The Bible indicates a difference between the common practice of rubbing the body with oil and the special anointing with oil of dedicated things and people. This distinction is maintained quite consistently by different original-language words, both in the Hebrew and in the Greek. Some versions of the Bible do not maintain this fine distinction but translate all such words by the one term “anoint.”
RUBBING OR GREASING WITH OIL
In the lands of the Near East it was a common practice to rub oil on the body, and, among other things, this helped to protect the exposed portions from the intense rays of the sun. The oil also helped to keep the skin supple. Olive oil was generally used and often perfume was added to it. The customary practice was to apply the oil after bathing. (Ruth 3:3; 2 Sam. 12:20) Esther underwent a course of six months’ massage treatment with oil of myrrh and six months with oil of balsam before being presented in the presence of King Ahasuerus. (Esther 2:12) Oil was also rubbed on the body in preparing a person for burial.—Mark 14:8; Luke 23:56.
When Jesus sent the twelve apostles out by twos, they greased with oil many whom they healed. The healing of the ailment was not due to the oil itself but the miraculous operation of God’s holy spirit. Oil, which did have some healing and refreshing properties, was symbolic of the healing and refreshing experienced.—Mark 6:13; Luke 9:1; compare Luke 10:34.
Greasing the head with oil was a sign of favor. (Ps. 23:5) The headmen of Ephraim took favorable action toward the captured Judean soldiers by greasing them and returning them to Jericho, as advised by the prophet Oded. (2 Chron. 28:15) Jehovah spoke of bringing about a lack of oil for rubbing as a sign of his displeasure. (Deut. 28:40) To refrain from rubbing one’s body with oil was regarded as a sign of mourning. (2 Sam. 14:2; Dan. 10:2, 3) To grease the head of a guest with oil was regarded as an act of hospitality and courtesy, as indicated by Jesus’ words regarding a woman who greased his feet with perfumed oil.—Luke 7:38, 46.
Jesus told his disciples to grease their heads and wash their faces when fasting so as to appear normal, not making a show of sanctimoniousness and self-denial as the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders did to impress others.—Matt. 6:16, 17.
James speaks of a spiritual ‘greasing with oil’ in the name of Jehovah for spiritually sick ones as the proper procedure for one needing spiritual help. That he refers to spiritual sickness is indicated by his statements: “Let him call the older men of the congregation,” not doctors, and, “if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” (Jas. 5:13-16) Jesus makes a spiritual application of the practice when he tells the Laodicean congregation to “buy from me . . . eyesalve to rub in your eyes that you may see.”—Rev. 3:18.
The Bible often uses the Hebrew sukh and the Greek a·leiʹpho for the commonplace rubbing on of oil. But for a special anointing with oil, it generally uses the Hebrew word ma·shahhʹ, from which the word ma·shiʹahh (“Messiah”) comes, and the Greek word khriʹo, from which comes khri·stosʹ (“Christ”). The original meaning of ma·shahhʹ seems to have been “to daub” or “smear.” A form of this word is used at Jeremiah 22:14 with respect to applying vermilion to paneling. However, the term is used in the Bible almost exclusively with regard to being anointed with oil in a sacred or ceremonial way.
When a person was anointed with oil, the oil was put on his head and allowed to run down on his beard and onto the collar of his garments. (Ps. 133:2) During the times of Biblical history both the Hebrews and some of the non-Hebrews ceremonially anointed rulers. This constituted the confirmation of their official appointment to office. (Judg. 9:8, 15; 1 Sam. 9:16; 2 Sam. 19:10) Samuel anointed Saul as king after God had designated Saul as his choice. (1 Sam. 10:1) David was anointed as king on three different occasions: once by Samuel, later by the men of Judah and finally by all the tribes. (1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 2:4; 5:3) Aaron was anointed after his appointment to the office of high priest. (Lev. 8:12) Afterward, Aaron and his sons had some of the anointing oil along with the blood of the sacrifices spattered upon their garments, but Aaron was the only one who had the oil poured over his head.—Lev. 8:30.
