Repetition in the Gospels

Any harmonization attempt of the four gospels will quickly reveal that similar events are repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry.

For instance:

Before attributing this to some sort of error or memory lapse by the gospel authors, we should consider that abundant repetition also takes place even within the same gospel at times.

For instance, Matthew records:

  • Jesus multiplying food in quite a similar manner on two different occasions (14:13-21 cf. 15:32-39)
  • Jesus prophesying His death on multiple occasions (20:17-19 cf. 26:1-2)
  • Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 in different conversations (e.g. 9:13 and 12:7)
  • Jesus comparing and contrasting his ministry with John the Baptist on several occasions (e.g. 9:14-17; 11:1-19; 17:12-13; 21:23-27; etc.)
    • Even contrasting John’s ministry of fasting with His own “feasting” ministry in at least two places (9:14-17 cf. 11:18-19)
  • Jesus healing two blind men twice (9:27-31 cf. 20:29-34)
  • Jesus being offered sour wine to drink while on the cross two times (27:34 cf. 27:48)

Thus, one witness (i.e. Matthew) also shows abundant repetition within only his gospel. Among other things, this demonstrates that repetition is not necessarily the result of comparing faulty eyewitness testimonies. Even more, he (and other gospel authors) seldom states when such events are similar to other events found elsewhere[1].

From this we may infer that:

  1. God repeats Himself in word and action, as all good teachers do (cf. Kang, “Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction,” 2016).
    • This seems especially obvious in Jesus’ teaching ministry when we consider that He was an itinerant preacher and thus had many different audiences. Indeed, it would be strange if He didn’t repeat Himself and His message.
  2. Events that seem unusually repetitive to modern readers may not have been so to those living in that time and place.
  3. The motives of the original authors (especially including God, the ultimate Author) do not always match the expectations of the modern readers (such as mentions that such-and-such event is a repetition of another event).

[1] Even Matthew 16:9-10, which makes mention of two similar episodes, is actually a statement from Jesus’ own lips. It was not added because Matthew thought it odd that the episodes were similar, nor does Jesus make much of the fact that He did the same miracle on two separate occasions.

Large Church and/or Temple Gatherings

I’ve been discussing with a friend what larger gatherings looked like in the book of Acts and why/when they went to the temple. Here’s what I’ve found so far (not exhaustive):

Post-Resurrection Large Church and/or Temple Gatherings

  • Luke 24:53 – “they stayed continually at the temple, praising God”
  • Acts
    • 1:15-26 – chose a new apostle (120 gathered for that)
    • 2:1-41 – spiritual gifts; evangelistic message (with 1,000s gathered)
    • 2:46 – “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” – ambiguous on what they did there (potentially refers to daily prayers, see Acts 3:1)
    • 3:1 – Peter and John went to the temple for afternoon prayer
    • 3:2-10 – Peter and John heal lame man en route to temple
    • 3:11-26 – Peter preached to Jews in Solomon’s Colonnade
    • 5:12-13 – “all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them [presumably join their meeting at the Colonnade], even though they were highly regarded by the people”
    • 5:15-16 – sick and demonized were brought to be healed by apostles
    • 5:21 – apostles entered temple courts to teach the people
    • 5:42 – every day in the temple courts and houses the apostles taught and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus
    • 6:2-6 – all gathered to determine deacons

The Glorious Gospel: A Study in Colossians

Or see only the outline.

Colossians Overview

Col. 1:1 – 3:4Christ → In Christ → Christ in you — Doctrinal
Col. 3:5 – 4:18Life Application of Christianity — Practical

Key to Understanding

What is the normal Christian life?…it is something very different from the life of the average Christian.  Indeed a consideration of the written Word of God – of the Sermon on the Mount for example – should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in fact been lived upon the earth, save only by the Son of God himself.  But in that last saving clause lies immediately the answer to our question.

The apostle Paul gives us his own definition of the Christian life in Galatians 2:20.  It is “no longer I, but Christ.” Here he is…presenting God’s normal for a Christian, which can be summarized in the words: I live no longer, but Christ lives his life in me.

God makes it quite clear in his Word that he has only one answer to every human need – his Son, Jesus Christ.  In all his dealings with us he works by taking us out of the way and substituting Christ in our place. The Son of God died instead of us for our forgiveness: he lives instead of us for our deliverance.  So we can speak of two substitutions – a Substitute on the Cross who secures our forgiveness and a Substitute within who secures our victory. It will help us greatly, and save us from much confusion, if we keep constantly before us this fact, that God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only, namely, by showing us more of his Son.

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life

Objective of Colossians

“that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that you may walk worthy of the Lord…increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10, NKJV)

  1. Knowledge about God and His will — knowing
  2. Walking according to this knowledge — walking

Colossians 1:1-12 – INTRODUCTION


  • What did Colosse already have?
    • “faith in Christ” (1:4), “love for all the saints” (1:4), “the word of the truth of the gospel” (1:5), “fruit” (1:6), “the grace of God in truth” (1:6), “learned from..a faithful minister of Christ” (1:7), “love in the Spirit” (1:8)
    • i.e. The Gospel of Christ


  • What did Colosse need?        
    • More knowledge of God’s will (1:9); to be fully pleasing to God (1:10); to be more fruitful (1:10); to increase knowledge of God (1:10); to be strengthened by God, specifically in midst of trials (1:11); to be more thankful to God (1:12).
    • i.e. Proper Growth

We will see that Paul’s remedy for proper growth is nothing more or less than simply a presentation of Christ, and the believer’s position in Christ, and Christ in them.  When we see more of Christ, then the growth will happen fairly spontaneously. Hence the presentation of Christ that begins the letter to each of the seven churches of Revelation (see Revelation 2 and 3) – they are always shown a picture of Christ first.


What are we taught of Christ in this letter?

  • He is the image of God (1:15) – Everything Christ does, says, and is, is the very expression and image of God.
  • He is firstborn over creation (1:15) – This means that Christ had dominion over all things, and as the firstborn in a family is heir and lord of all according to the Old Testament law, so Christ is “heir of all things”. (see Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Colossians 1:15)
  • All things were created by Him (1:16)
  • All things were created for Him (1:16)
  • He is eternal (1:17)
  • He is the reason all things consist (1:17)
  • He is the head of the church (1:18)
  • He is first one to have new life (1:18)
  • He has all the fullness of the Father (1:19)
  • He is reconciling all things to Himself, by “the blood of His cross” (1:20)
  • He holds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3)
  • All the fullness of God dwells in Him (2:9)
  • He is head of all principality and power (2:10)
  • He sits in heaven at the right hand of God (3:1)
  • He is the life of Christians (3:4)


Along with speaking of the majesty, divinity, and power of Christ, Paul also focuses his attention on the position of all who believe in Christ, that they are placed “in Christ”:

  • “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith…” (1:21-23)
  • “In Him you were also circumcised…by the circumcision of Christ,” (2:11)

Who places us in Christ?

