Cleansing a Leper

8:1 After he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. 8:2 And a leper approached, and bowed low before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 8:3 He stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

In this section, three accounts of healing are presented, with their significance being brought out in v17.  Each story involves someone from an excluded group: a man with leprosy, a Gentile, and a woman.

Taking chapters 8 and 9 as a whole, it is possible to discern ten miracle stories.  Whether these are intended to parallel the ten plagues of Egypt, with Jesus as the new Moses, we cannot be certain.

D. Carson suggests that although it would be perfectly appropriate for a sermon to be preached from Mt 8:1-4, it might be helpful for a preacher to take the longer unit, Mt 8:1-17.  The previous chapter has ended with a reference to Jesus’ authority in his teaching (Mt 7:28f).  What we now have is this same emphasis on Jesus’ authority illustrated in both word and deed: (a) in his ability to heal and transform (Mt 8:1-13); (b) in his role as both transcending and fulfilling the Mosaic law, while formally remaining submissive to it (Mt 8:4); (c) in his words and actions regarding the centurion’s servant, such that when he speaks, God speaks (Mt 8:5-9); (d) in his ability to comfort the faithful and challenge the merely religious (Mt 8:10-13); in his work on the cross (Mt 8:14-17). (See Paul & Wenham (eds), ‘We Proclaim the Word of Life’, p21f)

Mt 8:2–4 = Mk 1:40–44; Lk 5:12–14

Leprosy – The term covered a range of skin diseases, including psoriasis and ringworm, as well as ‘true’ leprosy.  If he had suffered from the latter, he probably would not have been able to be part of the crowd that followed Jesus.

‘According to rabbinical practices, it was illegal even to greet a leper in an open place. Priests often ran and hid themselves upon seeing a leper in the distance.’ (Mounce)

Jesus…touched the man – A powerful indicator of Jesus’ willingness to reach out to the ‘untouchable’.

Carson remarks, ‘Both Jesus’ word and touch (Mt 8:15; 9:20–21, 29; 14:36) are effective, possibly implying that authority is vested in his message as well as in his person.’

8:4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you do not speak to anyone, but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

“See that you don’t tell anyone” – William Wrede suggested that it was Mark who had originated the idea of the ‘Messianic secret’ in order to explain why Jesus was not more fully recognised as Messiah during his earthly ministry.  As Mounce says, ‘it is far better to accept it as historical and understand it as Jesus’ precaution against the rapid rise of a movement that did not understand the nature of his messiahship. Popular excitement would arouse Roman opposition and make it even more difficult to carry out a messianic ministry that was not national and militaristic but universal and sacrificial.’

It would have been very easy for Jesus to stir up popular support that would have been for the wrong reasons and might have forced events in the wrong direction.

“Show yourself to the priest” – This shows Jesus’ willingness to submit to the law (in this case, Lev 14).  Moreover, ‘In conforming to the law, the cured leper becomes the occasion for the law to confirm Jesus’ authority as the healer who needs but to will the deed for it to be done.’ (Carson)

“The gift Moses commanded” – Imagine the stunning impact on the priest, since no record exists of any Israelite being cured of leprosy except Miriam. (Num 12:10-15)

Healing the Centurion’s Servant

8:5 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help: 8:6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 8:7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
Mt 8:5–13 = Lk 7:1–10

Capernaum – At that time, a garrison town.

A centurian came to him – He would have been a non-Jewish member of the occupying army.

The Bible: 'imperfect but wholly adequate'?

Matthew (Mt 8:5-12) and Luke (Lk 7:1-10) both have an account of a Roman centurian whose servant Jesus healed.

Writing on Peter Enns’ ‘Rethinking Biblical Christianity’ blog, Megan Defranza recounts (not quite an ‘Aha! moment’ but) the process by which she came to the conclusion that the Bible is not quite the ‘perfect’ book she had previously thought it to be.  She says that now sees the Bible as ‘imperfect, but wholly adequate’.  DeFranza cites the present account, in its Matthean and Lukan forms, as her first piece of ‘evidence’, because, although there is no problem with the main point, ‘the details… Well, let’s just say they didn’t match up as perfectly as I had expected.’

