The Sinful Woman as Surrogate Host | CBE International

You are here

The Sinful Woman as Surrogate Host

Hospitality and Forgiveness in Luke 7:44–48

We all like to believe ourselves to be discerning. However, Luke 7:36-50 challenges us: Do we really get the main point? And if so, how shall we respond? In the account of the anointing of Jesus by the sinful woman, Jesus radically reverses all assumptions about himself, the woman and Simon, highlights true repentance and forgiveness, and causes us to reflect on the boldness of the Lord’s ministry to women. In examining this account, we need to ask: How does it relate to Luke’s major themes and its immediate context? Is this text reliable? What is the historical-cultural meaning of the woman’s act? How do the grammar and literary aspects highlight the Lord’s major point? What is the significance of key words? How does this text apply to our own lives? Through seeing this passage as representative of Luke’s theme of discerning the truth (which causes paradigm shifts) and the theme of God’s gracious forgiveness, we see this woman’s seemingly lavish response as appropriately representing a repentant heart. Because the historical-cultural information has such importance for the clarity of this article, it has been moved to the forefront of the following presentation, to be followed by grammar and word studies.

How does this account relate to Luke’s major themes?

Writing between a.d. 64 to 68, Luke, “the beloved Physician” (Col. 4:14), traveling companion of Paul on his second and third missionary journeys (see ‘we’ passages: Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-16) and “fellow worker” with Paul (Phlm 24), spent time in Philippi encouraging and teaching the church there.1 Some, like Jerome and Eusebius, concluded Luke was an Antiochian.2 Addressing Theophilus, most likely a fellow Gentile convert, Luke writes to give him accurate information about the life of Jesus and the Apostles (Acts) and create confidence in the truth of his former teaching (Luke 1:1-4). Converts from a society where sexual immorality abounded, both author and addressee would have had keen interest in Jesus’ attitude toward a societal outcast, like the sinful woman, and his forgiveness of her sin. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think of Theophilus as asking the questions: Would Jesus truly forgive my sins? Would he accept “sinful” worship or would he turn his attention to Simon? The division and conflict between Jewish and non-Jewish believers in the early church was a subject in which Theophilus needed instruction and assurance of his own acceptance and pardon.

Luke writes to Theophilus in order to present Jesus as the Savior and Liberator of all people. His gospel reflects a heart of compassion and tenderness toward all people (7:11; 19:41; 22:50). Luke alone includes the parable of the Good Samaritan, the compassionate half-Jew whose mercy puts the legalism of the Pharisees to shame (10:25-27). Luke emphasizes conversion and true versus false repentance. Also women are prominent in Luke from the birth narratives to the cross to the resurrection accounts. He notes how Jesus receives the ministry of immoral, sick and desperate women as well as others who followed after him and how women lamented Jesus on the cross. Because of the cultural demeaning of women, Luke’s gospel is an emancipation proclamation for all women today as well as the women in the household of Theophilus.

Luke 7:44-483 is the compassionate personal conclusion of Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman who anoints him. It also includes the powerful summary of his teaching and rebuke of Simon. It fits into the wider narrative of Luke 7:36-50, which includes the account of the anointing (vv. 36-39), an illustrating teaching example of two debtors (vv. 40-43), and the response of those attending the dinner (vv. 48-50). This passage comes after his proclamation at Nazareth fulfills Isaiah 61:1 concerning the Messianic delivery of the oppressed (Luke 4:18-20). His Galilean ministry illustrates this fulfillment in his power over sickness (4:38-39), command over evil spirits (4:31-36), preaching the good news of the Kingdom (4:42-5:15), the raising of the dead (7:11-17) and healing of the servant of the Gentile centurion (7:1-10). Later, in Luke 7:18-34, Jesus reminds the delegation from John of its fulfillment before their very eyes. The text does not indicate the delegation’s departure, so they may have been present at this dinner to see the Messiah at work. The account of the anointing by the sinful woman illustrates further his liberation of those bound to sin and loosely parallels the account of the forgiveness of the paralytic (5:17-26). Here Luke pairs an example of a man and a woman to represent the complete salvation of all humanity. Like the women Luke mentions in the next chapter, she also ministered to Jesus out of her private means (8:3). Her eager, loving repentance was also an illustration of the seed which fell on fertile ground (8:15).

