B The Centurions Servant

Within the Gospel tradition itself, one of the most intriguing episodes is the one recorded in Matt. 8.5-13 and Luke 7.1-10 (with a likely parallel in John 4.46b-54). The first point of interest is that the pericope is usually credited to Q, despite it being a narrative and despite there being no parallel to such an episode being

included within other sayings Gospels.193 But why should a pericope be attributed to the document Q simply because it belongs to the non-Markan material common to Matthew and Luke Did Matthew and Luke have no common

(oral) tradition other than Q? That hardly seems likely as an a priori. In fact, the logic behind the Q hypothesis is that the degree of closeness between Matthew and Luke ('q') can be explained only by postulating a common written source

Whereas the divergence between Matthew and Luke in the first half of the story is substantial, to put it no more strongly. Of course, it is possible to argue, as most do, that Matthew or Luke, or both, have heavily edited the Q version; but when 'q' properly speaking covers only part of the pericope, the argument for the existence of 'Q' at this point becomes very slippery.

Is common oral tradition a more plausible hypothesis? Let us not assume that Matthew's and Luke's only source for such non-Markan Jesus tradition was a written document (Q). When we then examine the matter more closely the oral tradition hypothesis does indeed seem to make as good if not better sense.

Matt. 8.5-13

Luke 7.1-10

7.28 Now when Jesus had ended all these words

a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress". 7 And he said to him, "I will come and cure him".

8 The centurion answered, "Lord. I am not fit to have you come under mv roof:

1 After Jesus had completed all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us". 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not fit to have you come under mv roof;

but only speak the word, and mv servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man

7 therefore I did not consider myself worthy to come to you. But speak the word, and let mv servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set

under with soldiers under me: and I say to one. and he and to another.

under with soldiers under me; and I say to one. 'Go', and he eoes. and to another. 'Come'.

and he comes, and to mv slave. 'Do this', and the

and he comes, and to mv slave. 'Do this', and the

slave does it". When Jesus heard him, he was

slave does it". 9 When lesus heard this he was

amazed and said to those who followed him. "Truly I in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I you,

amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed he said. "I not even in Israel have I found such faith".

193. The point is simply assumed, e.g., by Bultmann, History 39; Miller, Complete Gospels 262-63 (others in Kloppenborg, Q Parallels 50). Early reconstructions of Q did not include Matt. 8.5-13/Luke 7.1-10 (chapter 4 n. 88).

194. The most weighty consideration is that Matthew and Luke both agree in positioning the episode after the Sermon on the Mount/Plain — Matt. 7.28/Luke 7.1 (Harnack, Sayings of Jesus 74; Luhrmann, Redaktion 57). But is that sufficient?

many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth". 13 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.

Luke 13.28-29

10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

The episode is clearly the same: it is the story of the healing at a distance of the seriously ill servant of a centurion who lived in Capernaum. Within that framework we find the same striking features: (i) a core of the story where the agreement is almost word for word (Matt. 8.8-10/Luke 7.6b-9); (ii) details which vary on either side of the core to such an extent that the two versions seem to contradict each other (in Matthew the centurion comes to plead with Jesus personally; in Luke he makes a point of not coming).

Evidently the exchange between Jesus and the centurion made a considerable impression on the disciples of Jesus: the combination of humility and confidence in Jesus on the part of such a figure, and Jesus' surprise at its strength would have been striking enough. Equally noticeable is the way in which Matthew and Luke have each taken the story in his own way. Matthew emphasizes the theme of the centurion's faith, by inserting the saying (Matt. 8.11-12) which Luke records in Luke 13.28-29 (the centurion as precedent for Gentile faith), and by rounding off his telling with a further commendation by Jesus of the centurion's faith (Matt. 8.13). Luke emphasizes the theme of the centurion's worthiness by having the elders testify of his worthiness (axios) (7.4-5) in counterpoise to the centurion's expression of unworthiness (oude exiösa) (7.7a). Nor should we ignore the fact that both Matthew and Luke draw their different emphases from the same core — faith (Matt. 8.10), worthiness/fitness (hikanos, Luke 7.6).

