Did Jesus Send Demons into a Herd of Pigs?

Among other things, Jesus was a great healer. Jesus healed people of all sorts of illnesses and conditions, and he wasn’t stingy about it! But was Jesus an exorcist as well? I don’t think so—simply because I don’t believe demons exist. However, I do believe Jesus did heal people of what others thought was demon possession but was actually physical or mental illness of some sort.

Reports of Jesus casting demons out of people are plentiful in the gospels, but usually very little detail is shared about them. However, there are two cases that present to us fuller pictures of what was happening in these ‘demonic’ healings.

Jesus Seems to Heal a Boy of Epilepsy

Consider the healing of the boy in Mark 9. A man said to Jesus:

“Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid”…Jesus replied…“Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered…When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

Demon possession? It sounds a lot like epilepsy to me perhaps combined with another disorder affecting the boys speaking ability. But the people of that time did not know about epilepsy and seeing the boy writhing on the ground was very frightening, so they described what they understood to be demon possession.

Jesus Heals People of Mental Illness or ‘But What about the Pigs?’

jesus and the pigs2

In the second example, Jesus’ healing seemed more to be a case of mental illness rather than physical illness. And this is the one that grabs people’s attention today. Not long ago I mentioned that I didn’t believe in demon possession and that I thought Jesus didn’t cast out demons but healed people of mental illness. Several people responded, ‘Yeah? Then what about the pigs?’

They were referring to the passage in Mark 5:

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him,“What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

So people ask, ‘What about the man with a legion of demons? Who was talking to Jesus if not the demons? And how do you explain the pigs?’

I admit these are reasonable questions and deserve an answer, but the first answer seems very apparent to me. The man, himself, was the one talking to Jesus. Even if he spoke in a strange or frightening voice, some mental illness can produce these effects.

But mostly people ask, ‘But what about the pigs?’ This is a particularly spectacular component of the story. But, frankly, if pigs nearby did stampede down a hillside and drown, I have no idea why that happened. Perhaps the people working with the pigs, or other observers, made a connection between the stampede and the ‘demoniac’ healing when the timing was only a coincidence; something might have spooked them into a stampede. I don’t know.

But it makes no sense to me that Jesus did it. Why would Jesus grant the request of the ‘demons’? Why would Jesus cause the death of all those pigs? Why would Jesus destroy the business of the owner of the pigs and the jobs of the workers? None of this seems consistent with Jesus’ character. This, in itself, causes me to question the story.

No Demons in the Man; No Demons in the Pigs

So I have no particular answer about ‘the pigs’. But I don’t think Jesus sent demons into them mostly because I don’t think demons exist. For those who might be interested, I talk about this more at Do Demons Exist?

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25 Responses to Did Jesus Send Demons into a Herd of Pigs?

  1. Andrew Meredith says:

    So do you think the devil exists then?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Andrew, I do not. There was no idea of a being such as Satan in the Old Testament; the concept seems to have developed during the captivity under Zoroastrian influence.

      Like

  2. scraffiti says:

    Hi Tim, To start with I could never figure out what pigs were doing in a Jewish story. Apparently, the Gadarenes (or Gerasenes) were culturally Greek as opposed to semetic and they obviously liked their bacon! My problem is with the healing stories full stop. I draw that conclusion more from the modern church as opposed to the ancient. Jesus promised greater works as part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Paul spoke of gifts of healing. As somebody that attended healing meetings over a forty year period in both the USA and UK, I never saw a single healing despite testimonies to the contrary. Nobody leapt out of wheelchairs, no sight or hearing restored. I personally took cancer patients to healing meetings only to witness them die shortly afterwards. I’m with you on the issue of demons, I don’t believe in them either but as for whether Jesus healed, I’m completely ambivalent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Scraffiti, I was pentecostal for many years and I DID witness healings–headaches, colds, and so forth. They were all invisible healings. While there were big claims, I never saw anybody throw away their crutches–and I’m glad they didn’t.

      However, I do think Jesus was a major healer, though I understand those who disagree or are uncertain.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kayla says:

    I agree with your assessment of this! I have never thought it about it much because, admittedly, I didn’t understand this passage. I also think most cases of “demonic healing” that take place in Scripture are actually healings of (at the time) unknown diseases, but this one was bizarre.

