Critical Analysis of a Bible

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Matthew 8:5-13
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When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is 7 8 lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant 9 will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he 10 goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel 11 have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac 12 and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the Kingdom will be thrown into the outer 13 darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. (NRSV)

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World behind the text Historical Context This narrative occurs in both Matthew and Luke (Lk 7:1-10) and details an encounter with Jesus and a centurion belonging to the Roman army. It does not occur in Mark, possibly indicating it may be from Q. The military occupation of Judea at the time was carried out not by Roman legionaries but by non-Jewish auxiliaries drawn mostly from the regions of Lebanon and Syria.1 A centurion was an officer in charge of 80 men (not quite the 100 as the title implies)2 and was responsible for the discipline and fighting efficiency of his unit. ‘The centurion was the backbone of the Roman military organization’.3 This event takes place in the town of Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus lived for some time in Capernaum and this was his base for much of his Galilean ministry (Mark 2:1). It is not surprising, therefore, that his reputation as a healer was well known in the town and surrounding area. By detailing the exchange between Jesus and a non-Jew Matthew is emphasizing his motif that Gentiles were invited to be part of the Kingdom of God and in many cases showed more faith than the Jews. World of the text Literary Context This passage is preceded by the account of the healing of the leper who acknowledged that Jesus could cure him if he wished. The short episode concludes with Jesus advising the cured man to go and report to a priest to have his cure officially confirmed. Matthew is showing how Jesus was conscious of observing the Law of Moses in this respect. The pericope is followed by an account of the cure of Peter’s mother in law, so Matthew has placed this episode involving the centurion in the midst of a series of healing stories designed to illustrate the power of God working through Jesus. Most of these healing stories, apart from this one, are derived from Mark.4 Form Criticism (including Genre) The genre of Mt 8:5-11 is a healing story and its form incorporates narrative, dialogue between Jesus and the centurion, a concluding pronouncement from Jesus about the faith of the centurion and a final narrative confirmation of the cure of the servant. Structure The passage may be divided into: an approach and request by the centurion, a statement of willingness from Jesus to cure the servant , a declaration of faith from the centurion acknowledgement of the soldier’s faith and a contrast with the lack of faith found in Israel a pronouncement regarding the place of Gentiles in the Kingdom Jesus’ words of healing confirmation of the cure of the servant 1

Comment [l1]: Reference to other occurrences of the same episode.

Comment [O2]: Historical background of characters and geographical location and any other relevant historical details. Comment [l3]: Reference to the primary text supporting the previous statement. Comment [O4]: A comment on the writer’s aim with regard to main...
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