Cleansing a Leper, 1-4

8:1 After he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. 8:2 And a leper approached, and bowed low before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 8:3 He stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

In this section, three accounts of healing are presented, with their significance being brought out in v17.  Each story involves someone from an excluded group: a man with leprosy, a Gentile, and a woman.

Taking chapters 8 and 9 as a whole, it is possible to discern ten miracle stories.  Whether these are intended to parallel the ten plagues of Egypt, with Jesus as the new Moses, we cannot be certain.

Preaching on this passage

D. Carson suggests that although it would be perfectly appropriate for a sermon to be preached from Mt 8:1-4, it might be helpful for a preacher to take the longer unit, Mt 8:1-17.  The previous chapter has ended with a reference to Jesus’ authority in his teaching (Mt 7:28f).  What we now have is this same emphasis on Jesus’ authority illustrated in both word and deed: (a) in his ability to heal and transform (Mt 8:1-13); (b) in his role as both transcending and fulfilling the Mosaic law, while formally remaining submissive to it (Mt 8:4); (c) in his words and actions regarding the centurion’s servant, such that when he speaks, God speaks (Mt 8:5-9); (d) in his ability to comfort the faithful and challenge the merely religious (Mt 8:10-13); in his work on the cross (Mt 8:14-17). (See Paul & Wenham (eds), ‘We Proclaim the Word of Life’, p21f)

Mt 8:2–4 = Mk 1:40–44; Lk 5:12–14

Leprosy – The term covered a range of skin diseases, including psoriasis and ringworm, as well as ‘true’ leprosy.  If he had suffered from the latter, he probably would not have been able to be part of the crowd that followed Jesus.

‘According to rabbinical practices, it was illegal even to greet a leper in an open place. Priests often ran and hid themselves upon seeing a leper in the distance.’ (Mounce)

Jesus…touched the man – A powerful indicator of Jesus’ willingness to reach out to the ‘untouchable’.

Carson remarks, ‘Both Jesus’ word and touch (Mt 8:15; 9:20–21, 29; 14:36) are effective, possibly implying that authority is vested in his message as well as in his person.’

8:4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you do not speak to anyone, but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

“See that you don’t tell anyone” – William Wrede suggested that it was Mark who had originated the idea of the ‘Messianic secret’ in order to explain why Jesus was not more fully recognised as Messiah during his earthly ministry.  As Mounce says, ‘it is far better to accept it as historical and understand it as Jesus’ precaution against the rapid rise of a movement that did not understand the nature of his messiahship. Popular excitement would arouse Roman opposition and make it even more difficult to carry out a messianic ministry that was not national and militaristic but universal and sacrificial.’

It would have been very easy for Jesus to stir up popular support that would have been for the wrong reasons and might have forced events in the wrong direction.

“Show yourself to the priest” – This shows Jesus’ willingness to submit to the law (in this case, Lev 14).  Moreover, ‘In conforming to the law, the cured leper becomes the occasion for the law to confirm Jesus’ authority as the healer who needs but to will the deed for it to be done.’ (Carson)

“The gift Moses commanded” – Imagine the stunning impact on the priest, since no record exists of any Israelite being cured of leprosy except Miriam. (Num 12:10-15)

Healing the Centurion’s Servant, 5-13

8:5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 8:6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 8:7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
Mt 8:5–13 = Lk 7:1–10

Capernaum – At that time, a garrison town.

A centurion came to him – He would have been a non-Jewish (Roman or Syrian) member of the occupying army.

Mounce, however, explains that ‘the Roman officer was probably not an official centurion (hekatontarchos: the commander of a hundred men), because in Jesus’ day Galilee was not under Roman military occupation. That began after the death of Herod Agrippa in A.D. 44.’

Who asked Jesus for help?

Matthew (Mt 8:5-12) and Luke (Lk 7:1-10) both have an account of a Roman centurion whose servant Jesus healed.

Matthew 8:5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help.

Luke 7:3 ‘When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.’

So, did the centurion personally ask Jesus for help, or did he send others to do this on his behalf?

Writing on Peter Enns’ ‘Rethinking Biblical Christianity’ blog, Megan Defranza recounts (not quite an ‘Aha! moment’ but) the process by which she came to the conclusion that the Bible is not quite the ‘perfect’ book she had previously thought it to be.  She says that now sees the Bible as ‘imperfect, but wholly adequate’.  DeFranza cites the present account, in its Matthean and Lukan forms, as her first piece of ‘evidence’, because, although there is no problem with the main point, ‘the details… Well, let’s just say they didn’t match up as perfectly as I had expected.’

Kostenberger suggests that the problem in this instance is with DeFranza’s expectations, rather than with the biblical text.  In ancient Jewish culture, there was a close connection between the sender of a message and those who carry that message, such that it would be no surprise to learn that Elijah (1 Kings 18:40), Pilate (Mark 15:15/Mt 27:26, and also Jn 19:19,22), Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:39, 40) did not personally carry out the actions attributed to them.

So, from the case cited, there is no undermining either of the Bible’s complete adequacy or of its complete accuracy, ‘when the writers’ own genre, purposes, and intentions are taken into account, as they should be’.

Mounce agrees that ‘It may be that Matthew in his shorter version passes over the original contact and that Luke does not bother to say that the centurion went with his friends to meet Jesus just outside Capernaum.’

