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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Anointing (2)

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ANOINTING.—I. In the ancient world, Jewish and pagan alike, it was customary to refresh guests at banquets by pouring cool and fragrant ointment on their heads. Cf. Mart. iii. 12; Psalms 23:5, where Cheyne gives an Egyptian illustration: ‘Every rich man had in his household an anointer, who had to place a cone of ointment on the head of his master, where it remained during the feast.’ There are two instances of the usage in the Gospel history:

1. The anointing in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).—Impressed by the fame of Jesus and desirous of closer acquaintance with one who was certainly a prophet, perhaps more,* [Note: According to the v.l. ὁ τροφήτης in v. 39, Simon thought Jesus might be the prophet who should arise and herald the Messiah. Cf. John 1:21; John 1:25; John 6:14; John 7:40.] Simon bade Him to his table, inviting also a party of his friends. He was a Pharisee of the better sort, yet he shared the pride of his order and put a difference betwixt Jesus and the other guests, withholding from Him the customary courtesies: the kiss of welcome, the ablution of the feet, the anointing of the head. In the course of the meal a woman appeared in the room, wearing her hair loose, which in Jewish society was the token of a harlot. [Note: See Lightfoot on John 12:3.] What did she in a Pharisee’s house? She had come, a sorrowful penitent, in quest of Jesus; and she brought an offering, an alabaster vase of ointment. As He reclined at table, she stole to His couch and, stooping over His feet, rained hot tears upon them, wiped them with her flowing tresses, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. She should have poured it on His head, but she durst not. [Note: Orig. in Matth. Comm. Ser. § 77: ‘Non fuit ausa ad caput Christi venire sed lacrymis pedes ejus lavit, quasi vix etiam ipsis pedibus ejus digna.’]

2. The anointing in the house of Simon the Leper (John 12:1-11 = Mark 14:3-9 = Matthew 26:6-13).—On His way up to the last Passover, Jesus stopped at the village of Bethany, where, a few weeks before, He had raised Lazarus; and, in defiance of the Sanhedrin’s edict (John 11:57), He was received with grateful reverence. One of the principal men of the village, named Simon, made a banquet in His honour. He had been a leper, and, if he had been healed by Jesus, it was fitting that his house should be the scene of the banquet.* [Note: Lazarus was not the host, but one of the guests (John 12:2). The notion that his house was the scene of the banquet has occasioned speculations about Simon. Theophylact mentions the opinion that he was Lazarus’ father, lately deceased (Ewald).] But it was a public tribute, and others bore a part in it. Lazarus was present, and the good housewife Martha managed the entertainment. And what part did Mary take? She entered the room with her hair loose and an alabaster vase of precious ointment in her hand, and, approaching the Lord’s couch, poured the ointment over His feet and wiped them with her hair. See Mary.

There are several points of difference between John’s and Matthew-Mark’s accounts of the anointing: (1) Matthew and Mark say that it happened in the house of Simon the Leper, and make no mention of Lazarus and his sisters. They simply say that the ‘beautiful work’ was wrought by ‘a woman.’ (2) They seem to put the incident two days (Matthew 26:2 = Mark 14:1), whereas John puts it six days before the Passover (John 12:1). (3) They represent the nameless woman as pouring the ointment not on the Lord’s feet but on His head, and say nothing of her wiping His feet with her hair. On the ground of these discrepancies it was generally maintained by the Fathers that there were two anointings at Bethany, the incidents recorded by Matthew-Mark and John being distinct. So Chrysostom (in Matth. lxxxi.), who apparently identified the anointing in the house of Simon the Leper (Mt.-Mk.) with that in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk.). Origen (in Matth. Comm. Ser. § 77) held that there were in all three anointings: (a) in the house of Simon the Leper (Mt.—Mk.); (b) in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk.); (c) at Bethany by Mary (Jn.); mentioning also the opinion that there were four, Matthew and Mark recording distinct incidents.

Nowadays the tendency is rather to ignore the differences and identify all the narratives, reducing them to one. The Matthew-Mark narrative is regarded as authentic, the Lukan and Johannine narratives being adaptations thereof (Strauss, Ewald, Keim). Even in Origen’s day a similar view prevailed: ‘multi quidem existimant de una eademque muliere quatuor Evangelistas exposuisse.’

It hardly admits of reasonable doubt that there were two anointings, one in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the other by Mary in the house of Simon the Leper at Bethany. [Note: So Aug. de Cons. Ev. ii. § 154.] The discrepancies in the triple account of the latter are not inexplicable. (1) Matthew-Mark’s omission of the names of Lazarus and his sisters belongs to the larger question of the Synoptic silence regarding the family at Bethany. (2) The position of the incident in Matthew-Mark is merely an example of the freedom wherewith the Synoptic editors were wont to handle the material of the Evangelic tradition, arranging it topically rather than chronologically. They have brought the story into juxtaposition with the betrayal (Matthew 26:14-16 = Mark 14:10-11), (evidently by way of casting light on the traitor’s action. The Lord’s rebuke at the feast angered him, and, burning for revenge, he went and made his bargain with the high priests. Cf. Ang. de Cons. Ev. ii. § 153. (3) The difference regarding the manner of the anointing is an instance of John’s habit of tacitly correcting his predecessors. His account is historical, and it would stand so in the Apostolic tradition; but the Synoptic editors or, more probably, the catechisers in their oral repetition of the tradition, wondering, since they did not know who the woman was, at the strangeness of her action, substituted ‘head’ for ‘feet,’ and then omitted the unintelligible circumstance of her wiping His feet with her hair. See Mary.