  • “But of Him [God] you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30) – It is all of God that we are placed in Christ.

Where specifically do we find our position in Christ?

  • “in the body of His flesh through death,” “by the circumcision of Christ,” (Col. 1:22; 2:11) – The beginning of our position in Christ finds ourselves placed in his death, but we are also said to be placed in Christ’s resurrection and ascension as well (see Ephesians 1; Col. 2-3).

What is required of us to be placed in Christ?

  • “if indeed you continue in the faith” (Col. 1:23) – The only responsibility required of us to be in Christ is that we have faith in Christ – who He is and what He did.  This is why Jesus could say that the only work of God is, “that you believe in Him whom He [God] sent.” (John 6:29).

What does it mean to be in Christ?

  • At the risk of being overly simplistic, I will say that being in Christ means to be clothed by, through, and with Christ.  
    • God’s response to mankind’s first sin: “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21).  Here, they were covered by the life of another. God could not accept their makeshift covering of fig leaves (which wither away after a season).  God Himself needed to cover them in the life of another, who was presumably slain. It is here that we first see the divine need to be covered by God to atone for our sins.
  • “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him…” (2:9-10) – To be covered by Christ means to be covered by the very fullness of God.  It means that who Christ is and what Christ did will be the very thing covering us, and the very thing that God sees when He looks at us. This is why Paul can say that we are “complete in Him”.  And in another place he says: “you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption –“ (1 Cor. 1:30). We could really add any other attributes of Christ into this sentence and be justified, since now we are in Christ, and therefore we are clothed by everything that is Christ’s.

How does our position in Christ affect our position with God the Father?

  • When Adam and Eve sinned, they instinctively knew they had to be covered by something to be in the presence of God – “the sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Gen. 3:7).  However, the coverings they made for themselves were not adequate to bring them back into fellowship with God. This is why Adam and Eve still felt the need to hide from God after they clothed themselves, and God is seen asking, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9).  The clear message is that they are no longer in God’s presence, even though they clothed themselves by their own resources. It was only in God’s clothing them with the life of another that they could have restored fellowship – but this was merely a foreshadowing of the restored fellowship brought by Christ who was slain, therefore neither the sacrifice nor the fellowship was perfect in God’s eyes, rather it was only pointing to the sacrifice and fellowship that would be perfect when Christ died.
    • In similar fashion, we see the entire Old Testament system of atonement predicated upon slaying the life of another who is perfect – e.g. “a lamb without blemish and without spot” – to atone for one’s own imperfections.  This all points to “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Pet. 1:19)
  • Through Christ’s death and our faith in Christ, we are said to be “holy, and blameless, and above reproach” in God’s sight (Col. 1:22).  This can only be seen if our sinful life is clothed by a sinless life. This is why in another place Paul can say that we have the imputed righteousness of Christ (see Rom. 4:22-25).  In Christ is the only acceptable position in which anyone can stand in the presence of God.


The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints…this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:26-27)

Not only are we said to be “in Christ” by faith, we are also said to have Christ in us.  In fact, this is the very mystery which has been hidden for millennia. This is the mystery that was not fully seen in all the time of the Old Testament, but only came to be revealed at the time of Jesus, was later expounded by Paul and the other apostles, and continues to be revealed to all who seek His face today.

Jesus gave these promises to his disciples before He died:

  • He [The Father] will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth…He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
  • A little while longer and the world will see Me no more…At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (John 14:19-20)
  • If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:23)

All of these promises are really different aspects of the same promise, which is Christ dwelling in his disciples.  Here are His promises:

  1. The Spirit will be in you. (14:18)
  2. I will be in you. (14:20)
  3. The Father and the Son will live in you. (14:23)

We see, then, that by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us we have the very life of the Father and Son in us; we have divine life dwelling in us.  In light of the attributes of Christ listed throughout the letter to the Colossians, this fact of Christ’s very life living in us cannot be taken lightly at all.

Christ’s life living in us also explains the confidence Christ had in giving such strict standards of normal Christian living, such as those seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Throughout this sermon, Christ makes demands as tough (or even tougher) than the Old Testament law. Then Paul comes later saying repeatedly that it is impossible for man to fulfill the requirements of the law (see Romans, Galatians, etc.).  How can we reconcile the demands of Jesus in Matt. 5-7 with the inability of humans to achieve these things? It is only reconciled when we consider that Christ, the One who can perfectly fulfill all of God’s demands for us, is living in us through his Holy Spirit.  It is therefore not in our striving to fulfill God’s demands, but in our resting in a power living inside of us, that is greater than us. Just as Paul could say that his Christian life is lived by God’s “working which works in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29).

A life that perceives the revelation of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27), is the only true beginning to living a life pleasing to God.  Paul sums up this sentiment in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

“No longer I…but Christ lives in me.”  Not I, but Christ lives is the key to living the Christian life.


When we have thus viewed Christ, our position in Christ, and Christ’s life in us, we are prepared to continue on with the letter to the Colossians.

Now Col. 2 is a continuation of the truths of Col. 1, shown in the light of all other systems that fall short of this standard, including those that are supposedly “Christian”.

Col. 2:1-8 is a warning against any system that claims “Christianity”, but does not have the true power and position of us being in Christ and Christ being in us.  In other words, it warns against any system that is less than God’s full thought of what Christianity should be. Thus Paul warns against those who deceive with persuasive words and/or with man-made philosophy, tradition, and principles (see 2:4,8).  Or put in another way, he warns against any system that is not “rooted and built up in Him [Christ]” (2:7).

Col. 2:9-10 is the key to effective and victorious Christian living – it is done by the power of Christ, not man’s programs: “In Him dwells all…and you are complete in Him…”  All true power and wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ (Col. 2:3,10), and you have access to all this just by being in Christ and Christ in you. This is your answer to everything you need to live the normal Christian life.  

Col. 2:11-23 teaching specifically against all systems of legalism, including even living by the Old Testament Law.  Paul shows that Christians have had their old life crucified and buried with Christ, and have been given the life of another, Christ’s own life.  This all happened because Christ did everything and we simply trusted in this fact; it had nothing to do with following a system of commands, but had everything to do with Christ.  So, in light of this, he shows that it is ridiculous to think you will get anywhere in Christianity by applying your own strength in fulfilling any system of ordinances, rules, and regulations.

In fact, when a true Christian begins to live their life through these rules and regulations, striving by the power of their flesh, they are actually being “cheated” of their reward of living by Christ’s power and life (see Col. 2:18).  It is true, says Paul, that the Old Testament laws had a place in pointing us to Christ, as a shadow gives us a rough idea of what a person looks and acts like, but it would be foolish to live and depend on such shadows when the very substance has come.  It would rob God of all the work of Christ if we were to begin to build up a system of Christianity that does not find its power in Christ living in us. It is only in “holding fast to the Head [Jesus Christ]” that true increase happens in the life of any Christian or group of Christians (see Col. 2:19).

