The Joys of Ellipsis (John 12:7)

by: Noel McRae

A short study of from the life of Jesus. Dig out your Bible and read along. Like always, I recommend checking several translations to help understand a passage, especially if it is confusing.

The NIV is a little confusing in our selected passage: When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, Judas objected to the extravagant waste of money. Jesus responds, “‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that (Greek word “hina”) she should save this perfume for the day of my burial’”.

One of the interpretive challenges of the verse is “hina”. The NIV keeps the normal force of the “hina” to indicate purpose, but in doing so it makes it sound as if Mary really had no choice in the matter. It removes the value of her choice and makes it sound like she was simply responding to God’s preordained plan.

The ESV has, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” This keeps the full force of the “hina” but, in my mind, makes no sense. Mary didn’t keep the perfume for the day of Jesus’ burial; she had just poured all of it on his feet.

The HCSB likewise says: Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The have a footnote: Or “Leave her alone; she intended to keep it

The NASB states: “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” The NRSV is similar. 

The KJV has: “Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.” (Not helpful.)

The problem is that Mary has already poured out the perfume.

It is probably best to see the expression as an example of ellipsis; and therefore the question is, what has been left out? 

The NLT that we use at EHA reads, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.”

Ah, the joys of ellipsis. A good guess is that Jesus is telling Judas to not object to Mary’s extravagance. She used the perfume to symbolically prepare Jesus for his death. Mary apparently had entered more into the mind of Jesus than had his twelve disciples, and she knew what was coming.


If you develop a habit of checking with several translations, you will see new insights and gain a clearer understanding of the text before you. Don’t just slide past, be a Berean and dig deeper into your Bible.