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Ending a Storm and Healing Demoniacs (Matthew 8:18, 23-34; Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-20; Luke 8:22-39) | Werner Bible Commentary

Ending a Storm and Healing Demoniacs (Matthew 8:18, 23-34; Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-20; Luke 8:22-39)

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In the evening of the day he had taught the people with parables, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go to the other side of the lake [the Sea of Galilee].” (Mark 4:35; Luke 8:22) As on a later occasion, he may have felt the need for all of them to be away from the crowds in order to get some rest in an isolated area. (Mark 6:31)

Earlier, Jesus had arranged for the disciples to have a boat at his disposal, making it possible for him to speak to the people from the boat without being crowded by them. (Mark 3:9) This likely was Peter’s boat and the one that Jesus, on this occasion, boarded with his disciples. (Matthew 8:23) Mark 4:36 says that there were “other boats” with Jesus, but no specifics are included nor is any later mention made of these boats.

During the crossing, Jesus, in the stern of the boat, rested his head on a cushion (proskephálaion) and fell asleep. Suddenly, a tremendous storm whipped up high waves, which violently tossed the boat and began filling it with water. As the boat was being swamped, the disciples feared that they would drown. They woke Jesus, saying to him, “Teacher, does it not matter to you that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:37, 38; Matthew 8:24, 25; Luke 8:23, 24)

Jesus got up and called upon the wind, waves, and water to be still, and immediately all became calm. He also asked the disciples why they were afraid. (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24) According to Matthew 8:26, he referred to them as having little faith, and in Mark and Luke his words to them are presented as a question. “Do you still not have faith?” (Mark 4:40) “Where [is] your faith?” (Luke 8:25)

From a human standpoint, the probability of drowning was very real. The disciples, however, had the Son of God with them, which should have assured them that the heavenly Father would never let them perish with his Son. The miracles they had witnessed should have given them a strong basis for faith in deliverance from perilous circumstances.

Upon witnessing what happened after Jesus calmed the wind and the lake, the disciples were filled with great fear and astonishment. They said to one another, “Who really is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25) Their reaction and words suggest that they did not yet fully comprehend the greatness of God’s Son, a greatness that transcended that of the person whom they had expected the foretold Messiah to be.

Notes:

At its widest point from east to west, the Sea of Galilee measures about seven and a half miles and its longest length is approximately thirteen miles. (See http://bibleplaces.com/seagalilee.htm for additional information and pictures.) Luke’s account refers to this body of water as a “lake,” whereas Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts speak of it as a “sea.”

The Sea of Galilee lies about 700 feet below seal level and approximately 40 miles southwest of Mount Hermon, with an altitude of more than 9,200 feet above sea level. Hills and mountains surround the lake on the east and the west, where the air temperature is lower than at the level of the water. Therefore, it is not uncommon for winds to rush down from the higher elevations, creating a choppy lake that poses a danger for small boats and their occupants.

In Matthew 8:24, the severe storm is called seismós mégas, which commonly designates a “great earthquake,” and here appears to describe the storm from the standpoint of the extreme effect it produced, with the boat being shaken as are buildings during an earthquake.

In Mark 4:38, the Greek word proskephálaion designates an object on which one can rest the head.

The accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke vary in the wording of Jesus’ fearful disciples. “Lord, save [us]. We are perishing.” (Matthew 8:25) “Teacher, does it not matter to you that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) “Master, Master, we are perishing.” (Luke 8:24) The differences are understandable when one considers that a number of the disciples probably spoke up and that their expressions were conveyed in a language other than the one in which they were originally made. All three accounts represent the disciples as saying, “we are perishing,” suggesting that the peril was so great that they felt certain about their doom.

While there are also other differences in the accounts, the basic message is the same. One should not expect precise correspondency, as the writers chose their own wording and presented the sequence of events as suited their particular purpose.

It is of note that a partially preserved nonbiblical Dead Sea scroll (4Q521) indicates that the “heavens and the earth” would obey God’s Messiah. There is a possibility that a missing portion of the next line in this scroll originally included the “sea” as also obeying. If this was a common view, the disciples would have had additional reason for not giving in to fear during the storm.