Jonathan McClatchie, while espousing a high view of the historical reliability of the New Testament, nevertheless thinks that the issue here is not easily resolved:

‘Traditional harmonizers often try to draw a parallel between this and passages such as Matthew 27:26/Mark 15:15/John 19:1 where we are told that Pilate scourged Jesus (whereas in fact we know that it wasn’t Pilate himself who did the scourging but rather the soldiers under his command). [8] However, in the latter case we know that nobody would have thought that Pilate personally scourged Jesus, whereas this is quite different from what we have in the case of the centurion. In Matthew there are pretty clear indications (to my mind) that Matthew thought the centurion came in person.’

McClatchie quotes Lydia McGrew:

‘Matthew’s narrative is quite unified in its appearance that the centurion is personally present. The final statement that Jesus said, ‘Go, it shall be done for you as you have believed’ to the centurion, where the command is in the singular, is particularly hard to square with the Augustinian solution. If the centurion were back at his house sending messengers to Jesus, he would not need to go anywhere. And if Jesus were speaking to the messengers, he would not have used the singular.’

McClatchie agrees with McGrew’s conclusion, ‘that the simplest explanation of this discrepancy is “a simple memory variation between witnesses.”‘

(Ryle, while accepting the possibility of the above explanation, thinks it more likely that both accounts are literally true: ‘In all probability the Centurion first sent messengers to our Lord, and afterwards went to speak to Him in person. St. Matthew relates the personal interview, and St. Luke the message.’  This seems to be unduly speculative.)

There are, indeed, some serious questions to be faced about the Bible’s ‘perfections’ (and Enns himself has raised some of these).  But the present story, as told by Matthew and Luke, may not be the best case in point.

“My servant”

Son? Servant? Male lover?

Matthew 8:5 When [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 8:6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 8:7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Pais‘ (‘servant’, ‘boy’) here may mean one of three things:-

  1. ‘Son’.  The Gk word ‘pais‘ can mean ‘son’ (and so it does in Jn 4:41).  However, this is not a common meaning, and it is only the putative parallel with the passage in John that would suggest it in this case.  Hagner supports this translation, although he thinks that ‘slave’ is ‘far from impossible’.  Bruner supports it also. The actual parallel in Luke 7 (which has ‘doulos‘, slave, in v2 and ‘pais‘, boy in v7) counts heavily against it.  Gagnon adopts this view, dismissing the identification of ‘doulos‘ as ‘the product of later Lukan redaction’.
  2. ‘Servant’.   Elsewhere in the NT it usually means ‘servant, and (notwithstanding Gagnon’s view about later redaction) this is confirmed by Lk, who calls him a ‘doulos‘, servant.  France says that ‘we may reasonably suppose that the pais was a soldier detailed to act as personal aide to the commanding officer (a “batman” in the military sense, not that of popular fiction), though the term could also cover a domestic slave.’  Morris, Osborne, and others support this reading.
  3. ‘Male lover’.  It has been argued that this ‘pais‘ was a servant who was the centurion’s male lover.  Luke makes it clear that he was an ‘honoured’ (entimos) servant.  In Matthew’s account the centurion distinguishes between this servant and his others (who are referred to by the usual term ‘doulos‘).  Moreover, the lengths to which the centurion went on behalf of his ‘pais‘ suggests an unusually close relationship with him.  Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., and Tat-Siong Benny Liew (Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 123, No. 1 (2004), 467-94) offer support for this view.  However, their proposal relies on an assumption of a Roman Centurion in a Roman army, whereas Galilee was not occupied by the Romans at that time, and the Centurion would likely have been a non-Roman in the service of Herod Antipas.  (See D. B. Saddington, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 125, No. 1 (2006), 140-142).

Among the criticisms offered by Gagnon the following are especially pertinent:

    1. Sex with male slaves not a universal phenomenon.  In Luke’s account the centurion is portrayed as ‘a paradigmatic “God-fearer.”’
    2. Jesus would have been endorsing rape in this case. The sex in such a case would have been abusive and exploitative.  ‘By the reasoning of those who put a pro-homosex spin on the story, we would have to conclude that Jesus had no problem with this particularly exploitative form of same-sex intercourse inasmuch as he did not explicitly tell the centurion to stop doing it.’  (Preston Sprinkle makes the same point in his book People to be Loved: Why Homosexuality is not just an Issue)
    3. Jesus’ fraternization with tax collectors and sexual sinners does not suggest support for their behavior. Jesus reached out to corrupt tax collectors.  ‘Yet he certainly was not commending their well-deserved reputation for collecting more taxes from their own people than they had a right to collect.’  He also reached out to sexual sinners, ‘yet, given his clear statements on divorce/remarriage, he certainly was not condoning their sexual activity. Why should we conclude that Jesus’ silence about the centurion’s sexual life communicates approval?’
    4. The Jewish elders in Luke 7 could not have supported a homosexual relationship. Luke adds the motif that Jewish elders interceded on the centurion’s behalf (7:3-5). Should we argue that these Jewish elders had no problem with same-sex intercourse, when every piece of evidence that we have about Jewish views of same-sex intercourse in the Second Temple period and beyond is unremittingly hostile to such behavior?  ‘

Conclusion: it is indisputable that this centurion was very fond of his ‘pais‘/’doulos‘.  In view of the additional information given by Luke, it is likely that he was the Centurion’s servant, rather than son.  However, it is going well beyond anything the text says to assert, or even suggest, a homosexual relationship.

Nick Cady, while affirming the general approach outlined above, asks if Jesus would have healed gay person.  He answers, quite properly, in the affirmative:

‘Here’s why I say this: because Jesus’ healing of people never hinged on, or depended on, their level of personal righteousness. When Jesus healed the man born blind, he never brought up that man’s struggle with bitterness, greed, or envy. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, he never brought up that man’s struggle with lust. Healing is an act of grace, and grace – by definition – is not something that is earned or merited, it is a gift from a God who gives to undeserving recipients.’

