Why is Jesus anointed at Bethany in John 12?

This Sunday gospel lectionary reading for Lent 5 in Year C takes a break from our reading of Luke’s gospel to focus on the anointing of Jesus in Bethany by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, in John 12.1–8. (If anyone can explain this move, I would love to hear!). This is an unusual narrative since, if we accept one line of interpretation (which assumes the account of the anointing in Luke 7.36–50 records the same incident), then this is the only other incident in the ministry of Jesus apart from the feeding of the five thousand which occurs in all four gospels. The parallel accounts are worth exploring briefly, before looking in more detail at way John uses language to weave the story seamlessly into his narrative.

The accounts in Matthew, Mark and John are strikingly similar; this is one moment where we might think that it is these three gospels which are the ‘synoptics’!

Matthew 26:6–13Mark 14:3–9John 12:1–8
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 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. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 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. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

The accounts are of similar length (though, not untypically, there is more detail in Mark than in Matthew). All three accounts agree that the incident happened in Bethany, near the time of Jesus’ Passion, that a woman anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, that there were objections to what she had done, that Jesus defended her action as a sign of his impending death, and that he included reference to ‘always having the poor with you’. Mark includes a few more details than Matthew, and John tends to agree with Mark (mentioning the perfume as (spike)nard, and it being worth a year’s wages).

The account in Luke 7.36–50 is quite different, with the incident there happening in the north of the country, earlier in Jesus’ ministry, at the home of a Pharisee (though also called Simon, a very common Jewish name) where Jesus is anointed by a ‘sinful woman’ and he responds with teaching not about the poor but about devotion in response to forgiveness. Despite all these differences, the accounts have repeatedly been conflated—indeed, it is almost impossible to find in the history of art a depiction of the anointing at Bethany faithful to the first three accounts (my picture is by Rubens of the anointing according to Luke!). Based on the assumption that there could not have been two different anointings (which I don’t think is justified) and noting the one connection of the wiping of Jesus’ feet with the woman’s hair in both John’s and Luke’s stories, it has been assumed that the Mary of Bethany is the same as Mary Magdalene and that she is also the sinful woman, as an interpretation of the statement in Luke 8.2 that Mary Magdalene has been delivered of ‘seven demons’. The conflation of the three figures (Mary of B, Mary M, the sinful woman) and the association of demons with sinfulness, are all unhelpful and unwarranted.

Turning to the account in John 12.1–8, as we are reading we need to note particularly two pairs of features of the Johannine narratives. The first is the combination of ‘reality effects’ which give realistic detail with the use of heavy symbolic significance. A good example of this from earlier in the gospel is the timing of Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus and the woman at the well in chapters 3 and 4: the evening is a realistic time to hold a conversation, yet the twilight also signifies Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, whilst the woman comes to the well at noon having been shunned by her peers, yet the broad daylight symbolises her clear understanding by the end of the encounter. The second pair of features we need to note is analepsis (making connections with what has gone before) and prolepsis (making connections in anticipation of what will come).

Where the previous incident of the raising of Lazarus lacked a time reference, John now resumes his characteristic counting of days (see the sequence of references to ‘the next day’ in the opening chapters). The mention of ‘six days before the Passover’ both connects this narrative to Jesus’ coming death, starting a kind of Passion week countdown (so that this passage is often read on the Monday of Holy Week), but also offers the third mention of Passover, giving us a chronological shape to the ministry of Jesus (covering all or part of three years) but more importantly connecting Jesus’ ministry with the Jewish festivals and symbolically signifying Jesus as the Passover lamb. This began with John the Baptist’s description of Jesus as the ‘lamb of God’ in John 1.36 and will be completed by John’s scheduling of the crucifixion at the time of the sacrifice of the passover lamb—a schedule which might well be more historically accurate than the traditional timing.

