Centurion



CENTURION sĕn tyoor’ ĭ ən (Lat. centurio, commander of century, NT κεντυρίων, G3035, in Mark, ἑκατοντάρχης, G1672, in Matt., Luke, Acts; see Arndt s.v.). A non-commissioned officer in the Rom. army or one of its auxiliary armies, commanding a century (centuria) of nominally 100 men.

Although the responsibilities of centurions were similar to those of modern junior officers, there was a wide gap between their social status and that of officers, and comparatively few achieved promotion beyond senior centurion. The seniority of the six centurions in a cohort corresponded to that of their respective centuries. The centurion’s vine-staff (uitis) was a symbol of his disciplinary authority.

The troops in Judaea were auxiliaries and would be rewarded with Rom. citizenship after twenty-five years’ service. Such of their centurions as were Rom. citizens may have begun their service in the legions, in which Rom. citizenship was conferred on enlistment, or may have inherited it, like Paul. From their names it appears that Cornelius (Acts 10) and Julius (ch. 27) were Rom. citizens of provincial origin.

The presence of his relatives (10:24) suggests that Cornelius was a native of the Caesarea area. The Italian cohort to which he belonged must have been raised in Italy, but it would be maintained by local recruitment (cf. Jos. War II. 13. 7). Peter’s scruples show that Cornelius was a “God-fearer” and not a full proselyte.

Julius belonged to an Augustan cohort, and may even have been a legionary centurion detached for special duties or on transfer. It is to be noted that on the government grain ship it was apparently he who took the final decision to proceed with the voyage (Acts 27:11).

A centurion was in charge of the execution of our Lord (Matt 27:54; Mark 15:39ff.; Luke 23:47), and another was to supervise the flogging of Paul (Acts 22:25). The reference to centurions in Acts 21:32 suggests that the tribune Claudius Lysias called out a considerable number of troops to rescue Paul, who was subsequently escorted from Jerusalem by two centurions with their centuries (23:23) as well as by the cavalry who were to go through to Caesarea.

Police duties such as these and the routine guarding of prisoners (Acts 23:17; 24:23) were the normal lot of centurions and their troops, for active warfare was most of the time confined to the frontiers of the empire.

As Galilee was not a Rom. province in the time of our Lord, the centurion of Capernaum (Matt 8:5ff.; Luke 7:2ff.) was in Herod’s army, which was organized on Rom. lines. He was clearly a God-fearing Gentile and reasonably wealthy. His reference to being under authority and expecting complete obedience from his men nicely characterizes his position as a man wielding authority derived from his superiors and reveals his conception of Jesus as a man with divine powers.

Bibliography

E. Birley, Roman Britain and the Roman Army (1953), 104-124; A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (1963), 123f., 156, 160f.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

sen-tu’-ri-un: As the name implies, hekatontarches or hekatontarchos, kenturion, Latin centurio, was the commander of a hundred men, more or less, in a Roman legion. Matthew and Luke use the Greek word while Mark prefers the Latin form, as he does in the case of other words, seeing that he wrote primarily for Roman readers. The number of centurions in a legion was 60, that being at all epochs the number of centuries, although the number varied in the cohort or speira. The ordinary duties of the centurion were to drill his men, inspect their arms, food and clothing, and to command them in the camp and in the field. Centurions were sometimes employed on detached service the conditions of which in the provinces are somewhat obscure. Men like Cornelius and Julius (Ac 10:1; 27:1) may have been separated from the legion to which they properly belonged for the discharge of special duties. They and other centurions mentioned in the Gospels and the Ac (Mt 8:5; Mr 15:39,44,45; Lu 23:47) are represented by the sacred writers in a favorable light.

See Augustan Band.

T. Nicol.