(Iver Larsen, Bible Translation Consultant. May 2022)

The anointing of Jesus in Luke 7:37-38 took place in the home of a Pharisee called Simon, probably in the major city of Capernaum long before Jesus went to Jerusalem for the last time. Capernaum is identified as a city (polis) in Luke 4:31 and was not only a major city, but the base for Jesus during his ministry. In contrast, Bethany is a small village (Greek kōmē – κώμη), and there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this anointing took place in the village of Bethany. Some have suggested that this could be the city of Nain, since that is also called a polis, but that is very unlikely. Although Jesus in his travels around Galilee had passed by Nain in Luke 7:11-17, he would not have stayed for long in that city, since his base was Capernaum. In the following section of Luke 7, John’s disciples came to Jesus, and they would have gone to where he was known to stay, namely in Capernaum at his usual home, probably the house of Peter’s in-laws. We are told that the Pharisee Simon invited him for dinner, but we cannot know if this was the evening after a day of preaching or another day. The Pharisee was interested in listening to this amazing rabbi, but we do not know his motives. It seems to be not very long after John the Baptist was put in prison, since the following section talks about him being in prison and not yet killed.

Neither Mark nor Matthew has this story, so Luke must have it from another source. We know that Luke had many sources apart from Matthew and Mark, and the fact that he here recounts an event that the others do not have, in no way suggests that it should be the same event. The details are so different, that the only logical conclusion is that they are different events. On the other hand, the anointing described in Matt 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 is clearly the same event. The similarities are many and the small differences are of no consequence.

The lady who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke 7 is not named, but referred to as a “sinner in the city”. She was probably known in the big city as a prostitute. She may well have heard the preaching of Jesus in Capernaum or other places and seen some of the miracles, so she decided to repent of her lifestyle and ask God for forgiveness. There is no indication that this could be Mary Magdalene, since Mary had been possessed by 7 demons before she became a follower of Jesus (Luke 8:2). A possessed woman would hardly be a prostitute. If it had been Mary Magdalene, Luke would have introduced her by name in chapter 7 instead of introducing her later in chapter 8 alongside other women followers of Jesus.

There are old legends and gnostic tales that claim this unnamed sinner was actually Mary Magdalene. Even pope Gregory the Great claimed in 591 AD that the two were the same, and also that all the three women who anointed Jesus were one and the same. In this way, both Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were made former prostitutes. This idea then became accepted in the Catholic Church tradition until pope Paul VI changed the calendar in 1969[1]. It also influenced medieval paintings. Before 1969, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were commemorated as saints on the same date, reflecting the legend that the two were the same person. They were now given different dates to reflect that the two are indeed recognized as different people. July 29 is the date for honouring Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the Catholic Church. The date for Mary Magdalene is July 22. Mary Magdalene was surely a committed follower of Jesus, but there is no indication in the Gospels that she at any time anointed either the feet or head of Jesus.

That Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene both share the name Mary is also no indication that it was the same woman. There are seven different women with the name Mary in the NT:

  1. Mary, mother of Jesus
  2. Mary of Bethany, sister to Martha and Lazarus
  3. Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus
  4. Mary, mother of James and Joseph
  5. Mary, wife of Clopas (John 19:25)
  6. Mary, mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12)
  7. Mary, mentioned in Rom 16:6

Of course, there would have been hundreds of women with the name Mary at that time who are not mentioned in the Bible. It was the most common name for a woman. Likewise, the most common name for a man was Simon, so we have nine men called Simon mentioned in the NT. In order to keep them apart, some title or other name is needed like Simon the Pharisee, Simon the Leper, Simon Peter (or Simon the son of Jonah/John), Simon the Zealot, Simon the brother of Jesus, Simon the father of Judas Iscariot, Simon from Cyrene, Simon the Sorcerer, Simon the Tanner.

In John 12:1-8 we hear about Jesus visiting his close friends in the village of Bethany six days before the Passover. They had probably travelled from Jericho to Bethany on the Friday, one week before Jesus was killed. (See Luke 19:28 – we are not told where Jesus spent the nights during his travels, but he had just been to a feast in the home of Zacchaeus in Jericho. He must have spent two nights in Bethany, since the entry into Jerusalem did not take place until Sunday morning.) His good friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, hosted Jesus and the disciples and provided them with a nice Sabbath meal. Since these three young people stayed together in a big house, we can assume that the family was wealthy and that their parents were dead. (There are traditions in the Eastern orthodox Church that say they fled either after Stephen was murdered or before and eventually travelled to Cyprus where they lived for at least another 30 years. Lazarus is said to have become bishop in Kition=Larnaka).

