For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 8:28-34; The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

What was the deal with the drowning pigs?

When Jesus healed two demon-possessed men in the region of the Gadarenes, the demons begged to be exorcised into a nearby herd of swine (Matthew 8:29-33). Jesus granted that request, so the demons inhabited those pigs. The whole herd subsequently stampeded into the Sea of Galilee and drowned.

This is such an odd turn of events, how do we make sense of it?

It appears that the first thing to note is the demons’ fear of God’s coming judgment. “Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?” they ask Christ. This strongly suggests that Jesus himself will be involved in administering punishment at the end of days. The demons obviously recognized him as their future judge, even addressing him with the title, “Son of God.” Theologian Craig Keener observes in this regard, “Apparently even the demons did not expect the Messiah to come in two stages, a first and second coming.”

It’s also important to understand that this miracle of exorcism took place in the predominately non-Jewish region of the Gadarenes, which explains the presence of swine herders and a large population of pigs. Jews regarded pigs as filthy, unclean animals worthy of nothing more than contempt. Thus when demons begged to be banished into a herd of pigs, to Jewish ears, that would have seemed a fitting punishment—a vile, disgusting habitat appropriate for evil spirits.

We’re not told what the final fate of those demons was, only that the pigs they inhabited stampeded and died. Jewish tradition held that demons could be either bound or killed, and so some speculate that when the pigs they inhabited died, the demons themselves were also destroyed. Jewish folklore also held that demons were somehow tortured by, and thus afraid of, water. In one legend, King Solomon condemns a demon to captivity by surrounding it with barrels of water, therefore preventing it from escaping. Thus, when demon-possessed pigs died by drowning in the Sea of Galilee, Jews in Jesus’ time could have viewed that as a way of imprisoning the demons by immersing them in water.

Still, we’ll never know for sure exactly what was going on here, and perhaps that’s for the best. It’s enough for us to see what Jesus’ disciples, those demons, and the residents of Gadara unexpectedly understood that day:

Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

 

Works Cited:

[BBC, 69; BKB, 183, 185]

 

ΩΩΩ

About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew 8:28-34; The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men (Historical Background)

posted by Mike Nappa

The first thing that Matthew tells about the two demoniacs in 8:28 is that they were “coming from the tombs.” Mark, in his similar account of the event, reveals that at least one of these men actually “lived in the tombs.” This is an important detail with both cultural and historical significance.

First, from the ancient Jewish perspective, simply passing through a cemetery made a person ritually unclean and therefore unfit for social or religious contact. A man who actually lived in a graveyard, among the tombs and corpses, would have been considered shockingly unclean, like a disgusting character in a horror story. As such, these two demoniacs were more than just tortured men; they were a reprobates and a danger to all.

Second, prevailing thought at that time was that people who frequented graveyards did so with the intent of contacting evil spirits, or communicating with the dead, or practicing divination—acts which were expressly forbidden by the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 19:26, 31, 20:27, Deut. 18:10-11) and punishable by death. One rabbinical commentary on the subject stated, “If he spend the night in a cemetery, I might say that he did (it) in order that the spirit of impurity might rest upon him.” Another passage in the Talmud also indicated that the reason a person would spend a night in a cemetery was “so that an unclean spirit (of a demon) may rest upon him (to enable him to foretell the future).”

In light of this historical background, it’s quite possible that the two men described in Matthew 8:28-34 were victims of their own thirst for supernatural power. We’re not told exactly how they came to be possessed and tortured by thousands of demons, but they may have first ventured into the tombs in search of an unclean spirit to grant them power of divination—and then been overwhelmed by the demonic consequences of that unwise invitation.

 

Works Cited:

[BKB, 179-181]

 

ΩΩΩ

About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew 8:28-34; The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men (Cross-Reference Comparisons)

posted by Mike Nappa

The exorcism account that Matthew tells in 8:28-34 is generally believed to be the same event also documented in Luke 8:26-39 and Mark 5:1-20. Matthew and Luke abbreviate the details, and thus are sometimes assumed to have drawn from Mark as the source, though that assumption is primarily conjecture by scholars.

The biggest difference between the account in Matthew and the accounts in Mark and Luke is in the number of demon-possessed men who are set free. Mark and Luke tell of only one demoniac living the area of the Gadarenes, yet Matthew states clearly that there were two men in this encounter. Some scholars see that difference as a forgivable error on Matthew’s part. “Because things double up elsewhere in Matthew…it is suspected here again Matthew, for whatever reason, has portrayed Mark’s one demoniac as two.” That view is common, but lacking, because it then casts onto doubt Matthew’s biographical integrity overall. If Matthew is not to be believed in his counting of the number of demoniacs, can he then be believed when he says the demoniacs were healed? Perhaps he embellished that too?

