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When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" NAU Mark 15:39

How does the use of the verb "was" in the verse "Truly this man was the Son of God!" reflect the centurion's conviction about the identity of Jesus Christ, considering the entire process from betrayal to crucifixion?

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    A more accurate translation would be truly this humanity was the Son of God the word anthropos being used, not aner. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 12:45
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    @NigelJ Maybe just "this person"?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 5:51
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    @curiousdannii I cannot see that 'person' is appropriate to anthropos. Greek has the expression 'this one' but it is not used here. Aner is the word which expresses an identified man, a particular man of known identity. Anthropos is more general and it is my view that 'humanity' in English is a better rendering. It becomes important in a number of places where reference is made to the Son of God as manifest and it is interesting to note just how careful the Spirit is, really meticulous, in conveying the Person of the Lord, as manifested in humanity.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 7:38
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    @curiousdannii 'Human' is the adjective and 'humanity' is the noun. I possess my own humanity, separate from any other. If adorability agree to the humanity of Christ, then may his humanity help and save us. (Gillespie quoted by OED uses the word twice of a single Person). Yes, 'humanity' may apply to all humans. just as 'Deity' may refer to a single person, but also to divine nature,as such. possessed of all Deity.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 10:45
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    @NigelJ Indeed. I do not think the centurion was referring to the human nature of Jesus, but the person of Jesus.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 12:19

2 Answers 2

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From the standpoint of literary criticism, Mark's report of the centurion's declaration, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" -- proclaimed at the end of Jesus' earthly life -- is a coda or reiterations of Mark's opening statement:

Mark 1:1

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Beyond that, in Mark's account we are left to speculate. One idea is that the others who were crucified had not died yet (Mark 15:44). Another is that the centurion did not associate the accompanying earthquake with their death. However, if we include the reports of the other synoptic gospels, the earthquake hypothesis is given added weight and other relevant details also emerge.

Matthew 27:54

Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, 52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

So in Matthew's account, the centurion's response is directly connected to the earthquake and other powerful events. We also learn from Matthew that Jesus possibly recited a psalm while he died (v. 34). This may have impressed the centurion.

Luke also associates the centurion's response to the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death:

The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.”

Luke also adds other details that may have impressed the centurion, such as Jesus saying "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" and the conversation between Jesus and the two criminals, in which Jesus displays confident knowledge about the afterlife. This in particular may have differentiated Jesus from the others in the mind of the centurion.

To answer the OP's secondary question, the centurion's statement (including the verb "was") does convey the centurion's conviction about the identity of Jesus Christ, but it does not necessarily consider "the entire process from betrayal to crucifixion." Rather, it seems to consider primarily the immediate circumstances and manner of Jesus' death.

Conclusion: In Mark, the reason for the centurion's declaration is unclear beyond the fact that the other criminals were probably still alive when Jesus died. But Matthew associates the centurion's statement directly with the earthquake and various supernatural events. Both Matthew and Luke provide additional details that further differentiate Jesus from the other criminals; and these details may also have influenced the centurion's declaration. However, the most certain answer -- supported by all three synoptic reports -- is that the centurion was affected by the earthquake.

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"He was a son of God", or as more clearly mentioned by Luke as a righteous/innocent man (Luke 23:47). The Greek does not state the Son of God. The reason that the centurion (and everyone else) realized Jesus was innocent was due to the vivid dramatic events occurring when a hero dies, a way of nature vindicating an innocent man. Matt 27:45-56, Mark 15:33-41,Luke 23:44-49.

Mark does not mention overly dramatization of this literary device as Matthew does. The centurion saw that in this way he breathed his last, or the way he died, referring to the event of tearing of the temple curtain, and darkness from 6th to 9th hour, in verse 33, 38.

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  • The view of the "hero" is interesting, if the New Testament in many cases exalts the Romans, it is also natural that the Romans also exalt Jesus.
    – Betho's
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 18:06
  • Such miraculous signs were very common in the birth and death events of the hero figures. I couldn't find relevant examples from ancient biographies but it must be common.
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 3:25

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