We might conjecture, however, that our Lord, in sending the Centurian on his way, might have added, “You may go, but stop sinning.” (See Jn 8).

8:8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8:9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.”

“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” – The centurian is sensitive not only to Jewish/Gentile relations (a Jewish teacher should not defile himself by entering the home of a Gentile) but also to Jesus’ authority.

In Lk 7:6, these words are spoken on behalf of the centurion by his friends.  Noticing this difference contributed to Megan DeFranza concluding that the Bible is an ‘imperfect’, though ‘wholly adequate’ production.  As Kostenberger remarks, the main issue here is one of managing expectations.  It is entirely appropriate for an inerrantist (such as Kostenberger) to argue that the ‘perfection’ of the Bible is unaffected by such differences.  ‘We shouldn’t,’ he writes, ‘expect word-for-word agreement in eyewitness reports, nor would it be reasonable to expect any one eyewitness to mention every single twist and turn in a series of unfolding events.’

It is quite reasonable to suppose that if Matthew and Luke were using a common source (‘Q’?), then Matthew abbreviated that source, whereas Luke offered the extra detail.  We find other instances within the biblical literature where the writer does not feel the need to spell out whether certain actions attributed to an individual were enacted by that person or on his behalf (for example, we are not to suppose the Pilate scourged Jesus personally, even though that is what Mark 15:15 // Matt 27:26 indicate).

8:10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 8:11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 8:12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

‘The greatness of his faith did not rest in the mere fact that he believed Jesus could heal from a distance but in the degree to which he had penetrated the secret of Jesus’ authority…This Gentile penetrated more deeply into the nature of Jesus’ person and authority than any Jew of his time. Matthew’s words, therefore, underline the movement of the Gospel from the Jews to all people regardless of race—a movement prophesied in the OT, developed in Jesus’ ministry (see comments on Mt 1:1, 3–5; 2:1–12), and commanded by the Great Commission (28:18–20).’ (Carson)

“Many will come from the east and the west” – ‘The centurion is a paradigm of many outside Judaism (“from the east and the west”—cf. Ps 107:3) who will become Jesus’ followers. Jesus thus points forward to a time beyond his earthly ministry when Gentiles will flock to the faith.’ (Blomberg)

“The feast with Abraham…in the kingdom of heaven” – cf. Lk 16:22-23.  The picture is of the Messianic banquet, spoken of in Isa 25:6-9 and elsewhere.

This instance of the healing of a Gentile is the occasion for Jesus’ striking prediction of the future worldwide spread of God’s kingdom.

‘Jesus takes occasion, from the faith of a Roman centurion, to state this conversion would not be solitary; that many pagans-many from the east and west- would be converted to the gospel, and be saved, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were. The phrase “from the east and from the west,” in the Scripture, is used to denote the whole world, Isa 45:6; 59:19. The phrase, shall sit down, in the original, refers to the manner of sitting at meals, and the enjoyments of heaven are described under the similitude of a feast or banquet-a very common manner of speaking of it, Mt 26:29; Lk 14:15; 22:30. It is used here to denote felicity, enjoyment, or honour. To sit with those distinguished men was an honour, and would be expressive of great felicity.’ (Barnes)

‘The surprising and presumably shocking fact is that he used texts that in their Old Testament context referred to the ingathering of Israel and applied them to the ingathering of the Gentiles instead. Thus, for example, Matthew. 8:11f. is an allusion to texts such as Isaiah 43:5f., 49:12 and Psalm 107:3, while Mark 13:27 picks up Deuteronomy 30:4 and Zechariah 2:6. In this way Jesus actually appears to redefine and extend the very meaning of the ‘restoration of Israel’ in terms of the Gentiles. Paul does the same thing in Romans 9:24f., when he takes Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, which clearly referred to Israel in context, and applies them to gentile believers.’ (Wright)

‘The remarkable thing here is that the description of people coming “from the east and the west” alludes to passages such as Isa 43:5f and Psa 107:3 which speak of Jews returning from exile.  Yet here is Jesus applying it to Gentiles, included among the people of God.  The Jews’ exclusive status as people of God is ended.  The privilege of belonging to that peple is open to all – Jew and Gentile alike – who have faith in Jesus.’ (Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, p129)

“The subjects of the kingdom” – Jews (but not all Jews, for the patriarchs were Jews, as were the first disciples).

“Outside” – This is the place that the Jews customarily assigned to the Gentiles.  The time is coming when the subjects of God’s kingdom will no longer be defined by race, but simply by faith.

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” – This expression also occurs in Mt 13:42;13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30, and Lk 13:28.  All occurrences occur in the context of parables.

In popular understanding, ‘gnashing of teeth’ is indicative of pain – torment, even:-

‘All [the] references to weeping and gnashing of teeth have one thing in common—the undeniable fact that those who do not belong to Christ will suffer a terrible fate, while His children will enjoy bliss in heaven with Him forever. Hell will be a place of anguish, remorse, pain, and misery.’ (Link)

However, Fudge (The Fire That Consumes) maintains that in biblical usage the expression is suggest, not of torment, but of rage.

According to Morris, this is ‘[a] proverbial expression for distress and mostly used in the New Testament, as here, for grief (or possibly anger or vexation) at the final rejection.’

Mounce says that ‘it is a vivid Eastern metaphor for sorrow and remorse.’

