Was the Centurion with Jesus or not?
My name is Marty. At our bible study we got a little confused with the apparent contradiction is the Centurion story by Matthew, in chapter 8, and Luke's account, in chapter 7. Was the Centurion there or wasn't he?
Thank you for writing. The discrepancy you've cited is one that can sometimes cause confusion, but it isn't really that hard to understand. The Matthew passage and the Luke passage both recall a Centurion's servant who is gravely ill. The servant is beloved Centurion, so Jesus is entreated to heal the slave. He agrees and states that He will come to the Centurion's home. Then, the Centurion makes the claim that he is not worthy of the visit and Jesus has the capacity to heal the servant by His command. Jesus marvels at the faith of the Gentile Centurion and grants his request.
As we examine both passages, we can quickly see they are parallel accounts. They have much of the same phrases using the same words. Although Matthew is more brief in his synopsis, they keep the same order of events and both show the same result - Jesus commenting on the faith of the Gentile above all of Israel. The only real difference in these accounts is that Matthew attributes the request to Jesus from the Centurion himself, while Luke states that he first sent well respected Jews to Jesus, and then when He had come near the house the centurion sent friends to convey his latter statements.
Now, the ancient world had a well developed respect for authority, as the story shows. Also, there was a much greater divergence of class between the powerful and the common people. Therefore, to quote the Centurion as speaking the words to Jesus is not a deception or error, but a more efficient communication. Because Matthew's account of the events was intended to be much briefer, He attributes the sayings directly to the Centurion. The Centurion did in fact say these things and intended his message to be directed strictly to Jesus. Thus when the Jews or friends repeat his words, all the people would understand that the Centurion was speaking "through them", using them as a kind of telephone to Jesus.
Even today we find this type of reporting commonly. When we read in the paper that the president has constructed a budget, we understand that he didn't physically write the budget, or even put down detailed numbers, but that his main ideas and plans are what lie behind the budget figures. To claim it is the president's budget isn't a falsehood, but a more concise way of referring to the document. In the same way, The Centurion's thoughts and feelings are quoted by his friends, and Jesus recognized and understood them coming from him. The result would have been no different had the Centurion been there personally, so Matthew felt no obligation to state anything else. Given the cultural attitudes of the day, Luke's account reads as the more accurate narrative, as the Centurion would be reticent to approach Jesus, he being a Roman. By the way, even in the Luke account you will notice that Jesus accepts the words as coming directly from the Centurion when we read "When Jesus heard these things He marveled at him..." (vs 9). Here even the Luke text reads as if the Centurion was physically there.
I hope that this will help you as you continue to study God's word with a sharp eye and a thoughtful attitude. I pray that He will bless you abundantly as you continue to seek Him.