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.


Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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4 responses to “Who is the Unnamed Woman of Luke 7?

  1. librarygeek

    April 28, 2018 at 21:31

    I think it is an interesting idea that Luke introduces the circumstances that brought the early female followers to Christ in Ch. 7 before he lists the women in 8:2-3, just as Luke relates the call of disciples in Ch.5 before listing the 12 apostles in Ch.6. But I don’t see how Luke 7:1-10 and John 4:45-54 can be speaking of the same healing. Besides the father begging for healing in one account and in Luke the elders of the Jews beg Jesus based on the righteousness of the gentile centurion, the geography doesn’t agree. Luke says Jesus is in Capernaum and starts to go to the Centurion’s house to heal him but is stopped by the centurion when not far from the house. John says Jesus is in Cana (v.46) and the son was sick at Capernaum. Further evidence that Jesus wasn’t near Capernaum is v.52 after the father returns home and asks when the son was healed and they said yesterday about the 7th hour the same hour Jesus said your son is healed. According to modern roads it is a 7 hour walk from Cana to Capernaum. I have a hard time reconciling the stories even if I like the premise.

    • Eddie

      April 28, 2018 at 22:36

      Greetings, Shari, and thank you again for reading and for your comment. I have the scene beginning in Cana with the father of the sick son (John 4:46-47). Luke 7:1 has to do with what occurred in the previous chapters. It does not **necessarily** have to do with what occurs next. Luke wasn’t interested in Jesus’ first Passover (John 2), and so begins his second year of Jesus’ public ministry in Luke 7:2, which centers in Capernaum, although Jesus never made it to Capernaum from Cana before he was met with the Centurion’s emissaries, telling him he didn’t have to come all the way to his home etc.

      You may want to read two other related studies of these scriptures. The first is “Identifying the Centurion’s Servant” and the other is “A Prophet Without Honor.” They both deal with Luke 7 and John 4. They go into greater detail than I did in “The Unnamed Woman” — because I was more concerned there with the “unnamed woman.” :-)

      Lord bless you, Shari, and thanks again for your interest in these things.

      • librarygeek

        May 18, 2018 at 13:16

        Why do you think Luke inserted the John the Baptist passage of 7:18-35 in amongst the stories of healings that explain the women followers of 8:2-3? Is there a purpose in being bookended by these healing passages?

        • Eddie

          May 19, 2018 at 06:53

          Greetings, Shari — good question! To be perfectly honest I had never thought about it. Now that I am asked, I have to say that I see certain similarities in the stories and events that occurred with the women that also occurred in John the Baptist’s life. He didn’t expect to die as he did, virtual obscurity. His mission was quite broad, and even extended into foreign lands after his death, but in the end it cannot be known in history except how it had affected Jesus. John’s words: “he must increase and I must decrease” turned out to be true in every respect–not only in authority, but also in history. If Josephus hadn’t mentioned John in passing, we wouldn’t know he existed, except for what the Bible says about him.

          Besides this, John suffered from doubt. Jesus simply didn’t fit into the scheme of things that was expected of the Messiah who should come, but John’s doubts were healed in the message Jesus sent back to him through what his disciples had seen. John had a mighty ministry, but in the end it was destined to fade away. Imagine, giving your life to something that you know wouldn’t last. John didn’t realize this until that very moment when he understood that Jesus was not what he had expected.

          His ministry was like a burnt sacrifice that was meant totally for God. Every other sacrifice benefited the priest in some way, but the burnt sacrifice was totally for God’s pleasure; so too was John’s ministry. At the time, he was famous and feared by Israel’s leaders, but in the end all that fame and power would fade away. His ministry couldn’t even have been absorbed into Jesus’ ministry. John thought Jesus would simply take over what he had begun, but Jesus said no. John and his ministry had to die and be that burnt sacrifice. So, between saving the life of the centurion’s servant, raising the dead for the widow of Nain, and saving the unnamed woman from her demons, even saving one of his disciples who doubted him — in between those four we have John, whose life couldn’t have been more dedicated to God, but in the end it couldn’t be saved like the others. Rather, John had to take hold of life through faith. His would end, and he would rest and wait for Jesus to call him later in the judgment. He embraced total obscurity in order to gain life eternal in due time.

          That’s not the same as Jesus’ other healings, but John was healed in that he was able to believe Jesus was who he claimed to be. That was enough, and John gave it all and ended it all there–in what was enough for him.


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