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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE - 2014
Theme: Let Hope In!
What This Lesson Is About:
focus of this lesson from Matthew (8:1-13) is centered on two men from
completely different backgrounds and circumstances who both found hope
when they demonstrated their faith in Jesus Christ.
Easter: But Now . . . Victory
we seek Christ, we find hope.
Is Willing (Matt. 8:1-4)
Is Able (Matt. 8:5-9)
Activated By Faith (Matt. 8:10-13)
OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE:
Jesus taught with authority. Matthew
now launches a report of a series of miracles which authenticates His
right to speak for God. Jesus
is able to heal with a touch (8:1-4) or with a word that cannot be limited
by distance (vv. 5-13). He
heals those who trust Him and those who are in the grip of demons (vv.
14-17). Christ did not use His
powers to win an easy life for Himself or for His disciples (vv. 18-22).
He committed Himself to serve, even though His powers enabled Him
to exercise control over nature’s most awesome forces (vv. 23-27), and
even though the supernatural world too was forced to submit to His will
(vv. 28-34). The incidents
Matthew records show that Jesus did speak with divine authority—and that
He lived by His teachings of servanthood and love.
SOURCE: The Bible
Reader’s Companion; By
O. Richards; VICTOR BOOKS; A Division Of Scripture Press Publications
Inc.; USA; Canada; England
We live in a culture that floods us with
remedies. At times, we try to
mask our desperation with pharmaceutical remedies, religious practices, a
change in lifestyle, or a calendar full of activities. We
can try to mask our need, but we can’t remove it. The
Bible points us to the only solution: Jesus meets us at our point of need
and offers us what no one or nothing else can.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay
Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Is Willing (Matt. 8:1-4)
1 When He came down from the mountain, large crowds
followed Him. 2 Right away a man with a serious skin disease
came up and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can
make me clean.” 3 Reaching out His hand He touched him,
saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his disease was
healed. 4 Then Jesus told him, “See that you don’t tell
anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses
prescribed, as a testimony to them.”
Is Able (Matt. 8:5-9)
5 When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him,
pleading with Him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in
terrible agony!” 7 “I will come and heal him,” He told him. 8 “Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy
to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will
be cured. 9 For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers
under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to
another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he
is a centurion (v. 5)?
did the centurion and the leper have in common?
do you think were some differences between them?
made the centurion’s approach to Jesus noteworthy?
impact do you think Jesus’ encounter with the centurion had on those who
witnessed it? Why?
does verse 5 tell you about those who seek out Jesus?
did the centurion seek out Jesus (v. 6)?
urgent was the his need of Jesus (v. 6)?
on verse 6, how would you describe the relationship between the centurion and
to verse 7, what did Jesus offer to do?
was the centurion’s response to Jesus’ offer (v. 8)?
does this tell us about the centurion’s understanding of the relationship
between Jews and Gentiles?
do you think he felt unworthy for Jesus to come to His home (v. 8)?
on verse 8, how did the centurion view Jesus’ authority to heal?
to verse 9, how did the centurion understand Jesus’ authority to heal?
can we learn from the centurion about requesting help from the Lord?
Since Jesus’ authority is our only hope, why
do you think we often look for hope in other things or people?
Lessons in Matt. 8:5-9:
is always ready to help anyone who comes to Him in faith.
obtains requests from God but pride prevents us from obtaining what we
who are saved admit their unworthiness and the excellence of Jesus Christ.
faith makes requests of God and believes He will respond with what is
is Activated By Faith (Matt. 8:10-13)
10 Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those
following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so
great a faith! 11 I tell you that many will come from east and west, and
recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of
heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the
outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of
teeth.” 13 Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have
believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very
was it that amazed Jesus? (See v. 9.)
is unique about the word amazed that
Matthew used in verse 10 to describe Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s
to verse 10, why did the centurion’s statement amaze Jesus?
the centurion’s statement amazing to you?
If so, why?
statements from Jesus would have been shocking to the Jews who heard Him, and
are the many . . . from the east and west
who will sit with the patriarchs in the
kingdom of heaven (v. 11)?
are the sons of the kingdom (v. 12)?
would they be thrown into the outer
darkness (v. 12)?
did Jesus describe the place of outer
darkness (v. 12b)?
picture does Jesus’ description of the outer
darkness paint for you (v. 12b)?
did Jesus tell the centurion (v. 13)?
do you think Jesus told the centurion to “go”?
is the relationship to living in hope and having faith?
In your daily life, what is the evidence that
you have hope in Christ?
Lessons in Matt. 8:10-13:
pleased when we believe and trust in His power and promises.
trust in religion and good works will not be saved.
Jesus Christ alone brings salvation.
hope in Christ will never be disappointed.
Can you ever truly
find hope? Yes!
Not only can you find it but you can experience it every day in
your relationship with Christ. Call
off the search party, you’ve found your true hope.
True hope is only found when you have a trusting relationship with
Jesus Christ through faith, and faith alone.
All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal
Savior—a free gift of grace from God, the Father.
Just knowing this
information alone doesn’t save you. You have to accept it into your life
with all your heart. Accept
Christ as your Savior today, and the hope He offers is yours.
Will you trust Him as your personal Savior?
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion
adapted from the following sources:
SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville,
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study;
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word: Matt.
King James Version:
1 When he was come down from
the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2 And, behold, there
came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me
clean. 3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And
immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus saith unto him, See
thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift
that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 5 And when Jesus was
entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And
saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The
centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come
under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For
I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man,
Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do
this, and he doeth it. 10 When
Jesus heard it, he marvelled,
and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great
faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And
I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down
with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But
the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall
be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the
centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so
be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (KJV.)
New International Version:
he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord,
if you are willing, you can make me clean." 3
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am
willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his
leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him,
"See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and
offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 5
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking
for help. 6 "Lord," he
said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." 7
Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." 8
The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you
come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9
For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I
tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to
my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 When
Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I
tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 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." 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be
done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that
New Living Translation:
1 Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the
mountainside. 2 Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt
before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and
make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am
willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. 4
Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to
the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law
of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public
testimony that you have been cleansed.” 5 When Jesus returned to
Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, 6 “Lord, my
young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” 7 Jesus
said, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the officer said,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from
where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I
am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my
soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they
come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” 10 When
Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he
said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! 11
And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the
world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the
feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for
whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there
will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the
Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And
the young servant was healed that same hour. (NLT.)
Is Willing (Matt. 8:1-4)
Is Able (Matt. 8:5-9)
Hope is Activated By Faith (Matt. 8:10-13)
(NOTE: Commentary for the focal passage comes
from three sources: “IVP New Testament Commentary,” “Believer’s Bible Commentary,” and “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
IVP New Testament Commentary:
Authority over Sickness (Matthew 8:1-22)
the best of ancient historians were interested in the meaning of history, its
moral, as well as its information; most biographers especially explored their
characters as positive or negative examples. (Many ancient writers, unlike many
modern ones, had a sense of responsibility to their society!) The Gospel writers
are interested in more than listing all Jesus' deeds (as if that were possible
anyway—see Jn 21:25); they select examples from their materials to emphasize
relevant points for their own readers (compare Jn 20:30-31). In narrating events
like Jesus' healings, Matthew encourages his audience that the Lord to whom they
pray for their needs in the present demonstrated his ability to meet those needs
during his earthly ministry. While Matthew addresses particularly the need to
trust Jesus to heal, the principles can apply to other desperate needs in our
Willingness to Heal (Matthew 8:1-4)
could draw a number of lessons from this narrative. Because this is Matthew's
first extended healing miracle, I will treat some elements in greater detail
here than in some subsequent narratives.
