Exegreeksis: “3 Unusual Healings” – Matthew 7:28-8:17

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               As is per usual with these articles, each section begins with the Greek UBS New Testament text followed by my translation then my commentary on the text following it. I hope it would be a helpful resource to you!

7:28-29 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους τούτους, ἐξεπλήσσοντο οἱ ὄχλοι ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ· ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν.

And it happened that when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, because he was teaching them as one who had authority on his own and not as their scribes did.

               Throughout his Gospel, Matthew uses the idiom καὶ ἐγένετο [kai egeneto]—“and it happened that”—as a formula to end each of Jesus’ major discourses (11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1), and draws attention to them as significant blocks of teaching.[1] The Greek text suggests that the crowd’s astonishment was not only at this discourse but to Jesus’ continuing teaching in Galilee.[2] The plural οἱ ὄχλοι [hoi ochloi] (the crowds) used here may imply that it was not a tiny amount but a large number of people present.

As one with authority

               To set the authority of his teaching in contrast with that of the scribes is a bold claim, since the scribes were the authorized teachers of the law who in virtue of their training and office had a right to expect the people to accept their legal rulings.”[3] Jesus set himself up as the authority against the interpretive traditions which the scribes would appeal to with his frequent and confident phrase, “I tell you.” This is noted in all the Gospels (Mark 3:28; Luke 12:37; John 6:47, etc.).[4] Jesus taught directly without relying on citing other teachers. Some other translations phrase it, “he taught as one who needed no authority beyond his own.”[5] The use of “their scribes” to distinguish from just “scribes” in general though is probably significant in differentiating “between the Jewish teachers of Scripture and a similar class of teachers who were interpreters of the Christian tradition.”[6] This is distinctly different about Jesus’ teaching to that of any of the other scribes or Pharisees the people knew! Strikingly, Jesus quotes Scripture in his sermon only to reinterpret it, he cites no human authorities or tradition, and he speaks with directness and confidence that he himself is bringing God’s message for a new era in human history.”[7] This fact brings us to ask, who is he to utter such words which assume Divine authority and people’s total allegiance?[8]

8:1-2 Καταβάντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί. καὶ ἰδοὺ λεπρὸς προσελθὼν προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγων· κύριε, ἐὰν θέλῃς δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι.

But while he was coming down from the hill, a crowd of many people followed him. And behold, a man with leprosy came and knelt before him saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you are able to cleanse me.”

Some translation notes

               Some manuscripts had an alternate reading in the first few words of this verse. However, these ultimately contribute no major significant change to the meaning and simply “serves as an editorial link between the Sermon on the Mount and the healing of the man.”[9] The idiom καὶ ἰδοὺ [kai idou] has traditionally been translated as “and behold”—however, an appropriate modern translation might be “and just then,” or “all of a sudden.” But the latter feels a bit too startling than what is probably intended and would perhaps compete with the strength of the phrase καὶ εὐθέως [kai eutheōs] used later if all these things are happening ‘suddenly’ and ‘immediately.’ So, I have kept the traditional rendering, probably more for nostalgic reasons than anything else—I like the sound of it. All it was meant to do was call the reader’s attention to something important—sort of like saying, “pay attention here.”

Looking at the context—Restored by the Messiah

               Each Gospel rearranges events for various purposes. Comparing the account with Mark 1:29-45, Matthew’s rearrangement of the order of the healings—putting the story of the leper before the relatively mundane fever of Peter’s mother-in-law—is probably to highlight Jesus’ work of deliverance.[10] The three accounts of healing in this section were all in regards to people who were from a Jewish perspective disadvantaged. The leper was an outcast from society, the centurion was a Gentile and Peter’s mother-in-law was a woman—though in this latter case the issue of social status isn’t as much in view. So, the “weaknesses” (v. 17) that Jesus responds to involve a restoration of not only physical dimensions but social as well. “The leper is restored to normal society, while the Gentile and the woman, even if their objective status cannot be changed, have found not only physical healing but also an acceptance with Israel’s Messiah which they could not have taken for granted.”[11]

