Dear Friends,

George in your sermon this morning are you going to deal with the serious contradictions between the gospel accounts of the Mary and Jesus story? The answer is no, but I will briefly deal with the questions here.

So what is the issue? Well some will point out how the times and details don’t agree. Did the event happen early in Jesus ministry, the day before Palm Sunday, or the Thursday in Holy week? Did the event happen in Bethany or somewhere else? Was the ointment poured on Jesus’ head or his feet? Who’s house did the event happen in? Some would say there is no way to reconcile these contradictory details. For the record, here are the four texts: Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8. Feel free to read these texts for yourself. Here are a couple of comments on the question.

First, this is not a new problem. The church fathers, early Christian writers, were aware of the situation and wrote about it. Take heart that if you are talking to someone and they raise an objection to the Christian faith, it is unlikely that this is the first time the question has been raised. Wise Christian writers have written about this in the past.

Second, the Gospel writers were concerned to write the truth, the truth does include what actually happened. However they are most concerned with telling the story of Jesus in such a way that the reader will want to trust Jesus to be their Saviour and Lord. This does not disqualify them from telling the truth, but it does mean that they are not concerned with locking down a chronology for Jesus’ life and ministry. They want us to get to know Him rather than mere facts of a chronology about him. In the original language, the Gospel writers often use language that in connective by similarity, rather than connecting by chronology.

Third, and this is the key idea, are the Gospel writers talking about different incidents with some similarities or are they talking of one incident, with either complementary or contradictory elements? I think in this case they are talking of three different incidents, not one incident. In Luke’s story the incident happens in the house of Simon the Pharisee, somewhere other than Bethany. The woman is a former prostitute, she wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries his feet with her hair and then puts ointment on his feet. In the incident John reports, the woman is Mary the sister of Lazarus and the action happens in Lazarus’ house in Bethany. The Event happens a week before Jesus’ crucification on a Saturday, and Mary pours ointment on Jesus’ feet and wipes the ointment with her hair. Matthew and Mark report a different incident. This one also happens in Bethany, but it happens in a different house (Simon the Leper) and on a different day, the Thursday before Jesus’ crucification. In this incident, the ointment is put on Jesus’ head and there is no reference to the woman’s hair.

As you can see, there is sometimes a similar detail in two stories, but a straight forward reading of the four Gospels leads me to the conclusions that the four biographies (Gospels) of Jesus are talking about three different incidents, not the one incident with inconsistent details. Why did each Gospel writer pick the story they picked? Well, that is another blog, but the simple answer is that you have to read each Gospels as a whole to see how that particular story helps the gospel writer tell us the story Jesus – Gods provision for our great need!

George+