John 12:3
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
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(3) Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard.—Here, again, St. John alone gives the name of her whom St. Matthew and St. Mark call “a woman,” and here, too, she is true to the earlier character as we have it drawn in St. Luke (Luke 10:40; Luke 10:42). From this passage also we know that it was a “pound” of ointment which she took. The other accounts tell us that it was an “alabaster box.” This pound was the Greek litra, the Latin “libra,” the pound of twelve ounces.

For the “ointment of spikenard,” see Mark 14:3. It may perhaps mean “Nard Pistik,” or Pistik ointment, the word Pistik being a local name. The fact that this peculiar word occurs only in these two passages points to this as the probable explanation.

And anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair.—St. Matthew and St. Mark both state that she anointed His head. This was the usual custom (comp. Note on Luke 7:46, and Psalm 23:5); but St. John remembers that the act of love went beyond that of common esteem, in the depth of its gratitude and reverence, and anointed the feet, and wiped them with her own hair.

And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.—The ointment was imported from the East in sealed flasks, which were broken when it was used. The strong perfume then escaped, and spread through the house (Mark 14:3).

John 12:3-8. Then took Mary a pound of ointment, &c. — See notes on Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:1-9. She did what is here related in token of the warm sense she had of the many favours Christ had conferred on her and her relations, but especially for the wonderful kindness he had lately shown to her brother Lazarus. Then saith Judas, Why was not this ointment sold, &c. — Judas was angry because his Master had not taken the ointment with a view to sell it, pretending that the price received for it might have been bestowed on the poor. Nevertheless, his real motive was covetousness; for as he carried the bag, he thought if his Master had sold the ointment, he would have gotten the money to keep, and so might have applied part of it to his own private use. But it is no new thing for the basest men to cover their blackest crimes with the fair pretence of zeal for the honour of God and the interests of religion. For three hundred pence — These were Roman pence, and consequently amounted to nine pounds seven shillings and sixpence. The expression only intimates a general guess at the value by a round sum, as we speak, for such three hundred denarii were, though the correspondent value with us is not so. Against the day of my burying, which now draws nigh, hath she kept this — Mr. Whiston thinks this is as if our Lord had said, “She has spent but a little of this ointment, but has reserved the main part of it to pour on my head some days hence, which shall be so near my death, that it may be considered as a kind of embalming.” But it is unnatural to suppose that, in the transport of her love and gratitude, she would use this little management of keeping back most that was in the vessel; or that, if she had, John would have mentioned the quantity she took, which was no way to his purpose, or have taken notice of the room being filled with the odour of it.

12:1-11 Christ had formerly blamed Martha for being troubled with much serving. But she did not leave off serving, as some, who when found fault with for going too far in one way, peevishly run too far another way; she still served, but within hearing of Christ's gracious words. Mary gave a token of love to Christ, who had given real tokens of his love to her and her family. God's Anointed should be our Anointed. Has God poured on him the oil of gladness above his fellows, let us pour on him the ointment of our best affections. In Judas a foul sin is gilded over with a plausible pretence. We must not think that those do no acceptable service, who do it not in our way. The reigning love of money is heart-theft. The grace of Christ puts kind comments on pious words and actions, makes the best of what is amiss, and the most of what is good. Opportunities are to be improved; and those first and most vigorously, which are likely to be the shortest. To consult to hinder the further effect of the miracle, by putting Lazarus to death, is such wickedness, malice, and folly, as cannot be explained, except by the desperate enmity of the human heart against God. They resolved that the man should die whom the Lord had raised to life. The success of the gospel often makes wicked men so angry, that they speak and act as if they hoped to obtain a victory over the Almighty himself.See this passage explained in the notes at Matthew 26:3-16.

John 12:2

A supper - At the house of Simon the leper, Matthew 26:6.

Lazarus was ... - The names of Martha and Lazarus are mentioned because it was not in their own house, but in that of Simon. Lazarus is particularly mentioned, since it was so remarkable that one who had been once dead should be enjoying again the endearments of friendship. This shows, also, that his resurrection was no illusion - that he was really restored to the blessings of life and friendship. Calmet thinks that this was about two months after his resurrection, and it is the last that we hear of him. How long he lived is unknown, nor is it recorded that he made any communication about the world of spirits. It is remarkable that none who have been restored to life from the dead have made any communications respecting that world. See Luke 16:31, and the notes at 2 Corinthians 12:4.

3. spikenard—or pure nard, a celebrated aromatic (So 1:12).

anointed the feet of Jesus—and "poured it on His head" (Mt 26:7; Mr 14:3). The only use of this was to refresh and exhilarate—a grateful compliment in the East, amidst the closeness of a heated atmosphere, with many guests at a feast. Such was the form in which Mary's love to Christ, at so much cost to herself, poured itself out.

Ver. 3-8. Both Matthew and Mark relate this story with some different circumstances: see the notes upon those two places, where all the differing circumstances are considered and explained, and the parts of this history are more largely explained.