The Demoniacs

There is no indication in Matthew, Mark, or Luke when Jesus and his disciples arrived on the other side of the lake. Furthermore, manuscript readings vary when referring to the specific region where they disembarked. One area that would appear to fit the description in the accounts lies approximately at the midway point of the lake’s eastern shore. Caves and rock-cut tombs are in the vicinity, and steep hills rise from the shoreline. All that can be said with certainty, however, is that the accounts identify the territory as situated on the east side of the Sea of Galilee or opposite Galilee. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26; see the Notes section for additional information.)

When Jesus and his disciples started walking on the shore, two men (demoniacs) saw them and came running toward them. These men were in an extremely disturbed mental state and behaved much like savage beasts. Out of fear, people did not travel by the area where they had their haunt, for the two men were extremely fierce. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:6)

The accounts of Mark and Luke provide details about one of the men, making no mention of the second man. Perhaps this was because he alone later expressed the desire to accompany Jesus.

This man is described as under the control of an “unclean spirit” or of “demons.” He had lost soundness of mind and his identity as a human with family ties. For a long time, he had worn no clothes, had stopped living in a house, and (with the other man) found shelter from the elements either in burial caves or rock-cut tombs. People had made attempts to control him, guarding him and repeatedly binding him with chains and fetters, but he would break free and run away. No one had the strength to subdue him. Day and night his screams could be heard among the tombs or from the hillside. With rocks, he would inflict wounds upon himself. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:2-5; Luke 8:27, 29)

Upon arriving at the place where Jesus and his disciples were, both men likely prostrated themselves before him. In response to his directive for the men to be liberated from their derangement, they appear to have screamed individually, “What to me and to you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:6-8; Luke 8:28) In Matthew 5:29, the question is found in the plural (“us”), as both men are represented as shouting. The idiomatic expression (“What to me and to you?”) implies that the parties had nothing in common, and it constituted an objection. (For additional comments, see the Notes section.) Modern translations commonly render the words in one of two ways. “What do you want with me?” (CEV, NCV, NIV, NJB, REB) “What have you to do with me?” (NAB, NRSV)

Jesus responded with the question, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” came back the reply. A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 men and so the designation served to indicate control under many unclean spirits. (Mark 5:9; Luke 8:30; see the Notes section for additional comments.) The reply suggests that the man had no recollection of his own name or identity.

This reply was followed by the request not to be sent into the “abyss” (Luke 8:31) or “out of the country” (Mark 5:10). Such a future judgment appears to be referred to in Isaiah 24:21 and 22 (Tanakh): “In that day, the LORD [YHWH] will punish the host of heaven in heaven and the kings of the earth on earth. They shall be gathered in a dungeon as captives are gathered; and shall be locked up in a prison. But after many days they shall be remembered.”

In the distance, many pigs were feeding, and the demons pleaded for permission to enter the animals. (Matthew 8:30, 31; Mark 5:11, 12; Luke 8:32) According to Matthew 8:32, Jesus said “Go!” Immediately, the men were freed from their pathetic mental state. When the demonic power took control of the pigs, they became crazed. The entire herd, numbering about 2,000, panicked, began to run and then plummeted into the lake, where they perished. The herders fled, entered the town, and there (and in the surrounding area) related what had happened. (Matthew 8:33; Mark 5:13, 14; Luke 8:33, 34)

Upon hearing the report of the herders, the populace went to the location where the events had occurred. When they arrived they saw the formerly deranged man whom neither fetters nor chains could control sitting at Jesus’ feet. The man was clothed and in full possession of his mental faculties. (Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35)

Neither Mark nor Luke make any mention about how the man obtained clothing. The most likely explanation is that Jesus’ disciples were in position to provide him with the needed attire. They were familiar with the teaching of John the Baptist that the one with two garments should share the extra garment with the one who had none, and Jesus had reemphasized this teaching about responding compassionately to the needs of others by his own words and actions. (Luke 3:11) The disciples had a common fund on which they could draw in order to help the poor, and there appear to have been occasions when they took along an extra garment when traveling. (Matthew 10:9, 10; John 13:29)

To the people of the region, the man’s restoration and the development involving the pigs (as eyewitnesses related the incident to them) would have been clear evidence of the working of a power far greater than the ordinary. They were filled with fear, but it was not the kind that produced a reverential regard for the Most High whom Jesus represented and whose love and compassion he had revealed. Instead, the populace asked Jesus to leave the region. (Matthew 8:34; Mark 5:15-17; Luke 8:35-37)

As Jesus was about depart with his disciples, the healed man pleaded to be able to accompany him. Jesus, however, did not grant the request. He instructed him to return to his home and his family and to tell them all that God had done for him and the mercy he had been shown. (Mark 5:18, 19; Luke 8:37-39) This directive differed from Jesus’ usual command not to make his miracles known. In this case, however, he had been asked to leave the region, and so he left a personal witness behind. The cured man’s favorable testimony could set straight any distortion about his benefactor and the death of the pigs. (See the Notes section for additional comments.)

