Female and Male in Four Anointing Stories -- By: J. Lyle Story

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 23:4 (Autumn 2009)
Article: Female and Male in Four Anointing Stories
Author: J. Lyle Story

Female and Male in Four Anointing Stories

J. Lyle Story

J. LYLE STORY is a Professor of New Testament and Biblical Languages of the School of Divinity of Regent University. He has taught at Regent University for the last twenty-five years, possesses special passion for the message of the four gospels, and has produced the Greek to Me Memory System (textbook, flash cards, and multimedia CD-ROM).


[W]omen in general have the sense of the person much more than men have. This means that they have a special mission, which is to reintroduce love, to give back its humanity to a world which remains so glacial when men alone have built it. —Paul Tournier1

Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist, suggests some generalized points of tension with respect to women and men. These generalizations can be applied to the anointing stories in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12. Each story revolves around a woman who anoints Jesus, male objection, Jesus’ rebuttal of male objectors, and his explanation for why the woman and her action are to be accepted, valued, and appreciated—not rejected. For the sake of this article, we will assume that there were two original versions of the stories: (1) Matthew, Mark, and John, and (2) Luke, in their oral transmission.

E. P. Sanders contends that “these stories probably rest on memories though details have been exchanged and possibly confused.”2 He supposes the oral and written stages, details from one story may have been transferred and vice versa, with overlapping strands or conflations.3 In one strand, the anointing is symbolic for the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial, while another strand understands the anointing as an expression of vulnerable gratitude for the forgiveness of sin. In the stories, the authors juxtapose male authorities and disciples and the women who anoint Jesus.

In this article, however, we will argue for a literary approach that treats the four pericopes as whole stories with attention to broad structure, significant literary relationships (comparison, contrast, and purpose), and the author’s point of view, to be embraced by the implied readers. The tension between women and men stands out as a vital component of the anointing stories, which is to be taken seriously by the readers.

This article presupposes that the four stories are genuine stories and need to be read as stories. The relatively new field of literary or n...

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