Leper Does Not Beseech Cavalierly (Matthew 8:1-2)
leper was in a desperate and apparently lifelong situation. Biblical leprosy
(distinct from modern Hansen's disease) was an assortment of serious skin
problems that isolated the leper from the rest of society (Trapnell 1982:459).
Sometimes we pray passively, almost unconcerned as to whether God hears a
particular prayer or not; the leper did not have this luxury. For another
expression of desperate faith, see comment on Matthew 9:20-21.
Leper Approaches Jesus with Humility (Matthew 8:2)
down before another person was a great act of respect for the other's dignity,
especially for a Jewish person. The leper not only shows physical signs of
respect toward Jesus; he acknowledges that Jesus has the right to decide whether
to grant the request. To acknowledge that God has the right to grant or refuse a
request is not lack of faith (Matthew 8:2; compare, for example, Gen 18:27,
30-32; 2 Sam 10:12; Dan 3:18); it is the ultimate act of dependence on God's
compassion and takes great trust and commitment for a desperate person.
Leper Has Perfect Trust in Jesus' Power (Matthew 8:2)
knows Jesus is able to make him clean if he wants to; he is not using if you
are willing as a religious way of saying, "I doubt that you can, but I
would be happy if you might do something for me anyway." Yet the text
demonstrates, as has been already noted, that his trust in Jesus' power is not
Not Only Heals but Touches the Untouchable (Matthew 8:3)
law forbade touching lepers (Lev 5:3) and quarantined lepers from regular
society (Lev 13:45-46); people avoided most contact with them (2 Kings 7:3; Jos.
Ant. 9.74). Some ruled that the defilement of leprosy was one of the
greatest defilements, for a leper could communicate it even by entering a house.
It is thus no small matter for Jesus to compassionately touch the man. Yet by
touching Jesus does not actually undermine the law of Moses, but fulfills its
purpose by providing cleansing (Mt 5:17-48; compare Lev 13:3, 8, 10, 13, 17).
Christians today would fear to touch a Christian brother or sister who, through
blood transfusion, past lifestyle or a spouse's infidelity, was HIV-positive,
even though HIV is less contagious than many people thought leprosy was. As
often happens today, some people in antiquity constructed theological
rationalizations for others' misfortune perhaps to escape from the fear that
they too were vulnerable; hence some later teachers decided that leprosy was
divine punishment (m. Seqalim 5:3; Lev. Rab. 17:3).
Wants to Make the Man Whole (Matthew 8:3)
Matthew 8:3 implies what is elsewhere explicit: Matthew views compassion as a
primary motivation in Jesus' acts of healing (Matthew 9:36). Even if in some
cases God has some higher purpose in mind than an immediate answer to our
request (as in Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42), he is never sadistic. Jesus
demonstrated his feeling toward our infirmities by bearing them with us and for
us (Matthew 8:17) and by healing all who sought his help (Matthew 8:16). Matthew
hardly expects us to suppose that Jesus has lost any of his power (Matthew
28:18) or compassion since the resurrection. Unfortunately, many of us Western
Christians today feel more at home with the Enlightenment rationalism in which
we were trained than we do with the desperate faith of Christians who dare to
believe God for miracles. Those in desperate need cannot afford to rationalize
away God's power and compassion.
Does Not Seek Human Honor for Himself (Matthew 8:4)
healing would be viewed as no small miracle; later Jewish teachers regarded
leprosy as akin to death (compare Num 12:12; 2 Kings 5:7) and cleansing a leper
as akin to raising the dead (b. Sanhedrin 47a). Yet not only does Jesus
refuse to take advantage of the opportunity for publicity, he attempts to
suppress it. Some other prominent biblical prophets at times worked
clandestinely, endeavoring to accomplish their mission without seeking their own
honor (for example, 1 Kings 11:29; 13:8-9; 21:18; 2 Kings 9:1-10), partly
because they were investing their time especially in a small circle of disciples
(1 Sam 19:20; 2 Kings 4:38; 6:1-3). There are also other important reasons for
the messianic secret, but whatever the other reasons, Jesus is not interested in
getting credit from others for everything he does (compare Mt 6:1-18).
Honors the Requirements of the Law of Moses (Matthew 8:4)
upholds the law (Mt 5:17-20): the law commanded lepers who thought they were
cleansed to submit to priestly inspection and offer sacrifice (Lev 14:1-9; CD
13.6-7). Jesus may not seek credit for the miracle, but his faithfulness to the
law takes precedence over his personal prohibition against announcing the work.
Roman Exception (Matthew 8:5-13)
Gentile mission was at most peripheral to Jesus' earthly ministry: he did not
actively seek out Gentiles for ministry (Mt 10:5), and both occasions on which
he heals Gentiles he does so from a distance (Matthew 8:13; Matthew 15:28). The
Gentile mission became central to the early church, however, and early
Christians naturally looked to accounts of Jesus' life for examples of ministry
to the Gentiles (compare Matthew 1:3, Matthew 1:5-6; Matthew 2:1-2, Matthew
2:11; Matthew 3:9; Matthew 4:15). Matthew here draws from Q material to
emphasize his theme favoring the Gentile mission.
significance of the passage is clarified by some basic information about Roman
centurions and what they represented to Jewish people in the first century. In
this period soldiers in the Roman legions served twenty years. Unlike
aristocrats, who could become tribunes or higher officials immediately, most
centurions rose to their position from within the ranks and became members of
the equestrian (knight) class when they retired. Roman soldiers participated in
pagan religious oaths to the divine emperor.
here demonstrates that a call to missions work demands that disciples first
abandon ethnic and cultural prejudice. His Jewish readers would be tempted to
hate Romans, especially Roman soldiers, and perhaps their officers even more;
this would be especially true after A.D. 70. Jesus' teaching about accommodating
a Roman soldier's unjust request (Matthew 5:41), paying taxes to a pagan state
that used the funds in part for armies (Matthew 22:21) or paying a temple tax
that the Romans later confiscated for pagan worship (Matthew 17:24-27) would
seem intolerable to anyone whose allegiance to Christ was not greater than his
or her allegiance to family and community. But Jesus is not satisfied by our
treating an enemy respectfully; he demands that we actually love that enemy
(Matthew 5:44). No one challenges our prejudices—and sometimes provokes our
antagonism—more than a "good" member of a group that has unjustly
treated people we love. This narrative challenges prejudice in a number of ways.
Centurion Humbles Himself on Behalf of a Servant (Matthew 8:5-6)
Roman soldier was one that Jewish people would have to count as an exception
(compare explicitly in Lk 7:4-5). The slave was probably the centurion's entire
"family" (Roman soldiers were not permitted to have legal families
during their two decades of military service; A. Jones 1970:155-56). (Matthew's
audience may even think of Jewish relatives enslaved by the Romans after
Jerusalem's fall in A.D. 70.)
