Luke 7:37

ESV And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,
NIV A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.
NASB And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,
CSB And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume
NLT When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.
KJV And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

What does Luke 7:37 mean?

A Pharisee has invited Jesus to a banquet. The wording of Luke 7:12 is similar to the reference to "the city" and might suggest they are still in Nain. Regardless, the Pharisee probably invited Jesus because he heard about the raising of the dead man (Luke 7:14–17). Jesus and the guests are lying with their heads toward the food and their feet away from the table. In such cases, the door to the house typically is left open so those who are not invited to eat can still listen to the conversation.

During the meal, a woman enters for the sole purpose of seeing Jesus. Her actions are intentional: she seeks Him out; brings perfume; stands behind Him; cleans, kisses, and anoints His feet (Luke 7:38). In contrast, the Pharisee "asked" Jesus to come, yet provides no graces, such as offering water for Jesus to wash His feet. Such steps are not required but would have been courteous.

The woman's exact reasons for arriving are unknown. She must know about Jesus' teaching. She must hold some appreciation, respect, trust, and love for Him and His message. In a previous encounter, Jesus told the Pharisees, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). It may be that she loves because Jesus offers her a path to forgiveness where everyone else merely uses or dismisses her.

Much ink has been used in Bible commentaries debating what it means that the woman is described as a "sinner." As used in the Gospels, the term usually refers to those who overtly crossed moral boundaries—those who would have a reputation for their immorality. Sometimes, it was used to imply a specific sin; the traditional view is that this woman is a prostitute. Then, as now, this was sometimes seen as the only option left for a woman with no money or relative willing to care for her. This might be payment from a client or a gift from her well-to-do husband. Either could explain the presence of expensive perfume.

A separate theory is this woman is Mary Magdalene, as she is the next woman named (Luke 8:2). However, there is no contextual tie between the two. This woman is unnamed, whereas the Pharisee is named (Luke 7:40), and Mary is identified by her former state of demonization, not prostitution.

"Alabaster flask" is all one word in Greek. The flask is a small jar or vase made of alabaster, stone, or glass. The neck is sealed and must be broken to access the contents. Despite the alabaster jar of ointment in Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3, this is not the same event.
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