Does this verse ‘imply that all Jews are going to hell’?  Of course not.  What it does mean is that many ethnic Gentiles will find themselves taking their place in the kingdom of heaven, while many of those who thought that they had a place secured by birthright will be disappointed.  For entry to the kingdom is by faith, and not by enthicity.  ‘The Jews looked forward to the messianic banquet as their private preserve, yet here is Jesus saying that the banquet would see many Jews excluded and many of the despised pagans welcomed. The Jews had to learn the lesson, which their ancestors knew and Gentiles were beginning to discover, along with the centurion in the days of Jesus, that faith is the key to entry into the messianic banquet, and faith is the key to experiencing the power of Jesus.’ (Green)

‘This passage is highly relevant to Matthew’s own day, when church and synagogue were going their separate ways. It would be an enormous encouragement to Gentile believers to be assured that they, not the unbelieving Jews, were heirs to Abraham’s faith.’ (Green, BST)

F.D. Bruner: ‘Hell is not a doctrine used to frighten unbelievers; it is a doctrine used to warn those who think themselves believers.’

8:13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour.

Healings at Peter’s House, 14-17

8:14 Now when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying down, sick with a fever. 8:15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and began to serve them.
Mt 8:14–16 = Mk 1:29–34; Lk 4:38–41

Peter’s mother-in-law – Obviously, Peter was (or had been) married.  The standard Roman Catholic approach is to say that, since Peter’s wife is not mentioned directly in the Gospels, she must have died before he was called to be an apostle.  But this ignores the testimony of 1 Cor 9:5.

She got up and began to wait on him – The miracle was instantaneous.

8:16 When it was evening, many demon-possessed people were brought to him. He drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. 8:17 In this way what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet was fulfilled:
“He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.”

When it was evening – Why did they wait until it was evening before they brought the demonised and the sick to Jesus.  Mk 1:21 and Lk 4:31 inform us that this took place on the Sabbath, and Mt 12:10 that it was not considered lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  Here, then, is an undesigned coincidence.

‘It is generally understood that when the NT quotes a brief OT passage, it often refers implicitly to the entire context of the quotation (which in this case is the entire “Servant Song” of Isa 52:13–53:12). Both Scripture and Jewish tradition understand that all sickness is caused, directly or indirectly, by sin (see comment on 4:24). But one main emphasis in the Servant Song is substitutionary atonement, whereby the servant bears the sicknesses of others through his suffering and death. Thus, Matthew suggests that Jesus’ healing ministry is itself a function of his substitutionary death, by which he lays the foundation for destroying sickness.’ (Carson)

Healing on demand?

Although this passage does support the idea that ‘there is healing in the atonement’, it cannot be used to justify belief in ‘healing on demand’.  After all, there is also ‘resurrection of the body in the atonement’, but we do not come into the fullness of that promise until the last day.  (See Carson’s comment on this).

Challenging Professed Followers, 18-22

8:18 Now when Jesus saw a large crowd around him, he gave orders to go to the other side of the lake. 8:19 Then an expert in the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 8:20 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 8:21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Mt 8:19–22 = Lk 9:57–60

Son of Man – The title “Son of God” is Jesus’ divine name, (Mt 8:29) “Son of David” his Jewish name, (Mt 9:27) but “Son of Man” is the name that links him to the earth and to his mission. It was his favorite designation of himself (used more than 80 times) and was based on Dan 7:13-14. It emphasizes (1) his lowliness and humanity, (Mt 8:20) (2) his suffering and death, (Lk 19:10) and (3) his future reign as King.’ (Mt 24:27) (Ryrie)

Wilkins observes the general progression in the unveiling of the full meaning of this self-designation:

1. The Son of Man is the humble Servant who has come to forgive the sins of common sinners in his earthly ministry (8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40).
2. The Son of Man is the suffering Servant, whose atoning death and resurrection will redeem his people (16:13, 27–28; 17:9, 12, 22; 20:18, 28; 26:2, 24, 45).
3. The Son of Man is the glorious King and Judge who will return to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth (10:23; 13:37, 41; 19:28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; 26:64).

“No place to lay his head” – The nature of his mission kept him on the move, and would keep his followers on the move also. (Carson)

“Let me go and bury my father” – A solemn legal duty for a son (cf. Gen 25:9; 35:29; 50:13).  It may (as Carson suggests) that Jesus was not actually forbidding the man to attend his own father’s funeral (and more than he seriously recommended self-castration in Mt 5:27-30).  It is, rather, that he is, in this graphic way, questioning the man’s sincerity and commitment to his lordship: ‘Commitment to Jesus must be without reservation. Such is the importance Jesus himself attached to his own person and mission.’

‘If the scribe was too quick in promising, this “disciple” was too slow in performing’ (Carson).

Undesigned coincidence?  ‘Where did Zebedee go? James and John are originally with Zebedee (Matt 4:21) but he appears nowhere later even though their mother is mentioned several times (Mt 20:20; 27:56). This is explained by an unnamed disciple’s father dying (Mt 8:21), especially since the mother is not referred to as the wife of Zebedee.’

“Let the dead bury their own dead”

'Let the dead bury their dead'?

Mt 8:21 ‘[One] of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”’

Lk 9:59 ‘Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”’

1. It may be that Jesus is referring to the spiritually dead.  France is clear enough in his own mind: ‘The dead can only mean those outside the disciple group, who lack spiritual life, and who in the absence of a higher calling can be left to deal with mundane matters.’ (TNTC)

Carson: ‘Palestinian piety, basing itself on the fifth commandment (Ex 20:12), expected sons to attend to the burial of their parents (cf. Ge 25:9; 35:29; 50:13). Jesus’ reply used paradoxical language (as in Mt 16:25): Let the (spiritually) dead bury the (physically) dead. These verses seem to be a powerful way of expressing the thought in 10:37—even closest family ties must not be set above allegiance to Jesus and the proclamation of the kingdom (Lk 9:60).’