He ends this section by stating again that the only power to live a sinless life is in Christ.  In Galatians 6:14, Paul states that the world’s attraction has no hold over him, and in Romans 7:4, he speaks of the law losing power over Christians as well.  Both of these are true only in the cross of Christ. When the Roman soldiers (representing the powers of the world) “saw that He [Jesus] was already dead” (Jn. 19:33), by the power of God, all those who believe are just as surely marked as dead men, as they are now “in Christ”.  Since dead men cannot participate in any activities of the world, nor live by any of the ordinances of the law, Paul speaks of the foolishness of all who apply these rules to Christians. The key, to Paul, is seeing that we are already crucified in Christ. The only way to defeat sin is by death, and praise God that this is His very means to defeat sin in us: “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6).  Now with this in mind, we see Paul’s displeasure in seeking any way to defeat sin outside of Christ’s finished work. When we see our place in Christ, and Christ’s life in us, we will realize the futility of any life that is lived outside of Christ.


Col. 3:1-4 – We are only able to live lives on earth pleasing to God if we focus our attention on heavenly things, specifically the things of Christ.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above…Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1-3)

In this section, we see both that we died and were raised with Christ.  That is, our old sinful self is crucified in Christ, and the new life we have is nothing less than the life of Christ Jesus.  This is another reiteration of Paul’s emphasis on Christ, us in Christ, and Christ in us.

Now, in the context of these words, Paul is able to give us definite do’s and definite don’ts of Christianity.  Understand that these do’s and don’ts would be meaningless if understood on their own, without the background of the first half of Colossians.  They would slip into another system of legalism that would just make people feel condemned because they were incapable of achieving them. This is why he begins with these words: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth…” (Col. 3:5).  He starts with, “Therefore”, because the reader needs to attach these new commands with what has been said previously. You see, it is only by seeing our Lord that we are able to truly accomplish a Christian life by the Bible’s standards. In an instant of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s life was forever changed far beyond what decades of living by the law could ever even fathom.

In Romans 8:13, Paul says: “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Comparing this with Col. 3:5 makes it unmistakable to realize that all of what he is about to say in the following verses in Colossians will be impossible if not done in light of Christ dwelling in us in his Holy Spirit.  It is only in the power of the Spirit that we can experience true death to sin.

Col. 3:5-4:6 – The Do’s and Don’ts

  • PUT TO DEATH: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language (3:5,8)
  • DO NOT: lie, be bitter towards your spouse, provoke your children (3:9,19,21)
  • PUT ON: tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, love (3:12,14)
  • DO: bear with one another, forgive, let peace rule your hearts, be thankful, have God’s word in you, teach and admonish with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, sing with grace, submit to your husband, love your wife, obey your parents in all things, obey your masters with your heart and sincerity in all things, do everything for others as if you were doing it for God Himself, give those who work for you what is just and fair, continue earnestly and be vigilant in prayer, give thanksgiving in these prayers, pray for all those ministering Christ to others, pray for doors to be opened for the word of God and that it would be made manifested through the speakers of the word, walk in wisdom toward non-Christians, redeem the time, answer each other with graceful words  (3:13,15-20,22-23; 4:1-6)

Instead of being a list of commands, these ordinances are better viewed in the context of Christ, us in Christ, and Christ in us.  When we focus on the heavenly things of Christ, these works should follow. They then become indicators of whether or not we live by the life of Christ or by our own strength – e.g. if I notice that I have difficulty being earnest in prayers, perhaps I have not given this area of my life over to Christ to have his way, and have not trusted that through his Spirit He will take me into the intercession that He Himself walked in.

Do not misunderstand me in all this.  I am not excusing any responsibility of fulfilling this list of commands, along with the other demands made of us in the New Testament.  Rather, I am confronting the means by which we can fulfill these demands. I have a very real concern that too many Christians are going about their Christian life by the wrong means and the wrong power.  They are making it much more like Judaism, fulfilling obligations by our natural energy and power, instead of Christ’s, and they are being “cheated of their reward” of living their life through Christ’s power (see Col. 2:18).  Christianity was never meant to be done by checklists of do’s and don’ts. It forever is meant to be done through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, and our receiving of these.


We anticipate the logical question many will ask with this teaching, i.e. What does this mean and look like for us?

First, as was stated before, it is not the end goal that seems askew, but rather the means to achieving this end.  All Christians can agree that sinning is wrong to do, but there are many different opinions on how we stop our sinning.  To demonstrate this difference, we’ve used an illustration contrasting different methods used to cease from sinning:

Let’s imagine a Christian man has a terribly difficult time forgiving a man who he feels wronged him.  He knows that he is commanded to forgive all people, and so he sets out to achieve this.

Method 1- methods outside of knowing Christ, being in Christ, and Christ in us.

First, he talks to a friend about this problem and his friend suggests that he think about something else to distract him from the problem, and then it might just naturally go away.  So the man strives to forget about the situation by pursuing life as normal, and anytime a thought comes into his mind concerning this man, he tries all the harder to find something else to do to occupy himself.  But after a few weeks, he sees the man on the street, and realizes that he feels just as bitter and spiteful as ever. He knew that he had never forgiven the man, and realized this was wrong.

The man decides to try other approaches – such as imagining better qualities about the man, or forcing himself to love the man, convincing himself that he has forgiven the man, etc., etc. – to no avail.  He even tries to pray to God for forgiveness, but without the realization of Christ’s person and work, he only seeks this forgiveness as a thing in itself, and God cannot answer such prayers that do not give total glory to His Son.

Finally, the man just considers the matter useless, and believes that it will never be possible to achieve such a standard of morality in this lifetime.  He perceives the focus of Christianity to consist largely of what happens after he dies, and loses a desire to strive after holiness in this lifetime.

Method 2 – The New Testament method of striving to see Christ, knowing your position in Christ, and depending on the power of Christ’s life in you

First, the man focuses on the life of Christ and person of Christ, realizing that Christ was able to forgive people who wronged Him all the time, even showing forgiveness to His murderers.

Then, the man realizes that in Christ he is totally forgiven of all the detestable things he’s committed and held in his heart.  He sees that Christ has forgiven him of things that are far beyond what he is holding against this other man.

Finally, the man also sees that all of Christ’s forgiveness is possessed by the Holy Spirit, and this same Holy Spirit resides in his very heart.  He trusts that this life, not his own, will bring him to a point of true forgiveness, and prays to God that Christ may be manifested more fully in him, especially where it concerns this matter of forgiving the man.