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard very costly,.... Worth three hundred pence, according to Judas's estimation of it. This Mary was the other sister of Lazarus; See Gill on Matthew 26:7, See Gill on Mark 14:3, concerning the nature and value of this ointment:

and anointed the feet of Jesus; as he lay upon the bed or couch, at supper:

and wiped his feet with her hair; See Gill on Luke 7:38.

And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment; see Sol 1:3; ointment of spikenard was very odoriferous: this may be an emblem of the sweet savour of Christ, in the ministration of the Gospel, throughout the whole world.

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
John 12:3-4. To explain the great quantity of the ointment (12 ounces) as the outcome of the superabundance of her love (Olshausen), is arbitrary. Mary did not anoint with the whole pound, but with a portion of it (comp. on John 12:7). On πιστικός,[104] genuine, unadulterated, see on Mark 14:3.

πολυτίμου] belongs to ΜΎΡΟΥ, as ΠΟΛΥΤΕΛ., Mark 14:3.

ΤΟῪς ΠΌΔΑς ΑὐΤΟῦ] repeated, on account of the correlation with ΤΑῖς ΘΡΙΞῚΝ ΑὐΤῆς, in order to make prominent the greatness of the love; with her hairs, His feet.

ἐκ τῆς ὀσμῆς] ἐκ causal. Comp. Matthew 23:25; Revelation 8:5; Plat. Phaedr. p. 235 C; Dem. 581. 26, et al.

εἷς ἐκ τ. ΜΑΘ. .] the rest did not agree with him; but it was Judas, etc.

ὁ μέλλων, κ.τ.λ.] This utterance stood in truth already in psychological connection with this destiny; see on John 6:71.

[104] If John adopted this word from Mark,—which, considering the rareness of its occurrence, is probable, and may have been done quite involuntarily,—this shows no literary dependence, and does not justify the suspicion that he also drew the subject-matter from this source (Hilgenfeld). Should πιστιχός be the adjective of a proper name (Pistic), all objection would disappear of itself. Comp. on Mark 14:3, note 2. Goth. also has pistikeinis.

John 12:3. Ἡ οὖν Μσρία … The third member of the Bethany family appears also in character, λαβοῦσα λίτραν μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτίμου. λίτρα (Lat. libra), the unit of weight in the Roman empire, slightly over eleven ounces avoirdupois. μύρον (from μύρω, to trickle, or from μύρρα, myrrh, the juice of the Arabian myrtle) is any unguent, more costly and luxurious than the ordinary ἔλαιον. Cf. Luke 7:46, and Trench, Synonyms. νάρδος, “the head or spike of a fragrant East Indian plant belonging to the genus Valeriana, which yields a juice of delicious odour which the ancients used in the preparation of a most precious ointment”. Thayer, πιστικῆς is sometimes derived from πίστις, and rendered “genuine,” γνήσιος, δόκιμος. Thus Euthymius, ἀκράτου καὶ καταπεπιστευμένης εἰς καθαρότητα, unadulterated and guaranteed pure. But πιστός is the common form; cf. Θηρικλέους πιστὸν τέκνον, Theopomp. in Com. Frag. Some suppose it indicates the name of the place where the nard was obtained. Thus Augustine: “Quod ait ‘pistici,’ locum aliquem credere debemus, unde hoc erat unguentum pretiosum”. Similarly some modern scholars derive it from Opis (sc. Opistike), a Babylonian town. In the Classical Review (July, 1890) Mr. Bennett suggests that it should be written πιστακῆς, and that it refers to the Pistacia Terebinthus, which grows in Cyprus, Chios, and Palestine, and yields a turpentine in such inconsiderable quantities as to be very costly. The word is most fully discussed by Fritzsche on Mark 14:3, who argues at great length and with much learning for the meaning “drinkable”. He quotes Athenaeus in proof that some ointments were drunk, mixed with wine. πιστός is the word commonly used for “potable,” as in Aesch., Prom. Vinct., 480, where Prometheus says man had no defence against disease οὔτε βρώσιμον, οὐ χριστὸν, οὔτε πιστόν. And Fritzsche holds that while πιστός means “qui bibi potest,” πιστικός means “qui facile bibi potest”. The weight and nature of the ointment are specified to give force to the added πολυτίμου; see John 12:5.—ἤλειψε τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, Mt. and Mk. say “the head,” which was the more natural but less significant, and in the circumstances less convenient, mode of disposing of the ointment.—κα ἐξέμαξεαὐτοῦ, “and wiped High feet with her hair”. Holtzmann thinks this an infelicitous combination of Mark 14:3 and Luke 7:38; infelicitous because the anointing of the feet which was appropriate in the humbled penitent was not so in Mary’s case; and the drying with her hair which was suitable where tears had fallen was unsuitable where anointing had taken place, for the unguent should have been allowed to remain. This, however, is infelicitous criticism. In Aristoph., Wasps, 607, the daughter anoints her father’s feet: ἡ θυγάτηρτὼ πόδʼ ἀλείφῃ; and if, as Fritzsche supposes, the ointment was liquid, there is nothing inappropriate but the reverse in the wiping with the hair.—ἡ δὲ οἰκία ἐπληρώθη ἐκ τῆς ὀσμῆς τοῦ μυροῦ, at once attracting attention and betraying the costliness of the offering.