The explicit mention of Lazarus and his being raised is the first example of analepsis, connecting this story with the narrative of the preceding chapter—though John notes that this meal did not take place in the house of Lazarus, thus agreeing with Matthew and Mark. Martha serves in a practical way, contrasted with Mary’s more extravagant action; this concurs both with the difference we already saw in chapter 11, but also with the distinction in Luke’s unique account of the sisters in Luke 10.38–42, though here in John Martha’s service is depicted positively, using the discipleship term diakoneo. Lazarus is ‘reclining at table’ with Jesus, a prolepsis (anticipation) of the intimacy of the ‘beloved disciple’ at the Last Supper in John 13.23, but that is no reason to suppose that these two are the same figure (if so, why mention Lazarus’ name here but not in the next chapter?).

The introduction of Mary needs no explanation, since we know from chapter 11 who all three characters are—and their introduction there includes a proleptic mention of this very episode in anticipation. Like Mark, John includes mention of the name of the perfume and its value, but also includes details of the quantity (a Roman ‘pound’, litra) and its effect—that it fills the whole house (which might have been a single room) with its fragrance. Perhaps this also symbolically signifies that such a costly act of worship has an impact on all who are close enough to witness it. Mary’s action at Jesus’ feet (in contrast to Matthew and Mark, who mention only his head) functions both as analepsis and prolepsis, recalling Mary’s falling at Jesus’ feet in John 11.32 and anticipating Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet in John 13.5.

Where Matthew and Mark ascribe the complaint to the disciples in general, John specifies it as coming from Judas. The name is mentioned twelve times in this gospel, and the very first mention of Judas Iscariot in John 6.71 already anticipates his betrayal. The connection of Judas with the common purse is continued in John 13.29; the word for ‘purse’ here is glossokomon, which occurs only in these two places in the New Testament (contrast pera in Luke 9.3 and 10.4) and more usually means ‘coffin’. The contrast of responses to Jesus represented by Mary and Judas matches the conflicted responses to the raising of Lazarus explored in John 11.45–57; the division amongst the people is matched by a division amongst the disciples, and the conflict beyond Jesus’ circle is now felt as a conflict within Jesus’ circle. And this narrative is typical of John’s overall positive depiction of women, often in contrast to men; the understanding of the woman at the well contrasts with the bafflement of Nicodemus, and at the cross the women remain as witnesses when most of the men (with the exception of the ‘beloved disciple’) have fled. Even at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, the men leave the garden whilst Mary Magdalene lingers and encounters Jesus. It is worth noting, though, that John’s purpose in describing these characters is never primarily to make us focus on them—rather, he tells their story in order to teach us something about Jesus.

John agrees with Matthew and Mark in quoting Jesus’ understanding that Mary’s action anticipated his death (using the metonym of ‘burial’). But he sharpens the emphasis by describing Mary as ‘keeping this’ for the occasion. Some commentators have inferred that she has held back some of the perfume, and what remains will actually be used in the anointing of Jesus’ body, thus actually connecting this action with his death (which is why John omits mention of ‘breaking’ the bottle). But I think a better reading is to see Jesus understanding that she has waited until this moment to anoint him, signifying the imminence of his death and the coming of ‘the hour’ which has, until now, been delayed (see John 2.4).

As in Matthew and Mark’s account, Jesus here alludes to the command in Deut 15.11 to always be ready to care for the poor, since there will always be people in need of our compassion and open hands. There is no need to see here a sharp contrast between extravagant worship and service; after all, the very next chapter sees Jesus in humble service to his disciples, and we hear his command to emulate his example. Jesus is the one who merits our most extravagant worship, but who also merits our obedience; whatever we can offer him is as nothing in comparison with the extravagant gift he has given us in pouring out his life as an atoning sacrifice and a precious gift of love for each one of us.

Drawing some of these insights together, this is the short devotion I wrote for Scripture Union’s Encounter with God notes a couple of years ago:

John did not tell us anything about the timing of the raising of Lazarus. But he now returns to his usual practice, and links the anointing at Bethany in time forwards with the coming Passover (agreeing with the accounts in Matthew and Mark), and backwards with both place and person. The connection with Lazarus is not mentioned in the other gospels; the fact that he himself was in danger of betrayal (v 10) might have led them to omit mention of him.