A more likely explanation is that two demon-possessed men were actually involved in this exorcism, as Matthew indicated, and that Mark and Luke felt it necessary to focus their accounts on just one of the two. “Mark and Luke wrote of one demon-possessed man,” theologians John Walvoord and Roy Zuck comment, “but they did not say only one. Presumably one of the two was more violent than the other,” and therefore was highlighted in the retelling. That perspective makes sense, though there could be additional literary reasons for Mark and Luke omitting a relatively inconsequential person from their telling of this historical event.

It’s possible that only one of the two men was a mouthpiece for the demons that spoke with Jesus, and so his story is told to the exclusion of the second man. Also, it’s possible that only one of the two exorcised men stayed with Jesus afterward, begging to be allowed to go back across the Sea of Galilee with him (Mark 5:19-21). Thus so his details were highlighted while the second man faded into the historical and literary background.

Regardless, the difference in accounting here doesn’t dictate that one specific version is accurate and any of the others is error. The most likely explanation for the discrepancy is the obvious one: All three accounts of this miracle are accurate and must be taken as a whole to tell the complete story of what actually happened.

 

Works Cited:

[BKB, 184-185; BKC, 38]

 

ΩΩΩ

About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew 8:23-27; Jesus Calms the Storm (Historical Backgrounds)

posted by Mike Nappa

In the second century B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Syrian Greek tyrant, ruled over the Jewish nation with an iron fist, claiming god-like power over all of nature. In the end, though, he was stricken ill and weak, prompting this pitiful epitaph in 2 Macabees 9:8, “Thus he who had just been thinking that he could command the waves of the sea, in his superhuman arrogance, and imagining that he could weigh the high mountains in a balance, was brought down to earth and carried in a litter, making the power of God manifest to all.”

In stark relief when compared to the bluster of earthly rulers like Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Jesus didn’t proclaim his deity by governmental decree, with military might, or through political power. Instead, he simply exercised divine authority in daily life—like when he literally commanded a storm to be still and all of nature hastened to obey him (Matthew 8:23-27).

It is no wonder that Matthew reports Christ’s disciples “were amazed” (8:27) and that Mark adds “they were terrified” (Mark 4:41). In ancient Israel, “the sea was a mysterious, dangerous place, characterized by chaos and possessing the power to kill without warning…To some biblical writers the sea acted as a symbol, ‘a principle of disorder, violence, or unrest that marks the old creation’ (cf. Ps. 107:25-25; Isa. 57:20; Ezekiel 28:8).” Biblically speaking, only God himself was able to tame the chaotic sea—only God could impose his will upon that uncontrollable force (Psalm 65:7, 89:9, 104:6-7).

That Jesus demonstrated God’s sole and total authority over the waters—and that he did so with such enormous ease—had to be stunning for anyone to witness. As theologian Craig Evans comments, “In contrast to the Greco-Roman despots like Antiochus IV and the later Roman emperors, about whom all sorts of hyperbole were inscribed,…Jesus is the genuine article. He speaks the word, and it happens.”

Amazing. And terrifying. And more wonderful than words.

Soli Deo gloria!

 

Works Cited:

[MAT, 196; SLU, 204]

ΩΩΩ

About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previous Posts

Matthew 8:28-34; The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men (Cultural Commentary)
What was the deal with the drowning pigs? When Jesus healed two demon-possessed men in the region of the Gadarenes, the demons begged to be exorcised into a nearby herd of swine (Matthew 8:29-33). Jesus granted that request, so the demons inhabited those pigs. The whole herd subsequently stampede

posted 12:00:04pm Jan. 23, 2015 | read full post »

Matthew 8:28-34; The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men (Historical Background)
The first thing that Matthew tells about the two demoniacs in 8:28 is that they were “coming from the tombs.” Mark, in his similar account of the event, reveals that at least one of these men actually “lived in the tombs.” This is an important detail with both cultural and historical signifi

posted 12:00:03pm Jan. 21, 2015 | read full post »

Matthew 8:28-34; The Healing of Two Demon-Possessed Men (Cross-Reference Comparisons)
The exorcism account that Matthew tells in 8:28-34 is generally believed to be the same event also documented in Luke 8:26-39 and Mark 5:1-20. Matthew and Luke abbreviate the details, and thus are sometimes assumed to have drawn from Mark as the source, though that assumption is primarily conjecture

posted 12:00:02pm Jan. 19, 2015 | read full post »

Matthew 8:23-27; Jesus Calms the Storm (Historical Backgrounds)
In the second century B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Syrian Greek tyrant, ruled over the Jewish nation with an iron fist, claiming god-like power over all of nature. In the end, though, he was stricken ill and weak, prompting this pitiful epitaph in 2 Macabees 9:8, “Thus he who had just been think

posted 12:00:00pm Jan. 16, 2015 | read full post »

Matthew 8:23-27; Jesus Calms the Storm (Word Study)
It’s easy to read about a “furious storm” in Matthew 8:23 and cluck at the disciples’ lack of faith over a little rain. That’s because we often overlook the true danger depicted in those two words, “furious storm.” Our modern translations render Matthew’s description of this weath

posted 12:00:59pm Jan. 14, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.