    But I agree that this is inconsistent with the character of Jesus. For a man who brought healing and redemption, why would he say “sure, go have a field day” to a flock of demons? Doesn’t make sense.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The usual reason given for Jesus allowing the demons to go into the pigs is because we live in an in-between age waiting the consummation of God’s kingdom. Therefore, instead of destroying the demons, which awaits the final judgement, Jesus allowed the demons to go into the herd of pigs. The death of the pigs made it clear what demons intend for their victims. Jesus did not destroy the property of their owner, the demons did. But Jesus wanted everyone to know the true nature of the demonic realm and this is far more important that a herd of pigs. As to the owners of the pigs, we have no knowledge of what happened to them. Did Jesus bless their business? They wanted Jesus to leave the area and rejecting Jesus has far worse consequences than losing a herd of pigs.

    As C. S. Lewis said of demons, their best defence is when people do not believe they exist. I, myself, have raised the ire of demons when ministering to people so that demons change their strategy of “there are no demons here” to manifesting their presence in power to scare away the ministry team. There are plenty of things that exist that we cannot see: God, angels, heaven, integrity, faith, virtue, emotions, the mind, gravity, electromagnetism, atomic particles, etc. If you have not encountered a demon, it is reasonable to accept the testimony of Jesus and his followers who have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scraffiti says:

      Derek, I’m wondering how serious you are in the construct of your last sentence. God, angels, heaven etc do not belong with things that can be proved scientifically. We can’t see an orgasm either for that matter but no one would doubt their existence! Belief in God is a choice. Call it faith if you want but some would call it wishful thinking along with a place called heaven. There is no way of knowing whether he exists or not. I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis too. His comment relating to demons is clever but I wouldn’t put it any higher than one of his many witticisms.

      Like

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Scraffiti and Derek, I am a big Lewis fan as well. He has made such a difference in my life and thought. However, I do not agree with everything he says; sometimes he is mistaken.

        Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Derek, I HAVE encountered ‘demons’. There was a time when I was very much into spiritual warfare, and I had encounters. Then I realized it was all in my mind. I walked away from it and the ‘encounters’ stopped. I believe the best way to take away people’s fear of demons is to let them know that demons don’t exist.

      Like

  5. newtonfinn says:

    My main reaction to this legion of demons story has not changed since I first heard it in Sunday School well over 60 years ago. I felt then, and continue to feel now, immense sorrow for the innocent pigs, which are extremely intelligent and affectionate and make great pets (as a friend of mine found out when she adopted one into her home). I have never believed that Jesus would deliberately cause the senseless death of any human or animal. When Schweitzer said that “reverence for life” was the teaching of Jesus philosophically phrased and understood, I think he was on to something. I hope that someone chimes in with a more metaphorical or symbolic take on this strange story. I remember reading about the word “legion” having possible connection in this context to the Roman Empire, which, unlike Jesus, had no problem slaughtering people and animals with ruthless abandon. Is this a simple (though bizarre) healing story, or is more going on between the lines, perhaps some sort of veiled political statement or prediction?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I like your idea that this is some sort of statement against the Empire. If so, I think it would have been better understood in its original context; but I can’t even pull together a good speculation about it at this point.

      Liked by 1 person

      • newtonfinn says:

        Tim, I was able to up with this speculation, offered by Lancaster Seminary’s Greg Carey, about the possible political aspects of the legion of demons story. Perhaps it might be of interest to some JWOB readers.

        “Let’s return to the demoniac and the name of his demons. At first, it seems he is possessed by one, albeit really bad, demon; the man is described as having “an unclean spirit” (5:2). But when Jesus demands the demon’s name, the response is chilling: “My name is Legion; for we are many” (5:9). From this point on, there’s no confusion. We’re dealing with a host of demons. Cast out, the demons drive 2,000 pigs into the sea. Should we assume one demon per pig, or should we assume the demons so influence many pigs that the rest plunge to their death?

        “Here’s the thing. In the ancient world, “Legion” had one and only one meaning. Legion was the basic unit of the Roman army, comprising up to 6,000 soldiers. Jesus and the demoniac both lived in Galilee. Galilee was possessed by Roman imperialism, just as the demoniac finds himself possessed by a Legion of demons.

        “It seems our story is making a social and political point to go along with the point that Jesus delivers individuals from demonic oppression. Legion, pigs and the sea: What would any faithful Jew desire more than to see those Gentile (pigs) Romans (Legion) chased back where they came from (the sea)? Indeed, lots of biblical and ancient Jewish imagery depicts the Romans as coming up from the sea (see Revelation 13 for a famous example) and envisions their being driven back into the sea. Jesus, it seems, frees people not only from their individual afflictions but also from social and communal exploitation.”

