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 book “Yeshu, the Historical Jesus,” by Robert Clifton Robinson.