Leprosy and Messiah’s coming

               The word λεπρὸς [lepros] (leper) itself provides no definitive clue whether this would be what we would today term as leprosy or Hansen’s Disease. The term could have covered a range of skin conditions in the First Century including elephantiasis, psoriasis and vitiligo. In any case, it is in reference to a skin condition which would have entailed ceremonial defilement.[12] Either way, leprosy was unique in this culture. According to Leviticus 13-14, it made a person ritually unclean and excluded them from normal life and worship as long as the condition persisted. They had to live away from other people, and it carried a heavy stigma with it. Before they could re-enter society, a priest had to carefully examine them and perform an appropriate offering and cleansing ritual (Lev. 14:1-32)—which Jesus prescribes the man to do after he heals him. This is why in the NT, specific to leprosy, it is described not simply as cured but also “made clean.” The disease was practically believed incurable, and its cure was on par with raising the dead (2 Kings 5:7). This is important because, for lepers to be made clean is a mark of the Messiah’s coming (11:5).”[13]

               The man’s confident approach toward Jesus might be of significant note here then. His recognition of Jesus’ unique status is also in his assumption that Jesus can make him clean. Note that his doubt is not in Jesus’ ability, but rather his willingness. To which Jesus breaks the taboo by touching the unclean man—something totally unthinkable in that society![14] Jesus challenges the societal taboos in the interest of showing compassion to those who were outcast by society. No wonder the leper knelt! However, some translations render it “worshipped.” R.T. France comments on the use of προσεκύνει [prosekynei] in this passage,

“Here, and generally in Matthew’s narrative (9:18; 15:25; 18:26; 20:20), it represents the conventionally deferential posture of a suppliant to someone of recognized authority whose help is sought. It probably involved actual prostration on the ground in front of the potential benefactor; in a culture which is less physically demonstrative a ‘low bow’ perhaps best conveys the social nuance. The word does not in itself imply the recognition of the one approached as divine, though sometimes the context may suggest that, as probably in 28:9,17 and in the disciples’ words in 14:33.”[15]

So, while the word can take on the nuance of ‘worship’ it does not necessarily mean that here since as part of the cultural context, this may have been more of a bow of respect.

8:3-4 καὶ ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα ἥψατο αὐτοῦ λέγων· θέλω, καθαρίσθητι· καὶ εὐθέως ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα. καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ὅρα μηδενὶ εἴπῃς, ἀλλὰ ὕπαγε σεαυτὸν δεῖξον τῷ ἱερεῖ καὶ προσένεγκον τὸ δῶρον ὃ προσέταξεν Μωϋσῆς, εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

And stretching out his hand, Jesus touched him saying, “I am willing. Be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed and Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest and offer that which Moses commanded for a testimony to them.”

               Though Jesus’ name isn’t in the Greek text, I have chosen to insert Jesus’ name in my translation for clarity. [16] It is noteworthy that the man has come to Jesus and knelt, acknowledging Jesus as one possibly of higher honour—however, Jesus’ action to stretch his hand out and touch him possibly functions as a gesture to bridge that gap and come down to his level. Also, touching someone who is ceremonially unclean would have also made Jesus unclean—so by this action he was also going against a cultural taboo. Jesus’ demand to those he healed that they should not talk about it is more common in Mark than in Matthew, however it does recur in 9:30 and as a generalization in 12:16. It is explained by a quotation from Isaiah 42:1–4 concerning the non-demonstrative nature of the Servant, specifically in verse 2, He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street.” The humility of Christ throughout the Gospels is remarkable when contemplated in light of all that He is!

But why all the secrecy?

Mark comments in Mark 1:45 on what happened when the instruction was ignored which points to the pragmatic value of his desired secrecy.[17] Also, if he told others before he had been verified by the priest and went through the appropriate procedure it would have been useless and contrary to the established law. This visit to the priest and making sacrifices would take eight days for the ritual (Lev. 13:8-10) and the offering would have to be made in the temple—so he’d have to journey to Jerusalem and back. “According to Leviticus 14:1–7, the gift that Moses commanded consisted of two birds. One of the birds was killed during the ceremony.”[18] Once that was accomplished, it is likely that he’d have to tell others what had happened since a formerly known leper could hardly be expected to re-integrate himself as a healthy member of society without some people needing some sort of explanation.[19] The prohibition by Jesus is ultimately for him to pass though the proper order of procedures first—it is up to speculation whether if he remained silent about the healing after that though, and likely that he didn’t. The ending phrase εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς [eis martyrion autois] could be rendered “for a proof to the people” or “as evidence to them” as it states the purpose for the requirement for the man to go through the appropriate procedures before reintegration into society.[20] So it is quite possible that Jesus expected that the man would tell others after the appropriate procedures had been fulfilled.