Centurion Acknowledges His Inferior Status as a Gentile (Matthew 8:7-8)
reports such self-humbling on the part of both Gentiles who entreat Jesus for
help (here and Matthew 15:27). The centurion's initial announcement of the need
(Matthew 8:6) is an oblique form of request; one rarely simply presumed on
others' favor (compare Lk 24:28-29; Jn 1:38-39), and one of higher social status
rarely would utter a direct request unless desperate (compare Jn 2:3). But Jesus
forces the centurion to admit his status as a suppliant.
emphatic Greek I in Matthew 8:7 suggests that Jesus' words there are
probably better translated as a question: "Shall I come and heal
him?" Most Palestinian Jews, after all, considered entering Gentile homes
questionable (compare Acts 10:28). Here Jesus erects a barrier the Gentile must
surmount, as in Matthew 15:24, Matthew 15:26: an outsider who would entreat his
favor must first acknowledge the privilege of Israel, whom other peoples had
oppressed or disregarded (compare Jn 4:22). Such initial rejection was a not
uncommon ploy for demanding greater commitment. Rather than protesting, the
centurion acknowledges his questionable merit before Jesus (compare Lk 7:4, 6),
adopting the appropriate role of a suppliant totally dependent on a patron's
benefaction—a role centurions themselves often filled for local populations.
Centurion Recognizes Jesus' Unlimited Authority to Heal (Matthew 8:8-9)
man shows faith not only by acknowledging his own unworthiness but also by
recognizing that Jesus' power is so great that this request is small to him.
Most of the centurion's contemporaries would have balked at such faith; even
Jewish people considered long-distance miracles especially difficult and rare,
the domain of only the most powerful holy men like Hanina ben Dosa. The
centurion reasons, however, from what he knows: he himself can issue commands
and receive obedience because he is under authority, that is, backed by
the full authority of the Roman Empire, which he represents to his troops. In
the same way, the authority of Israel's God backs Jesus, and a mere command from
his lips banishes powers in subjection under him, such as sickness.
we have such faith to recognize the greatness of God's power? Those who are
submitted to Jesus' will may act on it today, recognizing that the authority he
provides to carry out his work is his and not our own (Matthew 10:8, Matthew
Accepts This Attitude as Faith (Matthew 8:10)
accepts the centurion's recognition of Jesus' great authority as faith and heals
the servant (Matthew 8:13). But the text also offers a second lesson, a lesson
about our prejudices. Jesus "marvels" (NIV was astonished) only
twice in the Gospel traditions, here at a Gentile's faith (v. Matthew 8:10) and
in Mark 6:6 at his hometown's unbelief (France 1977:259). It is often those
closest to the truth who most take it for granted and those who have had the
least exposure to it who most recognize its power when it confronts them (Mt
church workers focus on getting people saved in churches where new people rarely
visit; we may need to focus more on sharing the faith by word and deed in our
communities outside church walls, and across cultural barriers as well. As one
missionary statesman put it, "I do not see why anyone should hear the
gospel twice when so many people have never heard it once." Or as R. T.
centurion's story has thus highlighted faith as the "one thing
needful." It is a practical faith which expects and receives results. Such
faith renders tradition and heredity meaningless, and "of such is the
kingdom of God." Schweizer draws an appropriately uncomfortable moral:
"The warning in this story may be especially urgent in an age when Africans
and Asians in the community of Jesus may well be called on to show 'Christian'
Europe what Christian life really is."
Centurion Is a Promise of More Gentiles to Come (Matthew 8:11-12)
note on 8:12
supports this as an authentic saying of Jesus. Matthew may draw Jesus' words
here from another context (Lk 13:28-29) to reinforce the point that this story
prefigures the Gentile mission, which Jesus endorsed in advance.
of the kingdom
(literally "sons of the kingdom"; compare Mt 13:38; 23:15) refers to
Jewish people—those who expected salvation based on their descent from Abraham
(Matthew 3:9). The damnation of those who thought themselves destined for the
kingdom sounded a sober warning to nationalist Jews of Matthew's day; it sounds
a similar warning to complacent Christians today (compare Matthew 13:38).
was the great power that lay to the west, and Matthew had earlier illustrated
the coming of pagans from the east (Matthew 2:1). Pagans thus would recline at
table (the standard posture for feasts and banquets) in the kingdom with the
patriarchs—the messianic banquet Israel expected for itself (Matthew 5:6;
Matthew 22:2; Lk 16:23; 4 Macc 13:17; 1 Enoch 70:4).
can make a difference. When one white minister living in the U.S. South was
experiencing the deepest trauma of his life, some African-American Christians
took him under their wing and nursed him back to spiritual and emotional health.
The white minister began to experience the spiritual resources and strength that
the black American church had developed through slavery, segregation and
contemporary urban crises and was eventually ordained in a black Baptist church.
Subsequently he discovered slave narratives and other accounts that brought him
face to face with what people who looked like him had done to the near ancestors
of his closest friends. He became so ashamed of the color of his skin that he
wanted to rip it off. But the love of his African-American friends and the good
news of Christ's love restored him, and soon he began to feel part of the
community that had embraced him.
often joined his friends in lamenting the agony of racism and its effects. But
one day after a Sunday-school lesson, a minister friend said something about
white people in general that he suddenly took personally. "I didn't mean you,"
the black minister explained quickly. "You're like a brother to me."
The black minister made an exception because he knew the white Christian, but
the white Christian wondered about all the people who didn't know him. He had
experienced a taste of what most of his black friends regularly encountered in
predominantly white circles.
next week the ministers were studying together the story of the centurion's
servant in Luke, and they noted that the centurion's Jewish contemporaries
viewed him as an exception to the rule that Gentiles were oppressors. They also
noted that the Gospels tell this story because that exception in Jesus' ministry
points to a huge number of Gentile converts pouring in at the time when the
Gospels were being written.
even a few people become exceptions and really care enough about their brothers
and sisters of other races to listen, these exceptions can show us that the
racial and cultural barriers that exist in our societies do not need to
continue. If we are willing to pay the price—which will sometimes include
hints of rejection from people we have come to love—we can begin to bring down
New Testament Commentary: Matthew; By Craig S. Keener; Parsons Technology, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Messiah's Miracles of Power and Grace, and Varying Reactions to Them (8:1-9:34)
chapters 8-12 the Lord Jesus
presents conclusive evidence to the nation of Israel that He was indeed the
Messiah of whom the prophets had written. Isaiah, for example, had foretold that
Messiah would open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, heal the
lame, and make the mute sing (35:5, 6). Jesus, by fulfilling all these
prophecies, proved that He was Messiah. Israel, by referring to her Scriptures,
should have had no difficulty in identifying Him as the Christ. But none are so
blind as those who will not see.
events recorded in these chapters are presented according to a thematic scheme,
rather than in strict chronological order. This is not a complete account of the
Lord's ministry, but a presentation of events selected by the Holy Spirit to
portray certain motifs in the Savior's life. Included in this presentation are
Christ's absolute authority over disease, demons, death, and the elements of
His claim to absolute lordship in the lives of those who would follow Him.
The mounting rejection of Jesus by the nation of Israel, particularly by the
The ready reception of the Savior by individual Gentiles.
Power Over Leprosy (8:1-4)
the teaching of Jesus was radical and extreme, it had a drawing power—so much
so that great multitudes followed Him. Truth is self-verifying and,
though people may not like it, they can never forget it.
leper knelt before Jesus with a desperate appeal for healing. This leper had
faith that the Lord could cure him, and true faith is never disappointed.
