Scripture in Question: Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10
According to many cynics, the story of how Jesus healed a centurion’s servant in Capernaum is one of the clearest contradictions in the Bible. This claim is made because Matthew’s account appears to tell us that the centurion went to Christ and talked with him in person, whereas Luke appears to clearly say that the centurion sent others to Jesus who asked for help on his behalf.
Luke 7:1-10 tells us that “The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him … So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.’ …Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”
When we read the account in Matthew 8:5-13, it does sound as though the centurion went to Jesus personally: “A centurion came to him,” “Lord, he said,” “the centurion replied,” “then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go …,” etc. But the Bible often speaks as though someone in a position of authority did something when, in actuality, a servant or representative was the one who acted. John 19:1 is an example of this: “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him” (ESV), though the Bible makes it clear that it was the soldiers acting under Pilate’s orders who actually performed the beating. This is so obviously what happened that no one claims it to be a contradiction, and the NIV simply translates John 19:1 to say “had him flogged” as that is the obvious meaning, despite the fact that the text literally says “Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.”
The same principle can be seen to be at work in the abbreviated account in Matthew 8 – the reported words are the same as those we find in Luke. But as with Pilate, so with the centurion. Others completed the actions for these individuals in command, and there is no real contradiction in the parallel accounts.
* For explanation of other "Scriptures in Question" see the other posts in this series.