Answering The Atheist
August 14, 2005 / Volume 5, Issue 33
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Did the centurion ask Jesus directly to help his servant? Matthew's account (8:5-9) indicates yes, while Luke's account (7:1-7) indicates no. Is there a contradiction?
Indeed, who came to Jesus, was it the centurion himself, or was it first the elders of the Jews, and then the friends of the centurion? As with several other instances, Luke supplies more details than Matthew does.
In Luke's account, we see the centurion, who had a good relationship with the Jews, sent the elders to speak with Jesus. They conveyed to Jesus the centurion's message, and in the process, spoke of the centurion's kindness to the Jews, in that he had build them a synagogue. Jesus came with them, that he might heal the centurion's servant. As he approached, the centurion again sent others with a message for the Lord, namely that he was not worthy for the Lord to come under his roof, but if Jesus would just say the word, his servant would be healed.
In both Matthew and Luke's account, we read the centurion's short discourse on authority, in Matthew, as it were from his own mouth, in Luke, as given from the centurion through his friends. Our answer is found in the authority which the centurion possessed. He could speak to one and say, "Do this", and it would be done, or to another, and say "Do that", and it would be done. Those who are sent are not accomplishing their own will, but that of the centurion. They are not speaking or acting for themselves, but for the centurion. When the Jewish elders and the centurion's friends came, they came in his place. Matthew, focussing on the miracle, and not the particular details, doesn't bother to mention that the centurion said these things through representatives. Luke, a detail oriented writer, is more specific.
Sadly, the questioner, in his zeal to find a contradiction in Scripture has missed the wonderful lesson in these texts. When the centurion speaks of the nature of authority, he confesses that Jesus has authority over all, even that He should only speak the word, and it shall be done. For his acknowledgement of this fact, Jesus commended the centurion's faith, stating He'd not seen such faith, even in Israel. May we have that measure of faith, to believe and live under the authority of Jesus Christ.
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible