Who is the sinful women in Luke 7:37?


By BibleAsk Team

The Sinful Woman – Luke 7:37

In Luke 7:37, we encounter a poignant scene where a sinful woman anoints Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil and her tears, wiping them with her hair. This passage has sparked much debate and speculation over the identity of this woman. There are two possible names – Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene. Let’s delve deeper into their respective identities, drawing insights from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

Mary of Bethany

Mary of Bethany is introduced to us in the Gospel of Luke, particularly in Luke 10:38-42, where she sits at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to His teachings while her sister Martha busies herself with household chores. In this narrative, Mary displays a profound spiritual hunger and devotion to Jesus. In John 11:1-2, Mary is further identified as the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. This event underscores the close relationship between Mary, Martha, and Jesus.

Later in John 12:1-8, a similar incident to Luke 7:37 occurs, where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly oil, arousing criticism from Judas Iscariot. This passage occurs in the house of a Pharisee named Simon, where Jesus is reclining at the table. The sinful woman approaches Jesus, bearing an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. She begins to weep, washing His feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair before anointing them with the oil.

The NKJV describes this woman simply as “a woman in the city who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). Her identity is not explicitly stated, leaving room for speculation. Some scholars argue that Mary of Bethany could fit this description, suggesting that her sinful past is not detailed in the Gospels. However, others propose an alternative candidate: Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is a prominent figure in the Gospels, often associated with the resurrection of Jesus. In Luke 8:2, we learn that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, indicating a troubled past. This detail aligns with the notion of her being a woman with a sinful history.

The NKJV consistently refers to her as “Mary called Magdalene” (Luke 8:2), emphasizing her association with the town of Magdala. Despite her troubled past, Mary Magdalene becomes one of Jesus’ most devoted followers. She witnesses His crucifixion (Matthew 27:56), burial (Mark 15:47), and ultimately, His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10).

Reconciling Identities

The debate over the identity of the sinful woman in Luke 7:37 persists among biblical scholars. While some advocate for Mary of Bethany based on her acts of devotion in other Gospel accounts, others argue for Mary Magdalene due to her explicitly mentioned past of demonic possession.

One possible reconciliation of these perspectives is that the unnamed woman of Luke 7:37 could be identified as Mary of Bethany and with Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons. Luke (ch. 10:39, 42) and John (chs. 11:1, 2, 19, 20, 28, 31, 32, 45; 12:3) both mention and identify a Mary of Bethany. Mary was known as Mary Magdalene (probably “of Magdala,” a city on the western coastline of the Lake of Galilee (Matthew 15:39).

It is possible that Mary of Bethany left home because of her sinful lifestyle and found a home in Magdala. Most of the recorded incidents of Jesus’ Galilean ministry took place in the area of the Plain of Gennesaret, where Magdala was located. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that upon the time in Jesus’ early visits to Magdala, He freed Mary from demon possession just prior to the Second Galilean Tour (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9).

Mary is listed among the women who went with Jesus on the Second Galilean Tour (Luke 8:1–3). Then after going with Jesus on the Second Galilean Tour, she could have went back to Bethany as new transformed person, and again made her home there. Later on, Mary is recorded by all four Gospels in relation with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Luke 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18).

This possibility does not, of course, prove that Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala are to be identified as the same person, but it does give a reasonable scenario for what could have happened. This explanation fits well with all the other information that is given in the gospel accounts in relation to the story of Mary.

Conclusion: A Woman of Sinful Past, Redeemed by Grace

Regardless of who is the sinful woman in Luke 7:37, the essence of the narrative remains unchanged. It portrays a powerful encounter between Jesus and a woman burdened by sin, seeking redemption and finding it through her profound act of love and devotion.

As we reflect on this passage, we are reminded of the transformative power of grace and the inclusive nature of Jesus’ ministry, which welcomes sinners and outcasts into His embrace. Whether named or unnamed, known or unknown, the sinful woman in Luke 7:37 stands as a poignant symbol of repentance, forgiveness, and ultimate redemption.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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