During that meal in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. The expensive perfume had a standard price of 300 denarii. Judas was upset at this “waste”. John tells us that Judas had selfish motives, because he used to steal from the common money purse. But Jesus accepted the anointing as a preparation for burial. He reminded his disciples that they would always be able to assist the poor, but they would not have him with them for long. The disciples just could not understand that their Messiah was about to be killed. How could God allow his Son to be killed? It made no sense to them. Some have asked why Mary of Bethany is not mentioned at the cross if she was so devoted. But she was not a follower of Jesus like Mary Magdalene was, and she seem to have grieved at home, away from the crowds. However, we cannot argue from silence, and the fact that she is not mentioned, does not necessarily mean that she was not around, keeping a safe distance.

Matt 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 are parallel passages and describe another anointing that also took place in Bethany. This time Jesus and at least some of his disciples were having dinner in another home belonging to a now healed former leper, also called Simon. It was several days after Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. While Jesus was busy in the Temple compound during Monday and Tuesday, he apparently rested on Wednesday in Bethany with his good friends there. That was when he was invited to dinner in another house. Since lepers were not allowed to stay with other people, Simon must have been healed, possibly by Jesus. If that was the case, he wanted to show his gratitude. He, too, seems to have been a wealthy person. Few people had the means to invite Jesus together with a big group of disciples for dinner.

At the house of Simon, it was the head of Jesus that was anointed. At the first anointing in the house of Martha, Judas was upset, but he may not have been present at this second anointing. Maybe he used the “free time” when Jesus did not move around or teach to seek out the chief priests to arrange to betray Jesus for money.  Now, when this second anointing takes place, the other disciples and maybe other visitors are also upset. Matthew mentions some disciples, but Mark does not. If it was the disciples, they had learned nothing from the previous incident. This is not strange, because they could in no way accept that Jesus was going to die, even though Jesus had told them three times. But Jesus accepted it as a second preparation for his burial.

In Jewish thought and customs, two witnesses are important. Now two different women have made a prophetic reference to his soon forthcoming death and burial. They wanted to honour him and show their love for him. Whether they expected him soon to die, we do not know. But that is how Jesus explains the significance of the anointing. God had a plan that neither the women nor the disciples understood at this time. There is no reason to suggest that this unnamed woman was either Mary of Bethany or Mary Magdalene.

Some have wondered about John 11:2 which looks like an intrusion and parenthesis: It was Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume and dried his feet with her hair whose brother Lazarus was sick.

John has not introduced Mary, Martha and Lazarus before in his gospel. But he says in verse 1: There was a sick man, Lazarus from Bethany from the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

It seems that John believes his readers has already heard about Mary from Bethany. In Luke 10:38-42 we are told of an earlier visit by Jesus to Martha and Mary, where Mary is commended for sitting at the feet of Jesus. It is also common in Hebrew storytelling to give a general hint about a person and an event first and then give all the details later. This is what John is doing here. He briefly tells us what Mary did and he gives the details in the next chapter. This event may well have been common knowledge at the time John is writing, but he still wants to give all the details, especially since no other Gospel has mentioned this.

There are clear differences and similarities between these two last anointings during the last week. The similarities are easily explained by a standard price for such a jar of ointment as well as the disciples’ lack of understanding of the forthcoming death of Jesus. They did not have much money, and they expected to stay with Jesus for a long time, so the money could have been put to better use. Although Jesus had told them that he was going to die, they could not grasp that idea for the Messiah. Even Peter had strongly rebuked Jesus for suggesting that he was going to be crucified. God would never have allowed that, according to Peter and the disciples.

It defies logic to suggest that the two anointings were one and the same event. It may be easier to see this in a small table:

TimeHouseWomanWhat was anointedWho rebukes hereHow much ointment
Friday eveningMarthaMaryFeetJudasOne litra (1/3 kg)
WednesdaySimon the LeperUnknownHeadSome disciplesOne alabastron (small jar)

We must also keep in mind that John wrote his Gospel as a supplement to the other gospels that would have been known already by his audience. John tries as much as possible to talk about what the others for one reason or another did not mention. It is only John who tells about the first cleansing of the Temple during Jesus’ first Passover visit to Jerusalem, while the others only tell us about the second cleansing during his third Passover visit during his 2½ years of ministry. He could also have cleansed it during his second visit. We do not know. John knew the principle of the two witnesses, so it is important for him that both cleansings are told about.