As Kostenberger remarks, the problem in this instance is with DeFranza’s expectations, rather than with the biblical text.  In ancient Jewish culture, there was a close connection between the sender of a message and those who carry that message, such that it would be no surprise to learn that Elijah (1 Kings 18:40), Pilate (Mark 15:15/Mt 27:26, and also Jn 19:19,22), Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:39, 40) did not personally carry out the actions attributed to them.

So, from the case cited, there is no undermining either of the Bible’s complete adequacy or of its complete accuracy, ‘when the writers’ own genre, purposes, and intentions are taken into account, as they should be’ (Kostenberger).

There are, indeed, some serious questions to be faced about the Bible’s ‘perfections’ (and Enns himself has raised some of these).  But it’s plain silly to cite the present story, as told by Matthew and Luke, as a case in point.

“My servant”

A male lover?
Pais‘ here may mean one of three things:-

  1. ‘Son’.  The Gk word ‘pais‘ can mean ‘son’ (and so it does in Jn 4:41).
  2. ‘Servant’.   Elsewhere in the NT it means ‘servant, and this is confirmed by Lk, who calls him a ‘doulos‘, servant.
  3. ‘Male lover’.  It has been argued that this ‘pais‘ was a servant who was the centurion’s male lover.  Luke makes it clear that he was an ‘honoured’ (entimos) servant.  In Matthew’s account the centurion distinguishes between this servant and his others (who are referred to by the usual term ‘doulos‘).  Moreover, the extraordinary lengths to which the centurion went on behalf of his ‘pais‘ suggests an unusually close relationship with him.

Conclusion: it is indisputable that this centurion was very fond of his ‘pais‘/’doulos‘.  In view of the additional information given by Luke, it is likely that he was the Centurion’s servant, rather than son.  However, it is going well beyond anything the text says to assert, or even suggest, a homosexual relationship.

8:8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8:9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.”

“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” – The centurian is sensitive not only to Jewish/Gentile relations (a Jewish teacher should not defile himself by entering the home of a Gentile) but also to Jesus’ authority.

In Lk 7:6, these words are spoken on behalf of the centurion by his friends.  Noticing this difference contributed to Megan DeFranza concluding that the Bible is an ‘imperfect’, though ‘wholly adequate’ production.  As Kostenberger remarks, the main issue here is one of managing expectations.  It is entirely appropriate for an inerrantist (such as Kostenberger) to argue that the ‘perfection’ of the Bible is unaffected by such differences.  ‘We shouldn’t,’ he writes, ‘expect word-for-word agreement in eyewitness reports, nor would it be reasonable to expect any one eyewitness to mention every single twist and turn in a series of unfolding events.’

It is quite reasonable to suppose that if Matthew and Luke were using a common source (‘Q’?), then Matthew abbreviated that source, whereas Luke offered the extra detail.  We find other instances within the biblical literature where the writer does not feel the need to spell out whether certain actions attributed to an individual were enacted by that person or on his behalf (for example, we are not to suppose the Pilate scourged Jesus personally, even though that is what Mark 15:15 // Matt 27:26 indicate).

8:10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel! 8:11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 8:12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

‘The greatness of his faith did not rest in the mere fact that he believed Jesus could heal from a distance but in the degree to which he had penetrated the secret of Jesus’ authority…This Gentile penetrated more deeply into the nature of Jesus’ person and authority than any Jew of his time. Matthew’s words, therefore, underline the movement of the Gospel from the Jews to all people regardless of race—a movement prophesied in the OT, developed in Jesus’ ministry (see comments on Mt 1:1, 3–5; 2:1–12), and commanded by the Great Commission (28:18–20).’ (Carson)

“Many will come from the east and the west” – ‘The centurion is a paradigm of many outside Judaism (“from the east and the west”—cf. Ps 107:3) who will become Jesus’ followers. Jesus thus points forward to a time beyond his earthly ministry when Gentiles will flock to the faith.’ (Blomberg)

“The feast with Abraham…in the kingdom of heaven” – cf. Lk 16:22-23.  The picture is of the Messianic banquet, spoken of in Isa 25:6-9 and elsewhere.

