a centurion] i. e. a captain or commander of a century—a company normally composed of a hundred men, the sixtieth part of a legion in the Roman army. This centurion was probably an officer in the army of Herod Antipas, which would be modelled after the Roman fashion.
And when Jesus (Revised Version, he) was entered into Capernaum. (On Capernaum, see Mat_4:1-25. 13.)
There came unto him; i.e. by messengers, as we learn from St. Luke (vide supra).
A centurion, beseeching him. The centurion probably belonged to the soldiers of Antipas, in whose district Capernaum lay. They would naturally be organized after the Roman manner; of the forces of the Indian native states and our own. It should be observed, by the way, that even the imperial troops stationed in Palestine were drawn, not from distant lands, but from the non-Jewish inhabitants of the country, perhaps especially from Samaritans.
Matthew only. And saying, Lord, my servant; Revised Version margin, “boy” (ὁπαῖς μου), just as in some English-speaking communities “boy” is commonly used for “manservant.” In the parallel passage of Luke, the narrative speaks of him as δοῦλος, the message as παῖς. Lieth. Perforce (βέβληται).
At home; Revised Version, in the house; i.e. of the centurion.
Sick of the palsy, grievously tormented (cf. 1 Macc. 9:55, 56). “Paralysis with contraction of the joints is accompanied with intense suffering, and, when united, as it much oftener is in the hot climates of the East and of Africa than among us, with tetanus, both ‘grievously torments,’ and rapidly brings on dissolution”. Observe that the statement of the case is itself a petition.
Cambridge Greek Testament
6. ὁ παῖς. ‘Slave,’ not ‘son;’ the meaning is determined by the parallel passages; in Luke 7. where though the centurion himself uses the more affectionate term παῖς (Mat_8:7), the messenger (Mat_8:3) and the Evangelist (Mat_8:10) call the servant δοῦλος.
παραλυτικός. Stricken with palsy or paralysis, a disease often free from acute suffering, but when it is accompanied by contraction of the muscles, the pain, as in this case, is very grievous. St Luke does not name the nature of the disease.
δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος. ‘Terribly tortured.’ For βάσανος see ch. Mat_4:24. The invariable practice of extracting evidence from slaves by torture gives βασανίζεσθαι the secondary force ‘to torture,’ ‘to put to the question.’Possibly the actual experience of this poor slave suggested the word; by no other could he describe to his master the agony he was enduring; it was the agony of torture.
I will come and heal him (egō elthōn therapeusō auton). Future indicative, not deliberative subjunctive in question (McNeile). The word here for heal (therapeusō) means first to serve, give medical attention, then cure, restore to health. The centurion uses the more definite word for healing (iathēsetai Mat_8:8) as Matthew does in Mat_8:13 (iathē). Luke (Luk_9:11), like a physician, says that Jesus healed (iato) those in need of treatment (therapeias), but the distinction is not always observed. In Act_28:8 Luke uses iasato of the miraculous healings in Malta by Paul while he employs etherapeuonto (Act_28:9) apparently of the practice of Luke the physician (so W. M. Ramsay). Matthew represents the centurion himself as speaking to Jesus while Luke has it that two committees from the centurion brought the messages, apparently a more detailed narrative. What one does through others he does himself as Pilate “scourged Jesus” (had him scourged).
I will come and heal him – Εγω ελθων θεραπευσω αυτον, I am coming, and will heal him. This saying is worthy of observation. Jesus did not positively say, I will came and heal him; this could not have been strictly true, because our Lord healed him without going to the house: and the issue shows that the words ought to be taken in the most literal sense: thus understood, they contained a promise which it seems none of them distinctly comprehended. Foreseeing the exercise of the centurion’s faith, he promises that while he is coming, ere he arrives at the house, he will heal him, and this was literally done, Mat_8:13. There is much beauty in this passage.
The centurion answered] The argument lies in a comparison between the centurion’s command and the authority of Jesus. “If I who am under authority command others, how much more hast thou power to command who art under no authority? If I can send my soldiers or my slave to execute my orders, how much more canst thou send thy ministering spirits to do thy bidding?” The centurion was doubtless acquainted with the Jewish belief on the subject of angels, their subordination and their office as ministers of God.