Those who claim that the two different cleansings were one and the same event, attack the credibility of the Gospel writers as well as the accuracy of the Scriptures. This is done based on mistaken assumptions and later spurious legends. John would surely have been present at both anointings. Did he forget where they happened, when they happened and what was anointed? Or did he misrepresent the facts? This is extremely unlikely.

[1] See the article in Wikipedia about Mary Magdalene for more details. They also show a painting from 1524 based on this legend.

(By Iver Larsen, Bible Translation Consultant, April 2022)

Most people in the Western world have misunderstood the Hebrew expression three days and three nights. The reason is that they make the fundamental mistake of interpreting the expression from a Western perspective instead of a Biblical and Hebrew perspective. We find a similar misunderstanding concerning the expressions the third day and three days after. Inclusive counting is used in Africa and the Middle East even today.

Let me illustrate it from 1 Samuel 30:1:

David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day (NIV).

Two days later David and his men arrived back at Ziklag. (GNB)

Because inclusive counting is used, you can either be literal and say “on the third day” as in Hebrew or translate into normal English and say “two days later.” If they started the journey on a Monday, that would be the first day, so Tuesday would be the second/next day and Wednesday the third day/two days later. This kind of inclusive counting is used throughout the Bible. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for 50, because that day is exactly 7 weeks or 49 days after Easter Sunday. Lev 23:15-16 gives the instruction:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath. (NIV)

Since the first day is counted as day 1, the 50th day is 49 days later.

So, when Jesus says no less than three times that he will be resurrected on the third day after his death, it must mean two days later. Obviously, Jesus uses the Hebrew way of speaking about counting days instead of the Western way that most people think. Jesus died on a Friday and was resurrected on the third day, which is Sunday.

But Jesus also said that he would be in the grave three days and three nights. In a language and culture that uses inclusive counting of days, it is strictly speaking impossible to talk about three days and three nights. If the period in question starts on a Monday, the third day would be Wednesday. However, there are only two nights in this period. To get three nights, we would have to start on a Monday as the first day so that the first night is between Monday and Tuesday. The third night would then between Wednesday and Thursday. But that would be the fourth day. So, with inclusive counting of days, the intervening nights must necessarily be one less than the days. Why does the Bible then not say three days and two nights? The reason is that Hebrew enjoys parallel numbers and expressions. It sounds better to say three days and three nights or 40 days and 40 nights. These are idiomatic expressions that mean a certain number of days, inclusively counted, but including the nights in between. In most cases, they would simply say 3 days or 40 days, but especially if it is a period of fasting, then it is important to add the nights to show that the fasting was not only during daytime, but it included the nights. The following quote is from IsraelBibleCenter[1]:

despite Scripture’s reference to Jonah being in the fish for three whole nights, the rabbis after Jesus still speak of “the third day of Jonah” alongside a reference to “the third day of the resurrection of the dead” (Genesis Rabbah 56:1). Thus, the rabbis employ some poetic license when they interpret Jonah, and Rabbi Jesus does the same.

This kind of expression is used in 1 Samuel 30:12: for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights (NIV). Other examples:

Gen 7:4,12 I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights (It would rain throughout for 40 days and the 39 nights in between.)

Exo 24:18 And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (He stayed there even during the 39 nights).

Exo 34:28:  Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.

Lev 8:35 You must stay at the entrance to the tent of meeting day and night for seven days. (This is a different construction with the same meaning. Stay for seven days, both day and night.) This would be clearer in English, such as it rained for forty days, both day and night.

Deut 9:9, 11, 18, 25 and 10:10 forty days and forty nights.

1 Kings 19:8 he travelled forty days and forty nights

Esther 4:16 Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day (A different construction with the same meaning. Three days including the two nights.)

Job 2:13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. (Seven days including the six nights.)

Jon 1:17 (2:1) Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Three days and two nights in that period.)