In both of these scenarios, the man sets out to conquer his inability to forgive someone he feels offended him.  The end goal was the exact same, but we see that the means to accomplish this were vastly different.

The first method is a composite of different things I see happening in the church to fight sin.  I’m sure we could add other methods, but they all amount to the same thing: a victory outside of the Person and Work of Christ.  

The second method is what I believe Paul teaches in Colossians and all his letters in the New Testament.  It is a method that views the Person and work of Christ as the cornerstone and only source by which we can live the Christian life.  It is this method that I think Paul himself alludes to when writing: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and…I live by faith in the Son of God.” (Gal. 2:20).

God, may you reveal to our eyes more of your precious Son.  May we see His light and in Him find our light. Please reveal to us more of the great mystery of us in Christ and Christ in us, that we would not lose heart even in the most difficult of times and situations.  Forgive us for all the methods of man that we have sought in establishing our righteousness. May we trust your method is best. Praise you Lord. Amen.

God’s Heart Revealed in Matthew 25

In Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus gives a parable of the final judgment. In broad strokes:

  • God = “the King” who judges the nations
  • the righteous = “sheep” who inherit eternal life
  • the unrighteous = “goats” who inherit eternal punishment
    • the eternal punishment is depicted as “eternal fire” (v. 41)

On all counts, it is a very sobering parable.

But I’d like us to consider what we can learn of God by contrasting what is said to each group of people:


Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Matt. 25:34, ESV


Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Matt. 25:41, ESV

Note especially the bold sections:

  1. The sheep are told to come (presumably into God’s presence). The goats are told to depart “from me,” assuming that, in some sense, they are being removed from God’s presence.
  2. The blessing comes from “my Father”. But the cursing is not said to come from “my Father.” It just says, “you cursed.” In other words, it is apparent that God is the blesser, but He is not as eager to be the curser.
  3. The sheep inherit eternal life. This is something that is their due by the fact that they are children of God. But the goats are not told that eternal fire is their inheritance. In fact…
  4. The kingdom of God was “prepared for you [the sheep]” while hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It was not God’s intent and hope that people would dwell there.

All of these purposeful contrasts show that God is much more eager to bless and bring people into His presence than to curse and condemn people to hell. This doesn’t mean that He doesn’t curse (see Deut. 28) or is not the judge who sentences people to hell (see Matt. 10:28). He must do that as a righteous judge. However, these contrasts show that it is not his heart or intent to do these things. He longs for all to be in His presence.

He’s like a judge who must sentence his son to extreme penalty for a heinous crime. If he’s a good judge, he will follow through with this sentence, but with much anguish and tears in his eyes.

Compliments to Dr. Peter Williams for pointing these contrasts out to me.

For more on this parable, see Matthew 25: The Sheep & Goats (Apr. 29, 2019).


The Lord of Song

Exodus 15:2 tells us that God is:

  • “my strength”
  • “my salvation”
  • “my song”

Just as He provides strength and salvation, He also provides songs.

As such, songs are used in the Bible for:

  • praise and thanksgiving (Exod. 15; Psalm 100; 1 Cor. 14:15-16)
  • defeating our enemy (2 Chron. 20:21ff; Psalm 149 cf. Eph. 6:12)
  • promoting spiritual gifts (2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chron. 25:1; 1 Cor. 14:15-16)
  • teaching each other (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) – the church has historically used songs and poetry to help people learn the Scripture
  • encouraging prayer (1 Cor. 14:15-16; Rev. 5:8-9)
  • rejoicing (James 5:13)
  • expressing romance and intimacy (Song of Songs 1:1ff – especially consider our romance and intimacy with Christ the King)
  • expressing great sadness and mourning (Psalm 88; Matt. 11:17)
  • what God does over us (Zeph. 3:17)
  • the multiple purposes the Psalms serve (which are a collection of songs)

Have you known the Lord as your strength? Your salvation? How about as your song?


Placing Luke 9:51-18:14 Within John 7:10-12:19

Luke 9:51-18:17 and John 7:10-12:19 crisscross in their general timing. It is impossible to be certain the exact order of each event, but here are some principles and examples by which we can give plausible guesses of the timing.


Luke 9:51-18:14 shows a series of events largely unique to Luke.  At the beginning, Jesus, “set His face to go to Jerusalem,” (where He would depart from this world, see Luke 9:51; 24:51). Throughout the section, Jesus is similarly seen journeying toward Jerusalem a final time (9:53; 13:22, 33; 17:11).


  1. The geography does not show a linear progression from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke 10:38-42 (cf. John 11:18) is near Jerusalem. While Luke 13:33 is 3 days away from Jerusalem, and Luke 17:11 is back in Galilee.
  2. The timing does not show a linear progression.  For instance, some of the episodes in this section parallel stories recorded earlier in Matthew and/or Mark (e.g. see Luke 11 discussed in this harmony). 

Thus, it seems a general trajectory (in thought and action) takes Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem in Luke 9:51-18:14, though each individual event is not necessarily successive along this path. This is not unlike the way the gospels were constructed in general, where sometimes stories are thematically selected, but there is still a general chronological sequencing (see When Did Jesus Resurrect Jairus’s Daughter, for instance). 

From this, we can establish two principles for ordering the Luke 9:51-18:14 events:

  1. Look for indicators within each story to see if it should chronologically be placed outside of Luke’s ordering.
  2. Assume each story follows a general time/geography sequence, unless indicators show otherwise.


Unlike Luke 9:51-18:17, John 7:10-12:19 follows a very tight sequence (chronologically and geographically):

  1. Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10).
    1. He went to the Feast of Tabernacles, in the Fall (7:1-3; cf. Lev. 23:34)
    2. The trip was private (7:10)
    3. There was little time for excursions (cf. 7:8-9)
  2. Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59).
    1. He remained all 7 days of the feast (Jn. 7:37-39; Lev. 23:34)
    2. He continues teaching during (or shortly after) the feast (John 8:1[1]-59)
  3. Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39).
    1. He heals a blind man (9:1-39)
      1. Siloam (9:7) was connected to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 13:4)
    2. He teaches the Pharisees (9:40-10:21)
      1. The subject of Jesus as “shepherd” seems to connect to Ezekiel 34’s messianic prophecy of a Shepherd to come.
        1. The shepherd theme and passage were part of regular synagogue readings around the Feast of Dedication (cf. Brown 1966, 29:389).
        2. This teaching continues into the Feast of Dedication (10:22, 26-27).
    3. He teaches in the temple during the Feast of Dedication (10:22-30)
      1. “And it was winter,” (10:22)
    4. He escapes the Jews stoning Him (10:31-39)
  4. Winter: Jesus goes, “beyond the Jordan” (John 10:40)
    1. Most likely this was Batanaea[2], near Galilee (10:40)       
  5. Winter-Spring: Jesus ministers in Batanaea (John 10:41-11:6)
    1. Many believed Him there (10:41-42)
    2. Mary and Martha’s messengers inform Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was ill (11:1-6)
  6. Spring: Jesus travels to Bethany (John 11:7-18)
    1. The trip from Batanaea to Bethany took 3-4 days[3] (11:6, 17)
    2. “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away,” (11:18)
  7. Spring: Jesus resurrects Lazarus in Bethany (John 11:19-44)
  8. Spring: Jesus hides in Ephraim (John 11:45-57)
    1. Jewish leaders decide to kill Jesus (11:45-53)
      1. This was shortly after Lazarus resurrected (11:45-46)
    1. Jesus relocates to Ephraim (11:54)
      1. This was shortly before Passover (11:55-57)
  9. Spring: Jesus anointed at Bethany, shortly before Passover (John 12:1-11)
  10. Spring: Jesus’ Triumphal Jerusalem Entry (John 12:12-19)
    1. This point onwards is paralleled in the other gospels
      1. Within 1 week Jesus will die in Jerusalem

