The Centurion and Jesus: Great Faith or Evidence of Contradiction?


It has always amazed me, the faith that the Centurion displayed before Jesus. The testimony of Matthew is that Jesus marveled at him and said: Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!

The Centurion was a Roman officer who had authority over 80-100 men. This particular officer addresses Jesus as “Lord,” while the leaders of Israel do not. This Roman citizen, who had grown up in a culture which worshipped a multitude of gods, believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Hebrew scriptures. Where did he learn about the Messiah? Who taught Him? What was it that brought his heart to this place of preparation? It may be that he had studied Jesus and the works that He had done, for some time. It is certainly possible the he had a few Jewish friends who had told him about the prophecies of the coming Messiah. Perhaps he had compared Jesus’ words and actions with the Hebrew scriptures and came to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah who was promised. Finding faith in the God of the Hebrews while being a Gentile and a leader amongst the soldiers of Rome was a truly amazing event.

The Centurion shows that he is sensitive to the traditions of the Jewish culture, who believed that a Jew who entered the house of a Gentile, would become defiled. When Jesus offers to come and heal his servant, the Centurion refuses, not wanting to bring any disrepute upon Jesus. This humble man does not disdain this tradition nor debate it. He acknowledges that this is a Jewish custom, and he submits himself to its demands, though he may not have believed it himself. Although he has great authority, he humbly submits himself before Jesus as Lord.

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.”

This Gentile, who happened to be a Roman Centurion, is a shining example of what Isaiah wrote concerning the coming of the Messiah.

Isaiah 11:1 …And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him

Jesus was a descendant of David who was the son of Jesse. The Root of Jesse is a reference to the fact that the Messiah would be descended from David’s lineage. Of this Messiah, Isaiah predicts that the Gentiles shall seek Him. Here is a Gentile who displays such incredible faith, he must surely be the object of Isaiah’s prophecy. Here is a Roman officer who has greater insight and clarity into the word of God than all the leaders of Israel.

Luke’s account of this event appears to some critics of the Bible, contradictory to Matthew’s account. Matthew describes the Centurion coming to Jesus personally with a request; Luke speaks of the leader of the Jews being sent on behalf of the Centurion, to ask for help from Jesus.

Luke 7:1-4 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him…”

Matthew 8:5-6 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”

What we observe here is not a contradiction but a common writing method used by Matthew to abbreviate certain events. Matthew simply reports what the Centurion said to Jesus through his friends in the Jewish authority.

A second observation is that two people are recounting the same event by their own recollection. This is quite common amongst eye witnesses who see the same incident. Witnesses will tell similar stories, with slightly different versions. Police officers who interview witnesses who were present at an accident or crime, often report a similar phenomenon. People were clearly at the same event, but saw and heard slightly different things. These are not conflicts; they are a common occurrence in recording eye witness testimony.

The fact that we see a slight variation of the same event, as recorded by Matthew and Luke, gives greater credibility to the authenticity of what is written. Contrived stories almost always take special care to make certain that their testimonies match exactly, whereas genuine testimony almost always consists of similar versions of the same events, told from a slightly different perspective.

A key in understanding the two different versions of Matthew and Luke’s testimony is that in both instances, the Centurion himself reports that he understands the principle of imputed authority. It was understood during this time that a man who is in authority, when he sends his servant, that servant carries with him the authority of his master.

When the Centurion sent one of his servants with a request, it was as if he was speaking the words directly. The servant who carried his masters words also carried his master’s authority.

Notice that both Matthew and Luke record the testimony of the Centurion:

Matthew 8:9 “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:6-8 Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

The Book of Acts records a Centurion called Cornelius who was greatly loved by the Jews for his generosity.

Acts 10:1-2 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

Whether this is the same Centurion whom Matthew and Luke are describing in this story, is not certain. There are seven Centurions who are recorded in the New Testament; all of these men are described as good and faithful. It appears that there were certain Jews who apparently loved this Centurion for his past generosity to their people.

Whether the Centurion actually came to Jesus himself, or sent one of his servants, is really irrelevant to the story. Matthew is interested in getting to the important facts of this event: The Centurion believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

Matthew holds a common view amongst the Jews of that time, that whatever a person says through an agent of his is viewed as being said or done by the person he represents. Jesus made use of this closely held belief among the Jews by illustrating how He came to represent the Father’s will for all human beings. The words of God were the words of Jesus. The will of God were translated into the actions of Jesus.

