Rebuild & Renew: The Post-Exilic Books
Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
David, Life of
Glorious Kingdom, The
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Names of God
Names of Jesus
Sermon on the Mount
21. Anointing at Bethany and Triumphal Entry (John 11:55-12:22)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
James J. Tissot, 'Mary Magdalene's Box of Very Precious Ointment' (1886-94), gouache on grey wove paper, 8 x 11.2 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.
But now Passover is at hand, when devout Jews travel to Jerusalem. Two opposing forces are about to meet -- Jesus the Light of the World, and the world leaders who are intent upon extinguishing the Light that exposes the hypocrisy of their religious observances and their Light-blindness.
"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover." (11:55)
Prior to Passover, people would come to Jerusalem to purify themselves from an uncleanness. Any kind of ceremonial defilement would make a person ineligible from keeping Passover. Such defilement could be incurred by touching something unclean, such as a dead body, an unclean animal, a grave, etc. (Leviticus 7:20-21; Numbers 9:6-7; 2 Chronicles 30:17). Sepulchers and graves were whitewashed (Matthew 23:27) to identify them so that people wouldn't accidentally touch them at festival time and become ceremonially unclean. Particularly those that lived in the countryside, in contact with Gentiles (and unmarked Gentile graves) would come early for purification.
These purification rituals might take several days (Numbers 19:11-12), so many people would arrive at Jerusalem as much as a week ahead of the festival to wash in a mikveh or ritual bath in Jerusalem -- such as the Pool of Bethesda or the Pool of Siloam.
During this time prior to Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed it, speculation was rampant about Jesus and the Jewish leaders' plan to arrest him.
"56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, 'What do you think? Isn't he coming to the Feast at all?' 57 But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him." (11:56-57)
In the face of such a threat, many wondered, would Jesus even come to Jerusalem?
Nevertheless, Jesus arrives for a rather public meal in his honor at a home in Bethany, just two miles outside of Jerusalem.
"1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him." (12:1-2)
From John's Gospel we would assume that the meal was held in Lazarus's home. But by comparison with an similar account in Mark 14:3-11 and Matthew 26:6-16, it appears that the home belonged to a man named Simon the Leper. It wouldn't be uncommon (or out of character) for Martha to be enlisted by another household to help serve the meal for Jesus and his disciples -- and you'd expect Jesus' prominent friend Lazarus to be a guest at the dinner.
While in modern Western cultures, it's common to sit in chairs around a table, in Jesus' time we see a characteristically Eastern style of dining, with guests arranged around a very low table, reclining on their left arm and supported by divans or cushions, leaving their right hand free to feed themselves. Their feet, sandals removed, would be splayed out behind them, with some space between their feet and the walls so those who are serving the meal can bring the various dishes to the table. This is also the likely arrangement at the Lord's Supper when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples reclining around the table (13:5).
While the men are reclining at the meal, Mary -- the one who at another time had "sat at Jesus feet" listening to him teach (Luke 10:39) -- anoints Jesus' feet in an extravagant act of devotion.
"Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." (12:3)
Nard (sometimes called "spikenard") comes from the spikenard plant (Nardostachys jatamansi), native to India's eastern Himalayas, growing from 10,000 to 16,000 feet elevation (3,000 to 5,000 meters). The rhizomes or roots are crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic, amber-colored essential oil that was a favorite perfume in antiquity. The best spikenard was imported from India in sealed alabaster containers. It was very expensive because of the tedious extraction process as well as the cost of importing it along extensive caravan routes leading west to the Mediterranean. In verse 5, Judas calculates its value as 300 denarii, which, at the wage of about a denarius per day, was nearly one year's wages -- a very expensive perfume indeed! This perfume might be worth $30,000 to $50,000 USD in today's currency!
John includes a distinctive detail -- also mentioned in 11:2 -- that marked this event as quite intimate, indeed, shocking. Respectable women didn't go out in public with their hair down -- that was the mark of a loose woman. But Mary had let down her hair and was drying excess perfume from Jesus' feet with her hair!