Leprosy is an appropriate picture of sin because it is loathsome, destructive,
infectious, and, in some forms, humanly incurable.
were untouchables. Physical contact with them might expose a person to
infection. In the case of the Jews, this contact made the person ceremonially
unclean, that is, unfit to worship with the congregation of Israel. But when
Jesus touched the leper and spoke the healing words, the leprosy
vanished immediately. Our Savior has power to cleanse from sin and to
qualify the cleansed person to be a worshiper.
is the first instance in Matthew's Gospel where it is recorded that Jesus
commanded someone to tell no one of the miracle done for them or of what
they had seen (see also 9:30; 12:16; 17:9; Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). This was
probably because He was aware that many people, interested only in deliverance
from the Roman yoke, wanted to make Him King. But He knew that Israel was still
unrepentant, that the nation would reject His spiritual leadership, and that He
must first go to the cross.
the Law of Moses, the priest also served as physician. When a leper was
cleansed, he was obligated to bring an offering and to appear before the priest
in order to be pronounced clean (Lev. 14:4-6). It was no doubt a rare event for
a leper to be healed, so extraordinary, in fact, that it should have alerted
this priest to investigate whether the Messiah had appeared at last. But we read
of no such reaction. Jesus told the leper to obey the law in this matter.
spiritual implications of the miracle are clear: The Messiah had come to Israel
with power to heal the nation of its illness. He presented this miracle as one
of His credentials. But the nation was not yet ready for her Deliverer.
Power Over Paralysis (8:5-13)
The faith of a Gentile centurion is introduced in striking contrast to
the unreceptiveness of the Jews. If Israel will not acknowledge her King, the
despised pagans will. The centurion was a Roman military officer in charge of
about one hundred men, and was stationed in or near Capernaum. He came to
Jesus to seek healing for his servant who had suffered a violent and
painful paralysis. This was an unusual display of com passion—most officials
would not have shown such concern for a servant.
the Lord Jesus offered to visit the sick servant, the centurion
showed the reality and depth of his faith. He said, in effect, "I am not
worthy that You should enter my house. Anyway, it isn't necessary, because
You could easily heal him by saying the word. I know about authority.
I take orders from my superiors, and give order to those under me. My commands
are obeyed implicitly. How much more would Your words have power over my
marveled at the faith of this Gentile. This is one of two times when
Jesus is said to have marveled; the other time was at the unbelief of the Jews
(Mark 6:6). He had not found such great faith among God's chosen people, Israel.
This led Him to point out that in His coming kingdom, Gentiles would flock from
all over the world to enjoy fellowship with the Jewish patriarchs while the
sons of the kingdom would be thrown into outer darkness where they
would weep and gnash their teeth. Sons of the kingdom are those who were
Jews by birth, who professed to acknowledge God as King, but who were never
truly converted. But the principle applies today. Many
children privileged to be born and raised in Christian families will perish in
hell because they reject Christ, while jungle savages will enjoy the eternal
glories of heaven because they believed the gospel message.
said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be
done for you." Faith is rewarded in proportion to its confidence in
the character of God. The servant was healed instantly, even though Jesus
was some distance away. We may see in this a picture of Christ's present
ministry; healing the non-privileged Gentiles from the paralysis of sin, though
He Himself is not bodily present.
Believer's Bible Commentary; by William
MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald.
Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary:
Matthew describes 10 miracles in chapters 8 and 9. Chapters 5-7 give teaching on
the kingdom of God, whereas 8 and 9 reveal how the power of the Kingdom was
revealed (cf. 4:23-25). Many people marveled at Jesus' teaching (7:28, 29); now
they followed Him. They would have even more cause to marvel later (8:27; 9:33).
A leper came, worshiping Jesus and requesting healing. There is a contrast
between verses 1 and 2—between the large crowds that followed Him on the one
hand and the lone prostrate leper on the other. The word proskuneō
means "to (fall down and) worship" (e.g., Luke 8:41; 17:16; Acts 5:10;
10:25). The term always used of healing leprosy is katharizō,
"to make clean." This was especially appropriate because it signified
being made "ritually" clean. The leper had no doubt that Jesus could
heal; he wanted to know if He would ("if thou wilt"; cf. John 5:21;
17:24). Having the ability is one thing; doing it is another.
Just as God extended His hand to perform mighty deeds (e.g., Exodus 6:6; 14:16;
15:12; Acts 4:30), so too Jesus extended His hand to the leper. Unlike others
who went out of their way to avoid touching the unclean leper, Jesus reached out
and touched him. The normal ritual pattern was reversed; no longer would the
clean become unclean by touching the ritually impure (as was commonly understood
in Judaism on the basis of Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2. Now the Messiah's words
and deeds cleansed what was unclean. The healing power of Jesus' touch that
changed this man appears throughout this Gospel (8:15; 9:18; 17:7; 20:34). The
words "I will" are filled with grace, but "be thou clean"
are words of creative authority. It was illegal to touch a leper, but as soon as
Jesus touched him, the leper was clean.
Apparently Jesus instructed the man not to tell about the miracle because He did
not want to attract attention. He repeatedly forbade the disclosure of His
actions (Matthew 9:30; 12:16; 17:9; Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). It is clear He
wanted to discourage those who viewed His ministry as an attempt on His part to
reign as king (John 6:15, 26; also see commentary on Matthew 9:30; 12:16; 17:9).
Jesus knew also that the leaders were already plotting to kill Him, and it was
not God's time for Him to die, nor was He to die away from Jerusalem (Luke
instructed the man to go to the priest who could verify his healing and to offer
a sacrifice as prescribed by the Law (Leviticus 14:1-32). He was not to tell
others of his healing, as he wanted to, but was to do first what Jesus commanded
(cf. Leviticus 14:4, 10, 21). The priest's examination of the healing would be a
witness not only to the priest but to the people ("them") that the One
who cleanses lepers, the Messiah, had indeed come. That lepers would be cleansed
when Messiah came was an acknowledged understanding (cf. 11:5).
The centurion in Capernaum was in charge of 100 men. He probably belonged to the
army of Herod Antipas, for there is no record of Roman armies being present in
Galilee before A.D. 44. Although he was a Gentile (verse 10), he loved the
Jewish people and had himself paid for the building of a synagogue in Capernaum
(Luke 7:5). He sent several elders of the Jewish people to Jesus with a request
(Luke 7:3). (Matthew's Gospel says the centurion himself went to Jesus.) A shift
from acting through intermediaries to acting on behalf of one's self is found in
many oral and written traditions (see Alford, The Greek Testament, 1:79).
A Jewish proverb says, "A man's messenger is the man himself." Parakaleō
primarily means "to call for help," but it can also mean "to
entreat, urgently request" (BAGD).
The centurion addressed Jesus in a very humble manner. The words themselves are
not a prayer, but there is little doubt that he was making a petition.
term pais can mean both "child" and "servant." Luke
indicates that "servant" is meant (doulos; Luke 7:2). The
servant was paralyzed and in great pain. Luke relates that he was on the verge
of dying (ibid.).
The Greek text can be taken one of two ways, as is reflected by the differences
in translations. Some have translated it as a question, "Shall I come and
heal him?" The force of that
construction would fall on the "I": "So, do I have to come
into an impure Gentile house and heal him?" (cf. 15:21-28). Others see the
verse as a declaration: "I will come and heal him." Considering the
centurion's reaction in verse 8 and the parallel text in Luke 7:6, the latter
seems the best understanding. Whichever is the case, Jesus did heal the
centurion's servant. That He did not go to the house was seemingly due to the
centurion's tremendous faith (cf. 15:26-37).