2. It may be that Jesus is speaking literally.  In this case, the command really is surprising, since it was the duty of a son to look after the burial arrangements for his father.

Morris highlights the solemn responsibility of the burial of one’s parent: ‘It was accepted that, faced with a burial, a man was exempted from a whole string of important religious duties: the saying of the daily prayers, the study of the law, the temple service, the observance of cirumcision, the killing of the Passover sacrifice, and the reading of the Megilla.’

Jesus is then saying, in no uncertain terms, that loyalty to him and his cause takes priority over all others.  It would still leave open to question whether such a command applies to all would-be followers.  But, in any case, it is hard to think of Jesus forbidding such a sacred obligation.

Helen Bond thinks that this saying reflects Jesus’ acute sense of urgency: ‘So urgent was Jesus’ call that on one occasion he is said to have commended a would-be disciple to ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead’ (Mt 8:18–22//Lk 9:57–62). The only explanation for this deeply offensive statement, which flagrantly ignored a fundamental religious duty, is Jesus’ utter conviction that the Kingdom was about to dawn and the demand for a present response.’ (The Historical Jesus: A Guide For The Perplexed, p109)

Hengel remarks on the sense of urgency: ‘There was no more time to be lost and so [Jesus] had to be followed without procrastination and to the abandonment of all human considerations and ties.’

3. It may be that Jesus is speaking rhetorically, in order to make the man think about his priorities.  Is he prepared to put Jesus before his family?  Loyalty to Jesus must take priority over all other loyalties, even the most sacred.

Bock observes: ‘Jesus’ command is heavily rhetorical, since the dead cannot bury anyone. It means either that the spiritually dead should be left to perform this task or that such concern is inconsequential in the face of the call to discipleship.’

Mounce comments: ‘This enigmatic statement is often interpreted to mean that the task of burying the physically dead is to be left to the spiritually dead (those not responding to the urgency of the kingdom message). It is probably better to take it in a more general way as indicating that the ordinary priorities of this life are to give way to the demands of Christian discipleship. (In Luke 14:25–33 one cannot be a disciple without placing Christ above family ties, carrying one’s own cross, and giving up everything one has.)’

4. It may be that the father was still alive, which would suggest that the would-be disciple wished to care for him (or used that as an excuse) until his death.  This is the view of Barclay.

Morris thinks it very likely ‘that the man’s parent was still alive and that he was referring to the obligation that rested on a dutiful son to look after his father in his declining years until his eventual death. He was saying that he must fulfil his duty to his father, a most important duty. In that case he was postponing his discipleship, perhaps for several years. He was saying in effect, “Some day, after my father has died, I will follow you.”’

But there is nothing in the text itself to suggest this.  Nolland (WBC) remarks that we must regard the father as dead or on the point of death.

5. It may be that the man’s comment reflects the burial customs of the day.  Immediately after the death of the father, the body would have been placed in a coffin and then into a tomb for one year in order for the body to decompose.  The family would have been in mourning for the first seven days, and it is unlikely that the man would have been out and about at this time.  After a year, the bones would have been placed in an ossuary and then reburied.  The point then is that the man wants to delay by up to one year his response to Jesus’ command to follow him.  This is the view of Keener (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

The CSB Study Bible adopts a similar interpretation: ‘Jesus’s demand seems harsh to modern readers, for today funerals would only briefly delay a commitment to follow him. However, ancient Jewish burials stretched over an entire year. A year after the initial interment, the eldest son was obligated to gather the skeletal remains and place them in an ossuary for second burial. Many Jews regarded the commandment to honor father and mother as the supreme commandment, and they also viewed giving parents an honorable burial as its most important implication. Jesus insisted that following him was to be an even higher priority. Since obligation to God supersedes obligation to parents (Dt 13:5–6), Jesus assumed a divine prerogative in this teaching.’


Whichever of these interpretations we adopt, this saying is blunt, to the point of offensiveness, both in the language (referring to those outside the circle of discipleship as ‘dead’) and thrust (following Jesus is more important than the most solemn and pressing of family duties).

In considering the possible ways of interpreting this saying we must take care not to ‘domesticate’ it without good reason.

This saying powerfully expresses the teaching of Mt 10:37 (cf. Lk 9:60).  Our Lord’s use of ‘shock tactics’ should not obscure the fact that he taught (and practised) high regard for family responsibilities, Mk 7:7-13.


Stilling of a Storm, 23-27

8:23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 8:24 And a great storm developed on the sea so that the waves began to swamp the boat. But he was asleep.
Mt 8:23–27 = Mk 4:36–41; Lk 8:22–25

His disciples followed him – Contrast with v22, where Jesus tells a would-be disciple to ‘follow’ him.  The verbal linkage may suggest that ‘the journey across the sea is a parable for the journey of discipleship’ (HBC).  This may be so, but to see the ‘boat’ as standing for the church, and the storm for its tribulations (expulsion from the synagogue, persecution by the Romans), is rather fanciful.

A furious storm – megas seismos – a great upheaval, ‘a term used for apocalyptic upheavals, (cf. Mt 24:7; 27:54; 28:2) often with preternatural overtones. This seems to be no ordinary storm but one in which Satan is attacking’ (Blomberg).  That may be so; but violent storms were (and are) known to develop around Lake Galilee.  Matthew’s readers would be aware of those OT passage which speak of God as the ruler of the wind and waves (e.g. Job 38:8–11; Pss 29:3–4, 10–11; 65:5–7).