The passage is representative of Jesus’ mission to save all the lost, rather than simply the righteous: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (5:32). As illustrating Christ’s mission to save the oppressed, her status, as a woman, an outcast and possibly even a Gentile, highlights to Theophilus and modern readers the Lord’s universal mission. Quoting Isaiah 29:6, Simeon declared that Jesus would be “Light of revelation to the Gentiles.” Luke includes healing the servant of the Centurion (7:1-10), the healing of the Samaritan leper (17:11-19) and records the faithful acts of the widow of Zarephath (4:26), Naaman the leper (4:27), and the repentant Ninevites (11:29-32). He quotes Isaiah 40:5: “All flesh will see the salvation of God.” His gospel abounds with the accounts of the healing and conversion of societal outcasts: the woman with the issue of blood (8:40-48), the tax collector Zacchaeus (19:1-10), the ten lepers (17:11-21), women (7:11-17, 36-50; 13:10-17) and the hopeless demoniac (8:26-39).

Christ’s forgiveness and various penitents’ sincere repentance are emphasized in Luke. Having authority on earth to forgive sins (5:24), Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic (5:17-26). He forgives those who crucify him from the cross (23:34), and, as the resurrected Christ, he commands the disciples to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins….to all the nations” (24:47). The proper human response to the forgiveness of God is sincere repentance. Sent to call repentant sinners (5:2), Jesus declares: “Unless you repent you will likewise perish” (13:3, 5). Thus, the passage illustrates the nature of repentance through the loving anointing of the sinful woman. Its emotional tone is the same as the joyful willingness of Zacchaeus to make restitution (19:8).

Luke stresses reversal of positions. The low are exalted and the high brought low. The sinners are forgiven but the righteous are condemned. Theophilus, and modern readers as well, must truly perceive this shift, in order to see Christ and see their need of a Savior. The woman, who is a sinner, is really the heroine of the account, whereas the righteous Pharisee is cold and inhospitable. The account also shifts from Jesus the Great Teacher, to Jesus the Forgiver of Sins. In this passage, Jesus is also portrayed as the true prophet, the one greater than Jonah (Luke 11:32; see also 2:32; 4:16-24; 13:33). (See sidebar for further examples of changing roles in Luke.)4

How does this text compare with other accounts of the anointing of Jesus?

All of the other gospels contain an account of an anointing of Jesus (see Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8). However, the account in Luke occurs early in Jesus’ ministry, whereas John’s account occurs six days before the Passover, but Matthew and Mark’s occur two days before. The major characters are different as well. Luke refers to “Simon the Pharisee,” whereas Matthew and Mark refer to him as “Simon the Leper.” Bound by cleanliness laws (Num. 5:1-4), the Pharisee of Luke 7:36 could hardly be the same as Simon the Leper in Matthew and Mark. John’s account identifies the place as the beloved home of the Lord’s friends, Mary and Martha of Bethany, rather than the home of a doubting and rude Pharisee. In three incidences the woman is sinful, but Mary of Bethany, a disciple of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42), was hardly a well-known sinner. Through a comparison of place, time, events, major characters and thematic emphasis, the reader can logically conclude that there were three different anointings. Thus, Luke’s account is a unique happening. Directly after this narrative, Luke records the women who ministered to Jesus. Did this woman join their company? Did her example influence later anointings? Women took on the lowly duty of foot washing, if there was no slave. Would not the woman who ministered to Jesus have washed his feet regularly? Because this unusual happening occurred several times in the ministry of Jesus, her influence may well have extended to those who followed after Jesus. Luke’s juxtaposition of Luke 7:36-50 with the narrative of the ministering women (8:1-3) provides some grounds for this plausible though speculative conclusion.

What can we know about this woman?

The sinful woman follows Jesus to the home of Simon the Pharisee.5 The woman was most likely a prostitute in the city of Capernaum.6 A woman who had not obtained marriage was dishonored (Isa. 4:1). Bearing the name of a man in marriage gave a woman honor, but she was shamed if a man took her without giving her his name (Hos. 2:7). A prostitute committed sin against the Lord punishable by death (Lev. 18; 20:10-21) and, if she were a Hebrew, was to be “exterminated from her kinsmen” because she had broken the covenant.7 A priest was prohibited from marrying a prostitute or a sacrilegious or divorced woman (Lev. 21:7).8 Johannes Pederson writes: “Between uncleanness and the curse there is no essential difference. He who touches unclean things is defiled (Lev. 5:2-3); this not only holds true of human beings, but of clothes, beds, vessels, and ovens. If the uncleanness is incurable then the individual in question must be irrevocably removed from the community, for the life of the latter must not be threatened by one person.”9 Therefore, according to Simon’s reasoning, the seemingly careless Jesus could not be a pure and discerning prophet of Yahweh. If Simon neglected such an obvious need of water for the feet, did he neglect offering the ceremonial cleansing water? By making his house open to the public, he knowingly made it unclean. The Tohoroth 7:6 of the Mishnah states: “If tax gatherers entered a house [all that is within it] becomes unclean.” In contrast, Jesus, the incarnation of The Holy One of Israel, does not shun or limit touch. His personhood is not defiled by loving touch. Hypocritically focusing on outward cleanliness, which he himself neglects, Simon misses the moment. He does not sense the magnitude and intimacy of incarnational holiness. The sinful woman does. Her response is to weep for wonder at God’s welcoming acceptance of her love.

The woman came with a flask either on her person or brought for the purpose of giving it to Jesus or anointing him. The alabaster flask, often made of silver or gold, was so much a part of the woman’s dress it was allowed on the Sabbath. The Sages also allotted a woman an allowance of four hundred gold coins for perfume.10 Alfred Edersheim makes a case that she carried the flask on her person. A perfume mixture called foliatum, produced and used in Palestine, was worn by women in a vial around the neck and hung down below the breast (the Tselochith shel Palyeton). It was used as personal perfume and also to sweeten the breath.11

Most likely, the woman had been converted through the teachings of John the Baptist, or of Jesus. She exhibited great courage to come to the house of a Pharisee and great determination in the face of societal rejection in order to see and hear him. The woman’s weeping showed an outburst of sorrow for her sins and perhaps her empathy for Jesus’ mistreatment. She too had known the sting of social rejection, but this man had showed her forgiveness and deserved the highest honor! It was considered highly improper for a Jewish woman to unloose her hair in public,12 but, in her desire to dry the Lord’s feet, she took this risk. Anointing the head was a common Near Eastern custom, but anointing the feet showed great love and respect.13 She had access to the feet and not to the head of Jesus as he was reclining, as was the Greek custom, at a three sided table with his legs extended outward. Simon did not provide the inexpensive olive oil for anointing the head, but the woman provided the costly perfumed oil for his feet. While not a Messianic anointing, D. A. S. Ravens notes its significance as anointing the feet of the one who brings good news (Isa. 52:7). The account then acts as an anointing for the mission of preaching the good news to come.14

The woman assumes the role of host

The righteous man extended the rite of hospitality (Gen. 18:1-8; 19:1-11; Job 31:32). An extension of the commandment to love the neighbor, hospitality was a part of the covenant (Lev. 19:33-34).15 Simon neglected his duties as a host in three ways. First, he did not give Jesus water for his feet. Foot washing was common in Old Testament times (Gen. 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; 1 Sam. 25:41) and still practiced in the time of Jesus (John 13:5). A slave or person of the lowest rank would have this job. To neglect the foot washing was to imply “that the visitor was one of very inferior rank.”16 Second, Simon neglected to kiss his guest.17 A kiss of affection was common on both cheeks and, if great reverence was intended, on the hand. L. Levinson notes that, if the invited person was a rabbi, the family members would wait at the door of the house and kiss his hands.18 Wanting to rectify this insult, while not being presumptuous, the woman put herself in the place of a servant and anointed his feet. Bailey alludes to an ancient custom of anointing the feet of a nobleman in the house of kings and priests. Unworthy to kiss his hand, she tenderly and repeatedly kisses his feet.19 Jesus rebukes Simon for not giving him a fraternal kiss (philēma), in contrast to kataphileō, which means to kiss tenderly and reverently and carries the connotation of caressing.20

From Simon’s point of view this continual touching was indecent and offensive. In order to interpret the passage correctly, one must balance the stinging rebuke to Simon and the Lord’s affirmation of the sinful woman. To downplay the remarks of Jesus to Simon is to disregard the equal need of both men and women, regardless of social status or gender, for repentance and forgiveness. Also, it weakens the force of the preceding illustration of the moneylenders and debtors by half. All stand indebted before God.

