Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 8:5-13; LUKE 7:1-10
5. And when Jesus had entered into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, beseeching him, 6. And saying, Lord, my servant is lying at home afflicted with palsy, and is grievously tormented. 7. And Jesus saith to him, When I shall come, I will heal him. 8. And the centurion answering him said, Lord, I do not deserve that thou shouldst come under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9. For I am a man subject to the power of another, and I have 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. And when Jesus had heard these things, he wondered, and said to those who followed, Verily I say to you, not even in Israel have I found so great faith. 11. And I say to you, That many will come from the east and west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: 12. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast into the darkness that is without: weeping and gnashing of teeth will be there. 13. And Jesus said to the centurion, Go, and as thou believest, so may it be done to thee: and his servant was healed in that hour. 498
1. Now, when he had finished all his words in the hearing of the people, he entered into Capernaum. 2. And a servant of a certain centurion, who was very dear to him, was ill and near death. 3. And when he had heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, to entreat him, that he would come and heal his servant. 4. And when they had come to him, they entreated him earnestly, saying, He deserves that though shouldest do this for him: 5. For he loveth our nation, and himself hath built a synagogue. 6. And Jesus went with them. And when he was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, and they said to him, Lord, do not trouble thyself: for I do not deserve that thou shouldest enter under my roof. 7. And for this reason I did not reckon myself worthy to come to thee: but say in a word, and my servant will be healed. 8. For I am a man placed 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. 9. And having heard these things, Jesus wondered at him, and he turned and said to the crowd that followed him, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found so great faith. 10. And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant, who had been sick, in good health.
Matthew 8:5. And when Jesus had entered Those who think that Matthew and Luke give different narratives, are led into a mistake by a mere trifle. The only difference in the words is, that Matthew says that the centurion came to him, while Luke says that he sent some of the Jews to plead in his name. But there is no impropriety in Matthew saying, that the centurion did what was done in his name and at his request. There is such a perfect agreement between the two Evangelists in all the circumstances, that it is absurd to make two miracles instead of one.
The band of soldiers, which the centurion had under his command, was stationed, I have no doubt, in the town of Capernaum, in the same manner as garrisons were usually appointed for the protection of the towns. Though he perceived the morals of the people to be very vicious and depraved, (for we know that Capernaum, being on the seacoast, must have been more dissolute 499 than other towns,) yet this did not prevent him from condemning the superstitions of his country, and acquiring a taste for true and sincere piety. He had not built a synagogue for the Jews without exposing himself to some hatred and to some risk: and the only reason why he loved that nation was, that he had embraced the worship of one God. Before Christ healed his servant, he had been healed by the Lord.
This was itself a miracle. One who belonged to the military profession, and who had crossed the sea with a band of soldiers, for the purpose of accustoming the Jews to endure the yoke of Roman tyranny, submits willingly, and yields obedience to the God of Israel. Luke says that this servant was very dear to him; and thus anticipates a doubt which might have arisen in the mind of the reader: for we know that slaves 500 were not held in such estimation, as to make their masters so solicitous about their life, unless by extraordinary industry, or fidelity, or some other virtue, they had secured their favor. By this statement Luke means, that this was not a low or ordinary slave, but a faithful servant, distinguished by many excellencies, and very highly esteemed by his master; and that this was the reason why he was so anxious about his life, and recommended him so earnestly. From both Evangelists it is evident that it was a sudden palsy, which, from the first attack, took away all hope of life: for slow palsies are not attended by severe pain. Matthew says, that he was grievously tormented, and Luke, that he was near death Both descriptions — pain or agony, and extreme danger — serve to enhance the glory of the miracle: and for this reason I am the more unwilling to hazard any absolute assertion as to the nature of the disease.
Luke 7:5. For he loveth our nation This was, no doubt, a commendation given him by the Jews on account of his piety: 501 for his love of a nation universally hated could proceed only from zeal for the Law, and from reverence for God. By building a synagogue, he showed plainly that he favored the doctrine of the Law. The Jews had therefore good grounds for saying that, as a devout worshipper of God, he had claims on Christ for receiving such a favor. They discover, at the same time, a marvellous stupidity in admitting, by their own acknowledgment, that a Gentile possesses that grace of God which they despise and reject. If they consider Christ to be the minister and dispenser of the gifts of God, why do they not receive the grace offered to them before bringing foreigners to enjoy it? But hypocrites never fail to manifest such carelessness and presumption, as not to hesitate to look upon God as under some sort of obligations to them, and to dispose of his grace at their pleasure, as if it were in their own power; and then, when they are satisfied with it, or rather because they do not deign to taste it, they treat it as useless, and leave it to others.
