Who is the Unnamed Woman of Luke 7?

27 Dec

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The Synoptics all record an unnamed woman who anointed Jesus during or just after a meal at which he was a guest of honor. Both Matthew and Mark record the meal near the end of his public ministry in Matthew 26:1-13 and Mark 14:1-9, but Luke mentions the event closer to the beginning of his ministry, just after the beginning of his second year (Luke 7:36-50). The fourth Gospel is the only one of the narratives that names the woman who anointed Jesus. It was Mary, the sister of Martha, who lived in Bethany (cf. John 12:1-8). The similarity between John’s account and that of Matthew and Mark leaves little doubt that their unnamed woman is, indeed, Mary, Martha’s sister.

The supper that was held in Jesus honor was in Bethany, a few miles from Jerusalem, and at the home of Simon, the leper (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3). As I mentioned in a previous study, this Simon, the leper, was probably Martha’s husband, because it was her home in Bethany that Jesus usually spent time in, when he visited Jerusalem (cf. John 12:1-2 and Luke 10:38). All of the occasions where Jesus was anointed took place in Bethany. At least two occur in the house of Simon, the leper, while one occurs in the home of Simon the Pharisee. However, if Simon, the leper, and Simon, the Pharisee, are the same person, then each anointing took place in the same house.

In a previous study I showed that it is probably true that Simon, the Zealot (the Canaanite), was the same person as Simon, the leper, and Simon, the Pharisee. Therefore, Simon, the apostle of Jesus, was Martha’s husband, and their home was in Bethany. This means that Simon, the Zealot (one of the Twelve), Martha, Mary, Lazarus and Judas Iscariot were all close relatives. Simon and Martha were husband and wife. Judas was their son, and Mary and Lazarus were Martha’s sister and brother, and aunt and uncle to Judas.

Luke seems to be showing that the women in Luke 8:2-3 who financially supported Jesus’ ministry are introduced in some manner in Luke 7. Joanna is the wife of Chuza, the nobleman, whose son Jesus healed (cf. John 4:45-54). This same young man was the Roman centurion’s beloved servant (Luke 7:2-10). Therefore, Joanna is the young man’s mother. Susanna is the widow of Nain, and in this context Mary Magdalene would have to be the unnamed woman in the home of Simon the Pharisee. However, if Luke’s anonymous woman is the same person in Matthew and Mark who anointed Jesus, why does John identify her as Mary, Martha’s sister  (John 11:2) without saying she is Mary Magdalene (cf. John 19:25; 20:1, 18)?

This mystery seems solved in understanding the logic behind Matthew’s other Mary (Matthew 27:61; 28:1). He seems to imply that his readers would know who he meant. Since Mary Magdalene is always with this other Mary when she is mentioned in Scripture, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary cannot be the same person. So, who might she be? Two Mary’s (Jesus’ mother is not a consideration) are listed among the women who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross:[1]

Matthew 27:55-56 Mary Magdalene Mary, mother of James & Joseph Mother of the Zebedee children
Mark 15:40 Mary Magdalene Mary, mother of James the Less & Joseph Salome
John 19:25 Mary Magdalene Mary wife of Cleophas Jesus’ mother’s sister Jesus’ mother


Luke is the only Gospel writer who uses ambiguous terms in describing those present near the site of the crucifixion, saying only that women were present (Luke 23:49, 55), but he does mention that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James were among the women who reported back to the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead (Luke 24:10).

Mark shows us that Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (the wife of Cleophas in John) was the other Mary of Matthew’s account. Notice that Matthew says both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary beheld the site where Jesus was laid to rest (Matthew 27:61), and Mark tells us that both Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joseph beheld where they laid Jesus (Mark 15:47). Therefore, the other Mary is identified, and since Matthew’s other Mary implies that there is only one other Mary besides Mary Magdalene, this seems to indicate that Mary Magdalene is Martha’s and Lazarus’ sister, and she is, therefore, the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7 and the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus later in Matthew and Mark, as well.


[1] Also see my study that tries to identify Mary, the Mother of Mark,  and also my study Barnabas, Whom Jesus Loved, in which I seek to identify Lazarus, which also lends a little support to the identities of both the “other Mary” and Mary Magdalene.

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Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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