Luke 7:3

ESV When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.
NIV The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.
NASB When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.
CSB When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, requesting him to come and save the life of his servant.
NLT When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave.
KJV And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.

What does Luke 7:3 mean?

A centurion in or near Capernaum sends Jewish elders to Jesus to ask Him to heal a sick servant. When this story is taught, one of the most frequent questions is, why does this verse differ from Matthew 8:5? Matthew's account phrases the scenario that the centurion, himself, came to Jesus. The answer is simply that when powerful people commission others to perform tasks, it's common to say they "did" such a thing, though the literal action was delegated. The centurion's own explanation for his approach trades on this idea (Luke 7:8).

The Greco-Roman Empire worked on the patronage system. A man who was rich and powerful—the patron—would do favors for those who needed something—the clients—like lend money or request something of a politician. In return, the client would run errands for the patron, including introducing new potential clients to the patron. The entire system was based on loyalty and relationship. Similarly, benefactors gave gifts to the community at large. The gifts were far too extensive for the people to respond in kind, but the recipients did give the benefactors great honor. Some benefactors acted out of good will while others used largess to maintain their subjects' loyalty. This may apply to the centurion as he built the local synagogue (Luke 7:5).

Whether the town sees the centurion as a patron or a benefactor, the elders are properly acting as his clients by representing him; this is somewhat like how a "press secretary" speaks for a political leader. Luke gives specifics as to who is talking to Jesus; Matthew is referring to the authority behind the messengers. Luke's Gentile audience would understand more readily than some commentators might suggest.

The use of the Jewish elders reflects more than the Roman patronage culture; it shows the centurion also respects Jewish culture. Jesus is a well-known rabbi; it would have been improper for the centurion, as a Gentile, to approach Jesus directly. He sends Jewish civil authorities to bridge the gap. This attitude shows how he won the respect of the Jewish elders.

Note that it is the elders who act as liaisons between Jesus and the Roman, not the religious leaders like scribes or Pharisees. Simon displays their faulty judgment of Jesus (Luke 7:39–50). "Elders" were civic leaders in a town, often successful businessmen, who judged legal cases and witnessed financial transactions (Deuteronomy 21:19; 22:15; Ruth 4:1–12). Moses established elders upon the advice of his father-in-law (Exodus 18:13–27); God later formalized the office in the Law (Numbers 11:16–27).
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