Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Holy Bible

 

Jesus and the swine

This interesting and unusual incident as narrated by the Gospels has often given rise to queries by its readers.

In this article, we shall examine the parameters of the incident.

 

1. The incident under examination

We shall begin, by presenting below the report of the incident, which was recorded by Matthew the Evangelist in Chapter 8, by Mark the Evangelist in Chapter 5 and by Luke the Evangelist in Chapter 8.

This incident may have merely aroused the curiosity of the faithful to a certain degree, but to the non-faithful, it is utilized as an opportunity to derogate the Holy Bible.  Let us therefore read the narration of the incident first, and then, we shall proceed to analyze it. 

We have chosen Mark’s narration (Chapter 5: 1-20) for our purposes, because it is more detailed than the other narrations.

1 Then they went to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He came out of the boat, He directly encountered from among the graves a man with an unclean spirit;

3 His dwelling was among the graves, and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with leg shackles and chains but he had broken the chains and had smashed the shackles and nobody could tame him; 5 and he was always found in the mountains and among the graves, screaming, and cutting himself severely with stones.

6 Having seen Jesus from afar however, he ran towards Him and prostrated himself before Him; 7 and, crying out with a loud voice he said, “What is there between You and me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I implore You in God’s name, not to torment me.”  8 For He (Jesus) had just said to him, “You, the unclean spirit, come out of this man!”

9 So He asked it, “What is your name?” And it replied, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And it begged Him earnestly, not to send them out of that land. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine grazing there, near the mountains, 12 and all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, so that we may enter them.”

13 And Jesus immediately allowed them to do so, and, after the unclean spirits had come out (of the man), they entered the swine, (there were about two thousand of them); and the herd bolted towards the edge of the precipice by the sea, and they drowned in the sea.

14 And those who were herding the swine fled, and they went to proclaim this (event), in the city and in the fields. And they all went out there, to see what had happened. 15 Then they went to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, now sitting down and clothed, and his senses restored, and they were overcome with fear. 16 And those who had witnessed the incident told them about what happened to the demon-possessed man, and also about the swine.

17 So they (the villagers) began to plead with Him to depart from their boundaries, 18 and, when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged to go with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not allow him, but said to him, “Go to your home and your family, and tell them everything that the Lord did for you, by bestowing His mercy on you.”

20 So he departed, and began to proclaim in Decapolis everything that Jesus had done for him; and everyone stood in wonder at this.


 

2. The queries that have arisen

This narration contains so many issues, that, if we were to analyze it satisfactorily, we would have to fill a large number of books.  Nonetheless, we shall preoccupy ourselves with only one aspect, which is the main theme of this article.

We shall examine the more prominent questions that have arisen from this narration, which chiefly spring from the following, basic queries:

1. Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the swine and thus cause them to drown?

2. Why allow them to do this, if, as an all-knowing God, He knew what they would do?  Or didn’t He know? 

3. What did the poor swineherds do to deserve this kind of ruin and lose 2000 of their animals, just because Jesuscame to an agreement with the demons?

 

3. The answers

The first thing that must be reminded here is that it was forbidden by Mosaic Law for the Israelites to consume the flesh of swine (Leviticus 11:7, Deuteronomy 14:8).  The flesh and the blood of swine was characterized in the Old Testament as an idol-offering and an abomination   ( Isaiah 65: 4,  66:3, 17, and 1 Maccabees 1:47 ).

So, what we have here, are thousands of pigs that were being bred purposely, many of which were destined for consumption by the Israelites, who would thus become transgressors of God’s Law and as such, would be committing irreverence.  From this aspect therefore, the “poor swineherds” were not in the least unjustly dealt with, as they were inducing the people to transgress God’s Law, through their provocative breeding and procuring of forbidden animals.  And it was precisely this intentional occupation of swine breeding that gave the demons the “legal right” to request permission from Jesus to “invade” the illegal animals, to the detriment of the swineherds. This was the reason that Christ gave His consent to the demons.

Now let’s take a look at certain other parameters of this incident.

Why did the demons ask to enter the SWINE, and in fact beg to?  The more apparent, superficial reason was because demons relish attaching themselves to the nervous systems of physical beings and enjoying through those physical senses the tactile, material world.

