Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Holy Bible


How many women had anointed Jesus' feet ?

Anointed | Dancing to God 

A question frequently posed:  How many women in the Gospels had anointed the Lord with myrrh?

According to one version, it was three women (as Origen believed); according to another version, two (as St. Chrysostom believed), and to yet another version, it was one (as believed by Apollinarius and Theodoros).

But according to the most paradoxical version, the sinful woman, the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50, is identified in Matthew 26:6-13, in Mark 14:3-9 and in John 12:3 as Mary, the sister of Lazarus! According to this version, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, had anointed Jesus with myrrh twice; the first time at the house of Simon the Pharisee in Galilee, upon repenting of her sins, and the second time at the house of Simon the (former) leper in Judea, in Bethany, a little while before Christ’s Passion.

For this paradoxical version we have only the following comments in response:

Christ had instructed His disciples that when entering a city or town, they should examine who is a worthy person there, and stay with them (Matt. 10:11).  Doesn’t it therefore stand to reason that – in order to avoid giving cause for accusation – He would have stayed at the home of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary?  Would He have stayed there, if Mary was a prostitute?  Wouldn’t the Jews, who were putting Christ’s every move through a fine sieve, have accused Him of staying at the home of a prostitute?

We therefore regard this version as totally unacceptable.

We consider as correct the opinion of those interpreters (eg St. Chrysostom), who maintain that - according to the Gospels - TWO women had anointed the Lord with myrrh: the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50 at an earlier time, in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Galilee, and Mary the sister of Lazarus in Matt. 26:6-13 and Mark. 14:3-9 where she is mentioned anonymously, (but also belatedly by the Evangelists, because it appears that this specific incident had made Judas decide to betray Christ) and in John. 12:3, where she is mentioned by name, shortly before the Passion, at the house of Simon the (former) leper, in Bethany of Judea.

That the anonymously mentioned woman in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is in fact Mary, the sister of Lazarus as named in the Gospel of John, is clearly evident, if one simply compares the narratives of Matthew and Mark with the narration of John. The common characteristics are many and serious, whereas the differences are few, detailed and easily settled.  The fact that – for example - according to both Matthew and Mark, the myrrh was poured on the head of Jesus, is not incompatible with what John had written, i.e.,  that it was poured on the feet of Jesus,  inasmuch as the one does not preclude the other, because myrrh was usually poured over the guest's head as well as his feet.  Mary, being a noble and grateful soul and in her desire to show her love for Christ and her gratitude to Him for resurrecting her brother (Lazarus), took a “liter” - about three hundred and twenty-five grams - of extremely costly myrrh, called nard, and anointed Christ. .

According to Matt. 26:7 and Mark. 14:3, the myrrh was poured on the head of Jesus, while according to John. 12:3, the myrrh was poured onto Jesus' feet.  A seeming contradiction of course, and certainly not a real one.  As already mentioned, myrrh was poured on both the head and the feet of a guest; it was customary at banquets to anoint the head with oil.

The practice of anointing head and feet is also evident, when Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus to dine at his home in Galilee but had not anointed His head with oil (unlike the prostitute who had anointed His feet with myrrh) where the Lord said to Simon, “You did not anoint My head with oil; she however had anointed My feet with myrrh” (Luke 7:46).

In observance of the custom that prevailed at banquets, Mary had poured a part of the myrrh on the head of the Lord and then with the rest of the myrrh she anointed Jesus’ feet.  The evangelist John highlights the latter (the anointing of feet with myrrh), because the anointing of feet was of greater worth; Mary was bestowing an even greater honor to Jesus - and making her love for the Lord even more evident - as well as her humility.  For Jesus, the anointing of His feet was honorary, while for Mary it was humiliating. But Mary most certainly did not find this act humiliating, but rather honorary for her person.

Finally, in favor of the version that the woman referred to in Matthew, Mark and John is the same one, is supported by the fact that all three report that this event took place in the Judean township of Bethany, whereas Luke mentions a sinful woman (a different woman) and that the event he describes did not take place in a township, but a city (Luke 7:37), quite possibly Capernaum!


Tuesday, 27/4/2021 - Holy Week, commemoration of the woman who anointed Jesus' feet


Translation by A. N.

Greek Text

Article published in English on: 7-9-2005.

Last update: 10-5-2020.