According to rabbinic teaching, had Jesus
entered the Gentile centurion's home He would have become ceremonially unclean
(cf. John 18:28; Acts 10:28; 11:3; Galatians 2:12). The centurion did not want
this to happen. His humility, however, was not simply because he was a Gentile
and Jesus a Jew. Undoubtedly he felt personally unworthy to have Jesus enter his
home. This did not mean he was a gross sinner. The Jewish elders spoke of his
unselfishness, love, and generosity (Luke 7:5). In fact, they spoke to Jesus on
his behalf and said this man was indeed worthy and deserved to have Jesus heal
his servant. But neither was he an ordinary Roman. Usually
the Romans considered themselves the superior, conquering race, but this
centurion was not haughty. He showed a friendly spirit toward the Jews. Though
he was an officer over 100 men, he was not filled with a sense of his own
importance but was sobered by his responsibilities. But all this does not
explain his feeling of unworthiness. It must have come from a recognition of the
power and holiness of Jesus. Because of what he knew about Jesus he did not feel
fit or qualified to be in His presence, and he did not feel it would be
appropriate for Jesus to come. He had an instinctive sense of Jesus' person and
The centurion's humility did not hinder his faith. True humility never does. Yet
his faith was not a blind, unintelligent thing. He had a reason for it. He knew
the word of the Roman emperor was supreme over the Roman army, and his authority
was felt throughout the organization of the empire under him. That is, on the
emperor's authority, each member of the organization gave his commands, and
those under him had to obey them. Even a subordinate officer like the centurion
had but to give a command and it would be done. The centurion realized that
Jesus was no subordinate officer. He was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Ruler
of an invisible empire. If the emperor of Rome gave a command it would be obeyed
in the farthest reaches of the empire. If the Ruler of heaven issued the command
"Be healed!" all the devils of hell could not keep the servant under
the power of sickness, no matter how far the distance was between Jesus and the
servant who was suffering. All it would take would be a word from Him and the
sickness would have to go.
When the centurion by his faith bore witness to the power of the Lord, the Lord
bore witness to his faith and called it great faith, greater than any He had
seen in Israel. Jesus marveled in a way that showed admiration. This centurion
was amazing, in contrast to the Jews, for they had the covenants and the
promises. They were the custodians of the Scriptures and had studied them from
childhood. Yet the faith of this Roman, this Gentile, this man without the kind
of heritage the Jews had, went beyond their faith. Finding this faith was like
finding an unexpected treasure. It thrilled Jesus. Only twice in the New
Testament does it say that Jesus "marveled" or "wondered."
Here He was astonished at the great faith of the centurion (cf. Luke 7:9). The
other occasion concerns the unbelief of the Jews in His hometown (Mark 6:6).
Jesus was not amazed at the healing; He had done such miracles before. What was
unusual was that someone should have such great faith in Him. The centurion
trusted Jesus' power and authority to such an extent that he trusted Jesus to
heal his servant, even though He was not physically present. He believed it
would happen when Jesus simply spoke the word.
Jesus saw the centurion as the firstfruits of the future great harvest among the
Gentiles. Jesus cited Old Testament prophecies when He spoke of Gentiles
streaming into the kingdom of heaven from throughout the world (east and west;
cf. Isaiah 2:2ff.; 25:6-9; Micah 4:1ff.; and elsewhere). The Old Testament call
was, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am
God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:22). The Jews, however, usually
looked on Gentile converts as inferior in the kingdom of heaven to those
descended from Abraham. The 10th chapter of Acts relates how God had to deal
with Peter in order for him to be willing to bring the message of the gospel to
Cornelius and his household. Yet Jesus put these Gentiles with Abraham in a
place of honor at the millennial banquet table.
"kingdom of heaven" refers to the age to come in which the resurrected
righteous of Old Testament times will celebrate the heavenly feast with Gentile
believers (Mark 14:25; Revelation 19:9). Gentile believers are fellow citizens
with the saints and heirs of the faith of Abraham (Ephesians 2:12, 13, 19;
Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28, 29).
Verse 12 gives the dark side of the
glorious picture painted in verse 11. Though the Old Testament faithful will
enjoy the kingdom of heaven, those of Jesus' contemporaries who have rejected
Him ("children of the kingdom") will be cast out (cf. John 1:11) at
the resurrection and final judgment.
darkness," Gehenna, is the specific site of condemnation. Everything
outside of the kingdom of God is darkness, for God is light (1 John 1:5). As a
symbol of judgment, darkness has a literal aspect (cf. Jude 13; 2 Peter 2:17).
"Weeping and gnashing of teeth" symbolize extreme suffering. The term klauthmos
especially signifies the kind of sadness one experiences during times of tragic
loss (Matthew 2:18; Acts 20:37). Gnashing of teeth suggests powerlessness and
despair; at the same time it also implies that anger and wrath are its cause.
This suffering will have no end (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 3:12; 18:8; 25:46; et
Jesus did not go to the centurion's house, because it was unnecessary. He spoke
the authoritative word asked by the centurion, and immediately the servant was
healed. Jesus' words have power; He speaks and it happens.
("just as") here does not mean "according to measure" but
"according to substance" (see verses 8, 9). It can also connote cause:
"on account of, because" (BAGD, "hōs").
Jesus' word, in response to the centurion's faith, resulted in the servant's
Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Matthew.
Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World
Library Press, Inc.
Serious skin disease—The Greek noun lipros
in Matthew 8:2 is the root of our word leprosy.
Hansen’s disease is the medical name for leprosy today, but the
biblical word can refer to other skin diseases that rendered the sufferer
unclean according to Mosaic law. Individuals
diagnosed by the priests with these skin diseases were not allowed to socialize
with anyone, unless perhaps with others who shared a similar condition (Lev.
13:46). These individuals lived
lonely lives separated from normal human contact.
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Leper: In the Bible the word rendered leprosy
(v. 3) was a broad term for a wide range of skin afflictions, especially those
marked by oozing fluid. Thus, a leper
(v. 2) was considered ritually unclean. Leviticus
13—14 presented details for diagnosing, managing, and being declared clean.
Next to touching the dead, nothing would be worse than touching a leper,
both of which were forbidden by law. Leprosy
often was considered to be a divine judgment on spiritual corruption.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Centurion—The Greek word in Matthew 8:5 refers to a rank in
the Roman army, usually signifying a commander of 100 soldiers.
Centurions were Roman officers who had full authority over those under
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Centurion: A centurion (v. 5) was an officer in the Roman army.
His title was derived from his having charge over a force of 100 men,
though it was not uncommon for the force to be somewhat smaller.
Generally, centurions are spoken of positively in the New Testament.
They were not only men of strength but, considering Luke’s description
of the centurion in his parallel account (Luke 7:1-10), as the primary Roman
officer in a town, the centurion knew how to work with people to win their
favor. Even so, he still was a
foreigner and suspect.
Other darkness—The Greek phrase occurs three times in Matthew
(8:12; 22:13; 25:30). The phrase
describes the place of judgment and suffering in eternity and is a designation
Outer darkness: Throughout the New Testament light is associated with God in Christ.
Therefore, darkness would be the opposite; a denial of the things of God, a
rejection of Christ. Outer darkness (v. 12) usually represented the damnation of
separation or of having been cast out from God’s presence.
