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 clarifications, because it is more detailed than the other narrations.

1 Then they went to the other side of the sea, to the land of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He came out of the boat, He immediately 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, howling and cutting himself severely on the 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 it 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, to not 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 announce this (event) in the city and in the fields. And they (the townspeople) all went out there, to see what had happened. 15 Then they went to Jesus, and they saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion (of the demons inside him), now sitting down and clothed, and his senses were restored, and they  (the townspeople) were overcome with fear. 16 And those (swineherds) who had witnessed the incident told them about what happened to the demon-possessed man, and also to the swine.

17 So they (the townspeople) began to plead with Him to depart from their boundaries, 18 and, when He then got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged to go with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not allow him to, but said to him, “Go to your home and your family, and tell them everything that the Lord did for you, 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 beg for 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 Jesus to let them enter the SWINE, and in fact beg Him?  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 local 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 despise and reject 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 them His permission 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”. 

Either they are certain that Jesus was a mere mortal, in which case, they shouldn't be expecting Him to know "what event was to follow",


if they believe that He didn't know "what event was to follow", then their accusation of His being responsible for the pigs'... mass suicide has no logical basis ! 


if they concede that Jesus did know in advance "what event was to follow", then they ought to have considered the possibility that He (as a divine Person - to say the least) must surely have had His own plans and His own evaluations of the matter in hand - in fact, evaluations that would not be limited only to that single, unique incident, but ones that would also prove educative in the future.

Whether as the Omniscient God - or as a human who could not know at any given time what was to follow - Jesus Himself did not forfeit anything from this sequence of events, given that - albeit a man (who could quite logically 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 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 pigs?

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 told 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 place 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 an eternal "hell".


4. Patristic excerpts on the subject

Original Greek text                                                         English rendition

"Όπερ ηξίωσαν οι δάιμονες, εποίησεν ο Χριστός, εις την αγέλην των χοίρων επιτρέψας αυτοίς απελθείν... ουκ εκείνοις πειθόμενος, αλλά πολλά εντεύθεν οικονομών" (Άγιος Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος).  "To that which the demons demanded, Christ conceded, allowing them to go to the herd of pigs […] not out of obedience to them (the demons), but rather, making provision for many other things afterwards." (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 της ζημίας το μέγεθος διεδίδου του γεγενημένου την φήμην και καθικνείτο της διανοίας αυτών το συμβάν" (Άγιος Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος).  "He allowed them (the demons) to go to the herd of pigs, so that those living in the surrounding villages would also learn of His power […]  and the news of the magnitude of the damage that occurred would be spread and the incident will be imprinted 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 τοςυ ανθρώπους εις αθυμίαν εμβάλλειν εσπουδάκασι και πανταχού χαίρουσι  τη απωλεία... Ει δε τις και κατά αναγωγήν ταύτα εκλάβοι, το κωλίον ουδέν. Η μεν γαρ ιστορία αύτη. Δει δε ειδέναι σαφώς, ως οι χοιρώδεις των ανθρώπων ευεπιχείρητοι ταις των δαιμονίων ενεργείαις εισί. Και άνθρωποι μεν όντες οι ταύτα πάσχοντες δύνανται και περγενέσθαι πολλάκις, αν δε χοίροι το όλον γένωνται, ου δαιμονίζονται μόνον, αλλά και κατακρημνίζονται". (Άγιος Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος). "They, (the demons) who did not spare the pigs but in one turn of the moment drove all of them over the precipice, would have done even more to the people that they had working for them,  leading and drawing them into the wilderness, 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 pigs?  In all places, they study how to drive humans to despondency, and they rejoice everywhere over loss […]  And even if one were to  comprehend these things relatively, there would not be any stumbling block, for the reality is this:  It is imperative to clearly distinguish that people who act like pigs are susceptible to demonic influences.  And they who are rendered thus, albeit humans, can also often become entirely like pigs - not only do they become demon-possessed, but they too fall off a precipice." (Saint John the Chrysostom).
"Τοις χοίροις εφάλλονται, δηλαδή οις αλόγως εγκυλιομένοις τω βορβόρω των ηδονών, και κατακρημνίζουσιν αυτούς εις απώλειαν" (Ζηγαβηνός).  "They emulate pigs - that is, they who senselessly wallow in the mire of pleasures - likewise throwing themselves off a precipice unto perdition"    (Zigavinos)
(Άφησε εκεί τον πρώην δαιμονισμένο) "ίνα τοις εν οίκω και τη πατρίδι αυτού διδάσκαλος του θαύματος γένηται" (Ζηγαβηνός). He (Jesus) left the formerly demon-possessed man behind… "so that he may become the teacher of that miracle to those of his household 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" (Ζηγαβηνός). "Albeit simultaneously grateful (as the formerly demon-possessed man told Jesus), he was in fear of the demons, lest they discover him without Him (Christ), and pounce upon him once again" (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" (Θεόφραστος).  "The Lord sends him back to his home, pointing out to him that, even if He is no longer present, His power and His vigilance will guard 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" (Θεόφραστος). "Learn also, that not even over pigs do demons have any authority, and much less over people, unless God makes allowance for this.  Bear in mind also, that it is in people who live like pigs and wallow in the mire of lasciviousness that demons enter and toss them from the precipice of perdition, into the sea of this lifetime, and 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" (Θεόφραστος).  "Just as they (the demons) did not spare the pigs, likewise they would not have spared that man, if divine power was not preserving him.  Being enemies, the demons would have eliminated us in an instant, if God was not preserving 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" (Θεόφραστος). "The Lord has made allowance for them (the demons) to be on earth, inasmuch as, by fighting mankind, they render them better tested, If they (the demons) were not adversaries, there would not have been any struggles; if there were no struggles, there would have been no victory wreaths".  (Theophrastus).
"Εφοβήθησαν γαρ (οι κάτοικοι της περιοχής) μήπως και άλλο τι επιζήμιον πάθωσιν, ώσπερ και τους χοίρους απώλεσαν" (Θεόφραστος).  "For they (the villagers) were overcome by fear, lest they should suffer something else injurious, like the pigs 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" (Θεόφραστος).  "For they were concerned in case something worse might happen to them. Having lost their pigs, and grieved by the loss, they chose to resign themselves from the 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" (Άγιος Κύριλλος Αλεξανδρείας). "He (the demon called 'Legion') requested that the herd of the unclean spirits not be equivalent and similar to the herd of pigs […] For it is obvious that they requested to have authority (over the pigs), as ones who didn’t (already) have any. If they (the demons) have no authority over such small and inferior things (as the pigs), how can they wrong any of 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, ως 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" (Άγιος Κύριλλος Αλεξανδρείας). (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 pigs), so that this too –among other things- would be (for us) an example for benefit, and as hope for security [] And also, that it was befitting for them (the villagers) to learn –at least from what happened to their 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 below.  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: 27-9-2023.