For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 8:5-13; The Faith of the Centurion (Historical Backgrounds)

posted by Mike Nappa

In the days when Jesus walked the earth, the Roman army ruled the land where he walked. Rome’s fighting forces were generally organized into legions, or the equivalent of about 6,000 soldiers. Within each legion, the troops were again organized into 60 groups (“cohorts”) of 100 soldiers each, and each cohort was commanded by a centurion.

Historians tell us that centurions were always promoted from within the ranks of a legion, typically leading the men who had also seen the centurions prove themselves in battle. Centurions were also known, comically, for having large calf muscles and wearing hobnail boots. In today’s world, an army company’s sergeant-major would be a comparable rank to the centurion.

The Greek historian of Rome, Polybius, described centurions as “men who can command, steady in action, and reliable…ready to hold their ground and die at their posts.” Centurions were well-regarded and likely influential, high-ranking members of any local community.

This was the type of soldier who approached Jesus in Capernaum to beg a miracle for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13). He was one of only two centurions mentioned in the gospel accounts of the life of Christ, the other being the centurion who presided over Jesus’ execution.

It’s significant that this gentile, Roman, military commander would humble himself before Christ the way that he did. Given his position, he could have demanded a miracle of Jesus (much the way King Herod later attempted to do, see Luke 23:8-12), but he didn’t. Perhaps that’s why Jesus complimented him by saying, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

And perhaps we today have something to learn about prayer from this unnamed centurion who humbled himself before God.

 

Works Cited:

[WWB, 57-58]

 

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Matthew 8:1-4; The Man with Leprosy (Historical Backgrounds)

posted by Mike Nappa

Ever wonder what happened to the former leper after Jesus healed him? It probably went something like this:

After healing the man with leprosy, Jesus told him, “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” This would have forced the religious leaders of the time to acknowledge that Christ had indeed performed a miracle—something that none of the priests had been able to accomplish for this man.

Leaving Jesus, the former leper would have gone to the Temple, into the Court of Women. In one corner of this Court was a walled enclosure reserved specifically for lepers who believed they had been healed. A priest would’ve met the man in that corner, and then either examined him there, or taken him outside the city limits for a new examination. Once pronounced clean, the following would have happened, though not necessarily in this order (see Leviticus 14:1-32):

The priest would’ve brought in two live clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. One of the birds would’ve been killed as a blood sacrifice. The remaining live bird, the cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop would’ve been dipped into the blood from the sacrificed bird, and then used to sprinkle blood on the healed man. This process would’ve been repeated seven times, with the priest declaring the man clean each time. At the conclusion of this ritual, the live (albeit bloodied) bird would’ve been released into the wild. The healed man would’ve shaved off all his hair, washed his clothes, and taken a ritual bath (called a mikveh).

After that, the healed man would’ve been quarantined outside the city for seven more days while they waited to see if the disease returned. If he was still symptom-free after a week, he would’ve shaved off all his hair again—including beard, eyebrows, and the rest. He would’ve washed his clothes again, and bathed himself again. On the eighth day he would’ve gone back to the Temple and the priest would have performed another animal sacrifice (a sin offering and a burnt offering), putting blood of a lamb and some oil on the man’s right ear lobe, as well as on his right thumb and on the big toe of his right foot.

After the new offerings and sacrifices had been made, the healed man would’ve finally been welcomed back to new life within the community, fully restored to all physical, social, and religious functions. Whew!

 

Works Cited:

[JHT, 132-134]

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Matthew 8:1-4; The Man with Leprosy (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

The simple fact is that Jesus broke the law when he healed the man with leprosy identified in Matthew 8:2-4.

Jewish law in the time of Jesus regarded leprosy as a grave offense. Upon diagnosis by the priest, the leper’s clothes were burned. The leper’s home was razed. He or she was immediately homeless, forced to live outside the community, outside the city limits. Moreover, the leper was required by law to dress like a mourner and to yell “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever any non-leper came near to him or her. Worst of all, the leper was considered reprobate, a lost cause and totally abandoned by God.

In short, no Israelite was to have anything at all to do with any leper—and this was by God’s command (see Leviticus 13). In spite of that, Jesus broke this law in several ways.