The place of outer darkness is
also a place of weeping and gnashing of
teeth, a figure of mournfulness and anguish.
generic term applied to a variety of skin disorders from psoriasis to true
leprosy. Its symptoms ranged from white patches on the skin to running
sores to the loss of digits on the fingers and toes.
For the Hebrews it was
a dreaded malady which rendered its victims ceremonially unclean—that is,
unfit to worship God (Lev. 13:3). Anyone who came in contact with a leper
was also considered unclean. Therefore, lepers were isolated from the rest of
the community so that the members of the community could maintain their status
as worshipers. Other physical disorders or the flow of certain bodily fluids
also rendered one unclean (see Lev. 12:1-14:32; 15:1-33). Even houses
and garments could have “leprosy” and, thus, be unclean (Lev. 14:33-57).
Jesus did not consider this
distinction between clean and unclean valid. A person’s outward condition did
not make one unclean; rather that which proceeds from the heart determines
one’s standing before God (Mark 7:1-23; compare Acts 10:9-16).
Therefore, Jesus did not hesitate about touching lepers (Mark 1:40-45) and even
commanded His disciples to cleanse lepers (Matt. 10:8). Jesus even made a
leper the hero of one of His parables (Luke 16:19-31).
Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers;
absence of light is used in both physical and figurative senses in both the Old
and New Testaments. The darkness which covered the deep before God’s creation
of light symbolizes chaos in opposition to God’s orderly creation (Gen.
1:2, 3). Elsewhere darkness, as well as light, is recognized as the
creation of God (Isa. 45:7). Darkness is a place for evil doers to hide (Job
34:22); however, darkness does not hide one from God (Ps. 139:11-12; Dan.
Darkness was thought of as a curse. Thus the
Old Testament speaks of death as a land of darkness (Job 10:21-22; 17:13; Ps.
88:6). Darkness is frequently associated with supernatural events involving the
judgment of God, such as the plagues of Egypt (Ex. 10:21), the coming of
the Lord (Isa. 13:9-10; Joel 2:31; Matt. 24:29), and Christ’s crucifixion
(Matt. 27:45). The day of God’s judgment is often described as a day of
darkness (Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18-20). Elsewhere darkness forms part of God’s
punishment on the disobedient (Deut. 28:29; 1 Sam. 2:9; Job 5:14; 15:30; 20:26; Ps.
107:10; Isa. 47:5; Jer. 13:16; Ezek. 32:8).
In the New Testament, the place of punishment for
humans and sinful angels is designated “the outer darkness” (Matt.
8:12; 22:13; 25:30; compare 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6, 13).
Darkness often has an ethical sense. Scripture speaks of ways of darkness (Prov.
2:13; 4:19), walking in darkness (John 8:12; 1 John 1:6; compare 2
Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8), and works of darkness (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11).
In this ethical sense God has no darkness in Himself (1 John 1:5). Powers
hostile to God can be termed darkness. People thus face a choice of whether
to yield allegiance to God or to darkness (Luke 22:53; John 1:5; 3:19; Col.
1:13; 1 Thess. 5:5). Darkness also symbolizes ignorance, especially of
God and of God’s ways (Isa. 8:22; 9:2; John 12:46; Acts 26:18; 1
Thess. 5:4; 1 John 2:9). God’s deliverance (either from ignorance or
hostile powers) is described as lighting the darkness (Isa. 9:2; 29:18; 42:7-16; Mic.
7:8; 1 Pet. 2:9).
SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons
Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Biblical Leprosy: Shedding Light on the Disease that Shuns
By Alan L. Gillen, Ed.D.
Dr. Alan Gillen, a biology professor at Liberty
University, is the author of Body by Design and The Genesis of Germs.
He has also written more than 30 papers on topics in microbiology, zoology, and
anatomy. Dr. Gillen is a regular contributor to various creation-based
magazines, journals, and books.
ISEASE IS A CONSTANT REMINDER of just how much things have changed
since God pronounced a curse on the earth. At first, everything was “very
good,” but Adam’s sin brought death and decay into the world.
One of the most well-known examples of debilitating disease
in this sin-cursed creation is Mycobacterium leprae, the infectious
bacterial agent of leprosy. Leprosy is discussed quite often in the Bible. While
its definition in modern times is different from biblical times, there is no
doubt that the definitions overlap, and the modern form of the disease still
illustrates important spiritual lessons today.
The term “leprosy” (including leper, lepers, leprosy,
leprous) occurs 68 times in the Bible—55 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew = tsara’ath)
and 13 times in the New Testament (Greek = lepros, lepra). In the Old
Testament, the instances of leprosy most likely meant a variety of infectious
skin diseases, and even mold and mildew on clothing and walls. The precise
meaning of the leprosy in both the Old and New Testaments is still in dispute,
but it probably includes the modern Hansen’s disease (especially in the New
Testament) and infectious skin diseases.
The term “Hansen’s disease” was not given until 1873,
when Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen described the leprosy bacillus (the lay term
for the “bacterium”). Only at this point was a precise definition for
leprosy made available.
The Origin of Hansen’s Disease
Leprosy has terrified humanity since ancient times and was
reported as early as 600 BC in India, China, and Egypt. Hansen’s disease is
still a major health problem in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
For many centuries, leprosy was considered a curse of God, often associated with
sin. It did not kill, but neither did it seem to end. Instead, it lingered for
years, causing the tissues to degenerate and deforming the body.
Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is
better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the
leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a
rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by
multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory
tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.
Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system
(outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the
hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement
of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form
the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear
and collapsing of the nose.
Tumor-like growths called lepromas may form on the skin and
in the respiratory tract, and the optic nerve may deteriorate. The largest
number of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve
damage. For instance, inattentive patients can pick up a cup of boiling water
It was the work of Dr. Paul Brand (the late world-renowned
orthopedic surgeon and leprosy physician) with leprosy patients that
illustrated, in part, the value of sensing pain in this world. The leprosy
bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with
advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people
cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of
injury caused by an outside agent.
In fact, some leprosy patients have had their fingers eaten
by rats in their sleep because they were totally unaware of it happening; the
lack of pain receptors could not warn them of the danger.
According to Dr. Brand, the best example in the Bible of a
person with Hansen’s disease is the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5; Matthew 12:13; Luke 6:10). He likely suffered from tuberculoid leprosy.
Biblical Leprosy and Hansen’s Disease
In addition to pain and disfiguration, biblical leprosy and
Hansen’s disease are both dreaded, and people were shunned because of them.
The noun tsara’ath appears about two dozen times in the Hebrew text.
As previously mentioned, biblical leprosy is a broader term
than the leprosy (Hansen’s disease) that we know today. The Hebrew tsara’ath
included a variety of ailments and is most frequently seen in Leviticus, where
it referred primarily to uncleanness or imperfections according to biblical
standards. A person with any scaly skin blemish was tsara’ath. The
symbolism extended to rot or blemish on leather, the walls of a house, and woven
cloth. Other Old Testament references to leprosy are associated with punishment
or the consequences of sin.
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible,
tsara’ath was translated as aphe lepras. These words in Greek
implied a skin condition that spread over the body.
