Greek Study John 12:1-8
v1 προ + gen. "before [the Passover]". Temporal; "before"; the placement in the Greek of προ before εξ ημερων, "six days", which is an idiomatic construction of time, and is translated "six days before the Passover", not "before six days of the Passover." Jesus has adequate time to complete his journey, so this rest stop at Bethany was a planned visit to old friends.
v2 ουν "then" (See above) As a consequence of Jesus being in Bethany (where he had after all raised Lazarus to life the chapter before) a dinner is given in his honor.
αυτω dat. pro. [Here a dinner was given] in Jesus' honor
εκ + gen. "[Lazarus was] among" those των ανακειμενων (ανακειμαι) pres. part. "reclining at the table" – which is odd for a host (guessing that Martha was still over-functioning?).
v3 Μαριαμ "Mary" - mentioned in the gospels of Luke and John. In Luke she is the one who “sat and listened” while Martha “busied herself in the kitchen” (10:38-42). All four gospels have an anointing scene but the details are markedly different, only Mark's account is close to John's. In Luke, the anointing is by a woman who is a "sinner" (7:37-50) - suggested to be Mary Magdalene (exorcised by Jesus in 8:2). If this is true then Mary of Magdala is the same Mary of Bethany – possible but unlikely. It is also unlikely the woman who anointed Jesus in Luke is the same who anointed Jesus in John. Origin suggested Jesus was anointed on a number of occasions and the stories converged in the oral tradition. The differences between Luke's account and John's seem to indicate this.
λιτραν (α) "a pint" – actually a Roman pound = 325 grams.
μυρου (ον) gen. "Myrrh" a perfume, ointment; the genitive is adjectival, of material so "a pint of aromatic oil" maybe Myrrh (from the Balsam plant) but the word is a common term used for any aromatic oil.
ναρδου (ος) gen. "nard"
πιστικης (ος) gen. "pure and πολυτιμου "expensive" - a pint of genuine, expensive, spikenard aromatic oil by itself was too strong to be applied directly to the skin. It had to be diluted with a rubbing oil (nard). The concentration of spikenard would indicate its purpose, for anointing the dead it would be highly concentrated, and so also very expensive. So the best translation of this phrase is "concentrated".
ηλειψεν (αλειφω) aor. "she poured it" - anointed.
ταις θριξιν (ιξ ιχος) dat. "with [her] hair" a very intimate and frankly scandalous action.
v4 ο μελλων (μελλω) pres. part. "who was later" παραδιδοναι (παραδιδωμι) pres. inf. "to betray [him]" – literally hand him over.
v5 δια + acc. "why"
πτωχοις adj. "to the poor"
τριακοσιων δηναριων gen. "it was worth a year's wages" i.e. 300 denarii; one Denarii is a day's wage, so this really is highly concentrated spikenard used for embalming!
v6 αλλα "but [because he was a thief]" The tradition has not served Judas well; his failings are all enshrined in scripture. (Thankfully mine are not!) You do get the impression, if they have any responsibility for tradition, that his fellow disciples didn't think much of him.
εξων (εξω) pres. part. "as keeper of [the money bag]"
εβασταζεν (βασταζω) imperf. "he used to help himself" - imperfect tense is durative, expressing an ongoing pilfering from the purse so Judas has some “light-fingered tendencies” and it is natural that once exposed the disciples would be angered by the fact that one of their own betrayed Jesus and had betrayed their trust as well.
But it seems they were oblivious to his thieving ways prior to the crucifixion, since they took no action, requested no forensic audit; nor did they call his accountancy into question. And according to the tradition, Judas committed suicide within hours of the betrayal and left no suicide note. So, does the tradition of being a "thief" reflect a desperate search for motive? Judas (and Pilate for much the same reasons) is a fascinating character.
τα βαλλομενα (βαλλω) pres. pas. part. "what was put into it" – lit. the things being thrown.
v7 αφες αυτην "leave her alone" - literally forgive her so it is an idiom; "permit her to perform her duty."
ινα + subj. "that [she should save]" - the construction here causes difficulty. The conjunction ινα + subj. normally forms a purpose clause, but that is not the case here. It doesn't make sense for Jesus to tell the disciples to leave her alone so that she can keep the oil for his later embalming. She has already anointed him with it. It may be an imperative, "keep this essential oil till the day of my burial", ie. use it for my embalming, but again, that horse has left the barn. So, is Jesus telling her the anointing is proper or not? The Greek is painfully unclear; and it really does matter. Raymond Brown took the ‘weak’ sense of the reading "she has kept" - which overcomes the problem, except that is plainly not what the Greek says. Carson argues an ellipsis (ie. some words are missing) so the clause "she has done this" is assumed and therefore was not included. The NIV adds the words "it was intended", making the hina clause a purpose clause after the fact, i.e. she should hold onto the remaining (unused) oil εις "for" the day of Jesus' embalming – this assumes the anointing was interrupted before the entire pint was poured out.
Why does this matter, because most interpretive insights make this is a gift of extravagance. But if Jesus is telling her to not use it, he is agreeing in part with Judas, the gift is being misused. It is for embalming. So Jesus is not making social commentary about poverty, nor giving a lesson on faith, but delivering another passion prediction. And as a follower of Jesus, Mary is to τηρηση " preserve" the oil for his embalming.
του ενταφιασμου (ος) gen. "[the day] of [my] burial]" - embalming.
v8 μεθ (μετα) + gen. "[always have the poor] with" - association.
εαυτων gen. refl. pro. "yourselves” παντοτε adv. "[but you will not] always [have me]" - Brown notes that the statement reflects rabbinic theology where a work of mercy (in this case embalming) exceeds a work of justice (i.e. almsgiving).