8:5-7 Εἰσελθόντος δὲ αὐτοῦ εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ προσῆλθεν αὐτῷ ἑκατόνταρχος παρακαλῶν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγων· κύριε, ὁ παῖς μου βέβληται ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ παραλυτικός, δεινῶς βασανιζόμενος. καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτόν.

Then while he entered into Capernaum, a centurion approached imploring him and said, “Lord, my servant is lying in the house paralyzed and grievously tormented.” So he said to him, “Will I come and heal him?” [21]

               The word ἑκατόνταρχος has been translated “centurion” and the UBS Handbook comments:

“In the Roman army a man of this rank commanded one hundred men, and so the origin of the term centurion, which derives from a Latin noun meaning “one hundred.” The man was probably a Gentile from Syria serving in the Roman army. Centurions were career soldiers, and as such they were often the most experienced and most highly regarded men in the Roman army. This centurion was probably stationed in Palestine for the sake of police duty.”[22]

A soldier in an unexpected situation

               The Greek verbs used here imply some intentionality on the part of the centurion in coming towards Jesus, and earnestness in the centurion’s imploring or pleading with Jesus.[23] Matthew omits the mention of the centurion’s use of his Jewish friends (Luke 7:3-5) as intermediaries and focuses the exchange as directly between the Gentile officer and Jesus—the Galilean peasant turned healer. This is an essential basis for Matthew’s version of the dialogue which follows.[24] This story would probably stand out to its readers, as it would be unexpected to see a Roman officer caring for a slave and coming to ask the help of on of their subjugated people.

His interest in the servant’s welfare is certainly not merely economic: whereas the average slave would have cost roughly one-third of the annual pay of the highest paid legionary (Verner 1983: 61; cf. Speidel 1992; data in Lewis 1983: 208 may suggest a significantly higher percentage for the average legionary), the base pay of a centurion was fifteen times that of a rank-and-file soldier, and a senior centurion (pilus primus) made some four times that base pay (Jones 1971: 202–3).”[25]

               The only such appeal for healing from a non-Jew in Matthew is in 15:21-28. Both of these explore the paradox of a Gentile expecting to be helped by a Jewish healer. In both cases, Jesus seems initially reluctant, however he is overcome by the show of faith by the one who refuses to be put off and cause Jesus comment on it in admiration. Also, these are the only two healings in Matthew that are done from a distance.[26]

A small controversy—his son or servant?

               The term παῖς could mean “child” as well as “servant.” In the partial parallel in John 4:46-54, the patient is called the official’s son—so some argue that is the sense in which Matthew is using the word. They argue that it originally started off as being told as his son, but in the course of transmission of the story—became a story about a servant. However, the usage of παῖς in the NT doesn’t seem to support this. There is only one clear usage of the word as “son” in John 4:51, in eight other cases it just means a “child” but not necessarily related, and in twelve cases it means “servant”—including the parallel to this story in Luke 7:7. So it is more probable that it is referring to a servant—hence my translation—and also “it is questionable whether the conditions of service in the Roman auxiliaries allowed a centurion to be accompanied by his family.”[27]

A scandalous situation

               The address of the centurion to Jesus calling him κύριε (Lord) is significant to note also. Even if it was simply a conventional polite address, the fact that it is uttered by an officer of an occupying force to someone who would have otherwise been a socially insignificant member of the subject race is noteworthy. The centurion was clearly affirming more than just mere respect and cordiality to Jesus, as is shown in his request.[28] He comes to him because he believes Jesus can do something about his situation.

               The reason for the use of ἐγὼ [egō] in Jesus’ reply to the is somewhat ambiguous. Most translations have rendered ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτόν [egō elthōn therapeusō auton] as a statement such as “I will come and heal him (ESV).” However, the use of ἐγὼ is unnecessary since the subject (I) is already implied in the verb ἐλθὼν—so some have argued that it is then emphatic, as in “I myself will come and heal him.” But most translations simply render it as a statement.[29] However, it isn’t really reasonable to think that Jesus would send someone else other than himself to heal the servant. R.T. France argues that the emphatic ‘I’ draws attention to the highly irregular suggestion that he, a good Jew, should visit a Gentile house—’You want me to come and heal him?’”[30] It is an audacious implied request by one who should have known better by all conventional cultural norms! This scandal is lost on many of us as modern readers.