Others have suggested that the translation of tsara’ath
includes “molds.” The recent discovery of a highly toxic mold (Stachybotrys
sp.), which contaminates buildings and causes respiratory distress, memory
loss, and rash, lends support to the translation of tsara’ath to
include “mold.” As noted, tsara’ath incorporates a collection of
contemporary terms, including Hansen’s disease, infectious skin diseases, and
mold (or even mildew) diseases.
References to leprosy have a different emphasis in the New
Testament. They stress God’s desire to heal. Jesus freely touched people with
leprosy. While people with leprosy traditionally suffered banishment from family
and neighbors, Jesus broke from the tradition. He treated lepers with
compassion, touching and healing them.
Although we can’t know all the reasons that God allows
disease into our lives, biblical leprosy is a powerful symbol reminding us of
sin’s spread and its horrible consequences. Like leprosy, sin starts out small
but can then spread, leading to other sins and causing great damage to our
relationship with God and others.
Studying leprosy helps us see why pain is a valuable
“gift,” a survival mechanism to warn us of danger in this cursed world.
Without pain and suffering, we might be like lepers, unable to recognize that
something is terribly wrong and that we need the healing touch of God. As Dr.
Brand said, “I cannot think of a greater gift that I could give my leprosy
patients than pain.”
Let us not be too quick to remove pain in our lives (whether
physical, emotional, social, or spiritual pain). It may be God’s megaphone to
get our attention that something is seriously wrong and that we should flee to
the One who created us.
(Condensed and adapted from the book, The Genesis of Germs,
published by Master Books.)
The Roman Centurion
By Timothy L. Noel
Noel is pastor, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Mobile, AL.
HO CAN COUNT up the rewards of a successful Army career?
If you do well during your service, the sky’s the limit, there’s
nothing you can’t hope for. Find
me a lucky star to watch over my enlistment and I’d join up myself, walk in
through those barrack-gates as a humble recruit . . .” (Juvenal, xvi.1-4).
As with today’s United States Marines, the Roman army looked for a
few good men to lead their troops. When
they found them, men of good character and leadership ability, they marked them
for promotion to the rank of centurion.
The centurion was the commander of one hundred foot soldiers, a group
that was called a century. Ten
centuries constituted a cohort, and six cohorts made up one legion.
Thus, each legion consisted of about six thousand men.
Twenty-eight legions comprised the standing Roman army.
Soldiers usually were promoted to the rank of centurion from among the
legions. Others, however, were
people of some status in society who were appointed as centurions because of
their previous careers in public service. For
those who moved up through the ranks, the promotions were recommended by the
legionary legates and approved by the provincial governor.
The centurions who appear in the New Testament may or may not have been
Roman citizens. Some would have been
promoted through the ranks, and therefore would have been provincial natives.
Others would have been transferred in from other legions, and therefore
might have been Roman.1
The rank of centurion carried with it considerable benefits as compared
to the lower ranks within the legions. While
the lower ranking officers were non-commissioned, a centurion was a commissioned
officer. The pay was better.
A centurion made as much as five times what a praetorian soldier made,
and the highest ranking centurions could make even more.
After 20 years of service a centurion could retire (although many did
not). The retirement benefits of a
centurion were generous; either a cash bonus or an allotment of land.
The centurion would be promoted from rank to rank, usually being
transferred from legion to legion in the process.
Centurions, therefore, were well-educated and well-traveled.
The highest rank available to the centurion was that of primus
pilus. The fact is, however,
that the chances of attaining that rank were slim for the ordinary centurion who
had risen through the ranks. It
required a level of education and administrative ability that most common
recruits did not have.
Being promoted to the rank of centurion was less dependent on fighting
ability than on ability to work with people.
The centurions were people of solid character who could keep cool under
adverse situations. They were
cautious men who would advance slowly in battle, but also men of bravery who
would not retreat except under direct orders.
During the first half of the first century AD few Roman soldiers saw
any real action. Ramsay MacMullen
comments, “Many a recruit need never have struck a blow in anger, outside a
tavern.”2 Only in a few remote areas of the Roman Empire was any
real fighting taking place. During
peacetime the army was used for duties other than external security.
It provided internal security, built roads and bridges, and escorted
prisoners. All of these activities
were supervised by centurions.
As an officer, the centurion was accustomed to responsibility.
While the centurion technically was under one of the six legionary
tribunes, for all practical purposes the centurions were the commanders of the
legions. In reality, “these
formidable men combined the functions and prestige of a modern company commander
and sergeant-major or top sergeant.”3
The authority of the centurion is reflected in Matthew 8:9, where a
centurion told Jesus, “I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and
I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes,
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (RSV).
Obviously, centurions were used to giving orders and having them obeyed
to the letter. However, here in
Matthew (compare Luke 7:6) we see a picture of a centurion who was wealthy (he
owned slaves) and in a position of great authority, but who nevertheless
exhibited humility nd respect in his dealing with Jesus.
The particular responsibilities of the centurion included maintaining
discipline, such as the supervision of scourging and even executions; drilling
and inspecting the troops; quartermaster duties; and commanding the troops in
the field.4 The
centurion also evidently received and held in trust monies from their recruits,
money perhaps left unspent from the men’s bonus for enlisting.
As far as religion is concerned, centurions usually were pagans.
The primary religion of the Roman army was allegiance to the standards of
the army. Tertullian maintained that
“the religious system of the Roman Army is entirely devoted to the worship of
the standards; oaths are sworn by the standards, and the standards are preferred
to all deities” (Apologies, 16).
This cult provided for the army its esprit
de corps. Christianity had
little success relative to conversions in the Roman army.
What does this paganism say about the confessions of the Roman
centurions in the New Testament? We
must read these confessioins in light of this paganism.
Some scholars suggest that when the centurion at Jesus’ crucifixion
confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God,” he meant something entirely
different than the modern Christian means, or even what Matthew meant.
Alfred Plummer comments that the centurion “cannot have meant very much
by ‘son of God.’”5 William Lane adds,
By “Son of God” the centurion presumably
meant that Jesus was a divine man or deified hero who accepted humiliation and
death as an act of obedience to a higher mandate.
It can be expected that his words reflect a religious point of view
shaped by popular Hellenism.6
Obviously one cannot be dogmatic about the
nature of the centurion’s confession. If
in fact the centurion was moved to a genuine confession about the deity of
Christ, the paganism of his background made that confession all the more
In Mark 15:39 and in Matthew 27:54, the
centurion made his confession that Jesus is the Son of God.
In Luke 23:47 the confession reads, “Certainly this man was
innocent!” (RSV). In Mark’s
Gospel, this is a singular confession. God
twice pronounced that Jesus was His Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7).
The demons knew that Jesus was the Son of God, but in the entire Gospel,
the centurion is the only human to make this confession.
What ever this confession might have meant to that particular centurion
(see above), for Mark this was an important event.
The other centurions appear in Acts.
Cornelius was presented as a centurion who feared God and became a
Christian (see Acts 10). In Acts
22:25,26 a centurion was about to scourge Paul, but deferred when he learned of
Paul’s Roman citizenship. Paul was
placed in the custody of a centurion in Acts 24:23, and a centurion took Paul to
Rome (Acts 27). Acts 27:43 shows
that this centurion was a man of courage and devotion to duty.
In Acts 28:16 a centurion guarded Paul while the apostle was under house
Obviously the centurions in the New Testament
were presented in a very positive light. They
were people of wealth and authority, yet they had respect for the authority of
Jesus and for the status of Paul. One
centurion confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, and another, Cornelius,
became a Christian. The conversion
of these centurions stands in stark contrast to the unbelief of Jesus’ own
people, and symbolized for the early community of faith the coming conversion of
the Gentile nations.
