Nicodemus’ Participation

“So, after these things, Joseph, who was from Arimathea and a disciple of Jesus (covertly out of fear of the Jews), asked Pilate that he might take down the body of Jesus. And Pilate commanded it. So, he went and took down his body. And Nicodemus, who had formerly gone to him at night, came also, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloe — about a hundred pounds.”

(John 19:38-39)

We find that John identifies that Nicodemus joins Joseph in securing Jesus’ body for burial. Why the other evangelists do not record Nicodemus’ presence is a matter of speculation. Joseph is clearly mentioned as the man who approached Pilate, but perhaps John has lingered still and witnesses a second man joining Joseph. Given that John is the only one to record Jesus’ earlier meeting with Nicodemus, perhaps he considers that significant. It could also be suggested that, as John is writing his Gospel much later than the Synoptics, that perhaps Nicodemus was still keeping a low profile when the earlier gospels were written (remember, he was a member of the Sanhedrin). Then, by the time John writes his gospel, his involvement has become more widely known. A definite answer on this we will not have until heaven, but nonetheless, John makes a clear point that he was present.

The practice that they are engaging in is called “Taharah,” and is a ritual preparation of the body for burial. It is considered to be the last and most sincere gift that one can give to the deceased because that kindness cannot be repaid. It is more than just the practical dressing of the body, it is an act of kindness, one that honors the fact that the deceased is an Image-Bearer of God, and is done with reverence. Even today, it is a beautiful thing.

Some commentators suggest that the weight of spices is exaggerated, given the wealth of Joseph and Nicodemus, it is hard to believe that John is exaggerating the amount. Josephus records that when Gamaliel died (between 40-50 AD), eighty pounds of spice was used in the burial of this Jewish teacher — the quantity brought at the burial of Herod the Great was even larger. It should also be noted that our English translations will vary some in the record here. The ESV and the NIV record “seventy-five pounds” and the NASB and the KJV traditions record “a hundred pounds.” Which is true? 

This is not so much a matter of textual tradition as it is that of translation philosophy. According to research done, a Roman pound was the equivalent of twelve ounces (like we would still measure gold and silver today). So, in the case of the NASB and the KJV, they are simply translating the words that are found in the text. The ESV and the NIV are choosing to interpret the weight for the reader, translating it into contemporary English measurements. Unless one is aware of this conversion, it can be confusing and even a bit misleading…it reminds me of the old puzzle my dad used to catch me with: “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” The answer, of course, is “a pound of feathers” because feather-pounds are 16 ounces and gold-pounds are only 12. So, which is heavier? Seventy-five English pounds or 100 Roman pounds? Neither, they are the same.

And so the final kindness is demonstrated to Jesus as these two men prepare his body for the tomb — hurriedly as the Sabbath is soon to start.

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