The grammar underscores the Lord’s major points

The grammar of the passage further highlights the paradigm shift in Luke. In verse 36, Luke uses the imperfect active indicative of erōtaō, meaning to ask, beg, entreat urgently, to indicate the ongoing nature of Simon’s dinner invitation. Rather than being a seeker after truth, did Simon mean to trap Jesus or did he merely like the company of the famous? He quickly reveals his estimation of Jesus, but Simon’s perspective is superseded by the Lord’s evaluation of him and revelation of his character. Jesus is not merely a prophet, or teacher; he is a discerner of the thoughts of the human heart and the Divine Forgiver. The “doubted” prophet answers Simon’s thoughts as if he had spoken!21 Along with Simon’s false judgment of the situation and his attitude of moral superiority, Jesus points out his lack of affection. The Greek strings a series of contrasting noun clauses together. The simple aorist (past tense) is used of Simon in verse 44, “you did not give me water,” but the imperfect of the woman, “she kept on wetting my feet,” and in verse 46, “you did not anoint my head” (aorist), but “she kept on anointing my feet” (imperfect). Simon’s lack of even simple giving is contrasted to the extravagant and continual giving of the woman. Luke uses a present active participle, “she did not cease kissing my feet from [the time] I came in” (v. 44), in order to emphasize her continual action as opposed to Simon’s lack of even a perfunctory one-time act of cordial greeting. Jesus also contrasts the impersonal (water) with the highly personal (tears and hair). The “Teacher” has shifted to the Forgiver of Sins, the eager Pharisee to the cool withholding judge, and the sinful woman to the forgiven and loving new disciple.22

Furthermore, the grammar also sheds light on the nature of forgiveness. Did the woman win Christ’s love with her repentance, or was it a result of Christ’s forgiveness? In answering this question, the importance of the emphasis of the account must be kept in mind. While the example of the woman’s overwhelming response is pointed out, only Divine forgiveness could have elicited it. Jesus is the Hero, not the woman. Though unbelieving, perhaps, the guests at the banquet realized this rabbi had asserted a right which surpassed the mere teaching of a rabbi. They ask: “Who is this man who even forgives sin?” (v. 49). The woman’s love is not what saves her, but her faith (v. 50). The Lord does not require great love to offer forgiveness, as the healing of the helpless silent paralytic demonstrates (5:17-26). Forgiveness, the free gift of God, always exalts the Forgiver, not the forgiven.

To say the woman causes the forgiveness is to negate the impact of the preceding parable in which the inability of either debtor to pay the debt is stressed (7:41-42). The overwhelming forgiveness of God produces the tender and heartfelt love of the woman and not vice-versa. Like the decision of Zacchaeus to restore money four times over, her actions flowed from the forgiveness received. It could only flow from a heart liberated and set abundantly free. In contrast, the rich young ruler did not need more love for God, but rather to be set free from the slavery to money (18:18-23). He, like Simon the Pharisee, was unaware of his need for forgiveness. To emphasize the finished work23 of forgiveness, Jesus pronounces the forgiveness twice: to the entire group (v. 47), and to the woman herself (v. 48). In verse 50, he further intensifies his pronouncement with a blessing of peace.24

Jesus contrasts the righteous woman and the unrighteous Pharisee

As the prophet/teacher, Jesus uses the familiar rabbinic teaching device of asking questions to his students. Instead of asking about a point of law, such as “Is uncleanness communicated by touch?,” Jesus asks Simon for a moral evaluation of the hearts of two debtors. Drawing conclusions to everyday life from a case (casuistic law) was in keeping with the Jewish understanding of the law.25 The answer, perhaps, seemed too obvious for the intelligent Pharisee.26 However, Jesus skillfully uses Simon’s own judgment to exonerate the woman and pierce through Simon’s false assessment of his own debt to God.

The narrative shows the Rabbi, with insightful clarity,27 drawing out the spiritual significance of the current situation. Jesus does this again when he praises the widow’s small offering (21:1-4) in comparison to the Pharisee’s showy display of generosity or affirms the right of a “daughter of Abraham” (13:16) to be made well on the Sabbath (vv. 10-16). Unlike those bound to the law, Jesus moves with the Holy Spirit in the present moment to perform righteous deeds.