Matthew 8:8. Lord, I do not deserve that thou shouldest come under my roof Matthew’s narrative is more concise, and represents the man as saying this; while Luke explains more fully, that this was a message sent by his friends: but the meaning of both is the same. There are two leading points in this discourse. The centurion, sparing Christ by way of honoring him, requests that Christ will not trouble himself, because he reckons himself unworthy to receive a visit from him. The next point is, that he ascribes to Christ such power as to believe, that by the mere expression of his will, and by a word, his servant may recover and live. There was astonishing humility in exalting so highly above himself a man who belonged to a conquered and enslaved nation. It is possible, too, that he had become accustomed to the haughty pretensions of the Jews, and, being a modest man, did not take it ill to be reckoned a heathen, and therefore feared that he would dishonor a Prophet of God, if he pressed him to enter the house of a polluted Gentile. However that may be, it is certain that he speaks sincerely, and entertains such reverence for Christ, that he does not venture to invite him to his house, nay, as is afterwards stated by Luke, he reckoned himself unworthy to converse with him. 502
But it may be asked, what moved him to speak of Christ in such lofty terms? The difficulty is even increased by what immediately follows, only say the word, and my servant will be healed, or, as Luke has it, say in a word: for if he had not acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God, to transfer the glory of God to a man would have been superstition. It is difficult to believe, on the other hand, that he was properly informed about Christ’s divinity, of which almost all were at that time ignorant. Yet Christ finds no fault with his words, 503 but declares that they proceeded from faith: and this reason has forced many expositors to conclude, that the centurion bestows on Christ the title of the true and only God. I rather think that the good man, having been informed about the uncommon and truly divine works of Christ, simply acknowledged in him the power of God. Something, too, he had undoubtedly heard about the promised Redeemer. Though he does not distinctly understand that Christ is God manifested in the flesh, (1Ti 3:16,) yet he is convinced that the power of God is manifested in him, and that he has received a commission to display the presence of God by miracles. He is not therefore chargeable with superstition, as if he had ascribed to a man what is the prerogative of God: but, looking at the commission which God had given to Christ, he believes that by a word alone he can heal his servant.
Is it objected, that nothing belongs more peculiarly to God than to accomplish by a word whatever he pleases, and that this supreme authority cannot without sacrilege be yielded to a mortal man? The reply is again easy. Though the centurion did not enter into those nice distinctions, he ascribed this power to the word, not of a mortal man, but of God, whose minister he fully believed Christ to be: on that point he entertained no doubt. The grace of healing having been committed to Christ, 504 he acknowledges that this is a heavenly power, and does not look upon it as inseparable from the bodily presence, but is satisfied with the word, from which he believes such a power to proceed.
Matthew 8:9. For I am a man subject to the power of another This comparison does not imply equality between the two cases, but is taken from the less to the greater. He forms a higher conception of the divine power, which is manifested in Christ, than of the authority which was possessed by himself over servants and soldiers.
10. Jesus wondered. Wonder cannot apply to God, for it arises out of what is new and unexpected: but it might exist in Christ, for he had clothed himself with our flesh, and with human affections. Not even in Israel have I found so great faith This is not spoken absolutely, but in a particular point of view. For, if we consider all the properties of faith, we must conclude that the faith of Mary was greater, in believing that she would be with child by the Holy Ghost, and would bring forth the only-begotten Son of God, and in acknowledging the son whom she had borne to be her God, and the Creator of the whole world, and her only Redeemer.
But there were chiefly two reasons why Christ preferred the faith of a Gentile to the faith of all the Jews. One was, that a slight and inconsiderable acquaintance with doctrine yielded so sudden and abundant fruit. It was no small matter to declare, in such lofty terms, the power of God, of which a few rays only were yet visible in Christ. Another reason was, that while the Jews were excessively eager to obtain outward signs, this Gentile asks no visible sign, but openly declares that he wants nothing more than the bare word. Christ was going to him: not that it was necessary, but to try his faith; and he applauds his faith chiefly on the ground of his resting satisfied with the bare word. What would another have done, and he too one of the Apostles? Come, Lord, see and touch. This man asks no bodily approach or touch, but believes the word to possess such efficacy as fully to expect from it that his servant will be cured.