First, Jesus welcomed the leper into his presence—a serious no-no at the time. Second, Jesus allowed the leper to walk in and among the large crowd of people that surrounded him when he came down from the mountain after delivering his Sermon on the Mount. That endangered everyone there, both from the physical contagion of leprosy and from the infectious ceremonial uncleanness that it threatened to others. Finally, and worst of all, Jesus “reached out his hand and touched the man” (Matthew 8:3). According to Mosaic law, by touching the leper Jesus himself was instantly made ceremonially unclean too.

Yet…in breaking the law, Jesus fulfilled it completely, both the intent of the law (protecting the community from physical illness and spiritual infection) and its application (declaring the man to be “clean,” or free from leprosy). In that single breathtaking gesture, he demonstrated also that he himself superseded the law and all possible forms of uncleanness, instantly banishing the incurable disease and fully restoring the former leper to right standing with God and humanity alike.

It was a stunning miracle, both illegal and obedient, confusing and joyful. It reminds us anew that Jesus is not tame—and we are all the better for it.

 

Works Cited:

[ILJ, 187-88]

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Matthew 8:1-4; The Man with Leprosy (Factual Info)

posted by Mike Nappa

A few awful facts about leprosy in New Testament times:

  • The term used for leprosy in the New Testament was a general reference to seemingly-incurable skin infections. It could have included the formal affliction, which we now call Hansen’s Disease, or any other “acute skin disease characterized by inflammation.”
  • By Mosaic law, priests—not doctors— were charged with diagnosing leprosy in people (Leviticus 13:2), and sometimes they tried to treat the disease with “different kinds of baths, ointments, and poultices made of herbs and oils.”
  • The process for diagnosing leprosy went something like this: 1) A person with serious skin infections such as tissue-crusts on the skin, severe rashes, or “whitish-red swollen” spots would go to a Temple priest to be examined. 2) The priest would look to see if the infection had penetrated the skin, or if hair in the affected area had turned white. If so, he would declare the person “unclean” with leprosy. If not, a seven-day quarantine was instituted, with a new examination for leprosy schedule for afterward (Leviticus 13:2-8).
  • Being diagnosed with leprosy was a death sentence, physically, socially, economically, and spiritually. A leper was considered physically unclean—and contagious—as well as spiritually unclean. That meant a leper was completely shunned from normal activities of community life and banned from inclusion in worship in the Temple or any synagogue. The leper couldn’t hold a job, couldn’t live in a home with non-lepers (including his or her own family), couldn’t shop in a market, couldn’t own property, couldn’t touch or hug or hold hands, nothing. The leper’s only option was begging for scraps, isolation, and waiting to physically deteriorate and die.

This was the awful situation of the man who came to Jesus, begging to be healed. We do not know how many years he had endured this horrible disease, but we can be sure of one thing: It must have taken great courage—and great faith—for this unnamed leper to brave the antagonistic crowds surrounding Jesus and to ask for his miracle.

 

Works Cited:

[JHT, 161; ILJ, 185-188]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previous Posts

Matthew 8:5-13; The Faith of the Centurion (Historical Backgrounds)
In the days when Jesus walked the earth, the Roman army ruled the land where he walked. Rome’s fighting forces were generally organized into legions, or the equivalent of about 6,000 soldiers. Within each legion, the troops were again organized into 60 groups (“cohorts”) of 100 soldiers each,

posted 12:00:22pm Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 8:1-4; The Man with Leprosy (Historical Backgrounds)
Ever wonder what happened to the former leper after Jesus healed him? It probably went something like this: After healing the man with leprosy, Jesus told him, “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” This would have forced the religious le

posted 12:00:56pm Dec. 19, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 8:1-4; The Man with Leprosy (Cultural Commentary)
The simple fact is that Jesus broke the law when he healed the man with leprosy identified in Matthew 8:2-4. Jewish law in the time of Jesus regarded leprosy as a grave offense. Upon diagnosis by the priest, the leper’s clothes were burned. The leper’s home was razed. He or she was immediatel

posted 12:00:53pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 8:1-4; The Man with Leprosy (Factual Info)
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posted 12:00:52pm Dec. 15, 2014 | read full post »

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