John 10:37-38 “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do (the works of my Father), though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.”

Evidence for faith or excuses for a lack of faith

It is surprising that those who have such hard hearts, who will not believe the Bible because they claim there are “contradictions” such as here in this example, will not do the hard work of investigation. Any diligent person can easily discover the facts which I have laid out here concerning the differences between Matthew’s account and Luke’s. Most often, misunderstandings in the Bible are due to an unwillingness to believe, veiled by an excuse for why they cannot believe.

In reality, there are no true contradictions in the Bible; only uniformed conclusions based on a premise that the Bible must be wrong before any serious investigation is made. If a person is sincerely interested in discovering the truth, he can always find it. If, however, a person is set upon proving God a liar, or the Bible as untrue, he can always find an excuse to validate his unbelief.

It is because people do not want to believe that they use excuses to allow themselves to live a life without God. Unfortunately, at the end of their life, these people will have to give a full account to God, and He will reveal that their conclusions which gave them their excuse to not receive Jesus, were based upon unbelief rather than a lack of evidence.

God’s word always stands as truth, and the testimonies of dishonest men and women will always reveal them as liars.

Romans 3:4 … let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.

For more information regarding the records of the Romans and the Jews, documenting the existence of Jesus, see the following article, or the bookYeshu, the Historical Jesus,” by Robert Clifton Robinson.

The Historical Record of Jesus Life from Secular Sources
The Secular Record of History, Proves That Jesus Rose From The Dead
Contradictions in the Bible–or Lack of Knowledge?

See all of my books at Amazon

Categories: Common errors of Atheists, Contradictions in the Bible, Reliability of the Bible, Religion vs. Relationship

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2 replies

  1. Well, I have to say this post is good as an explanation but, I think the argument still stands. It is true that the most important person gets the credit of the action, but at the same time, that is never the case in regard to the return of dialogue. In Matthew’s account, Jesus directly speaks back to the centurion: “He said to the centurion”. He didn’t say to the centurion through the elders. He spoke directly to him. The whole ear-shot argument also is based on the presupposition that the Bible is infallible. Honestly, people like the author of this post are too weak in the head to admit the Bible has definite and proven contradictions. They think they have studied, but I do not think they really have. It is a shame when they say skeptics only want an excuse to live apart from the Divine. I am an agnostic theist, so the author’s claim does not apply to me.


    • Joshua,

      Thank you for your astute observations and for taking valuable time to write your comments.

      The issue of infallibility is not impinged here by a variation in testimony between two writers. You perhaps, have not considered that when God inspired men to write their accounts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, that He allowed them the freedom to record what they remembered. Inspiration from God does not mean that He necessarily dictates the text, word for word. It means that He calls certain men to record the true testimony of Jesus for future generations. The fact that there is a variation between one writer who says that the Centurion came to Jesus, and the other writer who says that he sent his friends, does not eliminated the certainty that God inspired their writing. This is particularly important when we consider that each writer believed that he was telling the truth.

      Luke writing that the Centurion sent elders of the Jews, and Matthew writing that the Centurion came to him, are not contradictory terms, when you understand the culture of this day. This was a very common occurrence. In the mind of Luke, who always writes in greater detail than the other writers, as He is more highly educated as a Physician; he simply tells us greater detail of what actually took place.

      What we learn from both accounts, when we see them together, is that the elders of the Jews came to Jesus, representing the Centurion, to ask for healing. In the mind of the reader at that time, they would consider these elders as valid representatives of the Centurion himself. When Matthew writes, he is not telling the reader a different version, he believes that he is also telling the truth, as the Centurion sent these elders to represent himself. Matthew always writes with the intent to prove to the Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah. For this reason, he thought it important to state that the Centurion, a Gentile, came to jesus, in a effort to interest the Jewish writer and validate Jesus as credible. By Jesus receiving a Gentile, a Roman officer no less; the Jews who would read this account would have many other questions about Jesus. In an effort to answer these questions, they would go back and read their scriptures and find that God had spoken through the Hebrew prophets and told them that the Messiah would also come to the Gentiles for Salvation.It appears that Matthew wrote his account with the Centurion being the source of the request, to create a desire for more information to any Jewish reader who wanted to investigate Jesus further.