Considering this outline of John 7:10-12:19, one more principle emerges in our ordering of Luke 9:51-18:17 and John 7:10-12:19:

  1. John 7:10-12:19 sets a fixed chronological ordering of events from Jesus leaving Galilee (John 7:10) to His death at Passover (beginning John 12:12). Thus, John 7:10-12:19 should be used as a framework wherein Luke 9:51-18:17 events can attach to (unless they clearly belong before or after the John 7:10-12:19 narrative)[4].   

Luke & John Harmonized

After examining Luke 9:51-18:17 and John 7:10-12:19, we have established the following 3 principles for placing their events:

  1. Look for indicators within each Lucan story to see if it should chronologically be placed outside of Luke’s ordering.
  2. Assume each Lucan story is placed in chronological order unless indicators show otherwise.
  3. Recognize John’s ordering as chronologically fixed, and thus use John’s ordering to place Luke’s events.


To see how to apply this, we will examine the first event in Luke’s narrative (9:51-56: “Samaritans Reject Jesus”) using these 3 principles.

Principle 1: Look for indicators within each Lucan story to see if it should be placed outside of Luke’s ordering.

There are no timing or geography indicators suggesting Luke 9:51-56 should fall outside of Luke’s placement of the story, so we can proceed to principle 2.

Principle 2: Assume each Lucan story is placed in chronological order unless indicators show otherwise.

We can assume Luke 9:51-56 happened after Luke 9:49-50, since Luke records it next.  Further, Luke uses language suggesting this story falls in time sequence with his broader narrative: “It came to pass… the time had come…as they went…and they went to another village,” (Luke 9:51-56).

Principle 3: Recognize John’s ordering as chronologically fixed, and thus use John’s ordering to place Luke’s events.

Because Luke 9:51-56 takes place while Jesus was journeying from Galilee toward Jerusalem via Samaria (cf. vv. 51-52), its geography can only match 2 or 3 places within John’s narrative:

  1. #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10).
  2. Between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39).
  3. Between #8 – Spring: Jesus hides in Ephraim (John 11:45-57) and #9 – Spring: Jesus anointed at Bethany, shortly before Passover (John 12:1-11).

Luke 10 begins by saying, “After these things…” (10:1), and then tells the account of Jesus commissioning the 70. Thus, Luke 9:51-56 happened before the commissioning of the 70.

Luke 10’s Commissioning of the 70 disciples is a fairly public display of power and authority, thus, it seems unlikely that it would have happened in or near Jerusalem, due to Jesus’ tenuous relationship with the Jewish community in Jerusalem (cf. John 7:1, 10; etc.).  Further, it envisions a geographic movement that spans at least 35 different areas (cf. Luke 10:1), which, again, seems in discord to the more private and localized Jerusalem ministry recorded of Jesus in the gospels (at least, this is certainly true of His Jerusalem ministry from John 7:1 until the crucifixion).  Finally, Luke 10:1-24 focuses on town names surrounding Galilee (10:13-15, cf. Mt. 11:20-24), far from Jerusalem.  Such things indicate that the commissioning of the 70 happened outside of Jerusalem over a sizable time frame.

Thus, on this basis, Luke 10:1-24 could fit:

  • Sandwiched between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39). 
  • #5 – Winter-Spring: Jesus ministers in Batanaea (John 10:41-11:6)

Following the commissioning of the 70, we see the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).  Since there are no indicators that this event happened outside of the sequence of Luke’s placement, we assume it happened after the commissioning of the 70 (principles 1 and 2).  And John 11 tells us that Martha and Mary’s house was outside of Batanaea (in Bethany, near Jerusalem – cf. 11:18) and that Jesus already had a relationship with Martha and Mary by the time He was in Batanaea (see Jn. 11:3).  Thus, the episode of Luke 10:38-42 consequently belongs before #5 – Winter-Spring: Jesus ministers in Batanaea (John 10:41-11:6), as does the story of Jesus commissioning the 70.

This leaves sometime between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39) as the best option for the commissioning of the 70.  If the Samaritans’ rejection of Jesus (Lk. 9:51-56) also happened at the same general time (between #2 and #3 stories in John’s narrative), it would mean that the following things must have taken place in the nearly 2 months between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39):

  1. Jesus travels back to the Galilean region (presumably He would have spent a decent amount of time there after making such a journey)
  2. Jesus leaves Galilee and travels to Samaria, where He is rejected by them (Lk. 9:51-56)
  3. Afterward, Jesus draws together a group of 70, instructs them, sends them out to 30+ cities, waits for them to return, continues teaching them, then goes Himself to all of the cities for follow-up ministry (cf. Luke 10:1)
  4. Jesus also visits Mary and Martha (perhaps during the follow-up ministry) – see Luke 10:38-42.

The time required for all of these events seems difficult to imagine in a 2-month span[5].  Thus, that leaves #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10) as the most viable timing of Luke 9:51-56. 

Further, the story of Luke 9:51-56 uses terminology and concepts parallel to the #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10) period, more than the period between events #2 and #3 of John’s narrative.  For instance, both mention that Jesus’ “time” had come to travel to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51; Jn. 7:8, 10), and both have this as the last explicit mention of Jesus journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem in their respective gospels.

Thus, following the principles outlined above, we can fairly confidently place Luke 9:51-56 within the same general time as #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10).


The same principles and similar reasoning are used to place each Luke 9:51-18:14 event within John 7:10-12:19 throughout our gospel harmony (which will be published soon, Lord willing).

