18 February 2013

Is it OK to use perfume?

I was watching the 1966 movie "Hawaii" last night, when I came upon this dialog:
Jerusha Hale: I felt so good after my bath that I washed my skin with oil of lilac.

Abner Hale: I smell it. (Pause) Moses forbad the use of perfume.
Jerusha: Proverbs say that ointment and perfume rejoice the heart.

Abner: Isaiah cursed the women who used perfume and abased themselves unto hell.

Jerusha: Esther perfumed herself for a whole year.

Abner: She was under compulsion.

Jerusha: Oh, I think you just like the smell of perfume on my skin.
I suppose I should provide some context for those who haven't seen the movie.

Abner Hale is a Calvinist minister sent to Hawaii in the 1820s to convert the pagans. On the sea voyage, Abner's wife, Jerusha, tries to seduce her husband by wearing perfume. The biblical argument ensues, and apparently Jerusha wins since a son is conceived during the voyage.

But who had the more biblically correct argument?

Here are the relevant verses.

Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart. Proverbs 27:9

Esther was brought also unto the king's house ... Now when every maid's turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours). Esther 2:8-12
As for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves ... it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD. Exodus 30:37

Because the daughters of Zion are haughty ... the LORD will discover their secret parts ... And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink. Isaiah 3:16-24
It's a tough one, isn't it? Two to two, with no verse clearly taking precedence. But maybe Abner and Jerusha left out some verses. If you know of any, let me know.

In any case, I added another contradiction to the SAB - Is it OK to use perfume?

In his comment, Daryl pointed out that Jesus had his feet washed with expensive perfume, and he didn't mind a bit. In fact, it seems like he got a kick out of it. Here's how the NIV puts it:
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3
So that pretty well settles it. Jerusha was right. If perfume was good enough for Jesus' feet, it's good enough for anybody's anything.

I'll add John 12:3 to the contradiction. Thanks Daryl!

And teavee found the correct anti-perfume verse from Isaiah that Abner referred to in his dispute with Jerusha -- Isaiah 57:9.
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes ... and didst debase thyself even unto hell.
And an anti-perfume verse from Proverbs (7:17). (See vv.5-27 for the context.)
Thanks teavee!
(I've also changed the contradiction name to "Is it OK to use perfume?", as teavee suggested.)

And thanks also to Nate for the references to Luke 7:37-38 and Mark 14:1-9.


Dee Paolina said...

John 12:3

"Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

Steve Wells said...

Yeah, that's a good one, Daryl. And it pretty well settles it, too. If it's good enough for Jesus' feet, it's good enough for anyone's anything.

teavee said...

Maybe these:

Solomon 3:6 "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?"

Solomon 4:10 "How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!"

Solomon 4:13-14 "Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:"

Solomon 5:5 " I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock."

Isaiah 57:8 "And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell."

Proverbs 7:17-18 "I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves."

TWF said...

Hey Steve, isn't the Exodus quote about a specific type of perfume? As I recall, it was a special mixture which was to remain "for Holy use only." So I think perfume would be permitted, it just couldn't be made of the divine formula.

Steve Wells said...

Yeah, you're probably right, TWF.

The Exodus 30:37 quote is about God's special perfume. He really like it and doesn't want anyone else to use it. Whoever does will be "cut off from his people."

Still, just to be on the safe side, Bible believers should stay away from perfume.

Steve Wells said...

Thanks teavee. You found Abner's Isaiah verse! (57:9)

I've added that one and will try to get to the others later.

teavee said...

Maybe also title the contradiction
"Is it OK to use perfume?" at SAB as you did with the link above since the Proverbs passage mentions perfuming a bed.

Unknown said...


You seem much like Goliath, a man of great strength, who has great contempt for The Lord God.

Can I ask why you have such hatred towards a God, that you believe does not exist. What motivates your pursuit of these attacks?

Why do you put so much time and effort into this pursuit of religion?

Just curious as I read your posts, you seem to be a pretty angry guy....and I was wondering why you focus so much of your energies in this direction. It seems like, sense you believe there is no God, there would be a better way to spend your time...

Nathan said...

If you meet Jesus, cry on his feet. Rub the tears on his feet. Then wipe the tears off his feet with your hair. Then kiss his feet. And then, finally, rub perfume on his feet.

Luke 7:37-38
King James Version (KJV)
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Dump a bottle of perfume worth 300 pence on Jesus' head.
Mark 14
King James Version (KJV)
14 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.

2 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.

3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.

4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?

5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.

6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.

7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.

8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.

9 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

Stephen said...

Bill Mason said...

"Can I ask why you have such hatred towards a God, that you believe does not exist. What motivates your pursuit of these attacks?

"Why do you put so much time and effort into this pursuit of religion?"

I won't presume to answer for Steve Wells, but as another Steve I feel I am entitled to a shot.

First, it's not possible for a sane person to hate something that doesn't exist.

Frankly, I wouldn't waste time on religion if its adherents kept their delusions to themselves. But they insist on trying to convert people, telling them the "good news". They want to teach their world view in the schools. They want to tell others who they can and can't live with, have sex with, what drugs they can and can't take. They involve themselves in politics, in spite of the "wall of separation" built into our Constitution. And there is no shortage of stories of abuse of children by priests, religious institutions and religious parents. Do I need to go on?

What's more, it's a lot of fun to point out stupidity when it is expressed in public. But there's no hate there.
Steve Weeks

Sabio Lantz said...

This is fantastic. I just put up a post called, "Stop saying 'The Bible Says'". This is a perfect specific example to illustrate my point in the post. I will mention your post in my comments.
Thank you so much!

Nathan said...

Hey Steve, I was reading the New Living Translation version of Mark 14 about the girl dumping a bottle of perfume on Jesus' head. I think verse 9 should be highlighted in the SAB as an absurdity. Jesus prophesied (incorrectly) that every time the bible is preached people would retell and discuss the story of him getting a bottle of perfume dumped onto his head!

Mark 14:3-9
New Living Translation (NLT)
3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly. 6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Steve Wells said...

Thanks Nathan, that's a great suggestion. I've added Mark 3:9 to the absurdities.

Paul Kiler said...

I must contest that Moses says "Perfume is bad".

Fragrance is not inherently bad. God MADE fragrance. God "dictated" the formula AND the formulational steps to make the Holy Annointing oil/Perfume, and it was to be the work of a Perfumer. God does not condemn Perfumery, Perfumes, or their use.

However, God doesn't want the scent used for a reminder of Himself, to be used for personal use.

Smell is indeed our strongest memory trigger. And so God simply wanted His Smell to be sacred and set apart for Him alone. That is the whole intent. The same goes for the Holy Incense formula.
No one can use if personally, it is sacred and set apart for God alone.

It is abundantly clear that God LIKES scent, and God uses "Fragrance" as a metaphor for His presence in the world, spread through His people, amongst the people of the world.

Being both a Christian AND a Perfumer, I've studied these things intensely.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.