Pp Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-37
Why did they fear?
In both Mark’s (5:1-17) and Luke’s (8:26-39) account, the incident of the calming of the storm precedes this event as it does in Matthew but the account there is much fuller even though some of the details are a little different. Mark and Luke both speak only of one demoniac who approaches Jesus whereas Matthew plainly states that there were two (8:28). But Matthew’s account doesn’t mention the name ‘Legion’ (a name which is, perhaps, better understood as a title of the demonic horde rather than the name of the man in which they resided) and Mark seems to be more concerned to speak of one specific individual that he describes at some length in 5:2-5 rather than Matthew who gives more a generalisation of the incident rather than pick out one of the two who approached - Luke’s information concerning the history of the demoniac is also more sparse at this point than Mark (Luke 8:29).
In Mark and Luke also, we learn that the demons didn’t at first come out of the man (Mark 5:7-8, Luke 8:28-30) but that their reaction paved the way for Jesus to ask them their name and for the demons to request not to be sent out from the country (Mark 5:10 - either referring to the Tetrarchy of Philip or the Decapolis, depending on where the site of the incident actually took place) - Luke records their plea not to be sent ‘into the abyss’ (Luke 8:31) and both requests should be considered as having been spoken through the demoniac rather than feel the need to choose between one or the other.
Mark and Luke again speak of additional information when they note that the swine ran down a steep slope and have a long appendix to the casting out of the demons where the people who come out from the city in Mtw 8:34 see the evidence of what has taken place before Jesus leaves for the west side of the Sea of Galilee upon their insistence, and where Jesus instructs the ex-demoniac to go and proclaim all that God had done for him to his friends and family (Mark 5:19, Luke 8:39), a command that was the exact opposite of what He’d told the leper to do in Mtw 8:4. In this way, Jesus began His mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews) through a new convert and which was to continue wholeheartedly after His death and resurrection.
For now, however, there was just a witness of the good things that God was doing through Him and a preparation for the future proclamation of the Gospel amongst them. However, Matthew’s Gospel summarises the ministry of Jesus and its effect by noting earlier in 4:25 that
‘...great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan’
and, in Mark 7:31, after this incident has occurred if the events are recorded in strict chronological order, Jesus is reported as returning from the region of Tyre and journeyed (my italics)
‘...through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis’
One doesn’t actually go through the Decapolis to get to Galilee from Sidon, so the inference is that, instead of remaining in Galilee upon His return, He journeyed south and east to begin a tour of the Decapolis’ area. There seems no reason to doubt that the witness of the ex-demoniac (Mark 5:20) would have done a great deal to have prepared the way for the people of that area to receive Him warmly, even though, on the previous occasion, they’d requested that He leave the area immediately (Mtw 8:34).
The inference of Mark 5:20 is that Jesus had set foot not on Jewish soil but Gentile, for the Decapolis is mentioned here, a confederation of ten cities which generally lay on the east banks of the Jordan river. Most maps place the scene of the incident slightly to the north of the Decapolis’ northern boundary and this may still be the possible location, but the deliverance of the man was definitely something which pre-empted missionary activity to the Gentiles.
The Decapolis was a Hellenised area, a confederation of ten Gentile/Greek cities that had committed themselves to certain duties and functions but which retained their own independence over the areas of land which were under their recognised control. Although Rome took an active part in the administration of the region, the Decapolis retained a fair amount of autonomy and went about its business as it saw fit on a day to day basis.
The Jewish religious leaders, however, considered the area too unclean to venture very far into because of its paganisation.
There are other differences in the text but the ones noted above will suffice for us to gain a better understanding of the likely background to the story. That Jesus has now ventured into unclean territory is important to the writer of Matthew and, as noted on previous pages throughout our discussions on chapter 8, the scribe has been careful to put together a series of miracles and events that demonstrate where Jesus can deal with the unclean of society where Judaism failed to do so. For them, all that was possible was to maintain individual ceremonial cleanness before God and they had little answer to the situations that Jesus encounters and deals with - indeed, Jesus demonstrates Himself to be One who will disregard cultural acceptability for the sake of preaching the Gospel to whoever He meets and wherever the Father sends Him.