8:25 So they came and woke him up saying, “Lord, save us! We are about to die!”

“Lord, save us!” – It is sometimes suggested that there are liturgical overtones to this expression, reflecting (as form critics are apt to think) the situation of the early church rather than a recollection of the actual event. ‘”Save” and perish (“drown”) refer first of all to the disciples’ physical lives, but by Matthew’s time they have become the standard terms for spiritual salvation and destruction. Matthew may well intend a double entendre here.’ (Blomberg)

8:26 But he said to them, “Why are you cowardly, you people of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was dead calm.

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” – Bornkamm uses this is an example of how, in his opinion, Matthew has rejected Mark’s picture of the disciples as faithless and replaced it with a much more positive view.  (According to Mk 4:40 Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”).  Gundry also appeals to the contrast between Matthew and Mark at this point (‘little faith’ and ‘no faith’ respectively) to support his contention that they are contradictory: ‘To pretend that they are not – by suggesting, say, that no faith means not enough faith or that different kinds of faith are in view – is to open the door to somersaulting exegesis that could with equal legitimacy deny the clarity of scriptural statements expressing primary doctrines.’  This is very silly: it is Gundry who is doing ‘somersaulting exegesis’ here.  The most obvious and natural interpretation of the words as recorded by Matthew is to take them as a slight softening of the words as recorded by Mark.  (See the discussion in Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, pp154ff).

‘Wherever “little faith” is used in Matthew (see Mt 6:30; 14:31; 16:8), it signifies the failure to see beyond the mere surface of things.’ (Carson)

Their faith may have been ‘little’, but they still cried out to Jesus to help them (v25).

Some have conjectured that Matthew’s purpose in recording these words of Jesus is to challenge the ‘little faith’ of his own Christian community in the face of tribulation.

He rebuked the winds and the waves – ‘The “rebuke” of the elements employs the same term (epitima?) used elsewhere in exorcism stories. (Mk 1:25; 9:25; Lk 4:41) Jesus demonstrates power over the destructive forces of nature, which remain under the devil’s sway.’ (Blomberg)

It was completely calm – ‘As with his healings, Jesus’ “cure” takes effect immediately.’ (Blomberg)

‘This passage affirms Jesus’ authority over nature, and if over nature, then over any crisis his followers may face.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

8:27 And the men were amazed and said, “What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”

“Even the winds and the waves obey him!” – The critic J. Weiss says that by ‘an astonishing coincidence’ the storm happened to lull at the moment that Jesus spoke! A.T. Robertson, who notes this comment, says: ‘some minds are easily satisfied by their own stupidities.’

The men were amazed – The underlying expression usually means “men” in general, and its use here may mean that a wider group than the immediate disciples were asking this awestruck question. To be sure, others had set sail in their own boats at the same time, Mk 4:36.

“What kind of man is this?” – ‘Readers of this gospel know the answer—he is the virgin-born Messiah who has come to redeem his people from their sins and whose mission is to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes. But the disciples did not yet understand these things.’ (Carson)

Human beings can accomplish much, especially in our own technological age. But no mere human can control the weather as Jesus did. “Whether he seem to sleep or to be awake he is Lord of heaven and earth, ruler and commander of wind, sea and land, whom all the creatures must obey.” (Dixon)

This question is of central importance for Matthew, as for the other evangelists. The answers that emerge in Matthew’s account are that: (a) as Christ, he will save his people from their sins, Mt 1:21; (b) as Son of man, he had no place to lay his head, Mt 8:20; (c) as King, he has all authority in heaven and on earth, Mt 28:18; and (d) as Son of God, he is worthy of all praise and worship, for he is indeed Emmanuel, God with us, Mt 1:23, and is with his people always, to the very end of the age, Mt 28:20.

The OT contains references to Jehovah’s sovereignty over the sea, Job 38:8-11; Ps 65:5-8; 89:8-9. Matthew may well have had Ps 107:23-32 in mind in his re-telling of this story. This sovereign power over the wind and the sea is truly remarkable. Others may pretend to have power over, say, disease and even demons. Modern technology control many things. But no-one but the God of creation can take such control over the awesome forces of nature. This is illustrative of Christ’s creative power, Jn 1:1-3, and of his resurrection power. After all, it is not surprising that the winds and the waves obey him, for he made them.

Stilling the storms of our lives?

‘Contemporary applications of this miracle almost universally “demythologize” the narrative (deriving a naturalistic lesson from a supernatural event), so that it becomes a lesson about Jesus “stilling the storms” of our lives. Matthew did not likely have such an application in mind. There are implications for discipleship here, to be sure; we must turn to Jesus as the one to trust in all circumstances of life. But the focus of this passage remains squarely Christological-on who Christ is, not on what he will do for us. One who has this kind of power can be no less than God himself, worthy of worship, irrespective of when and how he chooses to use that power in our lives. Sometimes he leaves storms unstilled for good and godly ends.’ (cf. 2 Cor 12:7-8) (Blomberg)

Healing the Gadarene Demoniacs, 28-34

8:28 When he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were extremely violent, so that no one was able to pass by that way.
Mt 8:28–34 = Mk 5:1–17; Lk 8:26–37

As Ian Paul notes:

‘It is not surprising that this story is paired with the episode that immediately precedes it in all three gospels; together they underscore the power of Jesus to bring peace to a chaotic world, in fulfilment of Ps 65.7: “You calm the seas and their raging waves, and the tumult of the nations.”‘

Only Matthew’s version mentions two demoniacs.

