Two Centurions?

Friday, Apr. 7                            T

There are two accounts in the gospels about a centurion requesting Jesus to heal a servant.  One is in Mt, 8:5-13 and the other is in Lk. 7:1-10.  The accounts differ somewhat in detail, leading some to think of them as two different events.  Yet there are commonalities that suggest that it was the same event seen through different grids.  This is not a life changing issue, but I find it worthy of pursuing since it involves distinctly different authors with distinctive perspectives.  Matthew was a Jew who wrote with his countrymen in mind.  Luke was a Gentile with a focus on the Gentile world.  So one would expect their writings to be different in some ways.  It’s not an issue of one being right and the other wrong.  The “gospel” is the same, but the nuances are designed to reach the hearts of their respective readers.  So let’s take a look.  Some of the details are simply a choice by the author as to what to include and what to exclude.  Matthew depicts the sick servant as paralyzed and suffering, while Luke describes him as sick and about to die.  But both descriptions could be describing the same man, so that is not really a problem.  A more serious problem has to do with who came to Jesus to make the request.  Matthew says the centurion came; Luke says that the centurion first sent Jewish elders, probably to influence Jesus to hear his request.  Later, when Jesus was on his way to the centurion’s house, he sent some friends to tell Jesus that he (the centurion) was not worthy to have Jesus enter his home.  All this can be resolved by assuming a little literary license.  Since Matthew was written from a Jewish perspective, he could well have left out details that would have little meaning to a Jew.  Luke focuses more on how a high ranking Gentile would respond to a high ranking Jewish Rabbi.  He would not go himself, not because of pride or prestige, but to give due tribute to the recipient of the request, in this case, Jesus.  These details would be very important to a Roman,  who would have a hard time with Matthew’s account.  To a Jew, those details would be insignificant.  To a Jew, the centurion was the one making the request, and his use of emissaries was irrelevant.  That kind of literary license has been used throughout history and was common at that time.  It does not distort the truth.  I conclude that these accounts are of the same event.

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