This instance of the healing of a Gentile is the occasion for Jesus’ striking prediction of the future worldwide spread of God’s kingdom.

‘Jesus takes occasion, from the faith of a Roman centurion, to state this conversion would not be solitary; that many pagans-many from the east and west- would be converted to the gospel, and be saved, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were. The phrase “from the east and from the west,” in the Scripture, is used to denote the whole world, Isa 45:6; 59:19. The phrase, shall sit down, in the original, refers to the manner of sitting at meals, and the enjoyments of heaven are described under the similitude of a feast or banquet-a very common manner of speaking of it, Mt 26:29; Lk 14:15; 22:30. It is used here to denote felicity, enjoyment, or honour. To sit with those distinguished men was an honour, and would be expressive of great felicity.’ (Barnes)

‘The surprising and presumably shocking fact is that he used texts that in their Old Testament context referred to the ingathering of Israel and applied them to the ingathering of the Gentiles instead. Thus, for example, Matthew. 8:11f. is an allusion to texts such as Isaiah 43:5f., 49:12 and Psalm 107:3, while Mark 13:27 picks up Deuteronomy 30:4 and Zechariah 2:6. In this way Jesus actually appears to redefine and extend the very meaning of the ‘restoration of Israel’ in terms of the Gentiles. Paul does the same thing in Romans 9:24f., when he takes Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, which clearly referred to Israel in context, and applies them to gentile believers.’ (Wright)

‘The remarkable thing here is that the description of people coming “from the east and the west” alludes to passages such as Isa 43:5f and Psa 107:3 which speak of Jews returning from exile.  Yet here is Jesus applying it to Gentiles, included among the people of God.  The Jews’ exclusive status as people of God is ended.  The privilege of belonging to that peple is open to all – Jew and Gentile alike – who have faith in Jesus.’ (Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, p129)

“The subjects of the kingdom” – Jews (but not all Jews, for the patriarchs were Jews, as were the first disciples).

“Outside” – This is the place that the Jews customarily assigned to the Gentiles.  The time is coming when the subjects of God’s kingdom will no longer be defined by race, but simply by faith.

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” – This expression also occurs in Mt 13:42;13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30, and Lk 13:28.  All occurrences occur in the context of parables.

In popular understanding, ‘gnashing of teeth’ is indicative of pain – torment, even:-

‘All [the] references to weeping and gnashing of teeth have one thing in common—the undeniable fact that those who do not belong to Christ will suffer a terrible fate, while His children will enjoy bliss in heaven with Him forever. Hell will be a place of anguish, remorse, pain, and misery.’ (Link)

However, Fudge (The Fire That Consumes) maintains that in biblical usage the expression is suggest, not of torment, but of rage.

According to Morris, this is ‘[a] proverbial expression for distress and mostly used in the New Testament, as here, for grief (or possibly anger or vexation) at the final rejection.’

Mounce says that ‘it is a vivid Eastern metaphor for sorrow and remorse.’

Does this verse ‘imply that all Jews are going to hell’?  Of course not.  What it does mean is that many ethnic Gentiles will find themselves taking their place in the kingdom of heaven, while many of those who thought that they had a place secured by birthright will be disappointed.  For entry to the kingdom is by faith, and not by enthicity.  ‘The Jews looked forward to the messianic banquet as their private preserve, yet here is Jesus saying that the banquet would see many Jews excluded and many of the despised pagans welcomed. The Jews had to learn the lesson, which their ancestors knew and Gentiles were beginning to discover, along with the centurion in the days of Jesus, that faith is the key to entry into the messianic banquet, and faith is the key to experiencing the power of Jesus.’ (Green)

‘This passage is highly relevant to Matthew’s own day, when church and synagogue were going their separate ways. It would be an enormous encouragement to Gentile believers to be assured that they, not the unbelieving Jews, were heirs to Abraham’s faith.’ (Green, BST)

F.D. Bruner: ‘Hell is not a doctrine used to frighten unbelievers; it is a doctrine used to warn those who think themselves believers.’