There is a lot of confusion about which Mary anointed Jesus' feet. There are some similarities between this anointing in Bethany and an unnamed sinful woman anointing Jesus' feet in a separate instance in Luke 7:36-50, which took place earlier in Jesus' ministry. Mary Magdalene, a wealthy and devoted disciple from Magdala, on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, was said to have been delivered from seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). Much later Mary Magdalene was thought to be a sinful woman, since the demonic involvement was assumed to be sexual (thus making her a "sinful woman"), and since her name was Mary (thus confused with Mary of Bethany). The idea that Mary Magdalene was a repentant sinner can be traced back to Ephraim the Syrian in the fourth century, and an influential homily by Pope Gregory I ("the Great") about 591 AD that conflated Mary Magdalene with the "sinful woman" of Luke 7:36-50, as well as Mary of Bethany, a kind of "composite Mary," that was widely accepted by the Roman Catholic Church until modern times.
We must be clear. Mary of Bethany is a devout and upright disciple, not to be confused with the "sinful woman" of Luke 7:36-50, nor with Mary from Magdala.
"The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." (12:3)
You can imagine the sudden, overpowering fragrance of the perfume filling the room, as Mary broke the seal on the alabaster flask and poured it over Jesus' feet. The whole room was charged with the beautiful aroma. Paul uses this image to elucidate the power of a Christian presence:
"Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)
Mary had performed a beautiful, startling, and extravagant act of worship that was destined to be remembered long after her time (Mark 14:9). The Wise Men believed in extravagant worship, as well:
"They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." (Matthew 2:11)
David was a strong believer in worship that was not cheap. Araunah the Jebusite was willing to give for free his threshing floor to David for a place to offer a sacrifice (later the site of the temple), but David refused.
"I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (2 Samuel 24:24a)
Giving greatly in worship helps destroy greed's hold over us.
However, not all recognized the beauty of Mary's extravagant act of worship.
"4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 'Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.' 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (12:4-6)
Why do some people feel they have to exalt themselves by putting someone else down? Judas objects to the extreme extravagance of Mary's gesture -- and you might too. How would you react if someone gave a $50,000 gift to your church that would be literally "blown away" by the wind in just a few minutes? You would be outraged -- and you would misunderstand Mary's act of worship.
Judas Iscariot's heart isn't pure. John, who knew Judas well, tells us two facts that help us understand him: (1) He is the treasurer for Jesus' mission -- he kept the money box. And (2) he makes it a practice to steal from the common fund. We would call that "embezzlement." It reveals a serious character flaw -- greed, avarice -- which gives us a motive that helps explain why he might betray Jesus to the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15; Luke 22:5).
We are bothered by Mary's $50,000 extravagance for perhaps several reasons:
- Value. If we aren't wealthy, $50,000 seems like a great deal in our own scale of value. But to a rich person with $10 million, $50,000 isn't so valuable. Money is only worth the value you attach to it!
- Love. We don't love Jesus with the intensity that Mary did. Our love is more abstract, theoretical, detached.
- Worship. We don't value worship much, and the worship we do participate in is often formal, unemotional, and sometimes seemingly sterile. Perhaps we value money more than heart worship.
Mary's worship tells us a lot about her -- and ourselves! So does Judas' heart.
Jesus comes to Mary's defense.
"7 'Leave her alone,' Jesus replied. '[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.'" (12:7-8)
It's difficult to know exactly how to render verse 7b. It probably means that instead of selling it to help the poor, Mary has kept it for just such a purpose, as the NIV and NRSV translations suggest. Mark's Gospel gives the same idea:
"She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial." (Mark 14:8)
Jesus is not opposed to alms for the poor -- and says that there will always be poor they can give alms to in times to come. But this is a special occasion. If Mary doesn't do this now, the opportunity will be lost forever. Jesus approves!
Just as the fragrance of her act immediately filled the room, so it will eventually fill the world. In Mark's Gospel we read:
"I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Mark 14:9)
Q1. (John 12:3-8) Why did Judas object to Mary's
extravagant act of devotion? Why did Jesus defend her? Why did Mary do this?
What does this teach us about worship? Does your worship tend to be cheap or
extravagant? For you, what would be extravagant worship?
Jesus' miracle of the raising of Lazarus is bringing large crowds to Bethany.
