How and why would Luke have edited Mark 14:3-9 contrasted w…


The editing of biblical texts has been a subject of intense scholarly analysis, particularly in the case of the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospels of Mark and Luke, in particular, have often been examined for potential literary interdependence and redaction. This essay aims to explore how and why Luke may have edited the pericope of Mark 14:3-9 when composing his own version in Luke 7:36-50. By comparing the texts, examining potential differences in wording, emphasis, and theological nuances, a more comprehensive understanding of Luke’s intentions and editorial decisions will be achieved.

The Background of the Texts

Both Mark 14:3-9 and Luke 7:36-50 recount a significant event involving Jesus, anointing, and forgiveness. In Mark, the story unfolds during a meal at the house of Simon the leper, where a woman anoints Jesus with expensive ointment. Meanwhile, in Luke, the event takes place in the house of a Pharisee named Simon, where a sinful woman enters and anoints Jesus’s feet with ointment, wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair. The parallel nature of the episodes allows for a fruitful comparative analysis of the texts.

Comparative Analysis of the Texts

1. Differences in Detail and Language

Firstly, it is crucial to acknowledge the discrepancies in detail and wording between Mark 14:3-9 and Luke 7:36-50. Mark mentions the woman pouring the ointment on Jesus’s head, while Luke specifies that she anoints his feet. Furthermore, Mark describes the value of the ointment as being “more than three hundred denarii,” whereas Luke omits this detail. These differences suggest that Luke deliberately altered the narrative to align it more closely with his intended theological message.

2. Alterations in Emphasis

Luke’s version of the anointing story seems to place more emphasis on the theme of forgiveness and the concept of grace. In Mark’s account, Jesus responds to those questioning the waste of expensive ointment by affirming that the woman’s actions were done in preparation for his burial. However, in Luke, Jesus’s primary focus is on the woman’s sins being forgiven, emphasizing the theme of forgiveness rather than burial preparation.

3. The Absence of Disapproval

Another significant difference between the two accounts lies in the absence of criticism towards the woman in Luke’s version. In Mark, the onlookers criticize the woman, saying that the ointment could have been sold and the money donated to the poor. However, in Luke, the focus is solely on Jesus’s response to the woman’s actions, with no mention of disapproval from those present. This omission may indicate Luke’s intention to portray Jesus as a more accepting and forgiving figure.

4. The Focus on Love and Gratitude

In Luke’s narrative, there is a heightened focus on gratitude and love towards Jesus. The woman’s actions in anointing Jesus’s feet, wetting them with her tears, and drying them with her hair highlight her profound love and adoration for Jesus. In contrast, Mark’s account emphasizes Jesus’s imminent death and burial, lending a more somber tone to the event. Luke’s portrayal of the woman’s gratitude and love serves to underscore his overarching theme of forgiveness and the transformative power of faith.

Potential Reasons for Luke’s Redaction

Several reasons can be posited to explain Luke’s editing of Mark 14:3-9 when composing his own version in Luke 7:36-50.

1. Theological Emphasis

Luke consistently emphasizes themes of forgiveness, compassion, and grace throughout his Gospel. By editing the anointing story to highlight forgiveness and Jesus’s acceptance, Luke reinforces these themes and contributes to his overall theological message.

2. Cultural Sensitivities

Luke may have been mindful of the cultural context of his audience. In the Greco-Roman world, the act of anointing was often associated with an expression of love, gratitude, and repentance. By presenting this story with an emphasis on forgiveness and the woman’s display of love, Luke may have sought to resonate with his readers, particularly those from a Gentile background.


In conclusion, Luke’s redaction of Mark 14:3-9 in Luke 7:36-50 demonstrates a deliberate reworking of the narrative with differing theological focus, detail, and emphasis. Luke’s alterations emphasize themes of forgiveness, love, and gratitude while downplaying elements associated with Jesus’s impending death and burial. These editorial decisions align with Luke’s broader theological and narrative aims. By delving into these differences, scholars gain a deeper understanding of Luke’s editorial strategies and theological intentions. Further research and analysis can continue to shed light on the intricate relationship between these two parallel Gospel texts.