8:13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour.

Healings at Peter’s House

8:14 Now when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying down, sick with a fever. 8:15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and began to serve them.
Mt 8:14–16 = Mk 1:29–34; Lk 4:38–41

Peter’s mother-in-law – Obviously, Peter was (or had been) married.  The standard Roman Catholic approach is to say that, since Peter’s wife is not mentioned directly in the Gospels, she must have died before he was called to be an apostle.  But this ignores the testimony of 1 Cor 9:5.

She got up and began to wait on him – The miracle was instantaneous.

8:16 When it was evening, many demon-possessed people were brought to him. He drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. 8:17 In this way what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet was fulfilled:
“He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.”

‘It is generally understood that when the NT quotes a brief OT passage, it often refers implicitly to the entire context of the quotation (which in this case is the entire “Servant Song” of Isa 52:13–53:12). Both Scripture and Jewish tradition understand that all sickness is caused, directly or indirectly, by sin (see comment on 4:24). But one main emphasis in the Servant Song is substitutionary atonement, whereby the servant bears the sicknesses of others through his suffering and death. Thus, Matthew suggests that Jesus’ healing ministry is itself a function of his substitutionary death, by which he lays the foundation for destroying sickness.’ (Carson)

Healing on demand?

Although this passage does support the idea that ‘there is healing in the atonement’, it cannot be used to justify belief in ‘healing on demand’.  After all, there is also ‘resurrection of the body in the atonement’, but we do not come into the fullness of that promise until the last day.  (See Carson’s comment on this).

Challenging Professed Followers

8:18 Now when Jesus saw a large crowd around him, he gave orders to go to the other side of the lake. 8:19 Then an expert in the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 8:20 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 8:21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Mt 8:19–22 = Lk 9:57–60

Son of Man – The title “Son of God” is Jesus’ divine name, (Mt 8:29) “Son of David” his Jewish name, (Mt 9:27) but “Son of Man” is the name that links him to the earth and to his mission. It was his favorite designation of himself (used more than 80 times) and was based on Dan 7:13-14. It emphasizes (1) his lowliness and humanity, (Mt 8:20) (2) his suffering and death, (Lk 19:10) and (3) his future reign as King.’ (Mt 24:27) (Ryrie)

“No place to lay his head” – The nature of his mission kept him on the move, and would keep his followers on the move also. (Carson)

“Let me go and bury my father” – A solemn legal duty for a son (cf. Gen 25:9; 35:29; 50:13).  It may (as Carson suggests) that Jesus was not actually forbidding the man to attend his own father’s funeral (and more than he seriously recommended self-castration in Mt 5:27-30).  It is, rather, that he is, in this graphic way, questioning the man’s sincerity and commitment to his lordship: ‘Commitment to Jesus must be without reservation. Such is the importance Jesus himself attached to his own person and mission.’

‘If the scribe was too quick in promising, this “disciple” was too slow in performing’ (Carson).

Undesigned coincidence?  ‘Where did Zebedee go? James and John are originally with Zebedee (Matt 4:21) but he appears nowhere later even though their mother is mentioned several times (Mt 20:20; 27:56). This is explained by an unnamed disciple’s father dying (Mt 8:21), especially since the mother is not referred to as the wife of Zebedee.’

“Let the dead bury their own dead” – This is blunt, to the point of offensiveness, both in the language (referring to those outside the circle of discipleship as ‘dead’) and thrust (following Jesus is more important than the most solemn and pressing of family duties).

This saying powerfully expresses the teaching of Mt 10:37 (cf. Lk 9:60).  Our Lord’s use of ‘shock tactics’ should not obscure the fact that he taught (and practised) high regard for family responsibilities, Mk 7:7-13.

