Who Is the Woman in Luke 7:36-50?

The four Gospels contain accounts of events in Jesus’ ministry. Some of these events overlap, and some are unique to the Gospel. For example, only John talks about Jesus turning water into wine. However, each Gospel gives an account of Jesus’ crucifixion.

When events overlap in the Gospels, it’s an excellent opportunity to better understand what happened. At least, that’s one perspective. Some point to the different perspectives on the same events as a chance to criticize God’s word.

Today, I want to examine an event from Luke that starts in Luke 7:36.

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Luke 7:36-39 (NIV)

This event probably looks familiar. After all, in Matthew and Mark, we see something similar.

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.

Matthew 26:6-7 (NIV)

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.

Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In all three of these Gospels, the woman isn’t named. Indeed, in Matthew and Mark, we’re told that wherever the Gospel is preached, what the woman did would also be told “in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13). However, in the Gospel of John, we’re given this insight.

(This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.)

John 11:2 (NIV)

In John, the woman “who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair” is identified as Mary of Bethany. However, the woman in Luke’s Gospel isn’t Mary of Bethany because the event Luke described differs from Matthew and Mark.

Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus was at Simon the Leper’s house in Bethany. Luke doesn’t tell us where the dinner took place. We do know that it was at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Not Simon the Leper’s house, but Simon the Pharisee. Additionally, Luke describes the woman as “sinful,” which means she was probably a prostitute since she was well known. However, Mary of Bethany was not a prostitute. Although there was tension in both accounts, the “conflict” of pouring perfume over Jesus and wiping his feet with her hair dealt with her (the unnamed woman’s) societal position, not the perfume’s cost, as in the case of Mary at Bethany.

Some claim that Mary Magdalene was the unnamed woman (Pope Gregory the Great), but no Scriptural evidence supports that claim. Neither is there Scriptural evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

Therefore, we can see that Matthew and Mark discuss the same event while Luke tells us of a similar but different event.


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