What does Mark 14:3 mean?
ESV: And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.
NIV: While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
NASB: While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper, He was reclining at the table, and a woman came with an alabaster vial of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the vial and poured the perfume over His head.
CSB: While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head.
NLT: Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
KJV: And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
NKJV: And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.
Verse Commentary:
All this week, Jesus has preached at the temple during the day and spent nights on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37). Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live, sits on the eastern slope of the mountain, about two miles from the temple. On the night before the Last Supper, Jesus has dinner with friends. No other information is given about Simon the leper; if he truly had leprosy, it was undoubtedly healed by this point.

Alabaster is a type of gypsum, a soft, white, translucent stone often used for sculptures. It vaguely resembles marble. When the woman "breaks" the flask, that most likely means she breaks the seal on the lid. The perfume nard comes from a plant found in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. Mark 14:5 notes that it is worth about a year's wages of a day laborer. In cultures where women are not allowed to own property or money, they accumulate clothing and jewelry as investments. This perfume may have served the same purpose.

John mentions a very similar event dated four days earlier (John 12:1–8). Then, Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus' feet with nard and cleaned them with her hair. She, perhaps knowingly, identified Jesus as the ultimate Passover sacrifice. Some scholars think these stories are of the same event, but there are enough narrative differences to justify separating them. Certainly, the disciples are stubborn enough that it's believable Jesus would scold them for the same thing twice in one week (John 12:7; Mark 14:6).

Earlier in Jesus' ministry, a different woman anointed Jesus as He visited with a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:36–50). Simon was horrified that Jesus let "a woman of the city, who was a sinner" (Luke 7:37) touch Him. Jesus pointed out that while Simon had not performed the most basic traditions of hospitality, this woman openly showed her devotion and gratefulness by cleaning Jesus' feet with her tears and hair and pouring ointment on His feet. Jesus saw her actions came from her faith and declared her sins forgiven.
Verse Context:
Mark 14:3–9 creates another narrative ''sandwich'' in this Gospel. Between the Sanhedrin's machinations to kill Him and Judas' offer to betray Him, a woman honors Jesus. The Passover lamb was chosen six days before the sacrifice. On the first day, its feet and ankles were anointed with oil, as Jesus' were in John 12:1–8. For five days, it would be inspected for flaws, as Jesus was when He taught and debated in the temple (Mark 11:15–12:40). Two days before the Passover, the lamb's head would be anointed, as Jesus' head is, here. This account is also recorded in Matthew 26:6–13.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus is anointed in a symbolic anticipation of His death. Judas decides to secretly cooperate with local religious leaders to arrest Jesus in secret. During the Passover meal, Jesus predicts His betrayal by Judas, and Peter's denial. He also institutes the Lord's Supper, also known as communion. After praying on the Mount of Olives, Jesus is captured when Judas identifies Him to a hostile mob sent by Jewish authorities. He endures a corrupt, prejudiced trial, ending in a conviction for blasphemy. Peter, fearing for his life, lies about knowing Jesus, before remembering Jesus' prediction and breaking down in sobs.
Chapter Context:
Jesus has finished His public teaching ministry and now prepares for the crucifixion. His sacrificial loyalty will provide the means by which the disciples' abandonment will be forgiven. Next, the Romans, as representatives of Gentiles throughout history, will join the Jews and kill Jesus. Jesus will be buried, but He will rise again with the promise that His sacrifice will redeem the world. Matthew 26 and Luke 22 follow Mark 14 more closely while John 13:1—18:27 records more of Jesus' teaching in the upper room.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes both Jesus' servanthood and His role as the promised Messiah: the Son of God. This is done through a concise, action-packed style. Mark provides relatively few details, instead focusing on actions and simple statements. This relates to the Gospel's authorship, which is believed to be based on the memories of the apostle Peter. These include many of Jesus' miracles, in contrast to other Gospels which include many more of Jesus' teachings and parables. Mark also makes frequent mention of Jesus' ministry being misunderstood by others.
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