John’s gospel is full of conflict, and this story crackles with tension. As in Luke 10, Martha is busy with serving, as she no doubt thinks fit. How does she view Mary’s action? Extravagant? Unnecessary? Improper? Attention-seeking? Why can’t Mary show her love in unobtrusive practical action as she is doing? What about the men there; how do they view Mary? As profligate? And provocative? To let down one’s hair in that culture could easily be seen as flaunting your sexuality. The disciples (in Matthew and Mark, personified in John by Judas) see another problem. The have a common purse, and relied on the generosity of others (Luke 8.3), and if Mary really wanted to support Jesus, she should have donated the money. After all, Beth-any means ‘House of the Poor’, so she could hardly have missed the point.

Jesus’ comment is difficult to translate, but points yet again to a deeper meaning of her action. She has made this sacrifice out of her love and devotion to Jesus. And her action points beyond this, to Jesus’ own sacrifice out of his love and devotion to the world. Her sacrifice is not an alternative to care for the poor; Jesus quotes Deut 15.11 as a reminder that we must always care for them. But such care must testify to our devotion to Jesus and his love for the world.

What costly act of devotion is Jesus calling you to today? To what outward act of caring for others is he calling you, as an expression both of your devotion and of his love for the world?

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38 thoughts on “Why is Jesus anointed at Bethany in John 12?”

  1. No account is more interesting for the synoptic problemist. Some of the particularly important synoptic problem dimensions are as follows:

    (a) John adds the name Mary presumably because he is always better acquainted with Jerusalem-environs personnel.

    (b) John replaces head with feet (the very precise vocab nardou pistikes shows his familiarity with Mark, as does the reference in early John 11 to the anointing story as already known) because the feet (Gen 3.15, and John also naturally knows Ps 41.9) are in 12-13 part of his overall Judas-as-serpent’s-seed (again Gen 3.15) schema – all references to Judas combine to this end, and this is also how we explain the pluralising of Judas in ch8 and as a new collective character – purely as a matter of schema. John makes his schema in advance and what follows is as a result of it. John 5.46 says Moses wrote about Jesus and Gen 3.15 is the prime candidate for what the text means by that.

    (c) Luke combines head and feet, both from his sources. Chip Coakley’s article showed how the pattern of evidence for this story does not point to Luke preceding John. Luke’s bent for combination gives a hint at why he transposes the story to elsewhere in his narrative, as dead-man-followed-by-anointing (Luke 7) was also previously in John 11-12, enabling him to acknowledge John 11-12 within his essentially Markan narrative (not easily done), as he also does in Matthean contexts in the otherwise-irrelevant naming of ‘Lazarus’ (whose return from the dead will not convince) and the extraction of the Mary-Martha contrast. It also deals with the difference of chronology between Mark and John visavis the Entry (before or after the entry). Mark’s sequential discrepancy with John here justifies Luke in choosing neither sequential option but rather a third, so as to equalise matters between Mark’s account and John’s. Another example would be the start of the resurrection narrative – Mark’s light and John’s dark combine to Luke’s striking ‘very early dawn’.

    (d) Luke has his own schemata one of which involves new double narratives with female preceding male, to fulfil Isaiah 61 on debtslaves and captives. The third such female-male double narrative, all predicted in the Nazareth sermon, is Elijah’s widow preceding Elisha’s leper. Within Luke, this set of 6 stories, i.e. the set of those not found in earlier gospels which precisely overlaps with those foreshadowed in the Luke 4 sermon, is put 2 a quarter through (ch 7), 2 halfway through (chs 13-14), and 2 three quarters through (chs 17,19). The female-precedence is taken to new heights in that this arrangement allows all 3 female stories (widow and son, anointing, captive woman in Lk 13) to precede all 3 male (dropsy man, leper, Zacchaeus).

    (e) Luke’s anointing version covers the main points of Luke 6.37-38, which points precisely cover Luke’s differences from the other 3 writers. I have not disentangled the sequence of thought between Luke 6 and 7 here.