      The fact of these different accounts is evidence of inspiration, rather than to disqualify it. God was using the minds, hearts, and actions of men to accomplish His will, as He does continually throughout the pages of the Bible.

      Luke 7:1-4 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him…”

      Matthew 8:5-6 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”

      It is important to understand that you are reading the accounts of four different writers who are presenting their observations to us, regarding events that they have knowledge of. As such, it is not possible that all of the writers of the four Gospels will record the exact same descriptions. If you and I are at the scene of an accident and we later are asked to give our testimony about what we saw, we will each write slightly different descriptions of the same event. It will be clear that we were both there and saw what happened, however, because we are two unique individuals, we will have different recollections of what happened.

      In the case of the Centurion, the issue here is whether or not Jesus healed the servant. The manner in which these two individuals recorded what happened, being slightly different, is actually great evidence that the story is genuine.

      We add the fact that during the time that this event took place, a servant who comes to represent his master, is the same as the word of the master himself, helps us understand that the two gospel writers understood this and one recorded this fact, the other did not.

      The infallibility of the Bible is in the intent of the principles that are written, that they are true and we can trust what has been written. It is not always the case that we can fully understand what is being said because these words are not merely human, but originate from a different dimension. When we read how Jesus spoke in parables so that the true meaning could be hidden from agnostic and atheistic people, we understand why this was done. God has no interest in revealing Himself to persons who are not genuinely interested in knowing Him. He only makes Himself known to the sincere, and the one who diligently seeks Him.

      Since it is by human words that we communicate with one another, it is by words that God has chosen to communicate with us. He chose men who were set apart from this world by their manner of living, because they believed that God exists and were seeking Him. He then imparted the communication that He wanted mankind to know about Him, through words that were written by these men. He communicates His nature and plan for us, by the stories that are recorded of real people that lived on the earth. Their stories come to us is living color, with all of their faults and inadequacies. We see how God works, by seeing how He worked in the lives of people. These stories from the Old Testament, allow us to know something of God, while the New Testament fully explains who God is, by the person of His Son, who He sent into the world to fully reveal who God is. If you simply focus on understanding who God is, by the things that are written about Jesus, as a first principle, then later; all of the things that are recorded in the Old Testament become clearer.

      I certainly understand your difficulty in accepting that God exists. It took me a very long time before I really understood enough, so that I could believe. I will tell you that the key to this entire riddle is in spending a great amount of time studying who Jesus is and what He said and did. There has never been another person like Him. The things that He said and did, the manner in which He spoke to people; the love that He expressed to us, are clues to who God is. If God does not exist, then we must ask how we can account for the presence of Jesus in Jerusalem, during the same period of time that the Gospels recored Him there, in the secular records of the Romans and the Jews. These two governments were quite hostile to Jesus and not at all sympathetic to His cause. Their comments regarding Him, are recorded as adversaries, not in an attempt to validate Him or place Him in history. The fact that both the Romans and the Jews record that Jesus was crucified and that there was a rumor that He had risen from the dead, in the secular record of history, lends great credibility to the written text of the New Testament.

      If Jesus was really here on earth, and secular history validates the testimony of the New Testament,then what is written of Him,is extremely important. You see, Jesus claimed that He is the Eternal God who created all that exists. He said that the reason that He came to earth was to reveal what God is like. He said that it is because of God’s love for us that He was wiling to die for us. If this is all true, and all the evidence fully validates these assertions, then we must honestly and sincerely consider Him.

      It is perfectly okay for a person to reject Jesus, a great majority of people already have. It was not because there was insufficient evidence, but because they were simply not willing. I have been examining the evidence for forty-one years and every year I find more and more reasons to continue believing, not to fall back and give up. I am praying for your that your search will be sincere and diligent and that you will find the answers that you are looking for.

      It is not my intent here to try and sell you one of my books, but I must say that one particular publication that I have written, is sufficient for any person to understand the existence of God, based upon the facts that are available. My book: “Honest Men,” is a treatise on the evidence that exists to prove from the record; that God exists and He has proven this fact by the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. I wrote this book for people like yourself who want to have an opportunity to discover the truth. Again, thanks for your comments and for giving me an opportunity to discuss these matters with you.

      Truth exists within very narrow parameters and it can be found by the diligent,



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