Stilling of a Storm

8:23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 8:24 And a great storm developed on the sea so that the waves began to swamp the boat. But he was asleep.
Mt 8:23–27 = Mk 4:36–41; Lk 8:22–25

His disciples followed him – Contrast with v22, where Jesus tells a would-be disciple to ‘follow’ him.  The verbal linkage may suggest that ‘the journey across the sea is a parable for the journey of discipleship’ (HBC).  This may be so, but to see the ‘boat’ as standing for the church, and the storm for its tribulations (expulsion from the synagogue, persecution by the Romans), is rather fanciful.

A furious storm – megas seismos – a great upheaval, ‘a term used for apocalyptic upheavals, (cf. Mt 24:7; 27:54; 28:2) often with preternatural overtones. This seems to be no ordinary storm but one in which Satan is attacking’ (Blomberg).  That may be so; but violent storms were (and are) known to develop around Lake Galilee.  Matthew’s readers would be aware of those OT passage which speak of God as the ruler of the wind and waves (e.g. Job 38:8–11; Pss 29:3–4, 10–11; 65:5–7).

8:25 So they came and woke him up saying, “Lord, save us! We are about to die!”

“Lord, save us!” – It is sometimes suggested that there are liturgical overtones to this expression, reflecting (as form critics are apt to think) the situation of the early church rather than a recollection of the actual event. ‘”Save” and perish (“drown”) refer first of all to the disciples’ physical lives, but by Matthew’s time they have become the standard terms for spiritual salvation and destruction. Matthew may well intend a double entendre here.’ (Blomberg)

8:26 But he said to them, “Why are you cowardly, you people of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was dead calm.

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” – Bornkamm uses this is an example of how, in his opinion, Matthew has rejected Mark’s picture of the disciples as faithless and replaced it with a much more positive view.  (According to Mk 4:40 Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”).  Gundry also appeals to the contrast between Matthew and Mark at this point (‘little faith’ and ‘no faith’ respectively) to support his contention that they are contradictory: ‘To pretend that they are not – by suggesting, say, that no faith means not enough faith or that different kinds of faith are in view – is to open the door to somersaulting exegesis that could with equal legitimacy deny the clarity of scriptural statements expressing primary doctrines.’  This is very silly: it is Gundry who is doing ‘somersaulting exegesis’ here.  The most obvious and natural interpretation of the words as recorded by Matthew is to take them as a slight softening of the words as recorded by Mark.  (See the discussion in Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, pp154ff).

‘Wherever “little faith” is used in Matthew (see Mt 6:30; 14:31; 16:8), it signifies the failure to see beyond the mere surface of things.’ (Carson)

Their faith may have been ‘little’, but they still cried out to Jesus to help them (v25).

Some have conjectured that Matthew’s purpose in recording these words of Jesus is to challenge the ‘little faith’ of his own Christian community in the face of tribulation.

He rebuked the winds and the waves – ‘The “rebuke” of the elements employs the same term (epitima?) used elsewhere in exorcism stories. (Mk 1:25; 9:25; Lk 4:41) Jesus demonstrates power over the destructive forces of nature, which remain under the devil’s sway.’ (Blomberg)

It was completely calm – ‘As with his healings, Jesus’ “cure” takes effect immediately.’ (Blomberg)

‘This passage affirms Jesus’ authority over nature, and if over nature, then over any crisis his followers may face.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

8:27 And the men were amazed and said, “What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”

“Even the winds and the waves obey him!” – The critic J. Weiss says that by ‘an astonishing coincidence’ the storm happened to lull at the moment that Jesus spoke! A.T. Robertson, who notes this comment, says: ‘some minds are easily satisfied by their own stupidities.’

The men were amazed – The underlying expression usually means “men” in general, and its use here may mean that a wider group than the immediate disciples were asking this awestruck question. To be sure, others had set sail in their own boats at the same time, Mk 4:36.

