreciated your comparison with Mark and Luke. I wonder your thought on John’s version compared to Mark. Do you believe it’s the same story? If so, how does actually knowing somewhat of Mary affect your telling of the anonymous woman annointer? I am teaching this SS lesson next Sunday and the correlation is all about John’s telling. I welcome your thoughts as I prepare if you are willing. As always, I greatly appreciate these posts.

  2. Chadwick, it is so thorny I hesitate to venture a guess. One thing to keep in mind: even if we were to determine that John is telling about the same historical incident as Mark, that does not guarantee that Mary was involved in the historical incident–that might be John’s embellishment for theological reasons (he does that sort of thing).

    In general, I think it better to focus on each story as an individual witness and avoid efforts at correlating them. Mark, Luke, and John are making radically different theological (doctrinal) points with their anointing stories, despite the similarities between the stories. Mixing them up has about the same effect as taking your three favorite meals and and putting them in a blender.

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