Chapter # 7 Paragraph # 6 Study # 2
November 23, 2008
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
1901 ASV Translation:
37 And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment,
38 and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.
- I. The "Sinner".
- A. Luke says she "was in the city a sinner".
- 1. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says she was an "harlot". Robertson says this term ("sinner") is a "primary, derived, adjective." Perschbacher says that "derived" adjectives have the same form for masculine and feminine most of the time. Robertson also claims that there is a common Greek idiom that is formed by the use of an adjective as a noun. Thus, the translation "...in the city, a sinner..." is an instance of this idiom.
- 2. Luke's use of this descriptive term ("sinner") began in 5:8 where he quotes Peter's agonized, "Depart from me because I am a sinful man." It appears that the word is an adjective in this self-description (as also, apparently, in 24:7). There is the implication also that Peter thought that being "sinful" was a "big deal". This implies that the word "sinner" was more than a kind of "run of the mill", "no one is perfect", idea. This distinction arises again in 13:2.
- 3. Luke also records in 5:30 that it was a serious problem for the Pharisees for Jesus to "eat and drink with ... sinners." But he records just two verses further along that Jesus saw His "calling" to be "calling ... sinners to repentance." This "problem" shows up again in 7:34 and 15:2.
- 4. Having established that the title, "sinner", was relatively significant, Luke then plays off of that in recording Jesus as saying that "even sinners" (I take the "for sinners also" in this text to actually be emphatic -- "even" rather than "also") love those who love them. In other words, even the terribly wicked love those who love them (6:32, 33, and 34).
- 5. In this closer context, 7:34 records Jesus as accusing His Pharisaical opposition of claiming He was "a friend of ... sinners". It is this context that leads us into our current text: this "sinner" gets a better reception from Jesus than His host at the meal. But it must be remembered that the opponents' claim that He was a "friend of sinners" is linked to their claim that He was a glutton and a drunkard also. We could say that none of their claims were true -- including His "friendship" with "sinners". He accepted all who "repented" and rejected all who did not without respect of persons. He did not have a "soft spot" for "sinners"; He simply moved among them as One called to "call them to repentance".
- B. Luke's "in the city" phrase most likely signals "a wide reputation". Certainly the Pharisee knew what she was, and there does not seem to be any other purpose for the phrase in this context.
- II. The Woman's Actions.
- A. They were rooted in the knowledge that Jesus "sat at meat in the Pharisee's house".
- 1. Luke's terminology is exceptional. He used a verb for "know" that typically indicates an unusual depth of perception. The implication may well be that the woman had gone to some lengths to find out where Jesus was so that she was able to find Him. This implies a level of deliberation beyond the ordinary. So, she was a "beyond the ordinary" sinner who had gone "beyond the ordinary" in her effort to find Jesus. Just as an aside, in 5:8 Peter wants Jesus to "go away" because he is a "sinner" and now this "sinner" wants to find Him.
- 2. The larger context of the story indicates that this particular "sinner" had already repented and received forgiveness so that her actions were the outworking of this forgiveness, unlike those of Peter in chapter five.
- B. They involved "an alabaster box of ointment".
- 1. Most of the references I checked seem to believe that it was not a "box", but some kind of a flask that had a stopper in the neck so that the ointment could be accessed at will.
- 2. She clearly intended to "anoint" Jesus. What that might have meant to her is not readily discerned, especially because she chose His feet rather than His head (as the women in Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3 had chosen). Clearly, however, her action was intentional.
- C. They included copious, but apparently unintended, weeping as the text says her tears began to rain down upon His feet.
- 1. There is no mention of "sound" -- sobbing or wailing or otherwise.
- 2. She wiped up the tears with her hair.
- D. She also kissed His feet before she began to anoint them with her ointment.
- 1. The verb Luke chose, translated "kissed", is an emphatic form and is used by Luke in highly emotional settings (Luke 15:20 and Acts 20:37). Horrifyingly, it is also used by Matthew and Mark to describe the way Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden. In Luke's record of Judas' perfidy he tones the betrayal down just a tad by dropping his "intensifier" from the verb (Luke 22:47) though he is the only one of the four gospel writers who tells us that Jesus asked Judas, "Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" (22:48).
- 2. The reference to Jesus' feet is highly symbolic. Of the other records of women who annointed Jesus with ointment, Matthew 26:7 says one annointed His head and Mark 14:3 also points to His head, but John 12:3 says Mary, the sister of Lazareth, anointed His feet. The reference in John 11:2 to a "Mary" who anointed the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair is very odd for this cause: it is not until John 12:3 that John records that this "Mary" anointed Jesus' feet with spikenard. Clearly the John 11:2 passage assumes the knowledge of the readers that a "Mary" had anointed Jesus' feet and just as clearly the John 12:3 passage is later in the record. It is at least possible, then, that Luke's "sinner" was "Mary", the sister of Lazarus and Martha, and that the three lived together precisely because none of them had married. In that culture, the siblings of the sexually impure were ostracized and few would enter into a marriage contract with them. If this be so, Mary's anointing of Jesus in John 12:3 is a "repeat performance" and it is, again, a highly charged display of emotion because Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Even if my conjectures are inaccurate (there are problems, the greatest of which is the fact that Luke's record "appears" to be Galilean and Lazarus lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem), the focus upon the "feet" continues to indicate that Mary exalted Jesus very highly in her own heart.