Sunday, January 24, 2016

Simon The Leper And A Synoptic Issue

Question: Who was Simon the Leper, and how do you resolve the synoptic issue related to this person?

TWH: Simon the Leper (Σίμωνος τοῦ λεπροῦ) lived in Bethany, and one of the times Jesus was anointed by a woman occurred at his home (Matt 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9).

There is a significant synoptic issue when it comes to the identity of this individual. The main issue concerns whether or not the Gospels refer to one, two, or three anointings of Jesus. Do the Synoptic authors refer to one or two? And if there are more than one, when did they occur—at Bethany two or six days before Passover? Clearly one of the three anointings is different from the other two. John gives the account of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointing Jesus' feet (John 12:1-8). The Synoptic Gospels have their own accounts. Lazarus and his family are clearly not involved. What is somewhat difficult, though, is assessing whether the account Luke gives refers to the same historical event as the one Matthew and Mark provide.

The conclusion of some scholars to view Luke's account and Matthew and Mark's as the same historical event is difficult to understand. Just because there are marked similarities does not mean that they refer to the same event. Scholars have made the same faulty conclusions with the sayings of Jesus, as if Jesus could only have said one saying one time during his three-year ministry (e.g. Luke 6:40; cf. Matt. 10:24-25; John 13:16; 15:20).

Each of the three Synoptic accounts occurs at the house of someone named Simon, during the mealtime, in which a woman brings perfume in an alabaster jar, applies it to Jesus' feet, and wipes them with her hair. The primary difference between them is the description provided for Jesus' host following his name. Matthew and Mark say an anointing takes place at the house of "Simon the Leper" (Σίμωνος τοῦ λεπροῦ; Matt 26:6; Mark 14:3). Luke also refers to an anointing that took place in the house of someone named Simon (Luke 7:40). Based on this, it is easy to assume that Luke is referring to the exact same event to which Matthew and Mark refer. Prior to this, however, Luke refers to the man four times as "the Pharisee" (Luke 7:36 [2x], 37, 39). At this point, the two accounts become irreconcilable. K. Zarley writes, "Simon the Leper must have been a former leper now healed, probably by Jesus. It is doubtful that a former leper could even become a Pharisee" (Zarley, 336).

The most likely solution to this Synoptic issue is to recognize three distinct anointings. One anointing takes place in the house of a Pharisee named Simon. The next anointing recorded in the Gospels occurs six days before the Passover (John 12:1) presumably in the home of Lazarus and his family. Another anointing takes place two days before the Passover in the house of a former leper also named Simon, who Jesus healed. Most commentators believe Simon is someone that Jesus had previously healed. Both Matthew and Mark include the description τοῦ λεπροῦ after his name. When this healing would have taken place is unknown. D. F. Bruner and D. S. O'Donnell question whether or not the man has already been healed by Jesus prior to the evening of the anointing (Bruner, 599; O'Donnell, 764). For Bruner it is possible primarily because the Gospels do not refer to him as "the former or healed leper" (Bruner, 599). Still, O'Donnell's first observation is probably the reason. The description after his name is added "to distinguish him from the other Simons" in the Gospels (O'Donnell, 763). This does not take away from the significance of Jesus' association with the ceremonially unclean. This event shows how Jesus invested not only in the Apostles or those he loved like Lazarus and his family, but also in those he had formerly healed from diseases that rendered them ceremonially unclean.



Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 2, The Churchbook: Matthew 13–28. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Farmer, William R. The Gospel of Jesus: The Pastoral Relevance of the Synoptic Problem. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1994.

Neufeld, Thomas R. Yoder. Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007.

O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth. Preaching the Word. Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Painter, John. Mark’s Gospel. New Testament Readings. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Pérez Millos, Samuel. Mateo. Comentario exegético al texto griego del Nuevo Testamento. Barcelona: CLIE, 2009.

Zarley, Kermit. The Gospels Interwoven: A Chronological Story of Jesus Blending the Four Gospels in the Words of the NIV; Plus Solutions to Apparent Gospel Differences. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001.

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