To the unclean leper, He brings cleanness (Mtw 8:1-4); to the unclean and despised Gentile, He performs a miracle to heal his servant (Mtw 8:5-13); to the maligned female sex and second class citizen of Jewish society, He will dispel illness (Mtw 8:14-15); and, now, even in an unclean land, the power of God will be seen to work (Mtw 8:28-34) - while, all the time, those who should be entering the Kingdom are found neither to have the commitment necessary to follow Him (Mtw 8:18-22) and neither the faith to believe who they think Jesus is (Mtw 8:23-27).
I know I’ve said this before, but it warrants repeating here - Jesus turned the world and society of His day upside down and rejected the social norms and cultural acceptability, replacing them rather with a commitment to follow as the Father led Him and to do what His Father showed Him. It is difficult to imagine anything less happening in any society or amongst any people in which Jesus chooses to reveal Himself and to establish His will in their midst.
We should be warned, therefore, should we mistakenly think that, when Jesus comes in power to a fellowship, the status quo will be maintained.
There is more likelihood of the moon being made of cheese...
In both Mtw 8:28 and Mark 5:1, marginal notes in translations point out that the Greek text is rendered in different ways in manuscripts and the three possibilities appear to be Gadarenes (used by the RSV in Matthew), Gergesenes and Gerasenes (used by the RSV in both Mark and Luke). The city of Gadara is the closest city known to have existed close to the east shore of the sea of Galilee and perhaps the more logical rendering would be Gadarenes as used in the RSV’s translation of Matthew. However, Gerasa (hence, the Gerasenes) was a known city of the Decapolis but lay some forty miles SSE of the proposed site of the miracle and it seems unlikely that such a city would have retained some jurisdiction over this part of the Lake being so far away.
However, Matfran notes that
‘Mark and Luke probably wrote “Gerasenes” perhaps referring to the modern Kursi...rather than to the Roman city of Gerasa...’
Although Gadarenes is the most logical, it’s not without its difficulties for, even closer to the miracle lay the city of Hippos - almost due south of the official site and within five miles, lying close to the banks of the Lake. This seems to be the city from which the people of the area came out to meet Jesus after the miracle (Mtw 8:34) and it would be more natural to suppose that the land belonged to them rather than to a city which lay beyond it.
However, Gadara may have exercised some control over this region and both Hippos and Gadara may have been considered to have been the ‘country of the Gadarenes’. Matfran suggests that the city of Gadara controlled an area which abutted the Sea of Galilee at its southern most tip, east of the Jordan river outflow from the lake and that it may be more logical to shift our perceived site of the miracle from where it is located today to a more accurate one according to the text - even if this were done, Hippos would still be the nearest city of the Decapolis, even though Gadara would then be only some seven miles distant.
In his Autobiography (chapter 9), Josephus comments (my italics) that
‘...when Justus had, by his persuasions, prevailed with the citizens of Tiberias to take arms, nay, and had forced a great many so to do against their wills, he went out, and set the villages that belonged to Gadara and Hippos on fire; which villages were situated on the borders of Tiberias, and of the region of Scythopolis’
indicating that Gadara was at least recognised as having a presence on the shores of Galilee (where ‘the borders of Tiberias’ is naturally to be taken as referring to the shore line across from which Tiberias lay). Metzger cited in Mathag also notes that
‘...coins from Gadara often have the image of a ship [on them]’
which may also indicate the importance of the Sea of Galilee in the economics of the Gadarene region.
Certainly, with the information available to us, both ‘Gergasenes’ (which appears to have come about at the suggestion of Origen at a later date - and which my spell checker wants to replace with the word ‘greasiness’!) and ‘Gerasenes’ appear to be incorrect and should be taken as either scribal errors or labels which meant something to the people of the day in which the Gospels were written but which lack any definite explanation to us today.