However, they had another, more covert reason. In actual fact, they were setting a trap for Christ and the inhabitants of the land.  A challenge that Christ did not avoid, but instead utilized.

The damage that the demons had intended for the inhabitants was to cause them material losses.  The trap they were setting for Christ was that, by causing such damages to the swineherds’ fortunes, it would induce them to deny Christ, and to...send Him away!  (Which is exactly what happened, as we can see from the narration!)  They did, in fact, ask Him to leave their land. 

So, what happened next?  Did Christ really fall into the demons’ trap, by giving His permission to them to enter the swine?  Didn’t He, as God, know what was to follow?

The so-called “rationalists” claim that Jesus was “responsible for the death of those animals”.  But here, they are contradicting themselves and their supposed “rational thinking”.  Because, if they consider Jesus a mere mortal, then why are they surprised that He “did not know”?  If He truly “did not know”, then He can’t be held responsible. 

If however, He did know in advance –being God- then they ought to acknowledge the option that He must have had His own plans and His own evaluations of the matter in hand, and in fact, evaluations that were not limited to that brief moment only, but such that would also influence the ensuing future.

Whether as the all-knowing God, or as a man who could not know at any given time what was to follow, He Himself did not lose anything from this sequence of events.  Because, although a man (who could quite possibly not know everything), His Divine Nature would definitely have revealed to Him the most appropriate manner to act.  His human nature may have had knowledge of everything that He needed to know, but not necessarily everything.  Thus, the fact that He gave His consent signifies that it was the most appropriate action – without this depriving Him of anything.  Those who were going to lose were the people who sent Him away from amongst them.  (Which is usually the case.)  Christ has nothing to lose from our infidelities.  We however have a lot to lose, every time we take Him out of our lives, regardless whether we send Him away from the land of the “Gadarenes”, or we send Him away from our planet altogether by crucifying Him, or send Him away from our hearts by sinning.

So, why did He allow His creations to be misled by the demons and Himself be sent away, in the face of their fear of losing their fortunes? Wouldn’t He have protected them from that danger also, had He not allowed the demons to enter the swine?

Heleft them alone”, for the same reason that He leaves each one of us “alone” every day, to be exposed to demonic suggestions; because, if one doesn’t combat the enemy, one doesn’t deserve to be rewarded. If you dont struggle, you cant attain victory Similarly, if you aren’t subjected to testing, you will not prove (to yourself firstly) your love and your dedication to everything good - and to God. And if the good isn’t eventually victorious inside your heart, then you will not become “addicted” to goodness.

Christ therefore gave them an opportunity, to show their preference to Him over their fear for their material wealth; to choose Him instead of the pigs!  And yet, they declined.  Not only did they lose their illegal stock, they also lost Christ Himself from amongst them, of their own volition and will.  And here lies the secret.  Even though Christ knew in advance how they would respond, He actually respected their choice, and did not remain there, against their will.  Nor would He have refused the demons their request (having foreseen their trap), solely for the purpose of remaining among those people (which He also “knew” were not fond of Him)…  Christ does not become a burden to anyone.  If we “don’t want” Him –as we say in colloquial terms- then He simply “picks up His hat and leaves”.  Without pressuring us, without any protests, without any force.  The problem is ours alone.  And no matter how much it grieves Him, He does not force good, on anyone.

Nevertheless, it is precisely because He is sorrowed every time He departs, that He always leaves His “calling card”.  In this way, whenever we want to, we can always find Him again, and re-invite Him.  His “calling card” is…the Holy Gospel.  When we drove Him out of our (His) land, he modestly departed.  But He left in His stead the “other Consoler” (the Paraclete), the Holy Spirit.  He also left behind Him a Church, which, in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, is able to evangelize the world, so that every person who loves justice may come to know Christ through His Gospel and invite Him into his/her life and heart.

He did the same thing, with those people of Gerasa.  Even though they sent Him away, He left behind a man who could remind them of the Gospel of His visit there, thus giving them an opportunity to repent and seek Him once again, sometime later.  We must note here, how, even though the demon-possessed man had asked to go with Jesus, he was refused and was asked to stay there, to tell everyone of his release from the clutches of the demons.   Thus, Christ did depart from that place, but: He did not abandon His creations who had driven Him away.  He left a “door” open for them, so that they would be able to rejoin Him whenever they so desired.

