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Did the Centurion of the gospels send someone to ask Jesus, as written in Luke 7:1-10, or is the account in Matthew 8:5-13 the clearer interpretation in that the Centurion himself ask Jesus to "say the word" and his servant would be healed?

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3 Answers 3

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Both accounts are true:

  • Matt 8:5-13 - the centurion speaks for himself
  • Luke 7:1-10 - the centurion sends servants with a message

When a servant/diplomat/messenger delivers a message, he delivers on behalf of the sender as though the sender is speaking.

Hence, if Luke's account of the centurion is literally true (with messenger-servants) then the message is delivered as if the centurion is speaking personally.

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Here is a table comparing the two accounts:

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OPTION #1. The Centurion came AFTER sending emissaries. While the centurion originally felt shame in approaching Jesus (Lk. 7:6), it’s possible that he could have come out to visit him after sending his servants. Remember, Jesus was “not far from the house” (Lk. 7:6), so this is entirely possible. Poythress observes, “Human motivations and decision making are complex and often include some wavering or change of mind.”2

OPTION #2. The emissaries represented the Centurion. When Matthew records that the centurion was “imploring Jesus,” it never says that this was “face to face” or “in person.” Of course, the centurion did implore Jesus, but this was via a messenger or representative. We would use this same language today, when a newspaper states, “The President told the Prime Minister to support his foreign policy.” We don’t expect that the two people actually spoke to one another. They may have, or maybe the President sent his ambassadors to do it for him. [2]

One example of OPTION #2 is when, in the Gospel accounts, it says that "Pilate took Jesus and scourged him" (John 19:1; see also Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:16). This description could mean that Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged, rather than Pilate personally doing the scourging.

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The answer resides in the diverse perspectives offered by the gospels. The Gospel of Matthew is positioned as the first gospel in the New Testament, as it's narrative serves as a link, connecting the percepts of the Old Testament Law, with the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ in the new epoch. Notably, within the Gospel of Matthew, a unique emphasis about "Church" (Matthew 16:18; 18:17), which is not found in the other gospels. While Matthew primarily addresses to Jewish Christian audience, subtle indications within his gospel suggest a broader scope of salvation, inclusive of both Jews and Gentiles.

The most compelling evidence within the Gospel of Matthew for urging Jews Christians embrace Gentiles is found in the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". This directive underscores the inclusive nature of Jesus's message, extending salvation to people of all nations, regardless of their background.

In the Gospel of Matthew, two instances stand out where Jesus comments the faith of Gentiles. One account highlights the faith of a Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-18, while the other is the faith of the Roman Centurion, the focus of our current discussion.

It is worth to note that Matthew records a statement of Jesus absent in Luke's account -

Matthew 8:11-12 NIV

"11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

This statement resonates with the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), wherein the initially invited guests are replaced by people from the streets. It suggests that in his second coming, Gentiles will occupy a significant portion, aligning with Jesus's inclusive vision of salvation.

While Luke offers a straightforward narrative, Matthew's account is not misleading (see Dottard's answer). It is crucial to grasp Matthew's focus in delivering a message from Jesus to his fellow Jews, emphasizing the coexistence and unity of both Jews and Gentiles within the Church of Jesus.

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