Furthermore, Luke uses the literary technique of polysyndeton, the use of the same conjunctions (“and, but”) in close succession, in order to produce an unexpected effect. In contrast with the woman, the reader does not know when the end is coming, but with each line Simon sinks lower in our estimation and the woman rises higher. Polysyndeton gives balance to the passage28 and also leads it to a dramatic height.29

What deeper meaning does “anoint” have in this text?

In response, the woman, fulfilling the hospitality-gap left by the rudeness of the host, performs his obligations by anointing his guest. Luke uses the word aleiphō, “to anoint,” only three times and each in connection with this passage.30 Anointing remains a necessity in the Near East. By anointing the skin with oil, excessive perspiration is prevented. This second, invisible coating acts as another protective layer of clothing against the heat. The lime dust of the area and heat irritated the skin, and, soothed by oil, it was frequently applied to the exposed parts of the body, especially to the face (Ps. 104:15; 133:2).31 Ecclesiastes 9:8 connects anointing to a joyful feast and declares, “Let not oil be lacking on your head.” Psalm 23:5 says, “Thou dost prepare a table before me…Thou has anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows” (kjv).

Anointing had vast religious significance as well. Priests, prophets and kings were all anointed with oil (Exod. 29:29; Lev. 4:3; 1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chron. 16:22; Ps. 105:15). Today priests are still anointed with oil on the thumbs and palms of the hand at ordination to signify their blessing of the people. Oil was used to mark one as set apart to God. The name “Messiah” means anointed one (1 Sam. 12:3, 5; 26:11; 2 Sam. 1:14; Ps. 20:6), as does Christos in Greek (see Ps. 2:1; Dan. 9:25-26; John 1:41; Acts 9:22; 17:2-3; 18:5, 28). Lastly, anointing with oil was done on the sick in order to bring about healing (James 5:14). Anointing of the dead was also common (John 12:7).

Luke employs the verb used for common anointing, aleiphō, rather than chriō, which refers to sacred anointing.32 Thus, this anointing was an act of courageous and lavish human devotion at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry rather than an overt religious act. However, the symbolism of anointing Jesus as the rightful prophet, priest, and king of Isaiah 61:1-3 lingers beneath her act.

Conclusion

By her gracious act, the hospitable woman not only welcomed God–among–us to human society, but also understood his mission of reconciliation. In summary, Luke uses this passage as an emphatic exclamation point to his major themes. Christ is the Savior of all people and the Divine Liberator of the oppressed who calls everyone to repentance and faith. The account acts as a clear magnifying glass upon the nature of Christ. To the delegation from John the Baptist, it clarifies the divine mission of Christ as the anointed one of Isaiah 61:1. It magnifies Christ as more than a Rabbi but the Divine Forgiver of Sins. It reveals shallow self-righteousness posing as piety and encourages our passionate love of the Savior. The example of the sinful woman demands our attention and asks: Do I love much? Will I risk much? On whom do I lavish my attention? Unhampered by Simon’s prideful and blinding sense of false entitlement, the sinful woman grabbed the opportunity of a lifetime: to kiss the feet of Jesus and, by her lavish, thankful worship, atone for the ingrate’s rude treatment. She sets an example for all of us sinful humans.

May the Holy Spirit help us recognize our own unique opportunities to love lavishly and without hesitation the One who first loved us.

Notes

Jesus again affirms the woman and urges her to “go into peace.” The rabbis taught that the saying, “Go in peace,” was correct for saying farewell to the dead, but to the living the phrase, “Go into peace,” was proper. Jesus was sending her forth into a new life; Moʾed Qaṭan 29a, as cited in Morris, The Gospel According to Luke, 149. An imperative and the strongest sense of the phrase is used.

The passage has a triple conclusion. First, his link from the metaphor of the illustrating story, to the current situation: “Therefore, I say…her sins have been forgiven” (v. 47); second, the summary of his teaching from the previous illustration: the one who is forgiven much loves much, those forgiven little, love little; third, he directly repeats himself so the woman will be certain to hear it herself: “Your sins have been forgiven.” The structure makes certain that the readers catch the point (Besançon, Paul’s Literary Style, 190, 204-205).

