What is an alabaster box in the Bible?

Answered by Antonio Sutton

In the Bible, the term “alabaster box” is mentioned in a few different contexts, but it is most famously associated with a story involving Jesus and a woman who anointed him with costly perfume.

The first mention of an alabaster box is found in the Gospel of Mark (14:3-9). It tells the story of Jesus dining at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. As they were reclining at the table, a woman came in carrying an alabaster box filled with expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the box and poured the perfume over Jesus’ head, anointing him.

The act of anointing someone with perfumed oil was a common practice in biblical times, often done to show honor, respect, or consecration. The alabaster box was used as a container for the valuable perfume, which was typically sealed inside to preserve its fragrance.

Alabaster boxes were made of a type of stone called alabaster, which was abundant in the region of Israel. Alabaster is a dense, fine-grained form of gypsum or calcite, often with a translucent appearance. The stone was highly valued for its beauty and was commonly used for decorative purposes, such as carving statues or creating ornamental vessels.

In the specific story of the woman anointing Jesus, the alabaster box served as a vessel for the precious perfume. The woman’s act of breaking the box and pouring out the perfume symbolized a lavish and sacrificial offering to Jesus. The fragrance filled the room, and the disciples and others present were both amazed and indignant at the woman’s extravagant gesture.

Jesus, however, defended the woman’s actions, recognizing her act as an expression of deep love and devotion. He praised her for her act of worship, saying that wherever the gospel would be preached, her story would be told in memory of her.

The story of the alabaster box and the woman’s anointing of Jesus serves as a powerful illustration of extravagant love, sacrifice, and devotion. It teaches us the value of giving our best to God, even when it may seem excessive to others. Just as the woman poured out her costly perfume, we are encouraged to offer our hearts and lives as a fragrant offering to God.

In addition to this specific story, alabaster boxes are also mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (7:36-50) in a similar context. In this account, a sinful woman enters the house of a Pharisee while Jesus is dining and anoints his feet with fragrant oil from an alabaster flask. Jesus again affirms her actions and forgives her sins, highlighting the power of repentance and the forgiveness of God.

The use of the term “alabaster box” in the Bible represents a vessel for valuable and precious offerings, particularly in the context of anointing and worship. It serves as a reminder of the importance of giving our best to God and expressing our love and devotion in tangible ways.