For N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) this account takes on additional significance in that

‘Jesus is surrounded by places, people and influences that [according to prevailing Jewish thinking] belong to the enemies of YHWH and his people.’  He is on the non-Jewish side of the lake; the demons are ‘legion’; pigs are being fed nearby.  He is ‘going into what was thought of as enemy territory, taking on (from the Jewish point of view) the demon of uncleanness and hostile paganism, and defeating the real enemy [Satan] instead, demonstrating that victory in the acted symbolism of the death of the pigs.’
Gadara or Gerasa?

A possible contradiction has been identified, in that in Mark Jesus exorcises a demoniac in the region near Gerasa; (Mk 5:1) in Matthew it occurs in Gadara. (Mt 8:28) However, the former is probably a city; the latter, a province (so Blomberg, DJG).  If so, it’s rather like one person saying that something happened ‘near Norwich’, and another saying that it happened ‘in Norfolk’.

‘The problem of the city’s name is a classical one and goes back at least to Origen’s time. The city of Gerasa lies approximately thirty miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and as one commentator somewhat sarcastically states, “The stampede of the pigs from Gerasa to the Lake would have made them the most energetic herd in history!” (Fitzmyer).’ (Stein, NAC on Luke)

Coming from the tombs – suggesting isolation and a preoccupation with death.

8:29 They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

The fact that the demons are real, and that this is not merely a case of mental disorder mistakenly ascribed to demons is evidenced in this confession. (cf Lk 4:34,41)

“What do you want with us, Son of God?” – Morris says that we cannot be sure exactly what the demons meant by this expression. But it is certainly an exalted title, though not necessarily messianic or divine.

‘In ancient magic, one could try to gain control over a spirit by naming it. The attempt at magical self-protection is powerless against Jesus.’ (Keener)

Note the irony: in v27, the disciples are wondering what kind of man Jesus is.  The demons know exactly who he is – and tremble.

“Have you come here…?” – Morris asks: ‘Did they mean “here to this earth” or “here to this Gentile land”?’  He thinks the former is the more likely.

“…to torment us before the appointed time?” – ‘As demons they must expect torment in hell as their ultimate fate, but not torment here and not torment now, before the time.’ (Morris)

8:30 A large herd of pigs was feeding some distance from them. 8:31 Then the demons begged him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

A large herd of pigs – According to Mk 5:13, about 2,000 of them.

8:32 And he said, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned in the water. 8:33 The herdsmen ran off, went into the town, and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men.

The Evangelist is at pains to point out that everything is under Jesus’ control.

Barnes writes: ‘‘All that can disturb or injure us is under the control of the Christian’s Friend. The very inhabitants of hell are bound, and beyond his permission they can never injure us. In spite, then, of all the malice of malignant beings, the friends of Jesus are safe.’

The relief of the demons is short-lived. The pigs are startled, and rush over the cliff and are drowned. This indicates the destructiveness of the demons: they have caused untold misery in the man, and now lead to the death of a whole herd of pigs.

Whatever else was the significance of the demons leaving the man and entering the pigs, it certainly demonstrated most dramatically and decisively the completeness of the deliverance.

The demons had been very powerful, they had kept this man in terrible bondage for a long time.  But the power of Jesus is greater.  Satan and in evil spirits are defeated foes.  They strive to thwart the work of Christ, but they shall not succeed.  They may rock the boat, but they cannot sink it.  They may recommend evil to a person, but they cannot compel anyone to sin.  They may threaten to pluck a believer out of the hand of the Saviour, but his grip remains secure.  Powerful as they may be, they are ever subject to Christ.  They are held tightly on a leash.  They cannot even go and inhabit a herd of pigs without his permission.


‘The man has become cut off from his community—and it is striking that the end of this episode is focused emphatically and rather surprisingly on Jesus restoring him to the place he has come from, sending him home in every sense of the word. There is dissociation of the man from his body, as he cuts and harms himself, and dissociation from the forces at work in him, as the voice of the unclean spirit(s) speak to Jesus. These dynamics of dissociation are very evident in our world, with fractured communities and broken relationship, the apparent rise of mental health issue, individualism, and the defining of the self detached from bodily identity at the heart of the debates about sexuality and transgender ideology.’ (Ian Paul)

Of pigs and demons

Mark 5:11 There on the hillside, a great herd of pigs was feeding. 5:12 And the demonic spirits begged him, “Send us into the pigs. Let us enter them.” 5:13 Jesus gave them permission. So the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs. Then the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake, and about two thousand were drowned in the lake.

Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter (and then destroy) the pigs, when he could have destroyed the demons there and then?  Subsidiary questions are sometimes raised around the apparent cruelty to the pigs, and the loss of their owners’ livelihoods.

Some people object to the idea that a herd of animals should be destroyed in this way (to say nothing of the expense to the owners). Spong (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism) says:

‘It did not seem to occur to Mark that the swine represented someone’s livelihood, indeed, probably a person’s entire fortune.’

In reply, it must be remembered that (a) Jesus did not send the demons into the pigs (he merely gave permission); (b) he did not cause the pigs to be destroyed; (c) one person’s life is worth far more than a whole herd of pigs; (d) the miracle no doubt benefited the whole community, which was freed from the peril and terror of an uncontrollable maniac, and probably from further interference from the demons who had been expelled from him.