"9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him." (12:9-11)
Both verbs in verse 11 are in the imperfect tense, continuing action in the past, indicating and ongoing and growing movement of people in Jerusalem to faith in Jesus. Both Jesus and Lazarus are attracting crowds and inspiring faith. As a result, Lazarus is put on the chief priests' "hit list." No matter that Lazarus is the object of an amazing miracle -- he must die. This is evidence of the evil blindness of Jesus' enemies. Paul characterizes this kind of aggressive persecution in his Letter to the Romans:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them."(Romans 1:18-19)
They have seen truth staring them in the face, but they cannot endure it because it threatens their lifestyle. Such has been the basis of persecution of faithful Christians ever since.
Route of the Triumphal Entry. Larger map.
The Synoptic Gospels describe the Triumphal Entry in greater detail, explaining how Jesus directed disciples to the young donkey that he would ride into Jerusalem, but John focuses on the procession itself, and what it tells us about who Jesus is.
The procession begins in Bethany, the town where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary live, which is located about 2 miles east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. The Synoptic Gospels describe Jesus' route as down the Mount of Olives (Luke 19:37), then into the city.
"12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the King of Israel!'
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15 'Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt.'
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, 'See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'" (12:12-19)
In Jerusalem, stories of Jesus' raising of Lazarus have spread from person to person among the pilgrims who have come to the city for Passover. So when word comes that Jesus is coming into the Holy City, crowds go out to meet him (12:17-18).
John says that "they took palm branches and went out to meet him." Mark tells us, "Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields" (Mark 11:8). Though palms grew especially along the Jordan River, they were also found in the hill country (Judges 4:5; Nehemiah 8:15), and were commonly used during the Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:40), and in other celebrations of praise (1 Maccabees 13:51; 2 Maccabees 10:7). In Revelation a great multitude stands before the Lamb with palm branches in their hands. The palms are also seen in Psalm 118 that the people were referring to in their shouts:
"With boughs in hand,
join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar." (Psalm 118:27)
"They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!'" (12:13b)
The procession grows and people continue to shout -- the imperfect tense of the verb indicates continued action in the past. John records three shouts in particular:
"Hosanna!" means, "Save us!" and comes from Psalm 118:25, where it is a cry to God for help.
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" is found in the following verse, Psalms 118:26.
"Blessed is the King of Israel!" "King of Israel" (also 1:49) is a clear declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. The Synoptics tell of the crowd shouting, "Son of David" (Matthew 21:9), which amounts to the same thing, since the Son of David is the expected Messiah who would be a descendant of David.
Psalm 118 is one of six psalms (113-118) of which the Hallel or "Praise" psalms is composed. The Hallel would be sung by the Jews as a thanksgiving liturgy during the three major religious holidays: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. As a processional psalm, it was sung outside the temple gates and then continued inside as well. Here are verses 19-29 of Psalm 118, so you can hear the context.
"Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O Lord, save us; [literally, "Hosanna!"]
O Lord, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever." (Psalm 118:19-29)
Like other Royal Psalms, Psalm 118 was increasingly interpreted as Messianic by late Judaism. Thus, for phrases of this psalm to be applied to Jesus is a recognition by the people that he is the Messiah. This becomes especially apparent in the last of the crowd's continuing chants: "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
Even Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey has profound Messianic significance as the fulfillment of prophecy.
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him." (12:14-16)
John is quoting from Zechariah 9:9, a passage that comprises one of the great soprano arias of Handel's Messiah:
"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth." (Zechariah 9:9-10)
The donkey was domesticated in Mesopotamia by the Third Millennium BC and was used as a beast of burden from the patriarchal period. It was renowned for its strength and was the animal normally ridden by nonmilitary personnel (Numbers 22:21; Judges 10:4; 1 Samuel 25:20). The Scriptures indicate that riding a donkey is not at all beneath the dignity of Israel's noblemen and kings (2 Samuel 18:9; 19:26). Indeed, David indicates his choice of Solomon to be king by decreeing that the young man should ride on the king's own mule (1 Kings 1:32-40).
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus' instructions are clear that the donkey must be one that has never been ridden (see Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7; 2 Samuel 6:3). It is set apart, consecrated for a specific use -- for the Master's use. There is a rabbinic tradition that no one should use the animal on which a king rides.