Literature.—Andrews, Life of our Lord, pp. 281–283; Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? pp. 91–92; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, articles ‘Anointing’ and ‘Mary’; Expositor, 1st ser. vi. [1877] pp. 214–229; Ecce Homo15 [Note: 5 designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 232 ff.; Bruce, Training of the Twelve5 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , pp. 289–308; Ker, Sermons, 1st ser. p. 16 ff.; Vinet, Vital Christianity, p. 294 ff. Reference may also he made to Bunyan, Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Sinner Saved (ed. 1765), pp. 58–62; Herbert, Marie Magdalene; Hartley Coleridge’s fine sonnet on Luke 7:47.

David Smith.

II. Besides the two special incidents already described, some other references to ‘anointing’ may be briefly dealt with.

1. In Matthew 6:17 Jesus tells His disciples that when they fast they are to anoint (ἀλείφω) the head as usual. The allusion is to that daily use of oil, as an application soothing and refreshing to the skin, which is common in hot countries, and was regularly practised by the Jews. The meaning of Jesus is that His disciples, when they feel it right to fast, should undertake the observance as in the sight of God, and not ostentatiously parade their performance of it before the eyes of men. They should wash and anoint themselves as usual, and not draw attention by any peculiarities of outward appearance to a matter lying between themselves and their heavenly Father.

2. In Mark 6:13 we read of the Twelve on their evangelistic mission, that they ‘anointed (ἀλείφω) with oil many that were sick, and healed them.’ The employment of oil as a medicinal agent was familiar in the time of Christ (cf. Luke 10:34, James 5:14), and is doubtless referred to here; though the natural virtues of the oil were accompanied in this case by miraculous powers of healing. In John 9:6; John 9:11 Jesus, before working the miracle upon the blind man, anoints (ἐπιχρίω) his eyes with clay which He had made by spitting on the ground. Here, also, the anointing may have had a medicinal aspect (see Meyer and Expositor’s Gr. Test. in loc. on the ancient belief that both spittle and clay were beneficial to the eyes); though, of course, it is the miraculous agency of Jesus that is paramount in the narrative. In Revelation 3:18 Jesus says to the Church of the Laodiceans, ‘… and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see,’ where the effect of the application of collyrium is used as a figure of the healing and enlightenment which are found in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. In Mark 14:8 Jesus says of the gracious act of Mary of Bethany in anointing Him at the feast, ‘She hath anointed (μυρίζω fr. μύρον = ‘ointment’; probably akin to μύρρα = ‘myrrh’) my body afore-hand for the burying’ (cf. John 12:7). And in Mark 16:1 we read how Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the sepulchre to anoint (ἀλείφω) the dead body of the Saviour (cf. Luke 23:56, John 19:39-40). This application of ointments and spices (cf. Luke 24:1) was an expression of reverence and affection for the departed, and may be compared with the modern custom of surrounding the beloved dead with fragrant and beautiful flowers. These unguents were not used for the purpose of embalming the dead, as among the Egyptians, but were only outwardly applied, and did not prevent decomposition (cf. John 11:39).

4. When Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth read from Isaiah 61 the prophetic words, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed (χρίω me to preach good tidings to the poor …’ (Luke 4:18), and went on to say, after closing the book, ‘To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears’ (Luke 4:21), He definitely claimed to be set apart to the Messianic calling. In the OT anointing was the symbol of consecration alike in the case of prophet (1 Kings 19:16), priest (Leviticus 8:12), and king (1 Samuel 10:1). And in the case of Jesus, who to His people is at once prophet, priest, and king, a spiritual anointing is distinctly affirmed by His Evangelists and Apostles as well as claimed by Himself (cf. Acts 4:27; Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:9). The Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ (משַׁיחַ from מִשַׁח ‘to anoint’) means ‘the anointed one’; and of this word ‘Christ’ is the Greek equivalent (χριστός, from χρίω, ‘to anoint,’ being employed in LXX Septuagint to render משַׁיחַ).

5. In 1 John 2:20 the Apostle writes, ‘And ye have an anointing (χρίσμα) from the Holy One, and ye know all things’ (so Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885; Authorized Version renders ‘unction’). Again, in 1 John 2:27 he says, ‘And as for you, the anointing (χρίσμα) which ye received of him abideth in you.…’ (here Authorized Version as well as Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 gives ‘anointing’). That the ‘Holy One’ of this passage is Christ Himself, and that the ‘anointing’ He dispenses is the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, is held by nearly all commentators. Being Himself anointed with the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:38), the Christ has power to impart the same gift to His disciples. Indeed, the bestowal of this gift is constantly represented as His peculiar function (cf. John 15:26; John 16:7; John 16:13-15, Acts 2:33).

Literature.—H. B. Swete, E. P. Gould, A. F. Hort, and esp. E. H. Plumptre on Mark 6:13; also A. Plummer, and C. Watson on 1 John 2:20.

J. C. Lambert.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Anointing (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/anointing-2.html. 1906-1918.

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