I visited the official site of the miracle (which lies to the north of ancient Hippos) a number of years ago and can testify to the general appeal the area has as being the authentic site - even though there is no way that anyone can now be definite. In the background of the church remains (the only place where we were allowed to go because of ‘time’) there are what appear to be cave entrance holes in the rock faces of the higher mountainous area further from the shore and, though no one could tell us what date these were made, one gets the impression that, from just such a vantage point, the two demoniacs could have witnessed the emergence of the boat from out of the storm and its approach to the lake shore, as they descended their home to confront the disembarking group - note that Luke 8:27 notes that the incident took place ‘as He stepped out on land...’
The incident is more likely to have taken place during the early part of the day after the night journey over the lake and the delay caused by the storm - they seem to have set off towards the evening (Mark 4:35) - so that the demoniacs would have been able to note the approach of the vessel in the half-light.
However, in accordance with what I have noted above, this site seems to be more unlikely than a location somewhere on the south-eastern tip of the Sea of Galilee where Gadara held influence but which was close enough to a recognised city that Luke’s description of the man as being ‘from the city’ (Luke 8:27) would have caused no confusion, the tombs presumably being associated with the dead of that place and not a great distance from it.
There are difficulties throughout this passage that we would like to have resolved for us and questions which spring to mind that we may try and attempt to answer with our own understanding of events, but the ‘demonology’ of this passage goes largely unexplained and we are left to conclude that, perhaps, we are not meant to necessarily know the ins and outs of what makes a demon tick and what is both possible and unlikely.
For instance, why do the demons beg Jesus to enter the swine (Mtw 8:31)? Why does Jesus agree to their request (Mtw 8:32) - the text indicates that this was an allowance rather than a direct command? If cast out demons entered animals in this instance, what happened to the demons that were cast out on other such occasions? Is this what one should expect from an animal when it becomes demon possessed? And what happens to the demons once the swine rush down the hillside and drown in the waters of the Lake?
There are a great many more questions which we would like answering and I have attempted to do just that with the more important ones below, but the commentators need to be noted here for they seem to make a few assumptions which are unwarranted and which we would do well to avoid believing.
Matfran makes the statement that
‘Once expelled, the demons will need a home...’
so that their expulsion into a herd of swine is a natural consequence of the demon expulsion. If that’s true, do demons pass from life to life only? And, should a demon be expelled from a person in this present day and age, are we to think of it not as going nowhere but of taking up residency ‘somewhere else’? Mathag is more accurate when he notes that
‘...their preference is to reside in some form of body’
for Mtw 12:43-45, which appears to be a literal piece of information given to His listeners by Jesus concerning what takes place upon demon expulsion, tells us that demons can exist without necessarily being within a life that acts as their ‘home’. This appears to be far from ideal for them, but it is, necessarily, possible.
This future passage may also answer for us the question of what happened to the spirits once the pigs had drowned themselves in the Lake. Mattask thinks that the choice of entering into the swine
‘...proved to be the demons’ undoing...’
and this may be the case - but it doesn’t infer that the demons were ‘destroyed’ in the sense that either they ceased to exist or that they became bound in a place from which there was no escape. They may simply have become free from any life forms for a time.
Matfran suggests that, perhaps, the text of Matthew indicates that the writer believes that the demons actually perished when the herd drowned itself. He notes two phrases and comments that “the herd rushed” is singular while “they perished” is plural and wonders whether the switch to the plural is indicative of a reference to the demons.
But the change is not necessarily significant here (as Mathag points out) and we could just as well consider the change to be indicative that Matthew now regards the one herd as comprised of individual animals which drowned as it need refer to the demons.
Perhaps the best comment on the permission given by Jesus to the demons is by Mathag who comments that
‘If the narrative perhaps shows the resourcefulness of the demons, more significantly it makes the point that not even the unclean swine were prepared to contain the demons and the demons end up destroying the swine’
Swine were considered to be unclean animals by the Jews and were forbidden to be eaten in the Mosaic regulations concerning food (Lev 11:7-8), the Mishnah going one step further by commanding Israelites (Baba Kamma 7:7) that
‘None [or ‘No Israelite’] may rear swine anywhere’
It would be wrong to think of the herdsmen as being punished by Jesus for keeping unclean animals on land that had been given as an inheritance to Israel and it’s better to see in the death of the swine (something that Jesus does not appear to have brought about) an indication to the herdsmen who were tending them that, as Mathen points out
‘...human values surpass material values by far’
To the vegetarian and vegan who insist on ‘animal rights’, this story may appear abhorrent and distasteful - and so it should be - but the underlying point of the destruction of the swine is not that animals are not important but that humans are more important.