    (f) Where Mark’s anointing story would have been in Luke we find instead in the first edition of Luke the adulteress – see previous discussions. A similar story in some ways (the respective final injunctions are often confused with one another) – and both are endlessly quoted in our present age.

    It is well possible logically that there was more than one anointing, but no gospel writer hints at this (0 out of 4), whereas there *is* evidence that all of John, Matt and Luke transpose the orders of their predecessors sometimes (3 out of 3).

  2. Lovely

    Is another resonance maybe back to the start of the section in John 5. Having had two amazing signs revealing the joy of the kingdom and life from the dead, Jesus says that the divide is between those who pay homage to the son and those who don’t (5:23 proskuneo bowing, kissing worshipping)

    Here at the end of the section there is life from the dead (the third miraculous sign 12:18), Mary doing proskuneo, sandwiching the decision to kill him, and followed by the king arriving to those who were his own, but who didn’t receive him

  3. Thanks Ian.

    Did Mary’s act symbolise more than she knew or do I understand you to be saying Mary was conscious she was anointing Jesus as if he were dead?

  4. I think the depth of intimacy could be pressed further. I’d suggest that her long hair, her “glory” 1 Corinthians 11:15.
    She is laying, letting- down her glory, her covering, uncovered, at the feet of Jesus, it is suggested. Feet from which blood would cover her with sacrificial, saving, redeeming glory.
    Feet that have earth as a footstool, heaven his throne.

    • It was a remarkable act of devotion, self-giving and self-humbling. It also involved remarkable prescience. All of it fed by love. Though I have the greatest of gifts and all knowledge and faith for remarkable miracles but have not love…

    • I would follow Fee’s line in the NICNT (and others), that the ‘glory’ here in 1st Corinthians 11 is a relative thing, contrasted with (or used as an antonym for) the disgrace/dishonour of the man in the previous verse. Long hair is not a glorious thing in itself, thereby implying that short hair is wrong (see John’s question above), but rather a marker of the ‘real’ glorious thing; her femininity and identity as a woman, as distinct from man.

      Obviously this is complicated, as I fully suspect you know, but the context and purpose of these two passages means they do not link easily in the way you suggest they might.


      • Yes Mat, I’ve read Fee but a long time ago and my memory is getting poorer (never was very good). Both hair and hat as coverings are difficult for us to understand since we are culturally quite different. I don’t think the issue is masculinity and femininity per se but male headship. The head veil and long hair (coverings) signify submission to male leadership in church. Is the sign of the thing signified still valid today. I think a case for long hair in a woman can be made. The thing is we have no ‘sign’ of female submission today. The very thought creates horror. We are egalitarian and patriarchy is out. Yet its interesting that someone like Jordan Peterson puts emphasis on the importance of patriarchy, It seems as if when we remove male leadership we remove a sense of male responsibility.

        • Let’s just say three things John. 😉

          1) This is not the best place to unpack the whole ‘headship’ debate. Suffice to say that I don’t agree with you that is what Paul argues for in Corinthians. Let’s agree to park that back-and-forth for another time?

          2) The same is true of Peterson. I would love to engage in a discussion about the merits/weakness of his work (and generally speaking, I am a fan of his) but this isn’t the time or place for it either. It’s annoying; there’s so much to say!

          3) I know you were not accusing me of doing so, but to be clear I wasn’t using Fee as an ‘authoritative’ source as if his opinion is somehow unchallengable or even the majority view (though it seems to be). I used the NICNT simply because I’ve recently had to submit some academic work on 1 Corinthians 11 (summarising about 8 commentaries), and felt his argument was the better one. Also, I know Ian likes it and has some familiarity.


          • No indeed. I was not crossing swords at all, simply expressing a viewpoint. I generally found Fee very helpful when I last used him. I was not personally making a link between Jn 12 and 1 Cor 11 – that was Geoff, nevertheless I think there may well something to learn there.

            Your right, I think, most modern commentaries see 1 Cor 11 about masculinity and femininity rather than patriarchy though in the C1 at least I think they were inextricably linked.

            But lets stick to Jn 12.