Now, he ascribes this honor to the word, not of a man, but of God: for he is convinced that Christ is not an ordinary man, but a prophet sent by God. And hence may be drawn a general rule. Though it was the will of God that our salvation should be accomplished in the flesh of Christ, and though he seals it daily by the sacraments, yet the certainty of it must be obtained from the word. Unless we yield such authority to the word, as to believe that, as soon as God has spoken by his ministers, our sins are undoubtedly forgiven, and we are restored to life, all confidence of salvation is overthrown.
11. Many will come from the east and west In the person of the servant, Christ gave to the Gentiles a taste and a kind of first-fruits of his grace. He now shows, that the master is an example of the future calling of the Gentiles, and of the spread of faith throughout the whole world: for he says that they will come, not only from the neighboring countries, but from the farthest bounds of the world. Though this had been clearly foretold by many passages of the prophets, it appeared at first strange and incredible to the Jews, who imagined that God was confined to the family of Abraham. It was not without astonishment that they heard, that those who were at that time strangers, would be citizens and heirs of the kingdom of God: and not only so, but that the covenant of salvation would be immediately proclaimed, that the whole world might be united in one body of the Church. He declares, that the Gentiles, who shall come to the faith, will be partakers of the same salvation with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Hence we draw the certain conclusion, that the same promise, which has been held out to us in Christ, was formerly given to the fathers; for we would not have had an inheritance in common with them, if the faith, by which it is obtained, had not been the same. The word ἀνακλιθήσονται, shall recline, contains an allusion to a banquet: but as we know, that the heavenly life does not require meat and drink, this phrase has the same meaning as if he had said, they shall enjoy the same life
12. But the children of the kingdom Why does he call those persons children of the kingdom, who were nothing less than children of Abraham? for those who are aliens from the faith have no right to be considered a part of God’s flock. I answer: Though they did not actually belong to the Church of God, yet, as they occupied a place in the Church, he allows them this designation. Besides, it ought to be observed that, so long as the covenant of God remained in the family of Abraham, there was such force in it, that the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom belonged peculiarly to them. With respect to God himself, at least, they were holy branches from a holy root, (Ro 11:16) and the rejection of them, which afterwards followed, shows plainly enough, that they belonged, at that time, to the family of God. Secondly, it ought to be observed, that Christ does not now speak of individuals, but of the whole nation. This was still harder to endure than the calling of the Gentiles. That the Gentiles should be admitted, by a free adoption, into the same body with the posterity of Abraham, could scarcely be endured: but that the Jews themselves should be driven out, to make way for their being succeeded by the Gentiles, appeared to them altogether monstrous. Yet Christ declares that both will happen: that God will admit strangers into the bosom of Abraham, and that he will exclude the children There is an implied contrast in the phrase, the darkness that is without It means that out of the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of light, nothing but darkness reigns. By darkness Scripture points out that dreadful anguish, which can neither be expressed nor conceived in this life. 505
13. Go away, and as thou believest, so may it be to thee Hence it is evident how graciously Christ pours out his grace, when he finds the vessel of faith open. Though he addresses these words to the centurion, there can be no doubt that, in his person, he invites us all to strong hope. Hence we are also taught the reason why God is, for the most part, so limited in his communications to us: it is because our unbelief does not permit him to be liberal. If we open up the entrance to him by faith, he will listen to our wishes and prayers.
“Et en ce mesme instant son garcon fut gairi;” — “and at that very instant his servant was healed.”
“Plus pleines de dissolutions et de desbauches;” — “more full of dissoluteness and debauchery.”
“Qu'on ne tenoit pas si grande conte de serfs;” — “that they did not set so great value on slaves.”
“Il n’ y a point de doute que les Juifs recommandent cest homme pour l'affection et le bon zele qu'il avoit a la crainte de Dieu.” — “There is no doubt that the Jews recommend this man for the affection and the good zeal which he had for the fear of God.”
“Il ne s'est pas estime digne d'aller parler a Christ;” — “he did not think himself worthy to go and talk to Christ.”
“Toutefois Christ ne prend pas ces paroles comme dites de l'aventure et sans intelligence.” — “Yet Christ does not take these words as spoken at random and without understanding.”
“Pource que Christ avoit receu la vertu de donner gairison;”— “because Christ had received the power of giving healing.”
“Laquelle la bouche de l'homme ne sauroit exprimer, ni ses sens comprendre en ce monde;” — “which the mouth of man cannot express, nor his senses comprehend, in this world.”