Here I would suggest is a fine example of oral traditioning, or if it is preferred, of Evangelists writing the story in oral mode.197 The story was no doubt

195. Contrast the Jesus Seminar: 'Since the words ascribed to Jesus vary, and since there is nothing distinctive about them, we must assume they were created by story-tellers' (Funk, Five Gospels 300). But the argument is self-defeating: would story-tellers create such un-memorable words, and why then would they be held constant in other re-tellings?

196. Funk's discussion is quite confused as to whether Matt. could have existed separately from Matthew's narrative context (Five Gospels 160), despite the recognition that its 'Q' parallel (Luke 13.28-29) need not presuppose a Gentile mission (348), whereas Kloppenborg argues that the 'tendentious development of the healing story into an apology for Gentile inclusion occurred already in the oral stage' prior to Q (Formation 120).

197. Contrast the redactional approach, as exemplified by U. Wegner, Der Hauptmann vonKafarnaum (WUNT2.14; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1985), and Catchpole, Questch. 10, which characteristically assumes the literary paradigm throughout and evokes the picture of Matthew and Luke carefully editing an original Q more or less word by word.

one which belonged to several communities' store of Jesus tradition. The story's point hangs entirely on the central exchange between Jesus and the centurion; that is maintained with care and accuracy. We may deduce that the story was important for these communities' identity, not least for their own sense of respect for and openness to Gentiles.

What, however, about John 4.46-54?

he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official (basilikos) whose son lay ill in Capernaum. he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48Xhen Jesus said to him, 'Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe'. official said to him, 'Sir, come down before my little boy dies'. 50Jesus said to him, 'Go; your son will live'. The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, 'Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him'. 53The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, 'Your son will live'. So he himself believed, along with his whole household.

Agreement in no less than eleven points of detail is probably enough to substantiate the conclusion that this story of the healing at a distance of the seriously ill servant of a person of rank in Capernaum is another version (more distant echo?) of the same episode that we find in Matthew 8 and Luke 7.198 Particularly noticeable, however, are the facts that the official is not (no longer) identified as a Gentile and that the Matthean/Lukan core is not (no longer) there. On the other hand, the key emphasis on the person's faith is present, and Jesus' response to that faith (despite some initial hesitation); John strengthens the theme and uses it to develop his own warning against a faith based merely on miracle (John

What to make of this in terms of early Christian oral transmission? The simplest answer is that two versions of the same episode diverged in the course of various retellings. It could be that the idea of the official as a Gentile centurion

198. See further Dodd, Historical Tradition 188-95; Wegner, Hauptmann 37-57, 73-74; Dunn, 'John and the Oral Gospel Tradition', in Wansbrough, ed., Jesus 359-63. The Jesus Seminar thought the Johannine version was closer to the 'original form' (Funk, Acts of Jesus 46).

199. For John's theology of different levels of faith, see, e.g., R. E. Brown, John (AB 29, 2 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1966) 530-31. Dodd saw the contrast as between the Synoptics' interest in the remarkable faith of a Gentile, whereas 'in John the central interest lies in the life-giving power of the word of Christ' (Historical Tradition 194). Crossan, however, overstates the contrast between the two versions (Matthew/Luke and John) when he talks of the story being pulled in 'two contradictory directions' (Historical Jesus 327).

was introduced in the course of the retelling.200 Alternatively, and if anything more probable, it could be that in the second (Johannine) stream of tradition the identity of the official as a Gentile was seen as a subsidiary detail to the main emphasis on his faith, and so was neglected in the retellings.201 Either way, the differences are so great that the hypothesis of literary dependence becomes highly improbable;202 on the contrary, the two versions (Matthew/Luke and John) provide good evidence of stories of Jesus being kept alive in oral tradition.203 And either way we can see something of both the retentiveness of the oral traditioning process and its flexibility in allowing traditions to be adapted to bring out differing emphases.

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