Christ and the Centurion - Paolo Veronese, ca. 1575

Jesus and the centurion - unknownWhen Jesus was at Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help. He said, “Lord, my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. I myself am a man under authority with soldiers serving under me. When I tell this one “Go”, he goes and when I tell that one “Come”, he comes and when I say to my servant “Do this” and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this he was amazed at the man’s faith. Jesus told his followers, “Truly I tell you, I have found no one in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus said to the centurion, “Go. Let it be done just as you believed it would.”  And his servant was healed at that moment.

What the story means to us today

Jesus’ second act of healing is extended to a gentile

This brief story describes Jesus’ second miraculous act of healing, one in which he extends his mercy to the Gentiles, who appear to have more faith than any Jew. The story is not only a testament of faith, but an example of Christianity’s broader ministry to all people on earth, not just Jews, but Gentiles alike.

Many will come from the east and the west

Jesus responds to the centurion’s request with a prophecy – “Many will come from the east and the west”. This specifically points to a time when people, not just in the east, but throughout the world will become Christians.

The feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

Faith of the Centurion - unknownJesus continues, explaining that those from the east and the west will be seated “at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the three patriarchs of Jewish faith) while others will be thrown outside. Jesus is not only referring to Jews of his day but to people who proclaim to be Christians but don’t actually live by Christian doctrines – specifically those who lack faith in Christianity or ignore its underlying intent.

Additional thoughts and considerations

A gentile recognizes Jesus’ authority

It’s important to note that when the centurion says “I myself am a man under authority”, he recognizes Jesus’ authority comes from God, just as the centurion’s authority comes from his commanders.

An unlikely situation

The situation is unusual to say the least. The centurion was a gentile while Jesus was a Jew. In ancient times, the relationship between gentiles and Jews was strained and even a Jew entering a Gentile home would be questionable. Additionally, the centurion was a soldier, likely well-versed in the field of battle, while Jesus was a peaceful man. Despite their stark contrasts, the man displays astonishing faith, recognizing that Jesus was placed on earth under the authority of God.

The laying on of hands

We should recognize that Jesus healed the centurion from afar. Great works need not be accomplished on the scene. Even over great distances, faith and prayer can touch and assist those in need.

Luke’s account of the events expands on Matthew’s

Luke also contains a record of the event but presents them in an expanded version. Matthew summarized the beginning of the encounter, or began his narration midway through the events, while Luke recorded a more detailed and complete account of the events.

In Luke’s version, elders are sent to Jesus asking that he assist the dying centurion. Jesus begins his journey to assist the man and the centurion meets him along the way exclaiming, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you under my roof.” It is at this point in the story that Matthew begins his narration of the events.

The science and history behind the story

The Roman Centurion - Nathan Greene (nathangreene.com)What is a “Centurion”?

In the ancient east, a centurion was a noncommissioned officer in the Roman army that commanded a company of between 80 and 100 men. Similar to present-day company commanders, their social status was much lower than an officer. We know from the Greek historian Polybius that centurions were chosen by merit hinting that they were intelligent, hard-working men thought to be potential leaders. Normally men chose to be a Roman centurion in order to obtain Roman citizenship (they were automatically awarded citizenship after 25 years of service).

Centurions are mentioned several times in the New Testament (including the first Gentile convert, Cornelius).

Notes on Biblical translation

“My servant”

The original Greek term used for “servant” indicates a closer relationship than merely a slave. It likely refers to a servant regarded with some degree of affection, such as a personal assistant that the centurion thought of as a son or daughter.

Additionally, the Greek term could be translated as either “slave” or “servant”. Modern translations tend to use “servant”. A more accurate translation would be something akin to “bondservant”, someone who sells himself into slavery to another. The term is little used today however, and few would understand the intended meaning.

“Palsy”

Ancient biblical writers could not (or chose not to) distinguish different forms of paralysis. Many translations label these types of maladies as “palsy”. We can assume this refers to some sort of injury or disease of the central nervous system which causes the loss of sensation and/or voluntary muscle control.

“Many will take their place at the feast with Abraham”

The original translation actually reads “and will recline at the table”. The would be confusing to present-day readers who would never lie down at the dinner table to eat. In ancient times however, middle eastern meals were not eaten while sitting at a table but rather, by reclining on one’s side with the head closest to the table and the feet facing away.

Bible Text

Jesus and the centurion - unknownNIV

5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, “Master, my servant is sick. He can’t walk. He’s in terrible pain.”

7 Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.”

8–9 “Oh, no,” said the captain. “I don’t want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I’m a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10–12 Taken aback, Jesus said, “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.”

13 Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, “Go. What you believed could happen has happened.” At that moment his servant became well.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

Jesus and the centurion - unknownThe NET Bible

8:5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 8:6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 8:7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8:8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8:9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 8:10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 8:11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 8:12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 8:13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database