There are four reports of Jesus being anointed by a woman while he was alive on earth. These appear to describe three separate cases:
- In Luke 7:36-38 and 44-50, a woman wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with ointment from an alabaster flask. She is described as a “woman of the city who was a sinner”. The city is not named, but was probably in Galilee as the events surrounding this passage took place in Galilee. This probably took place shortly after Jesus chose his 12 disciples.
- In John 12:1-11, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment of pure nard . Judas Iscariot complained about the waste. This anointing took place six days (John 12:1) before the Passover at which Jesus was crucified.
- In Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, an unnamed woman anointed Jesus in the house of Simon the leper in the town of Bethany. She anointed Jesus’ head with very expensive ointment of pure nard from an alabaster flask. In this case it seems that all of Jesus’ disciples complained about the waste, prompting Jesus to defend her action, describing it as a beautiful thing done to anoint him for burial. This anointing took place 2 days (Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:1) before the Passover at which Jesus was crucified.
The differences in setting, time and the part of Jesus’ body which was anointed, argue convincingly that these four records do not all record the same event; while the closeness of the records of Matthew and Mark reflect a description by two writers of the same event.
There is one more attempted anointing. On the Sunday after Jesus had been crucified, various women came to anoint his dead body with spices and ointments (Matthew 28:1-6, Mark 16:1-6 and Luke 23:55-24:7), but could not do so because he had been raised from the dead!