As Stein, (NAC on Luke) remarks:

‘Various commentators’ concern for the owners’ economic loss may be due to a greater sensitivity for the property of others than the Evangelists had, but it may also reveal a lesser concern for the spiritual issues involved.’

Keener (IVP Bible Background Commentary) notes that only Gentiles and non-observant Jews would keep pigs.  They would have been regarded as suitable hosts for unclean spirits.  Ancient exorcists sometimes found that evil spirits would ask for concessions when they found the pressure to evacuate their host became intolerable.

Whatever else was the significance of the demons leaving the man and entering the pigs, it certainly demonstrated most dramatically and decisively the completeness of the deliverance.

Trench says,

‘If this granting of the evil spirits’ request helped in any way the cure of the man, caused them to relax their hold on him more easily, mitigated the paroxysm of their going forth, this would have been motive enough.  Or, still more probably, it may have been necessary for the permanent healing of the man, that he should have an outward evidence and testimony that the hellish powers which held him in bondage, had quitted their hold.’

But the episode is best understood from an eschatological perspective.  Evans, WBC on Luke, comments:

‘The agreement of Jesus to this arrangement has been a puzzle to many…The account certainly does not suggest that this was the only way Jesus could get the demons out of the man. In the situation he is clearly portrayed as a plenipotentiary. The underlying difficulty is that of any theodicy in the face of the fact of continuing evil (cf. Rev 20:3). Schürmann, 486, points to the continuing activity of the demonic during the gentile mission (Acts 13:6–11; 16:16–18; 19:13–16).  Luke 11:24–26 presumes that an expelled spirit will still have the possibility of continuing to work mischief. The perspective of our pericope is that though Jesus is actively engaged in rescuing those who have become the victims of the Devil’s minions (cf. 11:5–22), for whatever reason the time is not yet for bringing to ultimate judgment and destruction these forces of evil. Only in an anticipatory way do the demons come up against, in Jesus, the one who means their ultimate demise.’

Evans adds:

‘Jesus’ agreement to the request has troubled modern readers of the text, especially in light of the fate of the animals. In the (Jewish) perspective of the story, the pigs are of no value: to put the demons there is to put them safely out of the way, at least for the moment. Jesus’ agreement to having the demons remain on the loose to work their mischief is more difficult. But continuing evil is a fact, despite all that has been achieved by Jesus, and this was evident in the early missionary endeavors of the church as portrayed in Acts. The demons meet in Jesus the one who means their ultimate demise, but for whatever reason the time for their ultimate judgment and destruction has not yet come.’

The demons fear that the time for their final destruction has come.  In order to escape total and final punishment, the demons plead with Jesus to allow them to inhabit the herd of pigs.

Christ, in his mercy, delays the final judgement that would have finally destroyed the demons, cf. Mt 8:29.  And again, in his mercy, he allows them them to destroy an entire herd of pigs rather than destroy a single human being.

The contributor to Hard Sayings of the Bible writes:

‘This is the only exorcism in the Gospels in which the demons answer back to Jesus. In fact, they do so after Jesus commands them to leave the man (a detail not mentioned in Matthew). Their concern is that they not be tormented, that is, sent to hell (Matthew specifically adds “before the time,” meaning before the final judgment). Why would they say this? First, Jewish teaching was that demons were free to torment people until the last judgment (see Jubilees 10:5–9 and 1 Enoch 15–16). Second, Jesus’ appearance and power to expel them looked to them as if he were beginning the final judgment too early. Therefore, the permission to enter the pigs is an admission that the last judgment is not yet taking place. The demons are still free to do their destructive work. Nevertheless, wherever the King is present he brings the kingdom and frees people from the power of evil.’


Demons 101

In Matthew 8:28-34 Jesus casts demons out of a pair of men and into a herd of pigs.

Verses 29-32 are particularly instructive regarding the character of demons:

‘”What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”  Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.  The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”  He said to them, “Go!”’

A number of points emerge:

  1. They know who Jesus is. They know that he is the Son of God.  In this regard they are better-informed than the religious leaders of the day.
  2. They acknowledge Jesus’ authority over them. They may victory over the men they have possessed.  But they are powerless in the presence of Jesus.
  3. They know that they are defeated. they know that there is an appointed time for their destruction.  Still, like fatally-wounded wild animals, they will not go down without a fight.  To that extent, they are still dangerous.
  4. They are knowing, but not all-knowing. They are intelligent.  They know the Bible, and can quote it when it suits them.  They can watch people and events and draw conclusions (is that how they knew that Jesus was/is the Son of God?)  But they are not omniscient.  Only God is.
  5. They are not merely evil ‘forces’ or ‘influences’. Like persons, they have will, emotion, and intellect.  But they are not persons.  Probably, they are fallen angels.
  6. They are in willful rebellion against God. And so their fate is sealed.

Summarising this article by Brian Dembowczyk

8:34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

They pleaded with him to leave their region – According to Lk 8:35, 37, they did so because they were ‘overcome with fear’.  They were not overcome with anger, through losing their livelihood, but with fear, through witnessing Christ’s power over the principalities and powers.

Barnes: ‘It is no uncommon thing for people to desire Jesus to depart from them. Though he is ready to confer on them important favors, yet they hold His favors to be of far less consequence than some unimportant earthly possession. Sinners never love him, and always wish him away from their dwellings.’

Similarly, Stein (NAC on Luke) says, ‘Apart from a noble and good heart, God’s presence produces only fear. For the believer such fear turns to a holy awe, but to the unbelieving it is only a fearsome dread from which they seek to rid themselves.’

Mk 5:18-20 adds: ‘As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.