We have failed to adequately answer a number of the questions which we posed at the beginning of this section but, as Matmor notes here, the passage is such that we cannot answer all the problems we have with our own understanding of what the set up of the demonic is and that
‘...in the end we must remain content with an element of mystery...We do not know what demon possession really is, though the NT examples make it plain that it is hostile to people’s best interests; it seems always to involve suffering of some sort’
There are, however, a few ‘more important’ questions that we need to consider and which I deliberately avoided including in the first list. Though we may find an answer to some of these, to be definitive will be difficult seeing as we only have a scarcity of information at our disposal.
Firstly, though, why didn’t the demons obey Jesus immediately? We learn of this from Mark 5:7-8 which informs us that the demons cried out with a loud voice
‘...What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’
after Jesus had said to the man
‘...Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’
While it’s quite true that the demons, by confessing Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ are, as Matfran notes
‘...[recognising] the authority they will not accept’
to believe that God’s command through Christ may go unacted upon initially by the demonic is surprising. We would have expected that, as Matthew’s Gospel reads, there was simply a word of command which sent the demons on their way.
The point seems to be that the demons knew that they had to vacate their premises because they request that they be given permission to enter the swine (Mark 5:10-12). Therefore, it should be remembered that the authority of Jesus displayed in a situation does not mean that everything will immediately obey His voice but that there may need to be a reapplication when the events don’t appear to be going the way they should.
Notice also that, on a separate occasion (Mark 8:22-26), Jesus had to lay His hands upon a blindman twice before his sight was restored, the first time the blindman reporting that he saw
‘...men; but they look like trees, walking’
an indication that sight had been restored but that there was still a sight impairment that needed to be rectified - that is, that Jesus opened the eyes of the blindman but decided to do the work of the spiritual optician to restore perfect sight. Of course, the blindman may have been content just to have received partial vision!
Secondly, what did the demons mean by asking Jesus (Mtw 8:29 - my italics)
‘Have you come here to torment us before the time?’
This seems to be more easy to answer, seeing as we have a verse in Mtw 25:41 which tells us that, on the final day, Jesus will say to those who are rejected (my italics)
‘...Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’
paralleled presumably in Rev 20:9-10 where the final destination of the devil is recorded as being in the lake of fire before the New Jerusalem is seen coming down out of heaven from God. The demons appear to have realised that the time of the final judgment had not yet come and that they half-taunt Jesus to see what it is that He intends doing.
That the enemy knows that his time is short is evidence that the end of all things will end up favourably for the followers of Christ (Rev 12:12) but, for now, the time has not come and, as noted above, it would appear that the demons, upon the death of the swine, were not destroyed or committed into torment, but were set free to choose a further course of action.
And, finally, why did the demons call Jesus ‘Son of God’ and what did they mean by it?
The phrase has only been previously used twice in Matthew’s Gospel and both times we find it on the lips of the devil himself in 4:3 and 4:6 in the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Presumably, what he means by the phrase there must be equally applicable here in Mtw 8:29 where they cry, according to Mathag, either
‘What do we have in common, Son of God?’
‘Whatever do You want of us, Son of God?’
where the same phrase occurs (except in the singular) in John 2:4 where Jesus speaks to Mary, His mother, before He turns the water into wine. In that place, the former interpretation is the most likely and represents a saying which cannot be rendered literally and maintain its real sense (literally, it runs ‘what to us and to You?’).
But, even if we accept the normal weight of the words, the inference of the demons is far from certain. They seem to be drawing attention to their situation and saying that it is regarded as different to each of them - on the one hand, Jesus appears to be about to bring God’s Kingdom rule to bear on themselves and, on the other, the time of the final judgment of their dominion and rule has surely not yet come.