      • Hello Mat,
        While I’m not looking to delve into the questions raised in 1 Corinthians 11, I think the point I drew from it remains – Mary is submitting her glory at the feet of Jesus (at a meal in honour of Jesus). The double emphasis: 1 Corinthians 11: 7 – woman is the glory of man and v 15 “if a woman has long hair it is to her glory”.
        I think it is as pertinent (and may have a better biblical warrant) as the idea expressed in Ian’s article, that letting down hair could easily be seen in the culture as sexually flaunting.

        • “I think it is as pertinent (and may have a better biblical warrant) as the idea expressed in Ian’s article, that letting down hair could easily be seen in the culture as sexually flaunting.”

          This point I agree with. Whatever we make of Mary’s act of worship, it was certainly provocative and arguably transgressive. That wasn’t the reason for my comment though.

          “Mary is submitting her glory at the feet of Jesus (at a meal in honour of Jesus).”

          This was. ;). I don’t think ‘glory’ is a metaphor or synonym for hair in any of the Gospel accounts of this passage, and if it is, it is certainly not being used in the same sense it is meant in 1 Corinthians. Your comment about it being an intimate act of worship is not being challenged, just the use of language.


          • Hello Mat,
            Belatedly, on Wednesday, I browsed the Tyndale commentary on John, by Colin Kruse. He mentions a woman’s long hair being regarded as her glory citing 1 Corinthians 11:15.
            Unknowingly I had a source of authority to refence!
            Interestingly he goes on to reflecting the house being filled with the fragrance of the perfume, to the Midrash on Ecclesiastes 7:1 ” (the scent of) good oil is difused from the bed chamber to the dining room while good name is difused from one end of the world to the other.”
            So just as the scent of Mary’s perfume filled the house, so the name of Jesus is above all others names, fills the earth.

  5. I’ve been reading Isaiah recently who places great stress on the remnant or holy seed. These were the servant or Messiah’s offspring and would constitute his eschatological people. They were both a fraction of the nation (a remnant) and yet when added to a gentile remnant would be so great that Jerusalem would need to expand its borders (Isa 54).

    The remnant of course begins with the followers of Jesus in his life. I wonder if in Jesus’ time at Bethany immediately before the cross, with its intimacy and warmth, we are getting an insight to the heavenly banquet. Lazarus raised from the dead is there. Mary worships and anoints the anointed; an act depicting the cost of complete devotion to a crucified Christ. Martha serves, albeit harassed. The disciples are there. Of course, it is an imperfect picture for Judas is there. Moreover, Jesus introduces again a subject he had often introduced – the day of his death. He is anointed for burial. He would not always be with them. Mary at some deep instinctual level seems to have grasped this. Perhaps she realised the deep jealousy of the religious leaders and grasped that in raising her brother to life he had sealed his own death.

    Outside the Jewish leaders plot his death. They plan to kill Lazarus too, the living proof of Jesus’ Messianic identity; proof they could not bear to see. The kingdom joy anticipated in this little cameo at Bethany will not come at this time. Israel did not recognise the day of her visitation and her house is left desolate. Armies will come and destroy their city. Meantime, like a mustard seed the kingdom will grow and one day fill the earth.

    For our encouragement we have this glimpse of kingdom love and intimacy and the death of the seed in the ground through which the kingdom will flourish.

    • Ah, yes John,
      Jesus the Promised Seed, Genesis 3:15 – a theme rarely traced or alluded to, it seems.

      (God speaking intelligibly to an uncomprehending, lying, serpent!!! Unless, of course, this is all a human invention, rather than a revelation by God; a snake -like insinuation, in itself, perhaps. A serpent as a biblical figure or type of satan, God’s adversary, father of lies, misuser of scripture, defamer of the goodness, the character of God; Satan who was defeated at the cross, through the offices of Judas; the reign of darkness -occluding midday, noon light, bought to a climatic close in the dawn of resurrection).
      Judas, the figural satan, cursed, crushed on a tree. Jesus, God’s Promised Seed, the curse breaker on the tree. The tree of curse and death transformed by Christ to the tree of blessing, glory and life.