[1] Some question whether John 7:53-8:11 was part of John’s original gospel (cf. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1986; Carson, The Gospel of John, 1991). If it was original to John, then John 8:12-59 takes place the morning after the feast ends (cf. 8:2).  If it was not, then John 8:12-59 either happens on the last day of the feast (cf. 7:39 and 8:12) or shortly following the meeting of the Jewish authorities (7:45-52; cf. 7:52 and 8:12), which took place in the wake of Jesus’ ministry during the Feast of Tabernacles (7:45-52). Thus, both scenarios are consistent with this outline.

[2] See Riesner, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan…” from Tyndale Bulletin (1987).

[3] A more detailed argument for Jesus’ journey being 3-4 days is found in Riesner (1987).

[4] This principle assumes that John 7:10 and Luke 9:51 refer to the same time.  Such an assumption seems safe because: (A) Luke 9:51 uses language indicative of this being his final departure  – “the time had come for Him to be received up…He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and (B) Matthew and Mark, speaking of the same general time, mention Jesus needing to leave Galilee (Matt. 19:1; Mk. 10:1).  This does not mean that Jesus would never again visit Galilee (cf. Jn. 21:1), for both Luke and John leave that possibility open in their sequence of events. It only means, instead, that He would not minister there in a permanent or long-term sense (as He previously had done).

[5] The time between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication is roughly 2 months.

Henry Martyn’s Suggestions for Muslim Ministry

Taken from Don McCurry’s, Tales That Teach (2009) ~

Calcutta is where the first Protestant missionary to Muslims began his work. His name was Henry Martyn. He worked there only seven years, from 1806 to 1812…

By 1810, Martyn had worked out a strategy that is the best I know…Here are his suggestions:

1. Always be a warm, supportive friend to your Muslim neighbor.

2. Appreciate the best in the culture and religion of your Muslim friend.

3. Change the atmosphere from hostility to receptivity by doing some kind of good deed or service for the community. Martyn used medicine.

4. Learn to share your own testimony. People can argue theology, but there is no argument against your personal testimony.

5. Steer your conversation in such a way that it is always Christ-centered.

6. At the appropriate time, lead your friend into a study of Scripture.

7. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you in the communication process, working in both of you, the communicator and the one listening.

pp. 229-230

And to this I’d add:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving…pray…that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:2-6

How Best to Learn the Bible


Any attempt to study Scripture that does not depend on and seek help from God/the Holy Spirit is doomed to fail. The very Bible we are studying says as much in Jer 17:5-9; Matt. 11:25-30; 1 Cor. 2:6-13; and elsewhere.

This is more a posture of humility and dependence we need to take throughout this study than it is a specific action to implement.

Why Should You Read the Bible?

To best have a true and living knowledge of God’s word (the Bible) I recommend people first seriously consider why they want to better know the Bible.

There are many reasons to know Scripture (some good, some not) but how you answer the “why” will determine your relative success in actually knowing the Bible more than anything else, in my opinion

Reasons like, “I should read the Bible,” “God wants me to read the Bible,” etc. may be true, but likely won’t get you very far if that’s your only motivation.

I think this is because these reasons alone reveal a superficial estimation of the worthiness of Scripture itself. We must go deeper and ask, “Why should you read the Bible?” “Why does God want you to?” Having a firm grasp on this, in my experience, is critical to your success in probing deeper into God’s word.

So here are the reasons at the top of my list that leave me hungering for more and more of God’s word:

  1. The Bible = God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35) – as such it is the only thing you could read that is absolutely trustworthy in everything it says; it’s the only thing that dependably reveals who God is, how to please Him, etc. Jesus appeals to it as His absolute authority (and you can’t get higher endorsement than that – see Matt. 4:4-11).
  2. The Bible reveals everything we need to know about life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4) – in this sense, it is all sufficient as a means of revelation. It reveals everything we need to know to have a successful life and pursuit of God. This means that if the Bible doesn’t speak on an issue, it is not ultimately important. We have 1 book to tell us what is true and important about God. Don’t look to people for this information – they’ll always disappoint and may lead you eternally on the wrong path.
  3. The Bible is understandable to anyone willing to follow God (Psalm 19:7; 25:8-9; 119:130) – it is the great equalizer; you don’t need a degree to read and understand it, you don’t need X amount of classes; you simply need a willing heart and the Holy Spirit (more on that later).
  4. The Bible is the ultimate judge (John 12:47-50; Rev. 19:15) – as a mentor of mine put it, when you are face-to-face with God on the day of judgment, you won’t be there with your parents and pastors and friends while God asks you, “what did your parents, pastors, and friends say?” No, you will be judged by God alone, who seeks what you did with His words alone. There is no other book you’ll be judged by. God has given us the answer key for our final exam!
  5. The Bible is essential for spiritual life at every stage of development (Isaiah 55:3; John 6:63) – it is related to “pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet. 2:2), “bread” (Matt. 4:4), and “solid food,” (Heb. 5:14). Imagine, for a moment, the only source of sustenance you consume is drinking milk for 20 min. a week. This is all you have every week. Would you live? Maybe for a little while. At best it would be a sickly and poor life you’d have. At worst you’d be dead. Now consider that this is the normal “spiritual” diet of many. They hear a pastor give pre-digested spiritual food (which is what milk is) for 20 min. (or so) on a Sunday morning. And we wonder why the church is so weak and emaciated! God forgive us!
  6. “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4; 1 Pet. 1:23) – in other words, even if every human in the entirety of the world said X is true, if God says X is not true, then X is most certainly not true! Consider that for a moment. Think of all the lies you are believing right now that came from so many different sources. You don’t even know the half of what are lies versus truth because you don’t know the Scripture. You have lived so much of your vapor of a life building up lies and passing on lies, all because you failed to study God’s word, which is “the truth” (John 17:17).
  7. The Bible defeats Satan (Matt. 4:4-11; Eph. 6:17) – Jesus conquers Satan by repeatedly saying, “it is written” (Matt. 4:4-11) and appealing to Scripture. Even when Satan tries to pervert Scripture and use it in a twisted way against Jesus, He still goes back to God’s word as the ultimate weapon. In contrast, Eve was made to doubt God’s word, “Did God really say…?” (Gen. 3:4) and answered with her experience and reasoning, instead of appealing to God’s word. She lost that battle, Adam and her fell, and we still are reeling from that defeat. Don’t lose on this front. Don’t try to beat Satan by your sense of reasoning, experience, etc. – you’ll always lose. Instead, know God’s word and receive it as truth and Satan will not be able to conquer you.
  8. The Bible is more trustworthy than experience, signs, wonders, our logic, etc. (Matt. 4:4-11; Deut. 13:1-5) – we all experience many things, and that is a powerful influence. But your experiences (or more accurately your interpretation of your experiences) can ultimately fail you. Even miracles or your reasoning abilities can lead you astray if you do not know Scripture. You need a source of truth more dependable than you and your experience or abilities. Enter the Bible.
  9. The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible (Matt. 4:6-7) – it may seem strange to say the Bible interprets the Bible, but think of it like a legal document (though much more exciting!). One section helps define the terms of another section, and only by carefully reading the whole document could you understand the intention of the author. In the same way, God carefully laid out the words of Scripture so that we are not left in the dark on anything important to Him. But it does take some digging and comparing Scripture with Scripture, and reading in context, to accurately understand Scripture. Thus, when we hear contradictory views from Scripture this should cause us to look MORE into the Bible (as Jesus demonstrated with Satan in Matt. 4:6-7) and not throw our hands up and say it is hopeless to understand.