Things dedicated as sacred were also anointed. Jacob took the stone on which he rested his head when he had an inspired dream, set it up as a pillar and anointed it, thus marking that place as sacred, and he called the place Bethel, meaning “house of God.” (Gen. 28:18, 19) A short time later Jehovah acknowledged this stone as having been anointed. (Gen. 31:13) In the wilderness of Sinai, Moses anointed, at Jehovah’s command, the tabernacle and its furnishings, indicating that they were dedicated holy things.—Ex. 30:26-28.
There are instances in which a person was regarded as being anointed because of being appointed by God, even though no oil was put on his head. This principle was demonstrated when Jehovah told Elijah to anoint Hazael as king over Syria, Jehu as king over Israel and Elisha as prophet in place of himself. (1 Ki. 19:15, 16) The Scriptural record goes on to show that one of the sons of the prophets associated with Elisha did anoint Jehu with literal oil, to be king over Israel. (2 Ki. 9:1-6) But there is no record of anyone anointing with oil either Hazael or Elisha. Moses was called a Christ or Anointed One, although not anointed with oil, because Moses was appointed by Jehovah to be the mediator of the Law covenant and the leader and deliverer of Israel. (Heb. 11:24-26) Another case in point is the Persian king Cyrus, who had been foretold by Isaiah as being one whom Jehovah would use as his anointed. (Isa. 45:1) Cyrus was not actually anointed with oil by one of Jehovah’s representatives, but because he was appointed by Jehovah to do a certain work he could be said to be anointed.
In the law Jehovah gave to Moses he prescribed a formula for the anointing oil. It was of a special composition of the choicest ingredients, myrrh, sweet cinnamon, sweet calamus, cassia and olive oil. (Ex. 30:22-25) It was a capital offense for anyone to compound this mixture and to use it for any common or unauthorized purpose. (30:31-33) This figuratively demonstrated the importance and sacredness of an appointment to office that had been confirmed by anointing with sacred oil.
Fulfilling many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth proved to be the Anointed One of Jehovah and could properly be called Messiah or Christ, which titles convey that thought. (Matt. 1:16; Heb. 1:8, 9) Rather than being anointed with literal oil, he was anointed with Jehovah’s spirit. (Matt. 3:16) This was Jehovah’s appointment of him as king and so he was referred to as Jehovah’s anointed. (Ps. 2:2; Acts 4:26, 27) In his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus acknowledged this anointing when he applied to himself the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, where the phrase appears: “Jehovah has anointed me.” (Luke 4:18) Jesus Christ is the only one in the Scriptures who holds an anointing to all three offices, prophet, high priest and king. Jesus was anointed with the “oil of exultation more than [his] partners” (the other kings of the line of David). This was by reason of his receiving the anointing directly from Jehovah himself, not with oil but with holy spirit, not to an earthly kingship but to a heavenly one combined with the office of heavenly High Priest.—Heb. 1:9; Ps. 45:7.
Like Jesus, his footstep followers who have been spirit begotten and anointed with holy spirit can be spoken of as anointed ones. (2 Cor. 1:21) Just as Aaron was directly anointed as head of the priesthood, but his sons did not have the oil poured on their heads individually, so Jesus was anointed directly by Jehovah and his congregation of spiritual brothers receive their anointing as a body of people through Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:1-4, 32, 33) They have thereby received an appointment from God to be kings with Jesus Christ in the heavens. (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14; 1 Pet. 1:3, 4; Rev. 20:6) The apostle John indicated that the anointing by holy spirit that Christians receive teaches them. (1 John 2:27) It commissions and qualifies them for the Christian ministry of the new covenant.—2 Cor. 3:5, 6.
Jehovah has great love and concern for his anointed ones and watches carefully over them. (1 Chron. 16:22; Ps. 2:2, 5; 20:6; 105:15; Luke 18:7) David recognized that God was the one who chose and appointed his anointed ones and that it was God who would judge them. To raise one’s hand to do harm to Jehovah’s anointed ones or any whom he appoints would bring Jehovah’s displeasure.—1 Sam. 24:6; 26:11, 23; see CHRIST; KING; MESSIAH; PRIEST.