A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society
and Roman Law in the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1963), 156.
Ramsay MacMullen, Soldier
and Civilian in the Later Roman Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Michael Grant, The Army of the
Caesars (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1974), xxxiii.
F. D. Gealy, “Centurions,” The
Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5
vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962-76), 1:548.
Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical
Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1915), 404.
William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 576.
The Roman Military In Jesus’ Day
Poulton is professor of history and president emeritus of Virginia Intermont
College, Bristol, Virginia.
HE OPENING SCENES
of the movie Gladiator depict the Roman army in action. The disciplined
Roman legions marched into battle in formation supported by cavalry and
auxiliary troops. The undisciplined barbarians, no matter how courageous, were
usually no match for the legionnaires. The time frame of the movie was A.D. 180;
still the Roman army at the time of Jesus was similar to the one Hollywood
the time of Jesus, the Romans had created a huge empire. It stretched in the
north from the highlands of Scotland to the Middle East and westward to the
Atlantic Ocean. Created largely through conquest, the empire would continue for
several more centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion. The empire was the product of
Rome’s powerful war machine. In truth, the history of Rome is the saga of its
conflicts and conquests. This essay discusses the creators and protectors of the
empire, the Roman army.
The Roman army both grew and changed over time. The Roman
Republic’s army was composed of citizen soldiers. Soldiers were property
owners; most were farmers. The wealthier citizens served as the officer class.
All male citizens from their teenage years to the age of 60 participated. The
soldiers of the republic shared a sense of duty and patriotism that helps to
explain their success. As time went on and the wars became longer in duration
and more distant from home, this “citizen army” became inadequate.
During the wars of the first century B.C., General Marius
undertook a major change in the Roman military, a change that had far-reaching
effects. He found it necessary to replace the former citizen army with a
professional force. These soldiers enlisted for a definite period of time and
they received pay. Because Marius recruited unemployed men from the growing
cities, soldiers were no longer always property owners. These soldiers swore
allegiance to their general — not to the republic, and they depended on him
for their pay. The new army became a powerful weapon for any general willing to
use it to further his own political agenda.
Augustus (31 B.C.-A.D. 14) became emperor, he recognized the need to reform the
army and to bring it back under governmental control. He realized the previous
emergency armies that had sworn allegiance to their generals had helped bring
down the republic. Augustus decided to establish a standing army, which would
eliminate the need to raise additional forces. His agents were also firmly in
control of recruitment and retirement functions. “Troops took an oath of
loyalty to the princeps rather than to the men who eventually exercised the
actual command in the field.”1
established an army of 28 legions (this number varied somewhat later). A legion
was composed of approximately 5,000- 6,000 men. So between 125 thousand and 150
thousand legionnaires served. The auxiliary army, made up of non-Italians, was
about the same size. This represents a relatively small fighting force for such
a large empire. Few legions were needed at
the center of the empire that was enjoying the Pax Romana, and the
legions on the frontier were effective in carrying out their duties.
the legions were distributed as follows: 3 in Spain; 8 in Germany and along the
Rhine: 6-7 along the Danube and Macedonia; 3-4 in Syria; 3 in Egypt and 1 in
enlisted for a period of 20 years and received 9 hundred sesterces annually
as pay. They also received free equipment, rations, and the possibility of
sharing some of the booty of their conquests. After his enlistment period, the
soldier could expect a guaranteed gratuity of 12 thousand sesterces.
Legionnaires were forbidden to marry since they might need to move quickly from
one part of the empire to a distant trouble spot. Noncitizens could enlist in
the auxiliary forces, but they received less pay and had to serve longer.
Following their service they received Roman citizenship status, which was a
major inducement for them to enlist.
payment of gratuities to disbanded armies had caused numerous political crises
in the days of the republic. Augustus fixed this. The regular length of service
and the fixed size of the army made it easy to calculate the amount of money
needed each year for discharge grants. The
income from two new taxes was earmarked to produce the necessary funds. This
revenue went to the “aerarium militare, a new treasury set up in A.D.
6.” This new treasury had the single responsibility of paying the military
life of a legionnaire was not easy. In peacetime the men trained for war.
“Their military exercises differ not at all from the real use of their arms,
but every soldier is every day exercised, and that with great diligence, as if
it were in time of war, which is the reason why they bear the fatigue of battles
so easily; . . . nor would he be mistaken that should call those their exercises
unbloody battles, and their battles bloody exercises.”3 Fear served
as a motivator during military training, as even some trivial offenses resulted
in a penalty of death for the aberrant soldier. Legionnaires took part in the
construction of camps, fortifications, and roads. They were also involved in
nonmilitary projects like the building of bridges, canals, and even temples. The
Roman army was composed of men who were versatile, disciplined, well trained and
led. For centuries this was enough to compensate for their inadequate numbers.
Roman soldier proved his worth. The army was organized into legions. The legion
was divided into 10 cohorts with 600 men each. Each cohort was divided into 3
maniples of 200 legionnaires. The maniple consisted of 2 centuries of 100 men
each. A centurion led each century. This organization provided greater
flexibility and maneuverability.
legion marched into battle preceded by a line of lightly armed skirmishers. Next
came a line of spearmen. The second battle line consisted of the prime warriors.
The third line was made up of older veterans. “In battle, the lightarmed
troops threw their missiles and then retired back through the ranks. The
mainline heavy infantryman advanced . . . and then closed in to fight it out
with the sword.”4 Each legionnaire, following his legion’s eagle
standard into battle, wore a helmet and a breastplate and carried a shield. His
main weapon was a short thrusting sword.
Roman battle formation had greater flexibility than the Greek phalanx and had
the advantage of being able to operate in rough terrain. Though never strong in
number, the Roman cavalry was largely responsible for reconnaissance.
Still the form that the
Roman army used was not without its limitations. Transitioning a legion from the
marching lines to a battle formation took a considerable amount of time, time
that could prove to be advantageous to the enemy. The Romans also had trouble
adapting to an enemy that did not fight as they did. This explains the success
of the Parthians over the Romans. Yet Rome’s military was a formidable
fighting machine that conquered and maintained a huge empire for about 500
years. The military’s success was because of the quality and training of the
individual legionnaire who had a real sense of purpose and duty. “They were
warriors who believed the man who was afraid of death, feared life; and they
bore themselves accordingly.”5
1. Henry Boren, Roman Society (Lexington, Mass: D.C. Heath
and Co., 1977), 158.
J. P. Balsdon, Rome: The Story of an Empire (New York: McGraw-Hill Co.,
The Works of Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, trans. William
Whiston (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co, n.d.), III. V. I.
Boren, Roman Society, 29.
Reginald Hargreaves, Beyond the Rubicon: History of Early Rome (New York:
New American Library, 1967), 91.
Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 31, Number 1; Fall 2004
What Is The Answer
To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (04/27/14) Who
was Og, what made him unique, and where is it found in the Bible? (A
3-part question.) Answer next week: (1)
The answer to last
week’s trivia question: (04/20/14)
Which king was to rule the Kingdom of Israel, who
told him, and where is the answer found in the Bible?
(A 3-part question.) Answer: (1)
King Jeroboam, (2) Ahijah, the
prophet (3) 1 Kings 11:29-40.
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