More reasons could be given. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about itself. But I’ll leave you to find some more of those reasons as you go.

How Can You Best Learn God’s Word?

After the why of knowing God’s word is more or less settled, let’s consider various ways to go about learning God’s word for yourself (note that I’m not sure what will work best for you, so stick with what is helpful and freely throw away what is not):

  • pray to understand Scripture – we need God’s help, through the Holy Spirit for everything, including understanding Scripture
  • read and listen to Scripture – I like Rev. 1:3 which talks about “the one who reads” (singular) and “those” who hear (plural). In other words, there seemed to be an expectation that 1 person would read to a group of people who listen. Much of the church has been illiterate and thus depended on listening to God’s word. Thus, whether you prefer reading, listening, or both, do whatever you need to do to just learn what the Bible actually says. A lot won’t make sense at first, but just keep on listening and repeat. It will start making sense the more you are immersed in it (a favorite audio of mine is Max McLean’s reading found through
    • I recommend the ESV translation as a very accurate translation, but also like to consult the NIV and other translations to consider Scripture from different angles.
  • consult commentaries, books, Bible teachers, pastors, etc. – especially when we begin our spiritual walk, we are more dependent on others (the way a baby is dependent on the mother’s milk before he can eat whole meals for himself). In such a way, God has given us teachers to help us better understand His word. The good teachers are the ones that let the Bible do most of the talking and produce in you a desire to go to Scripture more directly. Use them as they are helpful along these lines, but disregard the ones who make you dependent on them over Scripture.
    • Some of these people in my life have been: John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Josh McDowell, Watchman Nee, Derek Prince, D.A. Carson, Peter Williams, and Philip Mauro.
    • A website that I’ve found very helpful is (see my recommended commentaries)
    • I also sometimes consult “The Message” and “New Living Translation” Bibles. They are not good translations on their own, but can be good helps to interpret Scripture
    • other tools for deeper research include and biblegateway (for word, topic studies)
  • try to paraphrase what you read – I aim to rewrite a paragraph, chapter, or book of the Bible in 1 sentence
    • and/or you can try to illustrate what you read – I remember illustrating every chapter of Isaiah years ago as I read, and I still can remember the imagery and lessons
  • try to chart what the “main river” is in the text versus the side “rivulets” – this will help you keep “the main thing the main thing” in the text
  • obey whatever you see/hear – whenever you are hearing/reading Scripture, be prepared to completely alter the things you do, what you think, etc. based on what you discover. The Bible is supposed to change you. If you don’t read it that way, stop reading it altogether. You are wasting your time. But, as you obey it, you are better able to remember and understand what you read (James 1:23-24).
  • share/teach what you see/hear – teaching others is the best way to master subjects. Ezra 7:10; Matt. 28:18; 2 Tim. 2:2 all show the practice and God-given expectation that we will share what we learn with others. If you horde it for yourselves it grows maggoty and you lose it (Ex. 16:20). When you share with others, you retain it and become hungry to learn more, lest you lead others astray! (James 3:1). If you don’t have a captive audience to share with, ask the Lord for this and He will provide what is best for your situation.
    • for further learning, I recommend creating outlines for the people you teach
  • meditate on Scripture (Josh. 1:8) – I find it helpful to read a verse of Scripture (or a sentence or paragraph) and keep repeating this over and over in my mind as I consider what God is revealing. I’ll do this until my thoughts drift to something else, then I’ll read another passage and repeat.
  • handwrite Scripture (Deut. 17:18-20) – it was prophesied that when Israel had kings the king should write by hand the entirety of the Scripture that existed at that time. Part of this was the process by which the king would “learn to revere” God and “follow carefully all the words of this law,” and “not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites,” along with other benefits. When you slow down to handwrite Scripture you are forced to focus on each word. You’ll soon realize why the “scribes” in Jesus’ day were considered authorities on the Bible – they knew it (or should have known it) well from handwriting it over and over!
  • memorize Scripture – personally, this has not been a great aid to me. It’s probably because I did this for the wrong reasons before I was a Christian, but while I attended a church. That said, I’ve heard and seen this take great effect in other brothers and sisters and so would encourage you to try it as well as another possible tool to aid with knowing Scripture.

How Many Times Was Jesus Anointed?

Each gospel contains a single account of Jesus being anointed, but they do not all seem to refer to the same incident.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of each episode:

Matthew 26:6-13 Mark 14:3-9 Luke 7:36-50 John 12:1-8
In Bethany, around the Crucifixion…In Bethany, around the Crucifixion…[location appears to be around Galilee, in the middle of Jesus’ ministry]In Bethany, around the Crucifixion…
Inside the house of Simon the leperInside the house of Simon the leperJesus accepted a Pharisee’s dinner invitation (named Simon). Martha served; Lazarus and others sat at table with Jesus
A woman came with alabaster flask of oilA woman came with alabaster flask of oilA sinful woman brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. Mary had fragrant oil
She anointed His head   She anointed His head   She washed Jesus’ feet with tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with fragrant oil.Mary anointed his feet with oil and wiped with her hair.
Disciples thought she was wastefulDisciples thought she was wasteful The Pharisee thought, “A prophet should know she’s a sinner”Judas Iscariot thought she was wasteful
Jesus defends the woman – “Help the poor later.  She prepared me for burial.  The gospel will recall this story.”Jesus defends the woman – “Help the poor later.  She prepared me for burial.  The gospel will recall this story.”Jesus teaches Simon in a parable: “Those forgiven much will love much.”   Jesus pronounces the woman forgiven and saved. Jesus defends the woman – “Help the poor later. She prepared me for burial.”

