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Bible Contradiction: Sinful Woman? (Luke 7:36-50) - Mondays with Mounce

There are two stories in the Gospels about a woman pouring perfume on Jesus, and there are enough differences that some people argue Luke created the account and hence he is not trustworthy. But despite the similarities, there are so many differences that they must be two different accounts, and hence there is no contradiction.

Luke 7:36–50 is often compared to Matt 26:6–13 (paralleled in Mark 14:3–9 and John 12:1–8), charging Luke with altering the story and concluding that he's not trustworthy. There are striking similarities and yet significant differences in the four stories.

Matt 26:6–13Mark 14:3–9Luke 7:36–50John 12:1–8
Simon the Leper's houseSimon the Leper's houseAntagonistic, unnamed PhariseeWith Mary, Martha, and Lazarus
BethanyBethanyProbably GalileeBethany
Timing: last weekTiming: last weekTiming: early in ministryTiming: last week
Unnamed woman (not called a sinner)Unnamed woman (not called a sinner)Unnamed woman (well-known sinner)Mary (certainly not a “sinner”)
Recline at the tableRecline at the tableRecline at the tableRecline at the table
Alabastar jarAlabastar jarAlabastar jarPint
Expensive perfumeExpensive perfume (nard)PerfumeExpensive perfume (nard)
Poured on headPoured on headPoured on feetPoured on feet
  Wet feet with tears 
  Wiped feet with hairWiped feet with hair
  Kissed feet 
Disciples complained of wasteSome complained of wastePharisee complainedJudas Iscariot complained of waste
Loss of moneyLoss of moneyTouched by sinnerLoss of money
Always have poorAlways have poorDiscourse on love and forgivenessAlways have poor
Prepare for burialPrepare for burial Prepare for burial
  1. No leper could be a Pharisee, and no Pharisee would go to a dinner in a leper’s house. This fact in and of itself is sufficient to conclude that these are different stories. The name “Simon” was the most common Jewish name in the first century (there are nine in the New Testament).
  2. John has the event in connection with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus,  and not a Pharisee.
  3. Luke’s account is years earlier in Jesus' ministry; the others are the week before Jesus’ death.
  4. It was common to recline at the table.
  5. It was common for perfume to be kept in a special container (see Bock). Blomberg adds that the “alabaster jar” “appears to be a stereotyped formula for any fancy, long-necked jar of perfume, such as were common in Jesus’s context.”
  6. It was common to wash a guest’s feet and anoint with perfume.
  7. Mary is named in John while the woman in Luke is not named.
  8. Matthew and Mark say she poured the ointment on his head while Luke and John say it was his feet. 
  9. Only in Luke does the woman wet his feet with tears and (with John) dry them with her hair.
  10. The response of the observers was significantly different in Luke. In Matthew, Mark, and John it was the loss of money. In Luke, Simon complains about begin touched by a “sinner.”

While there are shared details, some of them were common, but points #1, 3, 8, and 10 are significantly different and strongly argue these are different events and there is therefore no contradiction.

Blomberg adds, “Someone unfamiliar with papal protocol today might be convinced that two separate accounts of the same pope walking down airplane stairs onto a tarmac, kissing the ground, and being greeted by dignitaries in a formal welcoming line, each of whom kisses his hand, must be doublets of a single original story because those are far too many details to recur repeatedly. In fact, there have been dozens of such papal visits with this exact cluster of details since airplanes were invented.”

For further discussion, see:

  1. Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016) 80f.
  2. Darrell Bock, Luke (Baker Books, 1994) 1: 689–691.

***

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