It is fascinating to me that in Zechariah's prophecy, the gentle king who comes into Jerusalem riding a young donkey is the same king who will defeat chariots and war-horses and bring peace to the nations. One of the final scenes of Revelation is a picture of the conquering Christ riding a white war-horse (Revelation 19:11-16), but today he rides a donkey in hope of peace.
When Jesus indicates to his disciples that he should ride on a donkey that no one had ever ridden before, he is initiating a public kingly act. He is revealing openly that he is the Messiah.
Q2. (John 12:14-16) What is the prophetic significance of
Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Why did he do it? What was the effect
on the crowds?
"They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the King of Israel!'" (12:13b)
It is a day of excitement and jubilation as the King's procession reaches the road's highest point as it crosses the ridge of the Mount of Olives. At this time of year, pilgrims clogging the roads rejoice as they come in sight of the city. And the pilgrims already in Jerusalem, hearing that Jesus is about to enter the city, come out to meet him (12:12, 18). The city is abuzz with the news of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and the pilgrims are eager to see this miracle worker.
As this increasingly large band of "disciples" crosses the ridge and begins its descent into the Kidron Valley the people sing praise from Psalm 118. The sound is increasing. The enthusiasm is building with a carpet of clothing and branches on the road, with singing, and with rejoicing. The Pharisees present in the crowd are scowling. They are deeply offended and can't suppress their disdain. Luke tells us:
"Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus,
'Teacher, rebuke your disciples!'
'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'" (Luke 19:39-40)
Up until now Jesus has been very guarded about his identity as Messiah (see, for example, Mark 8:30). Rather than using the term Christ (christos, Greek for "anointed one") or Messiah (māshîaḥ, Hebrew for "anointed one"), he has usually identified himself as Son of Man. If Jesus had previously acknowledged publicly that he was the Messiah, the political implications would be such that he could not complete his intended ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the Kingdom. But now that ministry is complete.
His claim as King must now be clear. Indeed, this claim of Messiahship, this open acknowledgement of Kingship, seems to precipitate his death. It was certainly on the lips of everyone in Jerusalem that week. Jesus is not crucified for his good works or his miracles. He is killed for his claim to Kingship, to the extent that over his cross is a sign which reads, "King of the Jews" (19:19).
Q3. (John 12:12-13) What about the people's praise show
they believed Jesus to be the Messiah? On this occasion, why doesn't Jesus shun
such an open declaration that he is the Messiah, as he has in the past?
Q4. If Jesus is your King, what kind of worship is
appropriate? What kind of service? What kind of priorities? What kind of
obedience? Are you giving Jesus his due as King?
This section ends with an ominous note.
"18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, 'See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!'" (12:17-19)
The Pharisees exaggerate, of course, the way we do when we're frustrated with what's going on. But the Pharisees' conclusion is that half-way measures aren't enough. They must go forward with their plan to kill Jesus. That is the only way to stop him.
The Pharisees were exaggerating to complain that "the whole world" has gone after him. But in the next verse, John tells us that what they are saying is indeed true! The whole world is going after him -- as evidenced by some Greek-speaking people.
Now there were some Greeks among
those who went up to worship at the Feast.
21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. 'Sir,' they said, 'we would like to see Jesus.' 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus." (12:20-22)
The "Greeks" were doubtless Greek-speaking Jews from the Jewish Diaspora who had come to the Passover. They came to Philip, who had a Greek name, to ask for an audience with Jesus. We're not told whether or not the Greeks ended up meeting with Jesus.
This coming of the Greeks to see Jesus (12:20-22) may have been a sign of the completion of an era of his ministry to reach out to "the lost sheep of Israel" only (Matthew 10:6; 15:24). The gospel has been declared to the Jews in Palestine. Now is the time for it to be declared in the whole world -- which is the thrust of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). This expansion of the gospel mandate beyond the Jews cannot be accomplished by one individual. It can only be adequately accomplished by the Holy Spirit filling the believers and dispersing them throughout the world. As Jesus says later in Holy Week:
"Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (16:7)
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.
What are we disciples to make of the anointing and triumphal entry? As I ponder the passages I see several lessons:
- Mary's act of devotion cost tens of thousands of dollars. Extravagant praise is received by Jesus. Are you ever extravagant in your worship? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Praise can be received with humility. Jesus did not crave the praise of men, but neither did he silence it. It was fitting. It was appropriate.