In light of this, we propose that there are 2 separate anointings recorded in the gospels:

  1. The anointing of Luke 7 – in the middle of Jesus’ ministry
  2. The anointing of Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 – immediately before Jesus’ death and resurrection

We say this because:

  1. The time and location are clearly different.  Matthew, Mark, and John all tell us that this happened near Jerusalem within a week of Jesus’ final Passover (Mt. 26:2; Mk. 14:1; Jn. 12:1).  But Luke says it happened before He did various activities that took place in the middle of His ministry, while He was at Galilee (nearly 60 miles away from Jerusalem, see Lk. 8:1ff).
  2. The woman in Luke’s story is a known “sinner” of that time (7:37), but the woman in the other accounts is “Mary” (Jn. 12:3) of Bethany (Jn. 11:1).  This Mary was known and admired for her devotion to Jesus (Lk. 10:42; Jn. 11:5, as well as Mt. 26:13, Mk 14:9)—even by Luke who calls the woman of his story a “sinner”—and no hint of sinful living is mentioned concerning her.    
  3. The main themes of each story are very different.  In Luke’s story, the theme concerns a notorious sinner who loves Jesus much for offering her forgiveness, while others think she is too unrighteous for such an expression of gratitude.  Whereas in Matthew, Mark, and John’s account, the focus is on a woman who sacrificed much to anoint Jesus, while others thought it was wasteful of her.
  4. The wording in Matthew, Mark, and John is virtually identical throughout the episode.  Luke, however, retains none of the same phraseology and words (which is very uncharacteristic of him, and all the more if it concerns such a popular story as this clearly was[1]).

The main objections against our view, and in favor of all 4 gospels recording the same anointing are:

  1. There are many striking similarities between Luke’s account and the others’ accounts.  They all record that:
    • It was at Simon’s house
    • A woman came with fragrant oil to anoint Jesus
    • Others present protested the woman’s act
    • Jesus defended and honored the woman against the protest
  2. All the writers are silent about the existence of more than one anointing, which seems unlikely if two anointings occurred and were important enough to be retold.

Answering Objection 1

The similarities posed in objection 1 are not that significant or uncommon. Consider:

  • There are 8 different men named Simon in the New Testament alone (even 2 among the 12 chosen apostles).  Further, it has recently been shown that “Simon” was the most popular name in that place and time based on the data available to us (cf. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2017). Thus, there should be little surprise that Jesus went to 2 different houses belonging to a Simon. And, even further, it could be that Matthew and Mark were differentiating their Simon from the Simon in Luke’s story, by calling him “Simon the leper” (e.g. Matt. 26:6), as opposed to “one of the Pharisees” (Luke 7:36). In either case, it would be very unusual to describe the same Simon as “the leper” in one setting and “the Pharisee” in the other if they were recalling the same event and person, adding further credence that these are two separate scenarios.
  • Anointing with oil was fairly common in Jesus’ day, especially upon, “guests of notable social status,” (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 2009, 618; see also Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50 1996, 1:702)[2]. As such, it is hardly surprising that multiple devotees of Jesus who found hope and liberation in Him would want to honor Him in this way. For two different women to do this (and plausibly others) during His ministry would be expected.
  • Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly advocates for the marginalized and sinful in the face of opposition and their mistreatment, even from his own disciples (e.g. Mark 3:1-6; Luke 18:15-17, 35-43; John 7:53-8:11; 9:1-7). In light of this, two separate episodes of Jesus exonerating a woman rebuffed by others, sadly, was fairly typical.

Thus, in summary, a common practice (anointing your guest) at 2 different houses where the owner had the same popular name (i.e. Simon), that elicited a common response (i.e. Jesus vindicating a mocked woman), should not excite us too much or force anyone to assume there was only 1 anointing.

Answering Objection 2

The second objection (i.e. that writers aware of multiple, similar anointings should mention the other anointing) presupposes a few things. Namely, that:

  1. the anointing experience itself was unusual (to the point that it deserved mention if it happened twice over Jesus’ ministry),
  2. the gospel writers knew that such an event was unusual,
  3. the gospel writers knew this event happened twice during Jesus’ ministry, and
  4. the gospel writers would have articulated their knowledge that 2 similar, unusual events took place during Jesus’ ministry.

Presupposition #1 is addressed under “Answering Objection 1” (above), where we find that the event was not as unusual as some might think[3].

Next, even if the event was unusual, would the gospel writers know it was unusual (see presupposition #2)?  No doubt, they were used to seeing unusual things in the days of Jesus and the early church.  So much so, in fact, that Luke had to indicate when, “extraordinary miracles,” were taking place (Acts 19:11), presumably in contrast to the “everyday” miracles they were used to witnessing at this time.  And not only was Jesus’ life a constant supernatural display, but He also broke so many social norms, and—whether directly or indirectly—encouraged others to break social norms as well.  Thus, it would be hasty for us to make a judgment on what the gospel writers would or would not consider to be, “unusual,” during Jesus’ ministry.

Further, though the disciples were clearly present during Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, we do not know if they were present in the Luke 7 anointing.  If they were absent at that time, and in the midst of so much activity, it is difficult to know whether (or how) they would have become familiar with the Luke 7 anointing (see presupposition #3).  Of course, others were familiar enough with the story to pass it on to Luke who recorded it in his gospel, but Luke seems to have interviewed many witnesses in compiling his account, and thus could have been privy to information unknown to the other gospel writers[4].

Finally, and most importantly, even if the gospel writers (A) knew about these events, and (B) believed them to be unusual, it would be quite arrogant for readers thousands of years later—in a different place and culture—to presume that this means the writers should therefore include both stories in their gospels.  The purposes of their gospels were not to give an encyclopedia of data about Jesus’ ministry, or make everything systematic and clear. Along these lines, the accomplished author and literary critic, C.S. Lewis, points out that literary critics of his time and place routinely miss the motives and purposes behind his own literature. Thus, Lewis argues, how much more should we be skeptical of modern claims to know the gospel authors’ intents when they are removed by thousands of years and different cultures (as cited by McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Evidence I & II Fully Updated in One Volume To Answer The Questions Challenging Christians in the 21st Century, 1999, chap. 31).

With all of these considerations in mind, the best explanation of the data still seems to be that 2 notable anointings occurred in Jesus’ ministry[5], Luke recording the first, and Matthew, Mark, and John recording the second.

[1] We know this because: (1) it is recorded by Matthew, Mark, and John, while such commonality rarely exists, and (2) Jesus says this story should be retold “wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world,” (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9).

[2] See Psalm 23:5; 141:5; Amos 6:6; Matt. 6:17; Luke 7:46; 10:34.

[3] Further, as with much of Jesus’ ministry (and the entire Bible), the events themselves only carry as much significance as the theological implications and explanations behind the events.  For instance, a man dying on the cross was a very common experience in the Roman world, and yet the Bible devotes much time and attention to Jesus’ death on a cross. This is because the significance is in the meaning of the event, and not merely that it was a spectacular event on its own.  Thus, it is very possible that Jesus’ contemporaries knew of many times He was anointed by others, whereas these two recorded anointings carried theological significance and import that other anointings did not.

[4] This, of course, does not explain why Luke would not have known or recorded the other anointing if he knew about a lesser-known anointing.

[5] Though some have argued for 3 anointings, we have not addressed that hypothesis here because it seems highly improbable in light of the many similarities seen in Matthew, Mark, and John’s accounts (see above).