Omitted in A. V., but very important. “I also am a man under authority,” as well as thou. (Tynd., I also myself). The centurion compares the Lord’s position with his own. Christ had authority over disease. The centurion also was in authority over soldiers. As the centurion had only to say to a soldier “Go!” and he went, so Christ had only to say to disease “Go!” and it would obey him.
I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel – That is, I have not found so great an instance of confidence and faith in my power, even among the Jews, as this Roman, a Gentile, has shown himself to possess.
From Luk_7:5, where it is said of this centurion, “he loved our nation, and has built us a synagogue,” we may infer that this man was like the centurion mentioned Act_10:1; a devout Gentile, a proselyte of the gate, one who believed in the God of Israel, without conforming to the Jewish ritual or receiving circumcision. Though the military life is one of the most improper nurses for the Christian religion, yet in all nations there have been found several instances of genuine humility, and faith in God, even in soldiers; and perhaps never more, in the British military, than at present, a.d. 1831.
In Luke (Luk_13:28, Luk_13:29) not joined to this miracle, but placed after the warning about mere professors (our Mat_7:23). Also they are there given in the reverse order. Taking the other facts (verse 5, note) about this miracle into consideration, there can be little doubt but that St. Matthew does not place these verses in their historical connexion. He wishes to emphasize the teaching of the miracle, that Gentiles accept Christ, though Jews reject him. For this reason also he gives the two verses in the reverse order.
And. In contrast (δέ) to this comparative absence of belief in Israel.
Many. Not in the parallel passage in Luke, but it agrees with the aim of St. Matthew’s Gospel.
Shall come. Though not emphatic, as it is in the parallel passage in Luke, yet expressive of purpose and decision.
From the east and (Revised Version. the) west. Not only residents in Palestine, like this centurion, but from the furthest limits of the earth. The thought was well known; e.g. Mal_1:11; Isa_59:19.; also Jer_16:19; Zec_8:22.
And shall sit down; i.e. at a feast. The image, taken from Isa_25:6, is exceedingly common in Jewish Haggadic (i.e. mostly parabolic) teaching.
With Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. An early” Western” reading is, “in the bosom of Abraham,” etc. (cf. Luk_16:23). Probably a traditional form current among Jewish Christians.
But the children; sons (Revised Version). Those who ought rightfully to enjoy its privileges (Mat_5:9, note). In Mat_13:38 those so called answer fully to the appellation.
Of the kingdom. “Rather than of the king; since many are in the kingdom, whom notwithstanding the king rejects as traitors; whereas all the children of the king are adopted as co-heirs with his only begotten Son” (Beza, in Ford). This interpretation is attractive, but doubtless false. The Hebrew idiom enables the writer to suggest the idea of the Jews, who are by nature heirs of the Divine kingdom, being notwithstanding excluded (cf Act_13:46).
Shall be cast out (Revised Version, forth); ἐκβκηθήσονται (Mat_7:4, note). The “Western” reading, ἐξελεύσονται, suggests that they shall go out by their own present act of refusing blessing.
Into (Revised Version, the) outer darkness. The form of the expression, which comes only in Matthew (Mat_22:13; Mat_25:30), points to a double conception; they shall be cast into the darkness, and cast outside the palace within which the feast is going on. Such is the loss in its personal (εἰς τὸ σκότος) and in its social (τὸ ἐξώτερον) aspect.
There shall be (Revised Version, the) weeping and gnashing of teeth. The article, which should strictly be repeated before gnashing, points to a recognized conception. The phrase occurs (except in the parallel passage, Luk_13:28) only in St. Matthew (Mat_13:42, Mat_13:50; Mat_22:13; Mat_24:51; Mat_25:30), in each case contrasting the place into which the wicked are sent with that which they might have enjoyed. Observe the description of “hell”—absence of spiritual light; separation from the company of the saved; lamentation; impotent rage. The second couplet corresponds to the first.
