“When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help:
’Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.’
Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel!”
The key here is found in verse 9 where the Centurion says “For I too am a man under authority.” It is believed that the centurion’s great faith is not so much in Christ’s power but also how spiritual power or spiritual authority works in God’s kingdom. Those walking in proper authority walk in spiritual authority as well. Jesus had authority because he walked under the father’s authority. Because of this kingdom principle people in the church gain spiritual authority and walk in more spiritual power when they are properly submitted to authority.
What weight hangs from so few words! For millennia Christian interpretation of this passage has centred around how the Centurion had so much faith that he didn’t need Jesus to come in to his house. Going a little deeper, some interpretations contrast the Gentile with faith and the Jews with little faith. Truly involved interpretations may have caught the differences between the account in Luke 7 and Matthew and the negative spiritual implications of Jesus going in to the house of Gentile. Most consider the little bit about authority to be just the centurion’s way of articulating his faith in Jesus’ ability to heal from a distance.
The New Living Translation does an excellent job of capturing the essence of the passage.
I know, because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this or that,’ they do it.”
Jesus did have the authority to heal that servant. One could argue that Jesus had that authority because walked under the Father’s authority. However in the whole counsel of scripture the attribute normally associated with miracles is faith, not authority. In his letter to Corinthians Paul didn’t say “if I have all authority so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, without love I am nothing.” He said “if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” If one wanted to carry forward some spiritual principle about authority it would be that it is important to stay submitted to our ultimate authority. Jesus is our ultimate authority. It is risky to take Jesus’ example and modify it by equating Jesus with church leaders.
The very concept of spiritual authority and all of its characteristics is not clearly stated in scripture. In fact the phrase “spiritual authority” isn’t found anywhere in scripture. That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t relevant, our concept of the trinity isn’t expressly stated in scripture either. The concept of “spiritual authority” as defined in Covering Theology is a recent invention. I have much more confidence in theological concepts that have been pondered by the church for centuries.