               Note though, that the centurion up to this point had made no request on Jesus, but merely informed him of the situation. So Jesus’ question draws out the implicit request in the centurion’s statement and the emphatic ἐγὼ (I) “ensures that the boldness of the implied request is not passed over.”[31] “In this case, Jesus erects a barrier between the centurion and himself as he does with the Canaanite woman (15:24, 26); an outsider who would entreat his favor must first acknowledge the privilege of Israel, whom their peoples had oppressed or disregarded (cf. Jn 4:22).”[32] It was seen as repugnant and a defilement for a Jewish teacher to enter the house of an official of the occupying Roman forces. “Is that really what this army officer is expecting of him?”[33] This is a scandalous situation! The only time that Jesus is actually recorded going to a sick person is with Jairus’ daughter. Every other time, the sick are brought to him—nor is he ever recorded of entering a Gentile’s home.[34] We must remember that there were some significant racial tensions in first century Palestine.

8:8-9 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἑκατόνταρχος ἔφη· κύριε, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς ἵνα μου ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην εἰσέλθῃς, ἀλλὰ μόνον εἰπὲ λόγῳ, καὶ ἰαθήσεται ὁ παῖς μου. καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν, ἔχων ὑπ᾿ ἐμαυτὸν στρατιώτας, καὶ λέγω τούτῳ· πορεύθητι, καὶ πορεύεται, καὶ ἄλλῳ· ἔρχου, καὶ ἔρχεται, καὶ τῷ δούλῳ μου· ποίησον τοῦτο, καὶ ποιεῖ.

And the centurion answering said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, also having soldiers under me, and I say to this one, ‘go’ and he goes, and to another ‘come’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘do this’ and he does it.” [35]

               The centurion’s reply seems to make more sense in the context of the implied audacity of the centurion to ask a Jewish healer to come to his house to heal his servant. That’s why he replies, “No, of course not. I couldn’t expect you to come under my roof—all I’m asking is for you to say a word from where you are.” This exchange puts the racial issue firmly in the forefront of our understanding of this story—and the reluctance “produces the same tension between Jesus’ mission as Jewish Messiah and his concern for all peoples.”[36] Some speculate that the centurion didn’t feel fit to have Jesus in his house because he felt unworthy at a moral or spiritual level. However, Luke’s account went out of its way to emphasize that he was a good and kind man (Luke 7:2-5). Also, it couldn’t be an issue of social status, since he was socially more highly placed and also he deals with Jesus as an equal in his comparison to his own ability to command those under his power and his understanding of Jesus’ ability to just effect a result with a simple command. The more likely option is that Jesus’ question from verse 7 made him more acutely aware of the impropriety of such a request from a Jewish view point.[37]

No-nonsense faith from a military man

               In the centurion’s reason for only needing a “word” from Jesus, we find another use of ἐγὼ [egō] which may be emphatic as it is not needed since the subject is carried in εἰμι [eimi] (I am) already. The purpose probably being to draw attention to himself as someone who also understands authority structures. As a military man, he recognizes ‘authority’ when he sees it and knows how it works—which is perhaps the basis for his amazing faith in Jesus’ ability to affect change with a single command. “He sees no reason why physical disability should resist Jesus’ authority any more than his own subordinates resist his. His is the no-nonsense faith of a practical man.”[38] The clauses the soldier uses, “I am under authority and having under myself soldiers,” seem a bit terse and some speculate that it may derive from the centurion’s military background. Some translations fill in the blanks and help it flow more naturally.[39] I have tried to similarly clarify this in my translation. The phrase μόνον εἰπὲ λόγῳ [monon eipe logō]—literally, “only speak the word”—might be rendered “only give the command” to try to bring out this understanding of military power structure analogy being used here. However, I think there is a parallel connection with verse 16 of Jesus casting out demons also with only “a word.”

