Questions From Readers
Three of the Gospels relate the complaint about Jesus’ being anointed with costly oil. Did many apostles complain, or was it primarily Judas?
We find this event related in the Gospels by Matthew, Mark, and John. It seems that Judas took the lead in complaining, with at least some other apostles then agreeing with him. This incident illustrates why we can be thankful for having four Gospel accounts. What each writer penned was accurate, but not all provide the same details. By comparing parallel accounts, we gain a fuller, more detailed view of many events.
The account at Matthew 26:6-13 gives the location—the house of Simon the leper, in Bethany—but does not name the woman who began pouring perfumed oil on Jesus’ head. Matthew notes: “On seeing this the disciples became indignant” and complained that the oil could have been sold and the funds given to the poor.
Mark’s account includes most of those details. But he adds that she broke open the container. It held perfumed oil that was “genuine nard,” such as may have been imported from India. As to the complaint, Mark reports that “there were some expressing indignation,” and “they were feeling great displeasure at her.” (Mark 14:3-9) So the two accounts show that more than one apostle was involved in the complaining. How did it start though?
John, who was an eyewitness, added pertinent details. He names the woman—Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. John provided also this detail, which we can take as complementary rather than contradictory: “She greased the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet dry with her hair.” Combining the accounts, we can see that Mary must have put the oil, which John confirms was “genuine nard,” on Jesus’ head and feet. John was very close to Jesus and was inclined to be indignant over slights to Him. We read: “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, who was about to betray him, said: ‘Why was it this perfumed oil was not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor people?’”—John 12:2-8.
Of course, Judas was “one of his disciples,” but you can sense John’s indignation that someone in this position was planning on betraying Jesus. Translator Dr. C. Howard Matheny observed about John 12:4: “The present participle ‘being about’ [or, “was about to”] and the present infinitive ‘to be betraying’ [or, “was about to betray”] both express linear or continuous action. This shows that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was not a momentary action done on the spur of the moment for it was thought about and planned during many days.” John added the insight that Judas complained “not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box and used to carry off the monies put in it.”
It thus seems logical that the thief Judas initiated the complaining because he would have more to steal if the costly oil were sold and the funds put in the money box that he carried. Once Judas raised this complaint, some other apostles may have murmured assent at what seemed a valid point. Judas, however, was the main instigator of the complaint.