What does Luke 7:39 mean?
ESV: Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."
NIV: When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner."
NASB: Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner!'
CSB: When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!"
NLT: When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!'
KJV: Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
NKJV: Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
Verse Commentary:
Jesus is at a banquet at the home of a Pharisee. A sinful woman has entered the room to wash Jesus' feet with tears, wipe them with her hair, and anoint them with perfume (Luke 7:36–38). They are possibly still in the town of Nain where, while entering the gates, Jesus raised a dead man to life. In response, the people "glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!'" (Luke 7:16).

The Pharisee has doubts. Pharisees were morally-minded men who diligently tried to follow the Mosaic law. They also followed their own traditional Oral Law, which added extra measures to avoid any violation of Moses' instructions. Pharisees took extra steps to remain ceremonially clean; they avoided contact with anyone who did not. This woman is a sinner, which means she is likely exposing Jesus to ceremonial uncleanness. Simon assumes Jesus does not know this woman's character, so He must not be a prophet. Since Jesus doesn't send the woman away, He must not be concerned for His own cleanness, so He can't be holy—or so Simon thinks.

Simon is guilty of two erroneous assumptions. Both are just as common in modern Christian culture. The first is that those who are disreputable, who have ignored calls for obedience, who have insisted on immorality, are irredeemable. We are likely to assume such people will never respond to Jesus' loving call for repentance. We often focus our thoughts on how much that person "needs to change," rather than on how many reasons they would have to rejoice in Christ's forgiveness.

The second assumption is that shallow reputation is more important than engaging with lost people. Followers of Christ should never carelessly appear to approve of sin, nor engage in it (1 Peter 2:12). Yet it's also crucial not to self-righteously ignore the needs of the lost, in fear others will foolishly judge our image and apparent lack of holiness (1 Corinthians 5:9–10; Mark 2:16–17; John 7:24). Too often, we criticize fellow believers who sincerely engage with sinners when we should be joining them in their efforts.

Of course, Simon is wrong, because Jesus knows who the woman is (Mark 2:8; John 2:25; 4:28–29). He knows she has already repented and God has forgiven her. He knows she is showing gratitude and love in response to that forgiveness (Luke 7:41–47). He also knows Simon needs the same forgiveness.

The Gospels include a few unique occasions where the narrator reveals what others are thinking (Matthew 9:3; Mark 14:4). How do the writers know what they thought? Partly because of Jesus' reaction, but also because the Holy Spirit inspired them. A third option is sometimes missed. Here, it's worth noting that the Gospels rarely give the name of someone who was not either a public figure or a Jesus follower. It's possible Simon repented in response to this teaching and later told Luke his story.
Verse Context:
Luke 7:39–50 places Simon the Pharisee at center stage. Unlike the centurion (Luke 7:1–10), Simon misreads his standing in comparison to the greatness of Jesus. He's somewhere between the humble who accept Jesus and the arrogant who flatly reject Him (Luke 7:29–34). Simon has invited Jesus to dinner, given Him the minimum hospitality, and silently judged Him. This contrasts with the repentant woman who interrupts dinner to bless Jesus (Luke 7:36–38). Jesus goes where Simon doesn't expect: Simon understands neither forgiveness nor love.
Chapter Summary:
Luke 7 presents a chiasm: a set of themes mirrored around a reflection point. The humble centurion (Luke 7:1–10) contrasts the legalistic Pharisee (Luke 7:39–50). The widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–17) and the sinful women (Luke 7:36–38) have nothing to offer but gratitude for Jesus' blessings. In the center are John the Baptist and his disciples who struggle to trust that Jesus is worth following (Luke 7:18–23), then the sinners who do choose to follow Jesus and the religious leaders who refuse (Luke 7:24–35).
Chapter Context:
Luke 7 continues Jesus' mission primarily to the people of Galilee expressed as a series of pointed events and teachings punctuated by calls to follow Him. He has finished teaching the rigors of discipleship (Luke 6:17–45) and invited the crowd to place their faith in Him (Luke 6:46–49). Here, Luke describes different reactions to Jesus' miracles and message. Next, Jesus will reveal the mechanics of and reactions to His call (Luke 8:4–21) before showing His great authority over nature, demons, sickness, and worldly powers (Luke 8:22—9:17). After a final call to the disciples to deepen their faith (Luke 9:18–50), Jesus will turn toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51—19:27).
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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