Returning to our original question, we saw on a previous web page that the title ‘Son of man’ taken by Jesus Himself at the start of His ministry necessarily prompted men and women to regard Him as a man but this title, first on the devil’s lips and then, subsequently, on the lips of the demons within a human (repeated seemingly wherever demons were expelled - Mark 3:11, Luke 4:41), prompts those who hear it to naturally think of Jesus in terms of deity and divinity.
Eventually, after the incident of Jesus walking on the water in Mtw 14:28-33, the disciples realise the truth of the statement and attribute it to Christ, a title that the high priest tries to have Jesus confess as being His own consideration of Himself at the trial (Mtw 26:63).
The demonic powers which Jesus come against, therefore, are concerned to recognise His divinity whereas Jesus is concerned to proclaim His humanity. In such a way - and there a great many other parallels where both divinity and humanity are observed - the union of both God and man are seen in the one person, Jesus Christ.
It should be noted here, however, that John’s Gospel has the title on the lips of Jesus on more than one occasion (John 5:25, 10:36, 11:4).
Why did they fear?
Luke 8:35, 37
We learn from Luke’s account of the story that the people of the city feared greatly when they came out to where Jesus and the ex-demoniac were and saw the evidence of what they had been told by the herdsmen who had entered the city. No doubt the carcasses of the pigs were still bobbing up and down in the water!
But it strikes the reader that, if no one could pass by that way for fear of being attacked by the demoniacs (Mtw 8:28), why were they so afraid that they asked Jesus to leave their country? After all, Jesus had just caused a specific walkway near the burial place of their dead to be safe and free from personal injury and mourners who were wanting to perform the last honours to their deceased could now travel here with no fear.
The solution as to why they feared to the point of wanting Jesus to immediately leave their region is far from easy to determine, however, and some commentators simply gloss over the issue. Mattask, however, is amongst those who at least attempts an adequate answer to the problem when he comments that
‘...they were more concerned with the further loss of property that might be entailed if Jesus remained among them...’
where Matfran, tongue in cheek, notes that
‘Jesus was not a comfortable person to have around!’
Matmor is of a similar mind when he comments that their fear may have been rooted in
‘...further economic loss or fear of such an authoritative figure’
and notes that, whatever the reason for their fear, the fact of the matter is that
‘...they valued their pigs more than the healing of the demoniacs’
There may be more to the pigs’ identity than meets the eye here for they may have been a herd which was predominently in use in the sacrifices at their places of worship and, as such, a miracle of this magnitude represented an affront to their gods in much the same way as the incident did in the OT concerning the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines and their subsequent affliction by YHWH and which propelled the people to remove the symbol of the presence of God out from their nation rather than to swap gods for one more powerful (I Samuel chapters 5 and 6).
This is pure speculation, however, and cannot be proved. But why the residents of the west side of the Sea of Galilee should be eager to bring the sick to Jesus as they did (Mtw 8:16) even to the point where Gentiles came to Him to receive healing (Mtw 8:5-6) and yet those in the east feared Him and so removed Jesus from their immediate vicinity is not, as far as I’m concerned, adequately answered simply by assuming that they were fearful of more material loss (though that does appear to be a rational explanation).
Finally, I have already noted on a number of other pages the fallacy of attempting to divide Matthew’s Gospel up into smaller chunks and of interpreting them independently of the place they appear in the text. This, again, is a danger which the commentator encounters when he - as I have done - moves Mtw 8:23-27 onto a separate page to make it easier for the reader to access and refer to and consigns this story about the demoniacs to a different page which seems not to be related in anyway to the previous one.
But, related they are.
For, in the former, although the disciples fear because of the situation they encounter (8:25-26) and yet see the power of God demonstrated in their midst by Jesus (8:26), they realise in that instant that Jesus is Someone who they have yet to fully comprehend but they stay with Him because they realise that something unique has happened.
The inhabitants of the city, however, see first the evidence of the great miracle which has taken place just a short distance from their city (Mark 5:15-16) and then fear as a result (Luke 8:35,37) - but, although they realise a great sign has been done in their midst, they don’t want to comprehend further just what sort of Person this Jesus is because He represents a danger to their own livelihood.
The two contrasting reactions to fear are here set out - one which leads to faith and a closer walk with Jesus and the other which leads away from it and into darkness.
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