        • Thanks, John, for the recommendations.
          I have a booklet from the Good Book Company and “The Promised One -seeing Jesus in Genesis” Crossways, by Nancy Guthrie.
          If I were younger and there were any interest in the church I belong to, I’d probably look to them. I can’t recall if the topic, is considered in a book I’ve loaned out, “Jesus on Every Page” by David Murray. As it is, a pool without an outlet becomes stagnant, and there seems to be little motivation at my stage in life to add to reading material, other than for my own personal edification and marshalling thoughts doesn’t get easier…
          Mind you, they do look very interesting and tempting. I’ve benefitted from 3 books (so far) in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, ed D.A. Carson
          Beale’s, The Temple and the Church’s Mission – A Biblical Theology of The Dwelling Place of God, I found illuminating.

          • Ha Geoff

            I think our reading may have run down similar lines over the years. I too enjoy the New Studies in Theology. There are many I have not read but one that really stood out for me was Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty. I’ve read Beale’s Temple monograph. I tend to think it is probably right though there is not a great deal in Genesis to make his thesis stand out.

            Crossway have a little online series ‘10 things you should know about’. Nancy Guthrie writes one on Eden. On the whole I thought it was excellent. Many others are worth reading too. The Gospel Coalition have a number of excellent theological articles and all for free.

            Alexander writes a short biblical theology on the Holy City. I found it pulled a lot we probably know into an eminently readable book.

            Like you I am cautious about what I buy these days. I’m less able to concentrate and I have no real outlet save my blog. Health prohibits any preaching.

            If you were to ask my favourite writers these days I’d probably include people like TD Alexander, G Dempster, J Piper, Tom Schreiner and of course D Carson. Read cautiously I can enjoy NT wright. I found our hosts commentary on Revelation helpful even if I disagreed at points. These are representative of where I’m coming from. I do think I would have much in common with Piper.

  6. John,
    There are lots of shoulds in life, that feed on…not the tree of life, but on the other one.
    The tree that brought death, brings the death of death. Redeemed from the curse, by becoming the curse. Galatians 3: 13-14
    Life, eternal, victory over death: granted, a deed of gift to all who will receive.

  7. Gen 3.15: The Johannine Judas as thoroughgoingly the serpent’s seed in every one of his appearances.
    (1) John changes Mark from an anointing of head to an anointing of feet. The very feet that Judas intended to bruise.
    (2) The one who objects to the anointing is now therefore Judas as opposed to Mark’s bystanders: one of John’s significant changes.
    (3) Judas in this context is called a thief. The thief in John is Satan (John 10).
    (4) Judas has been introduced (John 6) as a devil. Not ‘the devil’ but ‘a devil’ – the serpent’s seed of Gen 3.15.
    (5) Jesus then goes further (John 13) and cleanses the disciples’ feet too. After all, he says in ch17 that he is set on protecting them from the evil one.
    (6) There are constant links here with the betrayal theme (13.11,18,21).
    (7) He says there is a great importance to this and a hidden (biblical) meaning to it. The washing of feet is particularly important (Gen 3.15) – this is the bodypart that makes all the body clean.
    (8) This is in the context of Jesus quoting Psalm 41 (lifted up his heel against me).
    (9) It is also in the context of the most explicit association (twice) between Judas and Satan.
    (10) Jesus then says he must brave a confrontation with the ruler of this world (14.30), and sets off. Only to arrive at…
    (11) …Gethsemane, where he encounters not Satan but his offspring and minion on earth, Judas. Everyone falls to the ground and bruises their heads. It is explicitly reemphasised that Judas was among those of the company, who thus fell. So Judas has his head bruised by Jesus.
    (12) Like the snake in the garden he falls from vertical to horizontal.
    (13) I say ‘in the garden’, but only in John was it ever called a garden – another suitable detail John has brought in.
    (14) The Johannine Judas was never seen again.

