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Did Jesus Approve
of a Homosexual Couple in the Story of the Centurion at Capernaum?
by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
Assoc. Professor of New Testament,
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA 15206-2596
Apr. 24, 2007
(a) The pais was originally a son of the official.
In a forthcoming work on the tradition history of the story of Jesus and
the Capernaum official, I will argue (inter alia) that it is
likely that the “boy” (pais) originally meant a “child” or “son”
of the Capernaum official. The Q and Matthean versions are equivocal.
They mention only a pais, which could mean “boy” in the sense of
“child, son” or in the sense of “slave.” Luke interprets the pais
to be a “slave” (doulos, 7:2-3, 10), but this is a product of
later Lukan redaction and cannot tell us what Q or Matthew understood
the pais to be. John 4:46-54 represents an independent variant
version of the same account
and there the pais is viewed as a “son” (huios) of the
official (pais in John 4:51 = huios in 4:46-47, 50, 53).
Probably Matthew (and thus Q) interpreted pais in a similar
manner, given not only John’s version but also Matthew’s probable
insertion of pais in the miracle story of the epileptic boy/son
in Matt 17:18 (cf. 2:16 where he also uses pais of a “boy” or
“child”). In 14:2 (Matthean redaction of Mark) and possibly also in the
citation of Isa 42:1 in Matt 12:18 Matthew uses pais in the sense
of “slave”; however, these uses, unlike those in John 4:51 and Matt
17:18, have nothing to do with a person being healed and so are rather
remote as parallels. Prof. David Catchpole’s comment is helpful here: “pais
and huios are equivalent in normal Josephus usage. . . .
Significant above all is the use of pais/paidion with a clear
sense of one’s own child in the related traditions of Jairus and the
Syrophoenician woman: Mark 5:39-41/Luke 8:51,54; Mark 7:30. The appeal
of the parent, not the master, seems to be a standard feature of this
family of traditions.”
Moreover, as I note below, the version of the Capernaum official story
in Q is likely to have come about through contact in oral transmission
with the story of the Syrophoenician woman, so that the image of
intercession for a distance healing of one’s own child (not slave) in
the latter is particularly significant. Needless to say, it is not very
likely that Jesus would be commending an incestuous union between a
father and his son.
“Luke's Motives for Redaction in the
Account of the Double Delegation in Luke 7:1-10,” Novum
Testamentum 36 (1994) 122-45; “The Shape of Matthew's Q Text of
the Centurion at Capernaum: Did It Mention Delegations?” New
Testament Studies 40 (1994) 133-42; and “Statistical Analysis
and the Case of the Double Delegation in Luke 7:3-7a,” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly 55 (1993) 709-31.
That John 4:46-54 represents an
independent version of the same story is evident from the numerous
points of contact between it and the story of the centurion in Matt
8:5-13 par. Luke 7:1-10. A comparison of the two sets of stories
reveals an underlying core involving an official of “King” Antipas
who “upon hearing” about Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum came to him to
request that he heal his pais (“boy”) who was sick with fever
and “about to die.” Jesus dismisses him and offers a declaration of
cure from a distance (something like “Go, your boy lives”) and the
official goes home to find his boy healed “in that hour.” There are
so many points of contact between the two stories that even an
orthodox theologian like Irenaeus could refer to the “son of the
centurion” when speaking of John 4:46-54 (Adv. Haer. II
22.3), even though the Johannine account mentions only a “royal
official,” not a “centurion.”
David R. Catchpole, “The Centurion’s
Faith and Its Function in Q,” in The Four Gospels 1992 (eds.
F. van Segbroeck et al.; 3 vols.; BETL 100; Leuven: Leuven
University Press, 1992), 1.517-40, quote from p. 523; article
reprinted in: David R. Catchpole, The Quest for Q (Edinburgh:
T. & T. Clark, 1993), 280-308.
Compare Robert T. Fortna, The
Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1988), 58 n. 131: “It is far more likely that in its original form,
or at least as known to SG [i.e. the Signs Gospel that the Fourth
Evangelist used as a source], the man had not been identified as to
nationality but could be presumed to be a Jewish official, living as
he does in the Jewish town of Capernaum.”
In agreement with Stephan Landis,
Das Verhältnis des Johannesevangeliums zu den Synoptikern: Am
Beispiel von Mt 8,5-13; Lk 7,1-10; Joh 4,46-54 (BZNT 74; Berlin:
de Gruyter, 1994), 39-40, 59.
In addition to The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 185-228 and
Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, 50-52, 68-74, see the
array of arguments in pp. 56-62 of my “Why the Disagreement over the
Biblical Witness on Homosexual Practice? A Response to David G.
Myers and Letha Dawson Scanzoni, What God Has Joined Together?”
in Reformed Review 59 (2005): 19-130; online at:
To the arguments here see also my discussion of Jesus’ eunuch
statement, which likewise supports the view that Jesus was opposed
to man-male intercourse, on pp. 5-6 of of my article, “Does Jack
Rogers’s New Book ‘Explode the Myths’ about the Bible and
Homosexuality and ‘Heal the Church?’: Installment 4,” online at