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The Gospel of Luke is the third of the four canonical gospels. Similar to Matthew, it draws on the material found in the Gospel of Mark for parts of its narrative while adding original stories and details. The Gospel of Luke is thought to have been written by Luke the Evangelist, although this theory is unpopular in the scholarly community due to certain inconsistencies it creates. This essay explores the changes made to selected scenes from Mark by Luke and the possible motives for those alterations.
Changes to Mark 14:3-9
Mark 14:3-9 tells the story of a woman anointing Jesus at the table of Simon the Leper and the reaction to that action by the people around him. In Mark, the onlookers are angry that the woman would waste expensive perfume that could be sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus replies that she has done a beautiful thing in preparing him for his burial, as the poor would always exist, and people would always be able to help them, but Jesus would not always be on Earth.
Luke, however, has the woman anoint Jesus’s feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Furthermore, he describes her as a sinner, which is the reason for Simon’s question about why God’s prophet would so openly accept affection from such a person. Jesus responds by telling a parable of two sinners, making the point that one that is forgiven much will react more strongly than one who is forgiven little. According to Muddiman and Barton, many interpretations of the event exist, but the one they choose says that the story is meant to contrast Simon and the woman (154). The woman is a great sinner, but shows great love and is therefore forgiven, while Simon is a small sinner who remains content with his position and needs to learn from the incident if he wants to attain forgiveness.
Changes to Mark 3:31-35
Mark 3:31-35 recounts Jesus’s gesture in which he describes all people that do God’s will as his mothers and brothers and sisters. He does this when the crowd he was conversing with tells him that his mother and brothers have arrived to emphasize the importance of faith over blood ties. The vital part in the context of this essay is Jesus’s rejection of Mary, his mother.
Luke displays a different trend, as in his telling Jesus does not show such disdain for his family. According to Brooks, he also increases Mary’s role by inserting other situations that involve her, such as Luke 2:41-51 (15). Muddiman and Barton state that in Luke, Jesus presents Mary as his foremost disciple and a role model (257). They claim that this change of attitude is a part of the overall emphasis Luke places on the underprivileged classes, such as women.
The Gospel of Luke shows the progress of the Christian religious dogma since the time of Mark’s writing. It provides a religious context to situations that might not have previously had it, such as the anointing scene. In Luke’s telling, the event serves to teach a lesson about love and forgiveness, displaying the idea that great sins can be forgiven through love, but small ones require it as well. Furthermore, the Gospel of Luke places greater importance on the figure of Mary, who was mostly disregarded by Mark. Ultimately, the ideas displayed by Luke in the two passages do not contradict Mark’s primary religious principles but develop characters other than Jesus that have been neglected by the earlier writer.
Brooks, E. Bruce. “Four Gospel Trajectories.” Alpha, vol. 1, 2017, pp. 15-16.
Muddiman, John, and John Barton. The Gospels. Oxford University Press, 2010.