So, how did Christutilize” the demons ploy?   He utilized in the following manner: 

First of all, a disaster so immense would have undeniably “advertised” the miracle to all the surrounding villages - even beyond the village that He had visited - and many people would have swarmed to learn about Him and His teaching.  In other words, he played the demons’ card, to the advantage of the Gospel.  In this way, not only was the news spread everywhere, but was also recorded in most of the Gospels, so that people would be informed of everything that had occurred, and furthermore, the faithful would feel relief, knowing that demons cannot “enter” anywhere –not even swine- unless God allows it

Jesus had also given the inhabitants of that land the opportunity to realize which direction their hearts had taken; what were they going to prefer - Christ, or the pigs?  Would they put their respect for a saint first, or their anxiety over their possessions?  Would they stop transgressing the law by selling pork to the Israelites?   This was consequently a test which proved to be successful, albeit the natives essentially turned away the blessings they would have reaped, had they not sent Him away.

Through this incident, Christ also showed us the kinds of behavior that exist in all of us, so that throughout eternity, mankind will learn of these examples.  He highlighted the type of person who prefers his anxiety for his possessions, instead of Christ.  He highlighted the type of person who prefers pigs to God.

The types of people who, even when seeing such obvious miracles by God in their lives and around them, prefer to focus on trivial things such as material goods and their personal fears; people, whose meanness is such, that it blinds them to the point of overlooking the miracle that is taking place around them and forgetting about it altogether, whenever they recall their everyday trivialities and pleasures; people, who will finely dissect a mosquito and yet, swallow a camel whole…  In two words, the faithless.

He showed to them -and to us also- the kind of harm that demons can cause to those who deliver themselves into their demonic power.  He also showed us –most eloquently- the kind of downfall that demons can cause to all those who are inclined to behave like pigs in their life, wallowing in the mire of sin: they are rushed to the edge of the precipice and are hurled into death, with a destructive and lethal momentum.  They are thrown into the abyss of eternal hell.

 

4. Patristic excerpts on the subject

"Όπερ ηξίωσαν οι δαίμονες, εποίησεν ο Χριστός εις την αγέλην των χοίρων, επιτρέψας αυτοίς απελθείν... ουκ εκείνοις πειθόμενος, αλλά πολλά εντεύθεν οικονομών"

(To that which the demons demanded, Christ conceded, allowing them to go away, to the herd of swine….not out of obedience to them (the demons), but rather to provide for many other things thereafter) (Saint John the Chrysostom).

 

"επέτρεψεν απελθείν εις την αγέλην των χοίρων και ίνα και οι τα χωρία οικούντες εκείνα μάθωσιν αυτού την δύναμιν... Και γαρ το μέγεθος της ζημίας διεδίδου του γεγενημένου την φήμην και καθικνείτο της διανοίας αυτών το συμβάν"

(…He allowed them (the demons) to go to the herd of swine, so that those who inhabited the surrounding villages would also learn about His power…and as for the magnitude of the damage, you should publicize its fame, so that the incident will be registered in their minds…)  (Saint John the Chrysostom).

 

"Οι των χοίρων μη φειδόμενοι, αλλ' εν μια καιρού ροπή πάντας αυτούς κατακρημνίσαντες, πολλώ μάλλον αν τους ανθρώπους ταύτα ειργάσαντο ους είχον, επ' ερημίας άγοντες και απάγοντες, ει μη και εν αυτή τη τυραννίδι πολλή ην η του Θεού κηδεμονία, χαλινούσα και επέχουσα την περαιτέρω ρύμην αυτών... Αλλά τίνος ένεκεν ανείλον τους χοίρους οι δαίμονες; Πανταχού τους ανθρώπους εις αθυμίαν εμβάλλειν εσπουδάκασι και πανταχού χαίρουσι  τη απωλεία... Ει δε τις και κατά αναγωγήν ταύτα εκλάβοι, το κωλύον ουδέν. Η μεν γαρ ιστορία αύτη. Δει δε ειδέναι σαφώς, πως οι χοιρώδεις των ανθρώπων ευεπιχείρητοι ταις των δαιμονίων ενεργείαις εισί. Και άνθρωποι μεν όντες οι ταύτα πάσχοντες δύνανται καίπερ γενέσθαι πολλάκις, αν δε χοίροι το όλον γένωνται, ου δαιμονίζονται μόνον, αλλά και κατακρημνίζονται".