  1. Though Paul meets Luke in Troas before his first visit to Philippi (Acts 16:9-10; cf 27:1), the length of time Luke spends there strengthening and pastoring the church may have been why Paul calls him a “fellow-worker.”
  2. Jerome, De vir. ill., vii; Eusebius, Historia ecclesiae, III, iv, 7.
  3. Supported by P3, P75, P97 and codices א, A, B, C, D, L, W, θ, Ξ, P, Ψ as well as ƒ¹ and ƒ¹³ as well as many minuscules, Luke 7:44-48 is well attested.
  4. True forgiveness and sincere repentance of all people through Christ are also the themes of Acts, the sequel to Luke, in which the gospel extends to all nations (Acts 15:1-35): “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among people by which we must be saved” (4:12). They are at the heart of Paul’s missionary message (13:38-41; 26:16-23) and the heart of the theological argument of Rom. 1-5, and are the theological underpinnings of his letters (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). The theme of salvation for those trusting in Christ is again echoed in Revelation. Here Jesus is the Lamb who is worthy because “he purchased with his blood believers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The personal forgiveness the sinful woman experienced has become representative of all sinners redeemed by grace through faith.
  5. The Pharisees, meaning “separated” in the Aramaic, were one of several groups to arise out of the Jewish religious revival in the Maccabean period (ca. 166-160 b.c.). Its adherents were from all social walks, although some were political leaders. The Pharisees were bound together into fraternities which stressed tithing and purification. They followed not only the law, but the traditions of the rabbis who explained in detail the execution of each law. Thus they were bound by a system which emphasized external holiness at the cost of the spirit of the law. Luke refers to them as hypocrites and lovers of money (12:1; 16:14). Simon shows his true nature through his glaring neglect of hospitality and refusal to see the woman’s true spiritual state. His invitation to dinner may have been given in order to trap and test Jesus. The meal was most likely a semi-public one and an informal chance for Jesus to teach. At such meals the public as well as the needy had access to benches along the wall (S. Taylor, “Pharisees,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], 849-851; Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life [Boston: Bradley & Woodruff, 1876], 235; Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956], 236).
  6. The woman has been traditionally linked to Mary Magdalene, though this conclusion is speculative from the text.
  7. Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford, 1926), 427.
  8. Ibid., 232.
  9. Ibid.
  10. S̆abbat 6:3, as cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 147. Alfred Plummer concurs and cites Xenophon (Cynegetica, vii.5.32; 4th c. b.c.), Polybius (Xv.1.7; 2nd c. b.c.), and Aristophenes (Vesp. 608; 5th–4thc. b.c.), in The Gospel According to Saint Luke, 5th ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989).
  11. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Part I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 566. See also Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 13.3.19.
  12. The Talmud states that a woman can be divorced for letting her hair down in the presence of another man (t. Soṭah 59), qtd. in Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant Through Peasant Eyes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 9.
  13. Morris cites examples from Sanhedrin 27b of kissing the feet of a particularly honored rabbi in his The Gospel According to Luke, 147.
  14. D. A. S. Ravens, “The Setting of Luke’s Account of the Anointing: Luke 7:2-8:3,” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 286. Ravens draws an interesting parallel between Isa. 52:7 and Luke 7:50-8:1. Though Luke may have meant this as a theological statement, it has meaning only in retrospect. This anointing was first of all highly personal.
  15. Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 357.
  16. H. B. Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1894), 38; qtd. in Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 8.
  17. Kissing as a form of greeting amongst relatives was common (Gen. 45:15; Ruth 1:9, 14; 2 Sam. 14:33; 1 Kings 19:20) and was given also as a sign of affection (Jacob to Isaac, Gen. 27:26-27; father to returning son, Luke 15:20; Ephesians to Paul, Acts 20:37). It was practiced by the disciples to their teacher and rabbi. Judas betrayed Jesus with this common greeting in Matt. 26:49.
  18. L. Levinson, The Parables: Their Background and Local Setting (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1926), 58f; qtd. in Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 8.
  19. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 10.
