on Matthew 8 :9
For I am a man under authority - That is, under the authority of others. This verse has given considerable embarrassment to commentators and critics. I believe the paraphrase given above to be the true meaning of the evangelist. To make this matter more plain, let it be observed, that the Roman foot was divided into three grand parts, Hastati, Principes, and Triarii. Each of these grand divisions was composed of thirty manipuli or companies; and every manipulus made two centuries or companies of one hundred men. Every manipulus had two centurions; but these were very far from being equal in rank and honor, though possessing the very same office. The Triarii and Principes were esteemed the most honorable, and had their centurions elected first; and these first elected centurions took precedency of the centurions of the Hastati, who were elected last. The centurion in the text was probably one of this last order; he was under the authority of either the Principes or Triarii, and had none under him but the hundred men whom he commanded, and who appear to have been in a state of the most loving subjection to him. The argument of the centurion seems to run thus. If I, who am a person subject to the control of others, yet have some so completely subject to myself, that I can say to one, Come, and he cometh, to another, Go, and he goeth, and to my slave (τω δουλω μου) Do this, and he doeth it; how much more then canst thou accomplish whatsoever thou willest, being under no control, and having all things under thy command: He makes a proper use of his authority, who, by it, raises his mind to the contemplation of the sovereign power of God, taking occasion from it to humble himself before Him who has all power in heaven and earth, and to expect all good from him.
There are two beautiful passages in Arrian that tend much to illustrate this speech of the centurion.
Καταταγεις Αγαμεμνων, λεγει μοι, πορευου προς τον Αχιλλεα, και αποσπασον την Βρισηιδα, πορευομαι. Ερχου, ερχομαι.
"He who personates Agamemnon says to me, Go to Achilles, and bring hither Briseis: I go. He says, Come hither: Icome."
Dissert. l. i. c. 25. p. 97.
Οταν ο Θεος ειπῃ τοις φυτοις ανθειν, ανθει. Οταν ειπῃ βλαϚανειν, βλαϚανει. Οταν εκφερειν τον καρπον, εκφερει. Οταν πεπαινειν, πεπαινει. Οταν παλιν αποβαλλειν, και φυλλορροειν, και αυτα εις αυτα συνειλουμενα εφ' ησυχιας μενειν, και αναπαυεσθαι, μενει και αναπαυεται.
"When God commands the plants to blossom, they bear blossoms.
When he commands them to bear seed, they bear seed.
When he commands them to bring forth fruit, they put forth their fruits.
When he commands them to ripen, they grow ripe.
When he commands them to fade, and shed their leaves, and remain inactive, involved in themselves, they thus remain, and are inactive."
Cap. 14. p. 62. See Raphelius.
This mode of speech fully marks supreme and uncontrolled power, and that power put forth by a sovereign will to effect any purpose of justice or mercy. And God said, let there be light, and there was light, is a similar expression.
on Matthew 8 :9
I am a man ... - He had full confidence in the ability of Jesus to heal his servant, and requested him simply to give the command. This request he presented in a manner appropriate to a soldier. I am a man, says he, under authority. That is, I am subject to the commands of others, and know how to obey. I have also under me soldiers who are accustomed to obedience. I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes. I am "prepared," therefore, to believe that your commands will be obeyed. As these obey me, so do diseases, storms, and seas obey you. If men obey me, who am an "inferior" officer, subject to another, how much more shall diseases obey you - the original source of power having control over all things! He asked, therefore, simply that Christ would give commandment, and he felt assured he would be obeyed.
on Matthew 8 :9
8:9 For I am a man under authority - I am only an inferior officer: and what I command, is done even in my absence: how much more what thou commandest, who art Lord of all!