(They, (the demons) who did not spare the swine but in an instant of time drove all of them over the precipice, would do the same to all the people that work for them: leading them astray and drawing them into deserts, if, within this tyranny, it weren’t for the bounteous guardianship of God, reining and controlling their ever-increasing impetus…But then, for whose sake did the demons destroy the swine?  Everywhere, they taught men how to be despondent; everywhere, to rejoice over loss… And if someone were not to accept all of the above, they would not be hindered, for the reality is this:  It is imperative to clearly distinguish that people who act like pigs are susceptible to demonic influences.  And, being people, they can often become ailing if they become complete swine, and not only become demon-possessed, but also tumble off a precipice (Saint John the Chrysostom).

  

"Τοις χοίροις εφάλλονται, δηλαδή τοις αλόγως εγκυλιομένοις τω βορβόρω των ηδονών, και κατακρημνίζουσιν αυτούς εις απώλειαν" (Ζηγαβηνός).

(They (the demons) leap upon swine - that is to say, upon the ones who senselessly wallow in the mire of pleasures - and they hurl them into perdition)  (Zigavinos)

 

 (Άφησε εκεί τον πρώην δαιμονισμένο) "ίνα τοις εν οίκω και τη πατρίδι αυτού διδάσκαλος του θαύματος γένηται"

(He left the former demon-possessed man there…so that he might become the teacher of that miracle to his family and his homeland) (Zigavinos).

 

"Άμα μεν ευγνωμωνών (μίλησε ο πρώην δαιμονισμένος στον Κύριο), άμα δε και φοβούμενος τους δαίμονας, μη χωρίς αυτού τούτον ευρόντες, πάλιν επιπηδήσωσιν αυτώ"

(The former demon-possessed man: At the same time grateful, and at the same time afraid of the demons, lest they, in the absence of Christ, once again leap onto him) (Zigavinos).

 

"Ο δε Κύριος απολύει αυτόν εις τον οίκον αυτού, δεικνύων αυτώ ότι καν μη αυτός παρή, αλλ ή γε δύναμις αυτού και η επισκοπή φυλάξει αυτόν".

(The Lord sends him back to his house; indicating to him that, even though He will no longer be present, His power and His vigilance will nonetheless protect him.) (Theophrastus)

 

"Μάνθανε δε ότι ουδέ κατά χοίρων έχουσιν εξουσίαν οι δαίμονες, και πολλώ μάλλον κατά ανθρώπων, ει μη συγχωρήσει ο Θεός. Νόει δε ότι και εις τους κατά χοίρους ζώντας ανθρώπους και τω βορβόρω της ηδονής εγκυλισμένους, εις τούτους εισέρχονται οι δαίμονες και ρίπτουσιν αυτούς κατά του κρημνού της απωλείας, εν τη θαλάσση του βίου τούτου, και αποπνίγονται".

(Learn also, that the demons have no authority, not even over swine, much less over people, unless God makes allowance for this.  Bear in mind, that it is in those people, who live like pigs and wallow in the mire of lasciviousness, that the demons enter and toss them over the precipice of perdition, into the sea of this lifetime, in which they drown..) (Theophrastus)

 

"Ώσπερ των χοίρων ουκ εφείσαντο, ούτως ουδ' αν του ανθρώπου εκείνου εφείσαντο, ει μη θεία δύναμις ην η συντηρούσα αυτόν. Οι δαίμονες γαρ εχθροί όντες, κατέκοψαν αν ημάς αυθωρεί, ει μη ο Θεός συνετήρει ημάς"

(Just as they (the demons) did not spare the swine, likewise would they not have spared that man, if divine power had not preserved him.  Being enemies, the demons would have eliminated us in an instant, if God did not preserve us.) (Theophrastus)