8:10-12 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐθαύμασεν καὶ εἶπεν τοῖς ἀκολουθοῦσιν· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, παρ᾿ οὐδενὶ τοσαύτην πίστιν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ εὗρον. λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν ἥξουσιν καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται μετὰ Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν, οἱ δὲ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἐκβληθήσονται εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον· ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Jesus marvelled having heard this and said to those following him, “Truly I say to you, I have found no one with such great faith in Israel! But I say to you that many from the east and west will come and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. However, the sons of the Kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Great faith

               This is the only place in Matthew’s gospel that the verb θαυμάζω [thaumazō] (marvel) is used of Jesus himself (occurs once in Mark 6:6).[40] It is typically used of people’s reactions to Jesus (8:27; 9:33; 15:31; 21:20; 22:22; 27:14) and the “man’s simple statement of confidence in his supernatural authority has mightily impressed him, and draws out an appreciative comment to ‘his followers.’”[41] Such faith was not expected to come from a Gentile, and Jesus took the opportunity to first point it out to the people following to take note before he responded to the centurion which is further emphasized by Jesus’ next words, ἀμὴν λέγω [amēn legō]—“truly I say to you.”[42] The phrase found in Luke, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9) suggests that though there may be great faith in Israel, this centurion’s is greater. Matthew’s version is far less complimentary to Israel.[43]

Two critiques of the Jews

               This story serves as an implicit critique against the Jews. Firstly, the great faith of the centurion is a practical conviction that Jesus had the authority to heal—it is not necessarily in the soteriological (dealing with salvation) Pauline sense—it is in this way that his faith surpasses everyone in Israel. In Matthew 4:23–25 there was widespread Jewish enthusiasm for Jesus as a healer, and many came to him for healing (v. 16). However, this soldier’s recognition of Jesus’ authority and bold request for healing done at a distance contrasts what has as of yet been the norm of people bringing the sick to Jesus. “He points the way forward toward a level of response to Jesus which no Jew has yet been able to match.”[44]

               Secondly, it is in light of this context, Jesus delivers his critique that many outsiders will come into the Kingdom, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast outside. The verb ἀνακλίνω [anaklinō] is “to cause someone to assume a reclining (or possibly sitting) position as part of the process of eating—‘to cause to recline to eat, to have someone sit down to eat.’”[45] It is in reference to “the coming Messianic feast, which is symbolic of the joys to be experienced in the kingdom of heaven (see 22:1–14; 25:10).”[46] The patriarchs would undoubtedly be present at the eschatological banquet feast, so to recline with them was to feast with very best of company and share in God’s blessing with them.[47] However, Jesus flips the script on his hearers, as he describes the fate of these “sons of the kingdom” in the traditional terms that were used for the fate of the ungodly and predominantly Gentiles—that is, “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“Wailing signifies not only grief but grief loudly expressed, while the definite article ‘indicates the unique and extreme character of the action’ (BAGD); it is not any old wailing that is meant, but the wailing that is associated with final rejection. It will be accompanied by the grinding of teeth, another proverbial expression for distress and mostly used in the New Testament, as here, for grief (or possibly anger or vexation) at the final rejection.”[48]

               In place of the passive for ‘will be thrown into,’ some Greek manuscripts have the active form, ‘will go into.’ TC-GNT believes that the evidence favors the passive, and most all modern translations apparently accept this reading.”[49] Though the reason for their rejection is not explicitly given, considering the context, it must be linked with “the fact that Jesus has not found in Israel faith like that of the centurion. Thus, belonging to the kingdom of heaven is found to depend not on ancestry but on faith.”[50]

8:13 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ ἑκατοντάρχῃ· ὕπαγε, ὡς ἐπίστευσας γενηθήτω σοι. καὶ ἰάθη ὁ παῖς [αὐτοῦ] ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐκείνῃ.

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be to you.” And his servant was healed at that very moment.

               Some take these words to mean that the size or quality of the person’s faith is what brought healing—as is propagated by some modern faith healers. However, Jesus responds, ὡς ἐπίστευσας [hōs episteusas]—“as you have believed”—that is, according the same manner in which the centurion was sure of Jesus’ authority to command healing with a word, so Jesus enacts the healing miracle.[51] What is in focus is the manner of the centurion’s belief—“in the same manner which you have believed that I can do it, so too I do it.” It is not saying that the size or quality of the centurion’s faith affected Jesus’ ability to heal. Furthermore, Jesus uses a third person passive imperative, γενηθήτω [genēthētō]—“let it be”—which is hard to translate exactly to English since we don’t have third person imperatives. It doesn’t just merely state a prediction that the servant will be healed but rather gives an effective pronouncement. It is what the philosophers call a ‘performative utterance,’ not stating that something will happen, still less merely wishing it, but making it happen.”[52] The Greek idiom ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐκείνῃ [en tē hora ekeinē] is literally “in that hour”—however, it is probably best translated “at that very moment.” Jesus says the word, and immediately it is effected!

