bible-wornContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

This post and next Saturday’s will explore the story of the Gadarene swine, one which everyone used to know, particularly the line ‘My name is Legion, for we are many’.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘The Maniac Who Became a Missionary’, Part 1 and 2).

Luke 8:26-33

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

 26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

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Last week’s post described Jesus and His disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee for a bit of rest from the crowd. Jesus fell asleep. Meanwhile, the disciples were awake and became alarmed when a tempest caused their boat to fill with water. In panic, they awoke Jesus who calmed the lake and asked them about their faith.

In today’s passage, they have landed in a Gentile area, ‘opposite Galilee’ (verse 26). In Matthew Henry’s time, this was referred to as the ‘country of the Gadarenes’, as per St Matthew’s appellation (Matthew 8:28).

John MacArthur explains why St Matthew might have used ‘Gadarenes’ instead of ‘Gerasenes’, as Sts Luke and Mark do (emphases mine):

There was a town there about six miles due east called Gerasa, or Gergesa, hence the Gerasenes, or the Gergesenes. The modern name is Kersa[?]. There was another town called Gadara which explains why some of the writers refer to it as Gadara. Gadara was further south down the lake and further inland. It wasn’t on the edge of the lake and so it doesn’t provide the right topography to be the place where the pigs ran down the hill into the lake. Gadara, however, was a larger town and gave the name to the region so that Gerasa or Gergesa was a town in the country of the Gadarenes. So all of these terms essentially describe the same area. The focus is on the town of Gergesa or Gerasa because it suits the incident so perfectly. There are around Kersa, modern Kersa in the hillsides many tombs still to this day to be seen and there is a slope that descends to the lake where the pigs could run, tombs being the place where this man was dwelling.

For the record, here are the passages from the other two Synoptic Gospels. I’ve highlighted the differences below. First, Mark 5:1-13:

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

 1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

And Matthew 8:28-32:

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?30Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.

Now to today’s reading. Verse 27 tells us that a man with demons approached Jesus. Matthew is the only one of the three Synoptic Gospels to record two men.

The man ‘who had demons’ is what we would describe today as a ‘maniac’ and ‘out of control’.  He went around naked. Recall that the first thing that Adam and Eve did after disobeying God was to cover their bodies. Therefore, to wander around naked in public is aberrant behaviour. He also did not live in a house but amongst the tombs, driven there by his demons. Satan and his minions love darkness and death.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

clothing and a habitation are two of the necessary supports of this life. Nay, and because man has a natural dread of the habitations of the dead, they forced this man to abide in the tombs, to make him so much the more a terror to himself and to all about him, so that his soul had as much cause as ever any man’s had to be weary of his life, and to choose strangling and death rather.

The man speaks (verse 28), but it is not his voice. The demons are addressing Jesus through him. Notice that they beg not to be tormented, the only treatment they know or understand. Satan doesn’t bring pleasure, only pain and suffering.

MacArthur describes the phenomenon of demon possession in Jesus’s time:

It’s not a form of mental illness, it is actually a supernatural phenomen[on] in which a living spiritual being, a fallen angel kicked out of heaven because of his rebellion with Satan, who now works for Satan to stop the purposes of God and captivate men’s souls and hold them as much as they can against the influences of the gospel, these beings literally take over a person’s mind and body. They are personal, rational spirits. They talk, they scream, they create all kinds of thought patterns and behavior patterns that are described in the gospel record. It is not a physical disease, although some physical ailments and physical torments were associated with it. It is not even that these people were the worse sinners and therefore they got the most demons because sometimes children were demon possessed, and obviously children are not the worse sinners. But you have a number of accounts in the New Testament where children were controlled by demons to the point where the demons were trying to kill them, such as one boy whom the demon kept throwing into a fire …

So you have that phrase “to have a demon.” You also have that expression of “being demonized,” which is a verb used 13 times, means the same thing. There are two other phrases that are used to describe this condition, “possessing an unclean spirit,” and “being afflicted with unclean spirits.” All demons are unclean spirits. There’s not a clean spirit among the fallen angels. So it simply describes a person under the control of the demon whose own personality has become passive.

There is little precedent for them before or after Jesus’s time on earth, although they will appear again during the future Tribulation, as described in Revelation:

It is a curiosity to me that if you go through the Old Testament you’re not going to find demon-possessed people with the exception of the very unique situation in the sixth chapter of Genesis where the sons of God and cohabitated with the daughters of men, that unique situation where apparently some fallen angels came upon some women, apart from that and those demons, you remember, according to what Peter said and Jude said were put into everlasting chains for doing that but apart from that you don’t have any demon-possessed people in the Old Testament. You have a lying spirit, you have the appearance of a medium in connection with the demon, but you don’t have people manifesting that they’re full of demons. Interestingly enough that after the four gospels, you only have two occasions, Acts 16 and Acts 19, where you have a demon-possessed situation. And it’s never even referred to in the epistles of the New Testament, never referred to. It wasn’t an issue in the churches to which the apostle Paul wrote, or John wrote, or Jude wrote, or Peter wrote or James wrote. But in the life of Christ and in the three years of His ministry there is a manifestation of demon possessions that is unlike anything in all of human history, to be exceeded only by the manifestation of demonic power in the time yet to come called the Great Tribulation, just prior to Christ’s Second Coming. And God Himself will aide that manifestation by opening up the pit of hell and the place of bound demons called the pit, the bottomless pit, the abussos, the abyss and letting it belch out some demons who have been bound there so that there is a greater force of demons in the time of the Tribulation than ever before and they are allowed to run rampant over the earth in ways prior to which they have been restrained.

The demons spoke to Jesus because He had commanded them to leave the man (verse 29). Luke tells us that they were so strong that they gave the man incredible physical power. He could break through chains used to restrain him. The demons also affected his mind such that he was driven to go into the desert. They ruled his mind and his body.

Jesus then asked the name of the demons (verse 30). They answered, ‘Legion’, denoting an army of them. Henry analyses the situation as follows:

… perhaps those that had been long in possession of him, upon some foresight of our Saviour’s coming to make an attack upon them, and finding they could not prevent it by the storm they had raised, sent for recruits, intending this to be a decisive battle, and hoping now to be too hard for him that had cast out so many unclean spirits, and to give him a defeat. They either were, or at least would be thought to be, a legion, formidable as an army with banners …

All demons openly recognise Christ’s omnipotence and sovereignty. Our Lord commands them to be quiet; He does not want their testimony, especially as it might confuse those whom He seeks to save. We see this in Mark 3:7-12 and Luke 4:33-37.

The demons also have a profound fear of Christ and of ending up in the abyss (verse 31). They are spiritual parasites; they need a host to inhabit, preferably a person. But, where He has driven them out of a person, they will happily inhabit an animal, if they cannot find another human. This is what happened here. They begged Jesus’s permission to inhabit the nearby herd of swine (verse 32).

The evil power of this legion of demons was such that they overwhelmed the herd, sending them down the steep coastal bank into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned.

Two years ago, I compiled various viewpoints on this story in ‘Apologetics Corner: Christians and animals’. Animal rights folk posit that Jesus was guilty of animal cruelty. So, Jesus’s allowing the demon-infected swine to meet their death is a problem, but his ridding a man of demons is a ‘so what?’ proposition? One really has to wonder what goes through some people’s minds at times. May they never meet up with a wild boar. Then again, perhaps they should. They clearly do not understand the animal kingdom.

There’s more to this story — to be continued.

Next time: Luke 8:34-39