As long as we understand this Hebrew way of speaking, there is no contradiction between Jesus rising on the third day and him being in the grave for three days and two nights. Of course, we need to remember that in Hebrew a portion of a day is counted as a day. So, the few hours on Friday from 3 p.m. to sunset was the first day. Saturday was the second day and Sunday the third day. But he also stayed there during the two nights in between.

[1] This link might work: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/resurrection-third-day/?unapproved=72780&moderation-hash=3f00afee6c44881c1a906ecdbade1b64#comment-72780

Tre dage og tre nætter

De fleste mennesker i den vestlige verden har misforstået det hebraiske udtryk tre dage og tre nætter. Det skyldes, at de begår den grundlæggende fejltagelse at fortolke udtrykket ud fra vestlig tankegang i stedet for bibelsk og hebraisk tankegang. Den samme misforståelse finder vi i udtrykket den tredje dag eller tre dage efter.

Hvis ikke jeg havde boet i Kenya, ville jeg måske have haft samme misforståelse. Lad mig forklare. En dag for mange år siden stod jeg i en by i Kenya og spurgte om vej til en bestemt bank. En ung mand forklarede mig, at den fandtes på den tredje vej til venstre. Jeg gik videre ad hovedvejen og kom hurtigt til et vejkryds. Det var den første vej til venstre, så jeg gik videre. Så kom det næste vejkryds, og ved den tredje vej drejede jeg til venstre. Der var ingen bank på den vej. Hvorfor havde manden givet mig forkert besked? Nå, men jeg gik tilbage til det forrige vejkryds, som efter min opfattelse måtte have været den anden vej til venstre. Der fandt jeg banken! Pludselig gik det op for mig, at da jeg havde spurgt om vej, stod vi ved et vejkryds. I Kenya og mange andre lande tæller man inklusivt. Det vil sige, at den vej vi stod ved, det var for ham den første vej. Det betød, at den tredje vej for ham var den anden vej for mig. Hvor gammel er en baby i sit første leveår? I Vesten er barnet 0 år, men i Afrika er barnet 1 år. Vi kender også sagen, når vi sammenligner 2. sal med 3. etage.

Hver gang vi møder et udtryk som den tredje dag eller den syvende dag eller den ottende dag, må vi derfor tænke inklusivt, som Bibelen gør, og ikke eksklusivt, som Vesten gør. Siger de 3. etage, ”oversætter” jeg det til 2. sal.

Lad mig illustrere det med 1 Samuel 30,13. Den danske oversættelse fra 1992 siger her for to dage siden. Den tidligere oversættelse sagde for tre dage siden. Alle, og jeg mener alle, engelske oversættelser siger three days ago. Normalt ville jeg sige, at når kun en enkelt oversættelse siger for to dage siden og alle andre for tre dage siden, så må flertallet da have ret. Det gælder bare ikke i det her tilfælde. Den danske fra 1992 har ret, og alle de andre er forkerte, fordi de ikke har forstået den bibelske måde at tælle inklusivt. På hebraisk tales der om den tredje dag. Altså, hvis han blev syg en mandag, er det den første dag. Tirsdag er så den anden dag og onsdag den tredje. Når vi står om onsdagen og skal referere til mandagen, siger vi for to dage siden. Simpelthen fordi vi ikke tæller den dag med, vi står i. Men på hebraisk er onsdagen den tredje dag efter mandag.
I 1 Samuel 30,1 møder vi også den tredje dag på hebraisk. Igen siger 92 oversættelsen (og Bibelen 2020) helt korrekt to dage efter. De ordrette engelske oversættelser siger on the third day. Man kan så håbe, at læseren forstår, at det betyder to dage efter. Jeg har talt 9 engelske oversættelser, som fejlagtigt siger three days later. Kun to siger helt korrekt two days later.

At de stakkels vestlige oversættere er lidt forvirrede, kan man f.eks. se ved at sammenligne 92-oversættelsen med Bibelen 2020. Her giver jeg en liste med de to oversættelser, kaldet A og B:

  1. 1. Mos 22,4. A= To dage efter. B= På rejsens tredje dag
  2. 1. Mos 31,22. A= to dage efter. B= tre dage senere
  3. 1. Mos. 42,18. A= Den tredje dag. B= Efter tre dage
  4. 3. Mos. 7,18. A= den tredje dag. B=stadig
  5. 3. Mos 19,6-7. A= den tredje dag. B= den tredje dag
  6. 4. Mos. 19,12. A= den tredje og den syvende dag. B= Efter tre dage og igen efter syv dage
  7. Jos 9,17. A= to dage efter. B= to dage efter
  8. 2. Sam 1,2. A= den tredje dag. B= Et par dage efter
  9. 2. Kong 20,5. A: I overmorgen. B= I overmorgen
  10. Ester 5,1. A= Den tredje dag. B= Tre dage senere
  11. Hos 6,2. A= Han giver os liv efter to dage, rejser os på den tredje dag. B= Han får liv i os på to dage, han rejser os op på den tredje. (En profetisk henvisning til Jesus’ død og genopstandelse på den tredje dag=to dage efter.)
  12. Mat 16,21; 17,23 og 20,19. A= opstå på den tredje dag. B= efter tre dage
  13. Luk 13,32. A= i dag og i morgen, og den tredje dag. B= i dag og i morgen … men om tre dage
  14. Luk 24,7. A= opstå på den tredje dag. B= tre dage senere
  15. Luk 24,46. A= på den tredje dag. B= efter tre dage
  16. 1. Kor 15,4. A= på den tredje dag. B= tre dage efter.

Når Jesus tre gange siger, at han ville opstå på den tredje dag efter sin død, betyder det altså to dage efter. Jesus bruger naturligvis den gængse hebraiske tankegang, og ikke en vestlig tankegang. Jesus døde en fredag og opstod igen den følgende søndag, på den tredje dag = to dage efter.

Men Jesus sagde også, at han ville være i graven tre dage og tre nætter. Vi ved godt, at Jesus ikke blev begravet i en kiste i et hul i jorden, men han blev lagt i et ligklæde i en gravhule. I dette tilfælde accepterer vi en fremmed kultur. Men vi må også acceptere en fremmed kultur og tankegang, når vi undersøger det hebraisk udtryk tre dage og tre nætter. Da David og hans mænd mødte egypteren, som var blevet syg to dage forinden, fortæller han i 1 Samuel 30,12, at han hverken havde fået vådt eller tørt i tre dage og tre nætter (dansk oversættelse fra 1871.) Det blev fejlagtigt oversat til tre døgn i 1931 og 1992. Hebraisk har ikke noget ord for døgn. Hvor mange dage og nætter er der fra mandag til onsdag? På hebraisk talte man en del af en dag som en hel dag. Skulle man være mere nøjagtig, ville man være nødt til at gå over i timer, som f.eks. 72 timer. Men fra mandag middag til onsdag middag er der kun 48 timer. Fordi hebraisk ikke har et ord for et døgn, sagde man tre dage og tre nætter, hvis man ville understrege, at også nattetimerne skal tælles med. Logisk og matematisk er det umuligt at tale om tre dage og tre nætter, når man bruger den inklusive måde at tælle dage på. Mandagen er ganske vist den første dag og onsdagen den tredje dag, men der er kun to nætter i den periode. Hvis der var tre nætter, ville det blive fire dage. På hebraisk elsker man gentagelser og parallelismer. Det lyder bedre at sige tre dage og tre nætter eller fyrre dage og fyrre nætter end at sige det mere nøjagtige tre dage og to nætter eller fyrre dage og niogtredive nætter. Fordi man var så vant til at tælle inklusivt, var det ikke noget problem. Alle forstod, at det betød 3 dage inklusive nætterne imellem de tre dage. Den korrekte oversættelse i 1 Sam 30,12 er altså to døgn.

Hermed har vi opklaret mysteriet om, at Jonas var to døgn i havdyrets bug (Jon 1,17) og at Jesus skulle være to døgn i graven (Mat 12,40). Man kunne også sige tre dage, hvis man forstår, at dagene tælles inklusivt. To døgn lyder nærmest som 48 timer, men i virkeligheden var Jesus i graven nærmere betegnet ca. 36 timer, da en del af en dag tælles med som om det var en hel dag. Regnestykket er ganske simpelt, når man først forstår det ud fra hebraisk tankegang snarere end ud fra vestlig tankegang. Resten af fredagen var den første dag. Så kom der en nat. Derefter en hel dag, lørdag, den anden dag, efterfulgt af endnu en nat. Endelig søndag morgen blev det den tredje dag. At Jesus måske genopstod inden solopgang betyder ikke noget, da den hebraiske tredje dag, søndagen, var begyndt allerede ved solnedgang lørdag.