 

"Ο δε Κύριος συγχωρεί αυτούς (τους δαίμονες) είναι εν τη γη, ως αν παλαίοντες τοις ανθρώποις, δοκιμωτέρους αυτούς ποιώσιν. Ει γαρ μη ήσαν αντίπαλοι, ουκ αν ήσαν αγώνες, και ει μη ήσαν αγώνες, ουκ αν ήσαν στέφανοι"

(For the Lord has made allowance for them (the demons) to be on earth, inasmuch as, by fighting against mankind, they incite them to prove themselves even more. If they (the demons) were not adversaries, there would not have been any battles; if there were no battles, there would not have been any victory wreaths) (Theophrastus).

 

"Εφοβήθησαν γαρ (οι κάτοικοι της περιοχής) μήπως και άλλο τι επιζήμιον πάθωσιν, ώσπερ και τους χοίρους απώλεσαν"

(For they (the villagers) were overcome by fear, lest they should suffer something else as injurious, like the swine that they lost)(Theophrastus).

 

"Εδεδοίκεισαν γαρ μήποτε και μείζόν τι πάθωσι. Τους γαρ χοίρους απολέσαντες, και λυπηθέντες επί τη απωλεία, παραιτούνται και την παρουσίαν του Κυρίου"

(They were concerned, whether something worse might happen to them. Having lost their swine, and grieved by the loss, they preferred to forgo the very Lord’s presence)  (Theophrastus).

 

"Ήτησέ γε μην η των ακαθάρτων πνευμάτων αγέλη την ίσην τε και ομοίαν εαυτή των χοίρων αγέλην... Αιτούσι γαρ χοίρων εξουσίαν ως ουκ έχοντες δηλονότι. Οι δε των ούτω μικρών και ευτελεστάτων ουκ έχοντες εξουσίαν, πώς αν αδικήσειάν τινα των εσφραγισμένων παρά Χριστού και της εις αυτόν ελπίδος ανηρτημένων"

(The unclean spirits requested that their herd at least not be the equivalent and the same as the herd of swine…They requested to have power over the swine, which indicates that they didn’t (already) have it. When they (the demons) have no power over such small and inferior things (as the pigs), how can they injure those who are sealed by Christ and whose hopes are dependent on Him? (Saint Cyril of Alexandria).

 

 "Κατένευσε δε Χριστός οικονομικώς, καίτοι το παρ' αυτών εσόμενον ουκ ηγνοηκώς. Δέδωκε γαρ αυτοίς την εξουσίαν, ίνα ημίν γένηται και τούτο μετά των άλλων ωφελείας πρόφασις και ασφαλείας ελπίς... Και μην -και τούτο- προς τούτοις έξεστι μαθείν πως, από γε του συμβεβηκότος τη των χοίρων αγέλη, ότι εισίν οι αλιτήριοι δαίμονες κακοί και των υπ' αυτοίς γενομένων επίβουλοι. Τούτο γαρ εκδείξειεν αν και μάλα σαφώς το κατακρημνίσαι τους χοίρους, αποπνίξαι τε τοις ύδασι. και δια τούτο κατένευσεν αιτούσιν αυτοίς ο Χριστός, ίνα εκ του συμβεβηκότος μάθωμεν ημείς, οποίοί τινες εισιν, ως απηνείς τε και θηριώδεις"

(And Christ providentially nodded His consent, even though what they (the demons) were going to do did not escape Him.  He gave them the authority (to enter the swine), so that this too –among other things- would not be (regarded as) a pretense for gain (=that the demons had their way), or as a hope for remaining safe (inside the swine)… And also, that it was befitting for them (the villagers) to learn –at least from what happened to the herd of swine– that the mischievous demons are evil, and the schemers of what they did; for this was made evident, and very clearly, by the hurtling of the swine over the precipice and the drowning in the waters.  And this is why Christ nodded His consent to their request; so that out of this incident, we would learn what they (the demons) really are: relentless and ferocious) (Saint Cyril of Alexandria).

   

Ν. Μ.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 13-4-2006.

Last update: 11-9-2008.

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