8:14-15 Καὶ ἐλθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν Πέτρου εἶδεν τὴν πενθερὰν αὐτοῦ βεβλημένην καὶ πυρέσσουσαν· καὶ ἥψατο τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ ἀφῆκεν αὐτὴν ὁ πυρετός, καὶ ἠγέρθη καὶ διηκόνει αὐτῷ.

Afterwards, when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law laying down sick with a fever. He told hold of her hand and the fever left her and she arose and began to serve him.

               By comparison, after the healing of a leper and then the servant of a centurion with just a word at a distance, this healing of Peter’s mother-in-law feels quite anticlimactic and mundane. It is perhaps curious that it is grouped with the other two healings in Matthews gospel, and may just be a matter-of-fact account of what actually happened. The aorist tense of ἀφῆκεν [aphēken] implies an immediate cure, as indicated by her prompt resumption of her household duties. The imperfect tense of διηκόνει [diēkonei] is probably best understood as “began to serve.” Either way though, I see it as quite a humorous little account that Matthew includes. I think sometimes we can forget that these were accounts of real events which happened in the life of these men, and we sometimes will remember different details. I sometimes muse whether if this was just a funny “remember that time when Jesus cured your mother-in-law so she could finish dinner” tale. Who knows, but it’s in there! And Jesus is still in those little details.

8:16-17 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δαιμονιζομένους πολλούς· καὶ ἐξέβαλεν τὰ πνεύματα λόγῳ καὶ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ἐθεράπευσεν, ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος·

αὐτὸς τὰς ἀσθενείας ἡμῶν ἔλαβεν καὶ τὰς νόσους ἐβάστασεν.

But when evening had come, they brought many demon possessed persons to him and he cast out the spirits with a word, and he healed all those who were sick so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled which says,

“He took on himself our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

               “Evening marks the beginning of a new day for the Jewish people.”[53] It is worthy of noting that the same phraseology is used as with the centurion—he accomplishes the miracle with “a word.” This is in contrast to the elaborate incantations and techniques which other exorcists of the time used, emphasizing his unquestionable authority.[54]

Connecting Jesus to OT allusions

               Matthew uses a typical formula when using quotations from the major prophets in his gospel which includes the prophet’s name. The verse quoted here from Isaiah is drawn from the fourth “servant song” in Isaiah in 52:13-53:12. The suffering servant in it was understood as representational of the suffering of the people of God or some group of them whose suffering benefitted the people as a whole. In other NT allusions this passage (1 Peter 2:24, Romans 4:25) it is understood in relation to Jesus’ dealing with his people’s sin, whereas here Matthew uses it in relation to his healing ministry.[55]

“The LXX [Septuagint] correctly interpreted the terms in context, and so rendered the clause ‘He carries our sins and is distressed on our behalf’… but Matthew either knows a different Greek version or has produced his own more literal rendering of the Hebrew.”[56] Leon Morris also recognizes that Matthew is probably translating from the Hebrew.[57] It seems that Matthew understood the Servant in Isaiah as a holistic model for the whole of Jesus’ ministry as opposed to simply concerning only an explanation of his suffering and death. “Matthew cites Isaiah 53:4 to demonstrate that Jesus’ mission of healing fulfills the character of the mission of the servant, who at the ultimate cost of his own life would reveal God’s concern for a broken humanity.”[58] The context in Isaiah of the Servant lifting illness and carrying pains speaks to his sharing of those experiences—however, it doesn’t mean that he became those things. The Hebrew verbs used and Matthew’s Greek versions of them need not mean any more than that he took them away and doesn’t imply that Jesus became ill in order to heal.[59]

In any case, this is a focus of Matthew’s Gospel to show how Jesus fulfills OT promises and prophesies about the Messiah.


Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992.

Newman, Barclay Moon, and Philip C. Stine. A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1992.