- There is a time to be guarded about who we are in God, and there is a time to be fully open about it. We must not operate out of fear or self-absorption, but be sensitive to what God wants to do and then cooperate with that.
- And, of course, one of the strongest lessons of this passage is that Jesus is King! He is the Messiah, the Son of David, and as such, it is fitting that we worship him.
Thank you, Jesus, for daring to come as King -- even though it cost you dearly. O crucified and risen King, be my King today. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.
"Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." (John 12:3, NIV)
"You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." (John 12:8, NIV)
"They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the King of Israel!'" (John 12:13, NIV)
"Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 'Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt.'" (John 12:14-15, quoting Zechariah 9:9, NIV)
 "Ceremonial cleansing" (NIV), "to purify" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is hagnizō, "to purify or cleanse and so make acceptable for cultic use, purify," of lustrations and rites of atonement (BDAG 12, 1a).
 "Report" (NIV), "let them know" (NRSV, ESV), "shew" (KJV) is mēnyō, "to offer information presumed to be of special interest, inform, make known, reveal" (BDAG 648).
 There are four accounts in the Gospels of a woman anointing Jesus with perfume from an alabaster flask, all taking place while Jesus is reclining at a meal. Of these John's account has much in common with the accounts in Mark 14:3-11 and Matthew 26:6-16, such as the timing during holy week prior to Passover, the location in Bethany, and criticism that such an extravagantly expensive perfume should be sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Luke 7:36-50, on the other hand is placed early in Luke's Gospel, far from Holy Week. It relates a dinner in a Pharisee's home and anointing by a notorious sinful woman. It culminates in Jesus' contrasting the host's lack of generous hospitality with the woman's extravagant love, and ends with a parable about forgiveness involving a creditor forgiving the unequal debts of two individuals. Though there are some differences, such as the anointing of the feet in John and the head in Mark/Matthew, I believe these accounts related the same incident, and the Luke 7 incident is separate.
 "Reclining" (NIV, ESV), "sat" (KJV) is anakeimai, "lie, recline," here, "reclining at table," the equivalent of "to dine" (BDAG 65, 2).
 "Pint" (NIV), "pound" (NRSV, KJV) is litra, "a (Roman) pound" (327.45 grams). Our pound is 453.6 grams).
 "Pure" (NIV), pistikos, which probably means, "genuine, unadulterated," from pistis, "faithful, trustworthy" (BDAG 818).
 "Perfume" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "ointment" (KJV) is myron (a Semitic loanword, related to Arabic myrr, from which we get our word "myrrh"), "ointment, perfume" (BDAG 661).
 "Poured" (NIV), "anointed" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is aleiphō, literally, "to anoint by applying a liquid such as oil or perfume, anoint" (BDAG 41).
 "Wiped" (NIV) is ekmassō, "to cause to become dry by wiping with a substance, wipe" (BDAG 306).
 R. K. Harrison, "Nard," ISBE 3:491, cites Pliny, Natural History, 12, 24-26. Pliny notes that other varieties of spikenard came from Arabia and Syria
 "Fragrance" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "odor" (KJV) is osmē, "quality of something that stimulates sense of smell, odor, smell." The term itself does not denote whether it is agreeable or disagreeable (BDAG 729, 1a).
 If, in Jesus' day, this perfume represented a year's wages. In 2013 U.S. real (inflation adjusted) median household income was $51,939.
 "Help himself" (NIV, ESV), "steal" (NRSV), "bare" (KJV) is the imperfect tense of the verb bastazō, "to carry something from a place, carry away, remove," here, with moral implication, "take surreptitiously, pilfer, steal" (BDAG 171, 3b). The imperfect tense indicates continuous action in the past, as a habit or practice.
 "Burial" is entaphiasmos, "the performance of what is customary for burial, preparation for burial or burial itself" (BDAG 339). Morris (John, p. 579, n. 23) says that the word "refers properly not so much to the burial as to the 'laying out' of the corpse, the preparation for burial." The word is also found in Mark 14:8.