3. took Mary a pound] S. John alone gives her name and the amount of ointment. The pound of 12 ounces is meant. So large a quantity of a substance so costly is evidence of her over-flowing love. Comp. John 19:39.

ointment of spikenard] The Greek expression is a rare one, and occurs elsewhere only Mark 14:3, which S. John very likely had seen: his account has all the independence of that of an eye-witness, but may have been influenced by the Synoptic narratives. The meaning of the Greek is not certain: it may mean (1) ‘genuine nard,’ and spikenard was often adulterated; or (2) ‘drinkable, liquid nard,’ and unguents were sometimes drunk; or (3) ‘Pistic nard,’ ‘Pistic’ being supposed to be a local adjective. But no place from which such an adjective could come appears to be known. Of the other two explanations the first is to be preferred.

very costly] Horace offers to give a cask of wine for a very small box of it; ‘Nardi parvus onyx eliciet cadum.’ Odes iv. xii. 17.

anointed the feet] The two Synoptists mention only the usual (Psalm 23:5) anointing of the head; S. John records the less usual act, which again is evidence of Mary’s devotion. The rest of this verse is peculiar to S. John, and shews that he was present.

John 12:3. Ἐκ τῆς ὀσμῆς, owing to [“with”] the odour) It was at this very odour that Judas took offence.

Verse 3. - Mary therefore took a pound (the synoptists Matthew and Mark say "an alabaster," i.e. a flask made of the costly spar, which was peculiarly adapted to the preservation of liquid perfume, hermetically sealed before it was broken for immediate use. The fact, as stated by Matthew and Mark, is inconsistent with her reserving any of the precious fluid for another occasion) of ointment ("liquid perfume," sometimes added to the more ordinary oil), of pure (or possibly; pistie) nard. Mark uses this unusual word πιστικός, which belongs to later Greek. The derivation of πιστκτικός from πίνω, equivalent to "potable," is not appropriate in meaning, though this "nard" was used for perfuming wine. In Mark 14:3 also the Authorized Version translates it "spikenard," as it does here (cf. also Song of Solomon 1:12 and Song 4:13, 14, where Hebrew נֵרְדְּ corresponds with νάρδος). But the one place where the word was supposed to be found in Aristotle is now seen not to be πισττικός, but πειστικός, trustworthy, or unadulterated. It is possible that the word may have had a local geographical value, belonging to some proper name, and is untranslatable. Very precious. Mark (Mark 14:3) uses the word πολυτελοῦς, and Matthew (Matthew 26:7) βαρυτίμου. John appears to combine the idea of both words in his πολυτίμον. Each of the synoptists severally mentions a fact which John omits - that Mary broke the alabaster box, and poured the costly unguent on his head in rich abundance, as though hers had been the royal or high-priestly anointing (cf. Psalm 133.); but John shows that this at least was not all she did. She anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. Thoma thinks that, conformably with John's idea, the anointing of the head of the true High Priest was the work of God alone, quoting Philo's comment on Leviticus 21:10, etc., "The head of the Logos, as High Priest, is anointed with oil, i.e. his innermost essence gleams with dazzling light;" and adds, that as the feet of the high priest were washed with water from recent defilement of the world's dust, so God's anointed Lamb and Priest was anointed on his feet with the spikenard of faith, the best and costliest thing that man could offer. So profound an analogy seems to us contrary to the simplicity of the narrative, which is perfectly natural in its form. The perfumed nard ran down to the Savior's feet and the skirts of his garments, and there accumulating, the significant act is further recounted how Mary wiped off the superfluous perfume from his feet with the tresses of her loosened hair. This simple act proclaimed the self-humiliation and adoration of her unbounded love, seeing that the loosening of a woman's hair was a mark of unusual self-abandonment, Many most unnecessary inferences have been drawn from this. John adds an interesting feature, revealing the sensitive eye-witness of the scene, "and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment;" and the whole house of God ever since has been fragrant with her immortal and prophetic act. John 12:3A pound (λίτραν)

Only here and John 19:39. Matthew and Mark, ἀλάβαστρον, a flask.

Of spikenard (νάρδου πιστικῆς)

So Mark. See on Mark 14:3.

Very precious (πολυτίμου)

Literally, of much value. Matthew has βαρυτίμου, of weighty value.


See on John 11:2.


The Synoptists mention only the pouring on the head.

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