For Bible Study Nerds

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]



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