Every Sunday we give people the opportunity to text in questions that they have about the sermon, because we value the process of discovery.
Here’s a question from this past Sunday:
Last week we talked about how the gospels never contradicts themselves. However, we kinda see an example of that this week. In Matthew 5 it claims that the centurion came to Jesus, but in Luke 7 it says he sent others. This is a contradiction, albeit a small one.
This is a great question. Matthew 8:5-13 also records the story that we studied in Luke 7:1-10 and there is this difference that the question points out. Matthew records the centurion interacting directly with Jesus, but Luke 7 says that he sent Jewish leaders and then friends to talk to Jesus on his behalf. So is this a contradiction? First, we should note that in both Matthew and Luke the words that are attributed to the centurion are the exact same. So there is no difference in the substance of the story. Nevertheless, why is there this difference between who actually said the words? Well, in ancient times it was not uncommon to tell someone to go speak on your behalf and when they did they would speak as if they were you. They would be required to give your exact message, even with the same tonal inflections. To change the message was considered a crime. And so, these people would speak in the first person on behalf of the individual who gave them the message. So that’s what happened here. The centurion commissioned people to go speak on his behalf. Luke decided to include their role in his retelling of the story, but Matthew decided not to include it.
Commentator Dr. Robert Stein says it this way,
Matthew used 124 words to tell this incident compared to Luke’s 186. He therefore eliminated the role played by the Jewish elders and friends as “translators” between Jesus and the centurion. This should no more disturb the reader than the fact that when the newspaper speaks of the president of the United States talking with leaders from another country it never mentions the translators who were present. In seeking to abbreviate the story, Matthew simply ignored these “translators”.
Commentator Dr. Darrell Bock notes:
Luke depicts the message as giving the centurion’s exact words. Thus, the verbal agreement with Matthew’s report that the centurion said this to Jesus should not be surprising.
So while there is a difference between how Matthew and Luke choose to tell the story there isn’t a difference in what was actually said. Luke included these “translators” and gave this story more detail than Matthew did. That’s not a contradiction, just a difference in style and purpose.