        Liked by 1 person

    • Paz says:

      “I have never believed that Jesus would deliberately cause the senseless death of any human or animal.” Newton, I agree! I don’t believe Jesus would deliberately under divine control, use His power to use demons for His own purposes.
      I also think that we are still in the process of seeking to understand very complex systems including our limited understanding of how our brains work, inner psychological processes, our human nature/ character traits, behaviour, etc… But also and including, how to be open to the unknown or the mystery, which includes how we define and accept broader concepts like “truth”, “reality”, “normal”, etc.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Tim, Thanks for your honesty and taking a look at this. I don’t agree with you about demons not existing. I believe they do. I don’t claim that this makes rational sense. I don’t think we should lay all evil and bad things on demons though either – that’s a cop out. But I do believe there are demons. Sometimes these demons take the form of addictions that people have. Sometimes they are mental health challenges. Sometimes they show up in more systemic things – like human trafficking and homelessness. Sometimes the very presence of evil can be felt – like going to a concentration camp gas chamber. I don’t propose that any of this is easy or is rationally satisfying. I don’t discount medical advances either. But so often we focus on the material aspects of this world and what is most rational and explainable. I just find that there are things out that that don’t have a good explanation. Blessings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Matthew, it doesn’t bother me when someone disagrees with me. However, as your comment progressed I was not sure what you were saying. Are you saying that there is evil in the world, or are you saying that there are individual demon entities–perhaps fallen angels?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. newtonfinn says:

    It seems that the metaphysical nature of evil has become the focus of some of the comments on this thread, and it’s an important, intriguing subject. On one side of the issue stand those who, while believing in Jesus’ personal, transcendent God (Abba), view Jesus’ references to “the evil one” (often translated as simply “evil”) as an historically-conditioned understanding or form of speech. On the other side stand those who believe in the existence of both Jesus’ God and a personal, transcendent focus of evil, traditionally referred to as Satan or the devil. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue for some 60 years and still can find no firm, conclusive position that fits with my life experience and what I know about the travail of human history.

    At times, I have seen evil as the polar opposite of God–where God is personal, evil is impersonal; where God is intentional, evil is random; where God is compassionate, evil is indifferent, etc. Certain teachings of Jesus seem to support this view; i.e., his statement that it is in the nature of things that evil comes, but woe to the man by whom it comes; or his refusal to say that the people upon whom a tower fell, or were killed in the midst of offering sacrifices, were more deserving of punishment than the rest of us. Yet Jesus does talk about “the evil one” at the end of the Lord’s prayer and in various sayings and parables; i.e., about “the evil one being overcome by the finger of God” or in his Messianic claim to be able “to overcome the strong man and plunder his goods,” etc.

    While I have never directly felt the presence of a Satan in my spiritual life (as opposed to the presence of evil in general and in me), history does seem to show instances where some sort of focused demonic force has taken over human hearts and minds on a massive, horrific scale. Also, the study of so-called paranormal phenomena has convinced me that there are some things in this world that we do not and perhaps cannot understand–things which simply do not jibe with any conceivably rational or scientific comprehension of reality…but which nevertheless are there.

    So I remain a fence-sitter on this whole Satan business (including possible demon emissaries). Although I do not believe that it is a crucial issue in coming to know and follow Jesus in our contemporary world–which is what really matters–it remains a perplexing subject that continues to attract my attention. From the gist of some of the comments above, I see that I am far from alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, you said: “the study of so-called paranormal phenomena has convinced me that there are some things in this world that we do not and perhaps cannot understand–things which simply do not jibe with any conceivably rational or scientific comprehension of reality…but which nevertheless are there.”

      I agree that there are likely all sorts of beings which we do not understand and sometimes encounter (I don’t think we are alone in the Universe). What I do not accept is the construct of Satan and demons as fallen angels and adversaries of God, or that they possess people.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. newtonfinn says:

    This interesting and provocative article about C.S. Lewis appeared in today’s CounterPunch. While It’s not terribly germane to the topic of this thread, Lewis has come up on this blog from time to time, and JWOB readers might like to read the article and perhaps comment.

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/29/cs-lewis-was-a-red/

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, thanks for sharing this excellent and informative article on CS Lewis. Many believers, both conservative and progressive, claim Lewis as their own. But, as a long-time Lewis reader, I know that Lewis was complex and difficult to pigeon-hole.

      Like

  9. Paz says:

    Thanks Newton for sharing this fascinating article on CS Lewis.
    On “doubt” and I guess relevant to the topic of this thread, I like what the article says about Lewis’ interesting way of what he calls “doubt”:
    “What Lewis calls “doubt” is our ability to see things from an unfamiliar point of view…”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival 149 (June 2018) | Reading Acts

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