Recently, we observed Jesus highlight the urgency of His mission on Earth when He told a follower that he should not even bother burying his dead father, but should instead help spread the word about the Kingdom of God. Then, Jesus and His disciples took a boat across the Sea of Galilee. When a sudden storm whipped up and threatened to drown them all, Jesus marveled at why His disciples were so afraid to die, as if they had no faith in the afterlife. After Jesus calmed the storm, the crew made it safely to the other side.
Time for Demons and Swine
The three synoptic Gospels somewhat agree on what happens after Jesus calms the storm. In Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39, we find the tale of how Jesus exorcises a demons in the Gadarenes/Gerasenes region.
The story goes like this...
Matthew: Two strong, violent, demon-possessed men who live in tombs met up with Jesus. The demons beg Jesus to cast them into a herd of swine. Jesus casts them into the herd of swine. The whole herd runs into the lake and dies. The swine herders report this to the town. The townsfolk ask Jesus to leave.
Mark/Luke: One strong man, who lives in tombs and is possessed by a “Legion” of demons, met up with Jesus. The Legion begs Jesus to let them go into a herd swine. Jesus lets them go into the herd of swine. The whole herd runs into the lake and dies. The swine herders report this to the town. The townsfolk ask Jesus to leave. The now-demon-free man asked if he could follow Jesus, but Jesus told him instead to go home and spread the word about what happened.
How many men were demon possessed? Preachers typically sidestep the one-man-versus-two-men issue by only using Luke's and/or Mark's version. Also, did Jesus Himself relocate the demons or simply allow them to move into the swine? It is a minor difference, but still a difference. Let us set aside minor differences and plunge into the deeper questions here...
Why did the demons cause the man/men to approach Jesus if they were afraid of Him? Why did they not just flee? This is the only case where demons are removed and subsequently put into other beings, and the only case of demon-possessed animals; why? Why would the demons want to go into the swine? Why did the swine herd immediately kill itself after becoming possessed? Why would Jesus let the demons go into the swine, or any living thing for that matter? If they needed God's permission, why was the man/men possessed by demons initially? When you start examining the story in detail, it just does not make any sense.
Even more interesting is the first response of the demons to Jesus. Mark 5:7 has the Legion shout “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!” Luke 8:28 is essentially the same.
First, we see that Legion conveniently identifies Jesus as God's Son, just to clear up any confusion anyone may have. Despite Legion literally yelling out Jesus' identity in front of Jesus' disciples, Jesus later claims that Peter knew Jesus' identity only because God revealed it to him (Matthew 16:13-20). Either that is a lie, or God Himself was one of the demons wrapped up and identified together as Legion. Which is it?
Next, Legion begs for Jesus not to torture him/them. Why would they be afraid of Jesus torturing them? How would a God of love torture anyone? This is a confirmation the eternal punishment which awaits those who are not selected by God; the very punishment now doubted by a significant percentage of modern Christians.
An additional level of complication is added by the Matthew 8:29 version, which has the demons shout:
"What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" NIV
Again, we find the demons identifying Jesus for everyone to hear, and that the demons are worried about Jesus torturing them, but that is not all. Matthew has the demons say that this torture would be “before the appointed time.” How is it that the demons know that this is sometime before the appointed time? Matthew 24:36 says that only God knows the day or the hour, and yet these demons seem to have divine insight.
These contradictions, moral issues, and gaps of logic can all easily be explained: This is a work of fiction. There may be some truth somewhere; a little nugget of veracity which spawned the myth. If so, good luck trying to define it with confidence.