QUESTION: Why is the record of the anointing of our Lord Jesus by Mary of Bethany omitted from Luke’s Gospel, while it is recorded by the other three Gospel writers, especially since Luke records the incident of the woman who was a sinner and who also brought an alabaster box of ointment and anointed the Lord’s feet with the ointment in the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-501?

ANSWER: We are indebted to Mr. James Gunn, the associate editor of Focus, for the following reply to this question:

It is difficult to discern why it pleased the Lord to repeat an incident three times, once in each of three Gospels, and then omit it in the fourth. Notwithstanding, divine inspiration would suggest that the Holy Spirit used such material only where and when He needed it to complete the narrative of the earthly career of the Lord Jesus.

That Mary of Bethany is mentioned in all four Gospels indicates the importance of this person to the biography of the Lord.

Simon the leper was a resident of Bethany. He probably had been cured by the Lord Jesus, and so sought to honor Him at his table. It was in his home that Mary anointed the Lord’s head so copiously that the perfume ran down to His feet (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-9). There are a few variations in these three descriptions, but the general similarity is most evident. From Matthew and Mark one would imagine that Mary was an intruder in Simon’s house, but from John it is clear that she was an invited guest.

The account of Mary’s earlier contact with the Lord in the home of her sister Martha (Luke 10:38-42) is a pleasant homey scene. It gives an insight into the contemplative quality of Mary’s mind. The sacrificial aspect of her life is fully demonstrated by the other three evangelists.

The Lord has given four accounts of His being anointed; one in each of the four Gospels. Surely nothing more should be necessary. The instance recorded by Luke (7:36-50) of his being anointed by the unnamed sinful woman (probably Mary Magdalene) should not be confused with the records of the devotion of Mary of Bethany. The hypothesis that all four refer to the one person seems very poorly founded.

In spite of much contention among Bible students, the evidence apparently intimates that Mary of Bethany was not Mary Magdalene.

We should not consider any of the four Gospels as complete in itself. We must accept them all as being complementary the one to the others. In fact, we should view the entire New Testament in this light.

The story of our Lord’s anointing in Luke (7:36-50) is an excellent picture of the gospel. Long ago Bernard wrote: “Thanks to thee, most blessed sinner: thou hast shown the world a safe enough place for sinners — the feet of Jesus, which spurn none, reject none, repel none, and receive and admit all. Where alone the Pharisee vents not his haughtiness, there surely the Ethiopian changes his skin and the leopard his spots.”

(Please send all questions to Dr. James T. Naismith, 1121 Hilltop St., Peterborough, Ont. K9J 5S6.)