      • A thinker that systematic and intricate will not have missed that ho Ioudas is the singular of hoi Ioudaioi, and ch8 proves that he didn’t miss this. We have here a writer whose system tends to overwhelm everything. The idea has accordingly (because of this singular-plural thing) occurred to him to pluralise the serpent’s seed idea, from which we get ‘your father the devil’. He wants all his characters (including the amorphous undifferentiated mass that is Hoi Ioudaioi) to play clear archetypal roles within his single system. It would disconcert him if the characters did not fit in this system in a neat way.

        • (Possibly his main motivation was the current Jew-Christian conflict which was presently overwhelming and brought to his mind ‘I will put enmity between your seed and her seed’. If he is in a world where Jew-Christian is the defining conflict and affects him viscerally – 12.42-3 – then maybe his thoughts naturally went to this Genesis prophecy.)

          • Hello Christopher,
            Were not the motivations set out in the prologue and epilogue, the first and last chapters; true bookends, Or in other words, in today’s business language, two executive summaries, one at the beginning, one at the end?
            As Ian emphasises, conflict and opposition (alongside the isolation and desertion of and the visceral hatred and urge to kill Jesus) is rife, (perhaps less so in the gentile regions?) throughout John, maybe centred on John 10:10 – the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.
            But you have above drawn this out more fully in the plural and singular, and in the person of Judas.
            Once again, thank you. I’ve not come across it before.
            Indeed, it is such a far cry from contemporary theology which seeks to rehabilitate Judas.
            Maybe, the film, The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson was the most stark, unambiguous, depiction of the role of Judas in the death of Christ, that I’ve come across.

        • I think that Ioudaios is the formal singular of ioudaioi so there is a linguistic link but not quite at the level you affirm. Bit rusty these days but I have checked my lexicon.
          I am however grateful for the suggestion that in some way Judas is the epitome of the hostile Jewish antagonists for John.
          The link back to John 10 and the thief who comes to steal means this passage is linked back to John 10 and forward to John 13 where Jesus, whose own feet have been so lavishly washed, rather more straightforwardly washes his disciples’ feet, including Judas’ feet.
          Although John is condemning of Judas as a thief and a devil, he does not call him a betrayer, but more neutrally the one who handed Jesus over. John’s account in ch 13 of Judas is rather at odds with Mark et al – it seems that Jesus had arranged for someone to let the authorities know where he would be, and even the sign to use, just as he had pre-planned for a room where they could have the meal, or the donkey for the entrance into the city. Did he ask Judas to do this, or did Judas volunteer; some gospels highlight the disciples’ questioning about what is being said. As so often there is so much we do not know.

          • It is undoubted that Ioudaios is the singular of Ioudaioi.

            But what is the plural of Ioudas?

            (a) It is a proper name, so there are no contexts where a plural is needed.

            (b) If a plural needed to be supplied, then we have a problem since none would exist.

            (c) Ioudaioi is the closest plural that does exist. Not only closest but also sufficiently close to pass as a proper plural.

            (d) Etymologically there is largely a match-up. The plural word Ioudaioi adds no meaningful phonetic or linguistic elements to the singular word Ioudas.

            (e) If John had been forced to coin a word, then it would not have been neat – and he loves to be neat.

            (f) He was in any case not thinking about coining words. He was seeing and systematising what already lay before him.
            He was a compulsive systematiser who could not have let the verbal similarity pass without comment, since that would have given the impression he had not noticed it.

            (g) Some theories (to which I do not subscribe, and which seem highly unlikely on the basis of the gospels and 1 Cor) have held that Ioudas was a fictional character invented to smear the Jews. The theories are based on the etymological meaning of Ioudas, which can be loosely translated, if only in retrospect, as ‘Jew’. The name comes from Judah the patriarch (‘praised’) from which come Judah and later Judea the territories. Ioudaioi are residents of Judea and adherents to the religion of the Israelites.

            The theory is simply summarised thus. Who are referred to as offspring of the evil one? Two characters only, one singular and one plural. This means that the coincidence of their names is unlikely in John’s eyes to be a coincidence at all, but rather the result of planning and systematisation.

            It is not surprising that writers should look for hidden meanings in people’s names. In Sophocles, Ajax, meaning is found in the fact that the hero’s name Aias sounds so like Aiai which means ‘alas’.