“What kind of man is this?” – ‘Readers of this gospel know the answer—he is the virgin-born Messiah who has come to redeem his people from their sins and whose mission is to fulfill God’s redemptive purposes. But the disciples did not yet understand these things.’ (Carson)

Human beings can accomplish much, especially in our own technological age. But no mere human can control the weather as Jesus did. “Whether he seem to sleep or to be awake he is Lord of heaven and earth, ruler and commander of wind, sea and land, whom all the creatures must obey.” (Dixon)

This question is of central importance for Matthew, as for the other evangelists. The answers that emerge in Matthew’s account are that: (a) as Christ, he will save his people from their sins, Mt 1:21; (b) as Son of man, he had no place to lay his head, Mt 8:20; (c) as King, he has all authority in heaven and on earth, Mt 28:18; and (d) as Son of God, he is worthy of all praise and worship, for he is indeed Emmanuel, God with us, Mt 1:23, and is with his people always, to the very end of the age, Mt 28:20.

The OT contains references to Jehovah’s sovereignty over the sea, Job 38:8-11; Ps 65:5-8; 89:8-9. Matthew may well have had Ps 107:23-32 in mind in his re-telling of this story. This sovereign power over the wind and the sea is truly remarkable. Others may pretend to have power over, say, disease and even demons. Modern technology control many things. But no-one but the God of creation can take such control over the awesome forces of nature. This is illustrative of Christ’s creative power, Jn 1:1-3, and of his resurrection power. After all, it is not surprising that the winds and the waves obey him, for he made them.

Stilling the storms of our lives?

‘Contemporary applications of this miracle almost universally “demythologize” the narrative (deriving a naturalistic lesson from a supernatural event), so that it becomes a lesson about Jesus “stilling the storms” of our lives. Matthew did not likely have such an application in mind. There are implications for discipleship here, to be sure; we must turn to Jesus as the one to trust in all circumstances of life. But the focus of this passage remains squarely Christological-on who Christ is, not on what he will do for us. One who has this kind of power can be no less than God himself, worthy of worship, irrespective of when and how he chooses to use that power in our lives. Sometimes he leaves storms unstilled for good and godly ends.’ (cf. 2 Cor 12:7-8) (Blomberg)

Healing the Gadarene Demoniacs

8:28 When he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were extremely violent, so that no one was able to pass by that way.
Mt 8:28–34 = Mk 5:1–17; Lk 8:26–37

Only Matthew’s version mentions two demoniacs.

For N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) this account takes on additional significance in that ‘Jesus is surrounded by places, people and influences that [according to prevailing Jewish thinking] belong to the enemies of YHWH and his people.’  He is on the non-Jewish side of the lake; the demons are ‘legion’; pigs are being fed nearby.  He is ‘going into what was thought of as enemy territory, taking on (from the Jewish point of view) the demon of uncleanness and hostile paganism, and defeating the real enemy [Satan] instead, demonstrating that victory in the acted symbolism of the death of the pigs.’

Gadara or Gerasa?
A possible contradiction has been identified here, in that in Mark Jesus exorcises a demoniac in the region near Gerasa; (Mk 5:1) in Matthew it occurs in Gadara. (Mt 8:28) However, the former is probably a city; the latter, a province (so Blomberg, DJG).  If so, it’s rather like one person saying that something happened ‘near Norwich’, and another saying that it happened ‘in Norfolk’.

‘The problem of the city’s name is a classical one and goes back at least to Origen’s time. The city of Gerasa lies approximately thirty miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and as one commentator somewhat sarcastically states, “The stampede of the pigs from Gerasa to the Lake would have made them the most energetic herd in history!” (Fitzmyer).’ (Stein, NAC on Luke)

Coming from the tombs – suggesting isolation and a preoccupation with death.

8:29 They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

The fact that the demons are real, and that this is not merely a case of mental disorder mistakenly ascribed to demons is evidenced in this confession. (cf Lk 4:34,41)

“What do you want with us, Son of God?” – Morris says that we cannot be sure exactly what the demons meant by this expression. But it is certainly an exalted title, though not necessarily messianic or divine.