Shall be cast out into outer darkness – As the enjoyment of that salvation which Jesus Christ calls the kingdom of heaven is here represented under the notion of a nuptial festival, at which the guests sat down in a reclining posture, with the master of the feast; so the state of those who were excluded from the banquet is represented as deep darkness; because the nuptial solemnities took place at night. Hence, at those suppers, the house of reception was filled with lights called δαδες, λαμπαδες, λυκνεια, φανοι, torches, lamps, candles, and lanthorns, by Athenaeus and Plutarch: so they who were admitted to the banquet had the benefit of the light; but they who were shut out were in darkness, called here outer darkness, i.e. the darkness on the outside of the house in which the guests were; which must appear more abundantly gloomy, when compared with the profusion of light within the guest-chamber. And because they who were shut out were not only exposed to shame, but also to hunger and cold; therefore it is added, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
He was healed in that self-same hour – This showed decisively the goodness and power of Jesus. No miracle could be more complete. There could be no imposition or deception.
This account, or one similar to this, is found in Luk_7:1-10. There has been a difference of opinion whether the account in Luke refers to the same case as that recorded in Matthew, or whether a second centurion, encouraged by the success of the first, applied to our Saviour in a similar case and manner, and obtained the same success. In support of the supposition that they are different narratives, it is said that they disagree so far that it is impossible to reconcile them, and that it is not improbable that a similar occurrence might take place, and be attended with similar results.
To a plain reader, however, the narratives appear to be the same. They agree in the character of the person, the place, and apparently the time; in the same substantial structure of the account; in the expression of similar feelings, the same answers, and the same result. It is very difficult to believe that all these circumstances would coincide in two different stories.
They differ, however. Matthew says that the centurion “came himself.” Luke says that he at first sent elders of the Jews, and then his particular friends. He also adds that he was friendly to the Jews, and had built them a synagogue. An infidel will ask whether there is not here a palpable contradiction. In explanation of this, let it be remarked:
1. That the fact that the centurion came himself, supposing that to have been the fact, is no evidence that others did not come also. It was “in” the city. The centurion was a great favorite, and had conferred on the Jews many favors, and they would be anxious that the favor which he desired of Jesus should be granted. At his suggestion, or of their own accord, his Jewish friends might apply to Jesus, and press the subject upon him, and be anxious to represent the case as favorably as possible. All this was probably done, as it would be in any other city, in considerable haste and apparent confusion; and one observer might fix his attention strongly on one circumstance, and another on another. It is not at all improbable that the same representation and request might have been made both by the centurion and his friends. Matthew might have fixed his eye very strongly on the fact that the centurion came himself, and been particularly struck with his deportment; and Luke on the remarkable zeal shown by the friends of a pagan, the interest they took in his welfare, and the circumstance that he had done much for them. Full of these interesting circumstances, he might comparatively have overlooked the centurion himself. But,
2. It was a maxim among the Jews, as it is now in law, “that what a man does by another, he does himself.” So, in Mar_10:35, James and John are represented as coming to the Saviour with a request: in Mat_20:20, it appears that they presented their request through their mother. In Joh_4:1, Jesus is said to baptize, when, in fact, he did not do it himself, but by his disciples. In Joh_19:1, Pilate is said to have scourged Jesus; but he certainly did not do it with his own hands. In the case of the centurion, Matthew narrates what occurred very briefly; Luke goes more into detail, and states more of the circumstances. Matthew was intent on the great leading facts of the cure. He was studious of brevity. He did not choose to explain the particular circumstances. He says that the centurion “made the application” and received the answer. He does not say whether by himself or by “an agent.” Luke explains particularly “how” it was done. There is no more contradiction, therefore, than there would be if it should be said of a man in a court of law that he came and made application for a new trial, when the application was really made by his lawyer. Two men, narrating the fact, might exhibit the same variety that Matthew and Luke have done, and both be true. It should never be forgotten that “the sacred narrative of an event is what it is stated to be by all the sacred writers; as the testimony in a court in which a case is decided is what is stated by all the credible witnesses, though one may have stated one circumstance and another another.”
One thing is most clearly shown by this narrative: that this account was not invented by the evangelists for the sake of imposition. If it had been, they would have “agreed in all the circumstances.”