            The name Judas has become a marked name, as shown by the fact that no-one would now ever name their son that. So it is clear that there’s a possibility people will try to demonise the very name and the very sounds that compose it. A friend of mine would wind his mother up by saying ‘Hmm – perhaps if I had a son I would name him Judas.’. He didn’t mean it, of course. Cue mum going off on one for half an hour.

  8. Geoff
    I really liked your poetic reflection on the meaning of the hair. It is a great pity that the substance to worship has been ignored or missed to trot out again the pale horse of doctrine.

    • It needn’t be an either/or. It may be that hats and hair are completely cultural and if so that’s fine. If they are not purely cultural then its not ‘the pale horse of doctrine’ to consider their place in church life. I am not saying it is a first order truth or even second order but its there and cannot be dismissed as a doctrine of death.

      On this blog we constantly discuss doctrine. Doctrine is not a harbinger of death it is a spring of life. Without it we have no faith and no Christ.

      I’m thinking you chaps have had some experiences with this question when you feel so strongly.

      • Hi John,
        It is not the question of hair or hats I’m interested in. It’s just that Geoff highlighted a very interesting point that was ignored. It is as if Geoff mentioned seeing a very rare butterfly that we should look at but the naturalists at the picnic ignore him and start going on about whether formaldehyde or cyanide is the best method of dispatch.
        The symbolic nature of hair being used to clean the Lord’s feet is worth more than an immediate sidestep into a gloomy vestry of the mind to discuss the doctrine of hats in church. I’m hopeing some great mind might draw us into the wonder of the text and expound it–not use it to chew over issues of doctrine unrelated to the text.

        • For what it is worth, I am thankful for (some) biblical scholarship, which act as bulwarks against every passing, flavour of the month theologies. Or scholarship which builds on firm foundations, tops out with a cornerstone.
          In short, having come through some charismatic teaching, I realise just how too little I have made of Jesus; Jesus as central to the whole canon of scripturr; Jesus as central to Christian doctrine; Jesus as central to the biblical history of redemption; Jesus as central to understanding our Triune God; Jesus as the beginning and end; and all bits in between; Jesus as life itself.
          Jesus, scholarship and doctrine’s combined terminus; not ends in themselves and as such can miss him completely. A babe and the under educated may luxuriate in him, not as an exemplar, but as their joy and life.
          Do I? Do I make much of him? Even as life becomes narrower does Jesus become ever more expansive?
          From Simon Peter and following.
          John 6: 66-71

          • Activity in the scullery paused awhile
            when the fragrance of life drifted
            down the dank stairs.
            And the silence from above
            caused everyone to hold their breath.
            As the sound of sobbing
            chorused every heart.

  9. Far be it for me to interject into this erudite discussion on a variety of topics, some of which have bearing on the original question; others having a tendency to transport us into the nether regions of intellectual curiosity on the one hand or hair-raising adventures on the other! May I take this opportunity to posit the following summary of one of the passages mentioned above ( Luke : 7:36 – 50).
    The story so far:
    A prophet is invited by a Pharisee (Simon) to dinner. He reclines at table.A sinful woman arrives and in an upset state proceeds to wet his feet with her tears. She then wipes his feet with her hair, kisses them and the pours perfume over them.
    Simon is astonished! Does this prophet not know this woman’s background and character?
    The prophet, perceiving what Simon is thinking, relates a parable to Simon. Simon realises the point of what the prophet is saying as it applies to himself – and the woman.
    The prophet then reiterates what the woman *did to him and for him*. Then he says to the woman:” Your sin are forgiven” . The other guests declaim: “Who is this who even forgives sins!” The prophet goes further. He says to the woman,” Your faith has saved you; go in peace”.
    I finish with a serious question: given the nature of the woman’s background and behaviour and given the passive acceptance on the part of the prophet ; supposing we had been present on this occasion, what would we*really* have felt, especially as the prophet had the authority and also power to forgive sins?
    Or perhaps we are more like Simon that we care to think?


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