‘In ancient magic, one could try to gain control over a spirit by naming it. The attempt at magical self-protection is powerless against Jesus.’ (Keener)

Note the irony: in v27, the disciples are wondering what kind of man Jesus is.  The demons know exactly who he is – and tremble.

“Have you come here…?” – Morris asks: ‘Did they mean “here to this earth” or “here to this Gentile land”?’  He thinks the former is the more likely.

“…to torment us before the appointed time?” – ‘As demons they must expect torment in hell as their ultimate fate, but not torment here and not torment now, before the time.’ (Morris)

8:30 A large herd of pigs was feeding some distance from them. 8:31 Then the demons begged him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

A large herd of pigs – According to Mk 5:13, about 2,000 of them.

In order to escape total and final punishment, the demons plead with Jesus to allow them to inhabit the herd of pigs.

Only Gentiles and non-observant Jews would keep pigs.  They would have been regarded as suitable hosts for unclean spirits.  Ancient exorcists sometimes found that evil spirits would ask for concessions when they found the pressure to evacuate their host became intolerable.  (IVP Bible Background).

8:32 And he said, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned in the water. 8:33 The herdsmen ran off, went into the town, and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men.

The Evangelist is at pains to point out that everything is under Jesus’ control.

‘The agreement of Jesus to this arrangement has been a puzzle to many…The account certainly does not suggest that this was the only way Jesus could get the demons out of the man. In the situation he is clearly portrayed as a plenipotentiary. The underlying difficulty is that of any theodicy in the face of the fact of continuing evil (cf. Rev 20:3). Schürmann, 486, points to the continuing activity of the demonic during the gentile mission (Acts 13:6–11; 16:16–18; 19:13–16). Luke 11:24–26 presumes that an expelled spirit will still have the possibility of continuing to work mischief. The perspective of our pericope is that though Jesus is actively engaged in rescuing those who have become the victims of the Devil’s minions (cf. 11:5–22), for whatever reason the time is not yet for bringing to ultimate judgment and destruction these forces of evil. Only in an anticipatory way do the demons come up against, in Jesus, the one who means their ultimate demise.’ (Evans, WBC on Luke)

Evans adds: ‘Jesus’ agreement to the request has troubled modern readers of the text, especially in light of the fate of the animals. In the (Jewish) perspective of the story, the pigs are of no value: to put the demons there is to put them safely out of the way, at least for the moment. Jesus’ agreement to having the demons remain on the loose to work their mischief is more difficult. But continuing evil is a fact, despite all that has been achieved by Jesus, and this was evident in the early missionary endeavors of the church as portrayed in Acts. The demons meet in Jesus the one who means their ultimate demise, but for whatever reason the time for their ultimate judgment and destruction has not yet come.’

Barnes writes: ‘‘All that can disturb or injure us is under the control of the Christian’s Friend. The very inhabitants of hell are bound, and beyond his permission they can never injure us. In spite, then, of all the malice of malignant beings, the friends of Jesus are safe.’

The relief of the demons is short-lived. The pigs are startled, and rush over the cliff and are drowned. This indicates the destructiveness of the demons: they have caused untold misery in the man, and now lead to the death of a whole herd of pigs.

‘This is the only exorcism in the Gospels in which the demons answer back to Jesus. In fact, they do so after Jesus commands them to leave the man (a detail not mentioned in Matthew). Their concern is that they not be tormented, that is, sent to hell (Matthew specifically adds “before the time,” meaning before the final judgment). Why would they say this? First, Jewish teaching was that demons were free to torment people until the last judgment (see Jubilees 10:5–9 and 1 Enoch 15–16). Second, Jesus’ appearance and power to expel them looked to them as if he were beginning the final judgment too early. Therefore, the permission to enter the pigs is an admission that the last judgment is not yet taking place. The demons are still free to do their destructive work. Nevertheless, wherever the King is present he brings the kingdom and frees people from the power of evil.’ (HSB)

Some people object to the idea that a herd of animals should be destroyed in this way (to say nothing of the expense to the owners). In reply, it must be remembered that (a) Jesus did not send the demons into the pigs (he merely gave permission); (b) he did not cause the pigs to be destroyed; (c) one person’s life is worth far more than a whole herd of pigs; (d) the miracle no doubt benefited the whole community, which was freed from the peril and terror of an uncontrollable maniac, and probably from further interference from the demons who had been expelled from him.

