Longinus. Who was Longinus?

Tradition holds that the Roman Centurion who commanded the Roman soldiers at Christ’s crucifixion was named Longinus. Longinus is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

English: Centurion (Roman army) historical ree...

English: Centurion (Roman army) historical reenactment Boulogne sur mer (France). Français : Centurion (armée Romaine) Reconstitution historique à Boulogne sur Mer en France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one knows for sure what the Centurion’s name was since the gospels do not name him. For my purposes I will refer to the unnamed Centurion as Longinus because I do not have a good reason not to!

What is known about Longinus is what he said at the crucifixion:

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV) (Also Mark 15:39)


Luke’s Gospel says this about Longinus:

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV)

Over the centuries there has been much debate, not so much about the Centurion’s name but about the meaning of his words.

Some believe that since Longinus was a gentile (anyone not a Jew) that his words did not mean what plainly has been recorded. What is argued is this; the Hebrews had the notion of one God while the Romans worshiped many. From this observation some conclude Longinus meant that Jesus was a son of one of the gods. They would further argue that the gospel writers (Matthew and Mark) spun Longinus’ words to fit within their own Hebrew culture to say “the Son of God.” I am not certain what they do with Longinus’ words in Luke that declare Jesus’ innocence.

Church tradition on the other hand accepts Longinus’ words at face value to mean what they say. The painting on the left illustrates the scene and titles it, “The Confession of Longinus” meaning that Longinus truly recognized Jesus as the Son of God and is confessing his belief.

It should be remembered that as a Roman Officer Longinus would have been in close proximity to Pilate and all the events leading up to Pilate ordering him to be in charge of the legionnaires who would crucify Jesus and the two thieves. I believe he would have understood why Jesus was being crucified just as he was aware that Pilate seemed reluctant to crucify Jesus since Jesus had committed no crime against Rome and simply went along with the crowd who were on the verge of rioting. (See Matthew 27)

There really is no reason to doubt that Longinus and the soldiers with him were struck with awe (or fear) and at the moment of Jesus’ death recognized him for exactly who he said he was, the Son of God.

This is not merely an academic exercise to determine who might be right or who might be wrong about the meaning of Longinus’ words. Longinus’ words have eternal consequences if one accepts them at face value or not.

If God can open the eyes of a hard-bitten Roman Centurion to truth the he certainly can open anyone’s eyes to the same truth.