  20. Joseph and Asenath 15:11.
  21. See also Luke 5:22; 6:8; 11:17; 24:18 and John 9:25; 6:61; 13:11; 21:17 for examples of the Lord’s divine omniscience.
  22. Luke also uses word order for emphasis. Normally the possessive pronoun comes after the noun; three times the genitive “my” is placed before “feet”: “She wet my feet” (v. 44), and in “kissing my feet.” By emphasizing this place of humiliation, Jesus repeatedly pointed out her willing humiliation in contrast with Simon’s arrogant disregard of even common courtesy to an invited guest. Feet were odious to the people of the Near East. The place of utter subjection was at the feet of a ruling King (Ps. 8:6; 60:8). John the Baptist showed his subjection by saying he was not worthy to untie the shoes of the Messiah (Luke 3:16).
  23. Plummer, The Gospel According to Saint Luke, 213.
  24. Luke uses the perfect passive tense of aphieämi, “forgive” (v. 47), to emphasize the completion of the forgiveness. This tense combines the “linear and punctiliar ideas combined in a state of completion.” The very reduplication pattern of the verb, writes Robertson, expresses the completed act. The Greek aorist, having a wide range of meaning compared to the English usage, is in contrast to the Greek perfect, which is narrower in its use than in English. Therefore, the tense draws attention to itself as the author meant it to. Used in this passage twice, the perfect passive occurs four other times in the New Testament: of the paralytic (Luke 5:20, 23), of the binding and loosing of sins (John 20:23), and of the forgiveness of sins on account of his name (1 John 2:12). The perfect tense can have an intensive use. It highlights the existing reality with more power than the English or Greek present has the force to do. Burton claims that “it is assigned to those circumstances in which the past is practically dropped from thought and the attention is turned wholly to the existing states.”Just as the cancellation of the debt by the money lender indicated complete inability to pay, so the forgiveness of God includes the idea of forgetfulness (Jer. 31:34; Isa. 43:25; Heb. 1:3; 10:17); A. T. Robertson, A Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Richard R. Smith, 1931), 302-303; H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 200-201; Burton, New Testament Moods and Tenses; qtd. in Dana and Mantey, loc cit., 202.
  25. Both types of law, apodictic law (general command) or casuistic law (case law), were paradigmatic. Judgments were extrapolated from similar cases. Douglas Stuart,”Old Testament Survey” class notes, Lecture Outline 2.
  26. Plummer translates his reply as indicating superiority and indifference: “I suppose or presume,” The Gospel According to Saint Luke, 212.
  27. Literary techniques in this section include the use of chiastic thought. In vv. 41-43 greater forgiveness [A] results in greater love [B] and in vv. 44-48 greater love [B] precedes forgiveness [A]. As the main point of the passage is forgiveness, and a sub-point is love, the “chiastic structure puts emphasis on forgiveness and gives the account its surprising final twist,” Aída Besançon Spencer, Paul’s Literary Style (Lanham: University Press of America, 1998), 190. Chiastic structure functions like a twisted rubber band which both pulls outward and also pulls back to the center. Like the rubber band, God’s love always pulls us toward him in repentance, but stays centered in his own mercy, goodness, and sovereignty.
    In v. 47, “much” ends the first two clauses, “forgiven much, loves much.” In Greek, “little” begins the next set of clauses (“the one who little is forgiven…little loves”). The inversion makes the phrase memorable and easily repeated. Jesus, the most excellent teacher and preacher, used this device as a short, true, and unforgettable summary for a complex topic surrounded by intense emotions. This passage crystallizes the teaching truth and immortalizes the event.
  28. The significance of the passage produces a succinct, high-impact account which combines teaching and compassion as well as rebuke. It also displays progression in emphasis from teaching prophet to divine forgiver. Simply outlined, it contains narrative (vv. 36-39), teaching (vv. 40-43), and application (vv. 44-50). From the structure, the parallel nature of the transposition, when speaking of the woman (“With tears she wet…”; “with her hair she wiped…”), is in contrast to the parallel structure of transposition when the narrative speaks of Simon (“Water you did not give me; a kiss you did not give me”).
  29. Ibid, 204-205.
  30. Ravens, “Luke’s Account of the Anointing,” 283.
  31. “Anointing,” ISBE Dictionary (Bible Works, 2002).
  32. “Aleiphō,” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (Bible Works, 2002).

 

Join the Cause

CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

Learn More