‘Various commentators’ concern for the owners’ economic loss may be due to a greater sensitivity for the property of others than the Evangelists had, but it may also reveal a lesser concern for the spiritual issues involved.’ (Stein, NAC on Luke)

Whatever else was the significance of the demons leaving the man and entering the pigs, it certainly demonstrated most dramatically and decisively the completeness of the deliverance.

The demons had been very powerful, they had kept this man in terrible bondage for a long time.  But the power of Jesus is greater.  Satan and in evil spirits are defeated foes.  They strive to thwart the work of Christ, but they shall not succeed.  They may rock the boat, but they cannot sink it.  They may recommend evil to a person, but they cannot compel anyone to sin.  They may threaten to pluck a believer out of the hand of the Saviour, but his grip remains secure.  Powerful as they may be, they are ever subject to Christ.  They are held tightly on a leash.  They cannot even go and inhabit a herd of pigs without his permission.

Trench says, ‘If this granting of the evil spirits’ request helped in any way the cure of the man, caused them to relax their  hold on him more easily, mitigated the paroxysm of their going forth, this would have been motive enough.  Or, still more probably, it may have been necessary for the permanent healing of the mna, that he should have an outward evidence and testimony that the hellish powers which held him in bondage, had quitted their hold.’

Christ, in his mercy, delays the final judgement that would have finally destroyed the demons, cf. Mt 8:29.  And again, in his mercy, he allows them them to destroy an entire herd of pigs rather than destroy a single human being.

Demons 101

In Matthew 8:28-34 Jesus casts demons out of a pair of men and into a herd of pigs.

Verses 29-32 are particularly instructive regarding the character of demons:

‘”What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”  Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.  The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”  He said to them, “Go!”’

A number of points emerge:

  1. They know who Jesus is. They know that he is the Son of God.  In this regard they are better-informed than the religious leaders of the day.
  2. They acknowledge Jesus’ authority over them. They may victory over the men they have possessed.  But they are powerless in the presence of Jesus.
  3. They know that they are defeated. they know that there is an appointed time for their destruction.  Still, like fatally-wounded wild animals, they will not go down without a fight.  To that extent, they are still dangerous.
  4. They are knowing, but not all-knowing. They are intelligent.  They know the Bible, and can quote it when it suits them.  They can watch people and events and draw conclusions (is that how they knew that Jesus was/is the Son of God?)  But they are not omniscient.  Only God is.
  5. They are not merely evil ‘forces’ or ‘influences’. Like persons, they have will, emotion, and intellect.  But they are not persons.  Probably, they are fallen angels.
  6. They are in willful rebellion against God. And so their fate is sealed.

Summarising this article by Brian Dembowczyk

8:34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

They pleaded with him to leave their region – According to Lk 8:35, 37, they did so because they were ‘overcome with fear’.  They were not overcome with anger, through losing their livelihood, but with fear, through witnessing Christ’s power over the principalities and powers.

Barnes: ‘It is no uncommon thing for people to desire Jesus to depart from them. Though he is ready to confer on them important favors, yet they hold His favors to be of far less consequence than some unimportant earthly possession. Sinners never love him, and always wish him away from their dwellings.’

Similarly, Stein (NAC on Luke) says, ‘Apart from a noble and good heart, God’s presence produces only fear. For the believer such fear turns to a holy awe, but to the unbelieving it is only a fearsome dread from which they seek to rid themselves.’

Mk 5:18-20 adds: ‘As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.