[1] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 298; Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 184.
[2] The verb τελέω used here sometimes has the thought of “accomplish” and may indicate that Jesus had finished saying all that he intended to say. So, the effect of what Jesus had said was their continuing astonishment. The periphrastic tense ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς references Jesus’ continuing teaching in Galilee as the reason for their astonishment. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 298.
[3] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 298–299.
[4] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 184–185.
[5] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 218.
[6] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 218.There is some small disagreement among the manuscripts in verse 29. Some are missing αὐτῶν at the end of verse 29, while others add καὶ οἱ φαρισαιοι (and the Pharisees) to the end of the verse. Ultimately though, this does not significantly affect the meaning of the text. Manuscripts which omit αὐτῶν are C* L Γ 565. 700. 1424 𝔐 (b) and manuscripts which insert καὶ οἱ φαρισαιοι are C* W 33. 1241 lat sy; Euspt.
[7] Blomberg, Matthew, 134–135.
[8] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 299.
[9] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 220. Some manuscripts had an alternate reading here, using the dative construction καταβάντι δὲ αὐτῷ instead of the genitive absolute clause. This may change the reading to “but after coming down.” Alternative reading in א* K L Γ Δ 565. 579. 1241. 1424 𝔐. Also in verse 2 some manuscripts read ελθὼν instead of προσελθὼν. Alternate readings are in C K L W Γ 33. 579. 1241. l844 𝔐. The phrase ὄχλοι πολλοί literally means “great crowds,” however that may imply separate groups of people so I have opted for translating it “a crowd of many people. Lastly, I see καταβάντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους—a genitive absolute—serving as an introductory temporal clause giving the process (coming down from the hill) during which the second clause occurs (many people followed him).
[10] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 304.
[11] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 305.
[12] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 220.
[13] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 306.
[14] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 306.
[15] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 302–303.
[16] A fair bit of manuscripts insert ὁ Ἰησοῦς before λέγων probably to clarify who is speaking. Manuscripts which insert ὁ Ἰησοῦς are C2 K L N W Γ Δ Θ 565. 579. 700. 1241. (1421). l844. l2211 𝔐 lat syc.p.h. sams mae. Also, there seems to be perhaps a perceived shift of focus in the narrative from Jesus to the man in this block at the end of verse 3 and beginning of verse 4—as the pronouns for the man are put in front of ἡ λέπρα and ὁ Ἰησοῦς.
[17] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 308.
[18] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 224.
[19] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 308.
[20] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 224.
[21] There is a similar difference in the manuscripts to verse 1 where the genitive construction εἰσελθόντος δὲ αὐτοῦ is replaced with a dative construction (I’m still unsure as to why this happens) and a few manuscripts insert Jesus’ name here also for clarity. Manuscripts with dative construction Εἰσελθόντι δὲ αὐτῷ are K  L N W Γ Δ Θ 579. 892. 1424. 𝔐. Manuscripts which read Εἰσελθόντι τῷ Ἰησοῦ are C3. I’ve rendered it “then while he entered into Capernaum” as it introduces a new section and context for where the rest of this part of the narrative takes place.
[22] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 225.
[23] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 226. The use of προσῆλθεν [prosēlthen] (come toward) implies some intentionality on the part of the centurion in coming towards Jesus, so I have rendered it “approached” over saying that he “met” him which may leave some ambiguity. Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 407.
[24] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 311.
[25] Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 266.
[26] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 309.
[27] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 312.
[28] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 312.
[29] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 227.
[30] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 313.
[31] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 313.
[32] Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 267.
[33] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 313.
[34] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 193.
[35] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 227. At the end of verse 8, “some ancient manuscripts omit the words my servant from the text, but translationally some subject must be given for the verb.”
[36] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 313–314.
[37] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 314.
[38] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 315.
[39] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 228.
[40] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 229.
[41] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 315.
[42] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 194.
[43] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 310.
[44] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 315–316.
[45] Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 218.
[46] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 230.
[47] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 195.
[48] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 196.
[49] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 231.
[50] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 316.
[51] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 231–232. The particle ὡς may be either comparative or causative. The context seems to lean towards the causative force—however, I have chosen to keep some of the ambiguity and leave it simply “as.”
[52] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 320.
[53] Newman, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, 234.
[54] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 321. See e.g. Josephus, Ant. 8:46–48; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 40a-b; Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 4:20; Lucian, Philops. 16.
[55] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 321–322.
[56] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 322.
[57] Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 198.
[58] Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 273.
[59] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 323.


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