Roman Centurions: A Historical Analysis of their Role in the New Testament

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Roman Centurions: A Historical Analysis of their Role in the New Testament

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By Steven A. Mercer | Foreword by Michael A.G. Haykin

Roman Centurions feature prominently in the New Testament. A centurion stood at the foot of the cross when Christ was crucified. Jesus healed a centurion’s servant and Paul interacted with centurions on multiple occasions. A centurion was even the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity. But who were these men, really? What did it mean to be a centurion? Why did the New Testament authors include them in their writings? This illuminating work provides the most thorough and comprehensive treatment to date on New Testament centurions in order to answer these questions and bring to light these often overlooked characters. Through a careful analysis of available military history and primary source texts, this book highlights the importance of centurions to the biblical narrative and sheds new light on the role these men played in the early church.

“Early Christians in the Roman Empire had a spectrum of experiences with Roman rule in general, and Roman centurions in particular. Mercer provides an accessible introduction to the role of centurions in the imperial army, thus helping us today get a sense of the lived experience of those who birthed the Jesus movement. He raises interesting questions about the inclusion of centurions in the biblical narrative, and provides some helpful pastoral commentary along the way.”

Gordon L. Heath

PhD, FRHistS Professor Christian History Centenary Chair in World Christianity

“Steven Mercer’s experience as a Green Beret serves him well as he deploys current military expressions (‘tactical’ versus ‘strategic’; ‘casualty rates’; ‘duty rosters’; ‘senior non-commissioned officers’) to bring these Bible-times characters to life. And since, as he argues, centurions come off well in the New Testament, it’s good for us to take a closer look at these men whom the Lord featured so prominently in the text. Drawing on an impressive collection of resources from both inside and outside the Church, Mercer artfully explicates (‘Italian Cohort’), delineates (three different lessons from the three prominent centurions), repudiates (the notion that the centurion in Matthew 8 may have been a pederast), illustrates (through extra-biblical accounts of such centurions as Marcus Petronius and Aurelius Marcianus), and speculates (that Theophilus may have once been a centurion, and that the centurion at the foot of the cross may have been Herodian). Having read this book, I find that centurions jump off the page when I read Matthew, Luke, and Acts.

Mark Coppenger
Retired Professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Steven Mercer offers a helpful resource for readers of Scripture. Who are the Roman Centurions? Mercer explores several descriptions within modern scholarship, early accounts of Centurions in ancient literature, and provides a close eye on the scriptural testimony. He combines both disciplines of historical studies and theological readings about Centurions within several accounts in the New Testament. For a quick survey of these sources, Mercer provides readers of Scripture a helpful historical and theological guide to the identity of these military figures.”

Shawn J. Wilhite
Associate Professor of New Testament, California Baptist University

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