 The Greek of verse 7b could be taken several ways as the various translations demonstrate. Carson (John, pp. 429-430) sees the best alternative as similar to the NRSV translation. He renders it, "[She has done this] in order to keep it for the day of my burial." He notes, "This will make sense only if what Mary has done, in the understood ellipsis, is not the anointing itself, but the keeping of the perfume for just such an occasion rather than selling it and distributing the proceeds to the poor."
 "Save" (NIV), "keep" (NRSV, ESV), "hath kept" (KJV) is tēreō, "to cause a state, condition, or activity to continue, keep, hold, reserve, preserve someone or something," here, for a definite purpose or a suitable time (BDAG 1002, 1a).
 Prolambanō, "to do something that involves some element of temporal priority, here, with the temporal force of pro felt rather strongly "do something before the usual time, anticipate something" (BDAG 872, 1a).
 "Going over to" (NIV), "deserting" (NRSV), "going away" (ESV), "went away" (KJV) is hypagō. The original sense is, "go away, withdraw," but it tends more and more to mean simply "go" in colloquial speech, which I think is the sense here.
 "Suppress" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "hold" (KJV) is katechō, "to prevent the doing of something or cause to be ineffective, prevent, hinder, restrain," here, "hold down, suppress something" (BDAG 532, 1b).
 It is identified by early Christian tradition with the Palestinian town el-Azariyeh. W. Harold Mare, "Bethany," New International Dictionary of Bible Archaeology (Zondervan, 1983), p. 97; Avraham Negev (ed.), The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Revised Edition; Thomas Nelson, 1986), p. 56. The name Bethany means "house of depression, misery, poverty." The site of Bethphage is uncertain.
 See more in Appendix 6. "Glory" and "Glorify" in John's Gospel.
 "Palm branches" is two words: baion, "palm branch" (BDAG 162) and phoinix, the Phoenix dactylifera, "date-palm, palm tree" (BDAG 1063, 1).
 Kraugazō, "to utter a loud sound, ordinarily of harsh texture, cry (out)" (BDAG 565). The verb occurs several times in John, here and in 11:43; 18:40; 19:6, 12, 15.
 Hyuk J. Kwon, "Psalm 118 (117 lxx) in Luke-Acts: Application of a 'New Exodus Motif,'" Verbum et Ecclesia 30(2), Art. #59, 6 pages. Kwon shows in Tables 1 and 2 Jewish Midrash on the Hallel Psalms and Psalm 118 in particular. Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21; Word, 1983), p. 125.
 "Young donkey/ass" is onarion, literally "little donkey," the diminutive of onos, "donkey" (BDAG 710).
 "Donkey's/ass's colt" is two words: pōlos, "young animal, foal" (originally, "colt of a horse") (BDAG 900, 1) and onos, "(domesticated) ass, donkey" (male or female) (BDAG 714).
 See more in Appendix 6. "Glory" and "Glorify" in John's Gospel.
 R.K. Harrison, "Ass," ISBE 1:330.
 Green, Luke, p. 685, fn. 9, mentions Catchpole, "Triumphal Entry," in Jesus and the Politics of His Day, edited by Ernst Bammel and C.F.D. Moule (Cambridge University, 1984), p. 324, who cites Sanh 2.5.
 Earlier we see another example of words that can be taken two ways. Caiaphas meant his words one way -- "It is better for you that one man die for the people" -- but they were actually a prophecy taken another way (11:50).
Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
In-depth Bible study books
You can purchase one of Dr. Wilson's complete Bible studies in PDF, Kindle, or paperback format.
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
- 1, 2, and 3 John
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter & Jude
- 1 & 2 Thessalonians
- 1 & 2 Timothy
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- Abraham, Faith of
- Christ Powered Life (Romans 5-8)
- Christmas Incarnation
- Colossians and Philemon
- David, Life of
- Glorious Kingdom, The
- Great Prayers of the Bible
- Jacob, Life of
- Jesus and the Kingdom of God
- JesusWalk: Beginning the Journey
- John's Gospel
- Lamb of God
- Lord's Supper
- Luke's Gospel
- Moses the Reluctant Leader
- Names and Titles of God
- Names and Titles of Jesus
- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
- Resurrection and Easter Faith
- Sermon on the Mount
- Seven Last Words of Christ