As Jesus had requested, the cured man did depart for his home. In the town and the surrounding region of the Decapolis, he made known what Jesus had done for him. His testimony resulted in wonderment among the people who heard it. (Mark 5:20; Luke 8:39; for information about the Decapolis, see Notes section.)

Notes:

In Matthew 8:28, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and a number of later manuscripts refer to the “country of the Gadarenes,” which area has been associated with Gadara (a city located about six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee). The original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus is “country of the Gazarenes.” A corrected reading, however, is “country of the Gergesenes,” which is also what many later manuscripts say. Another manuscript reading is “country of the Gerasenes.”

According to fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus (original reading), Mark 5:1 reads “country of the Gerasenes,” which is also what a number of later manuscripts say. Other manuscripts read “country of the Gadarenes,” “country of the Gergystenes,” and “country of the Gergesenes.”

In Luke 8:26, a third century papyrus manuscript (P75), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and a number of later manuscripts say “country of the Gerasenes,” which region has been linked to Gerasa (a city located nearly 35 miles south and east of the Sea of Galilee). Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus reads “country of the Gergesenes,” which is also what a number of later manuscripts say. Numerous other manuscripts contain the reading “country of the Gadarenes.”

The “country of the Gergesenes” has been identified with Gergesa, which site lies approximately at the midway point of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Based on the biblical accounts, this location would seem to fit best. In view of the variations in the manuscript readings, however, any definitive conclusions are impossible. Whether the area mentioned in Matthew 8:28 is part of a larger territory referred to in Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 can likewise not be determined with any degree of certainty.

Like Mark 5:7 and Luke 8:28, Matthew 8:29 refers to torment but adds an additional thought. “Have you come here to torment us before [the] time?” This question suggests that the demons recognized they would face a future judgment but that it was then not the appointed time for that judgment to be executed.

While there are differences in the wording of Matthew 8:29, Mark 5:7, and Luke 8:28, the basic thought is the same in all three passages. One of the differences in Luke 8:28 is that the request not be tormented is preceded by “I beg you.” In Mark 5:7, the request is introduced with the words, “I adjure you by God.”

Mark 5:9 and Luke 8:30, though conveying the same thought, represent it somewhat differently. In Mark 5:9, the words “there are many of us” are part of the reply, whereas Luke 8:30 only mentions the designation “Legion” as the reply and then adds the explanation, “for many demons had entered into him.”

Jesus liberated two men from a pitiable state of extreme suffering, and the developments in connection with the pigs serve to provide evidence respecting the horrific mental affliction that plagued the men. Their value as humans restored to soundness of mind should be regarded as having been of greater value than that of many pigs, which were unclean to the Jews. The animals were being raised for slaughter as food for non-Jews. By present-day standards, the method or methods by which these pigs were to be killed would not have been considered humane.

The Son of God did not cause the pigs to behave in a crazed manner and to plunge into the Sea of Galilee. He did not choose to perform a miracle to prevent financial loss to the owners and preserve the life of the pigs for a death that could have been worse than drowning. The writers of the accounts did not feel impelled to provide explanations for what Jesus did or did not do, and there really is no reason for attempting to do so at a time when only an abbreviated version about the incident exists. What should stand out is that Jesus deeply cared about people and reached out compassionately to those whom others had tried cruelly to control with confining chains and fetters and avoided out of fear of being harmed. The people in that region did not value what Jesus had done for the afflicted men, but entreated him to leave the area.

The Decapolis was a region of ten predominantly Greek cities, which appear to have formed a league sometime during the first century BCE. Of these cities, only Scythopolis was located west of the Jordan. Damascus occupied the most distant northeastern location, and the eight other cities were situated east of the Jordan.

In his Natural History (V, 16 [English translation edited by John Bostock and H. T. Riley]), the first-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote the following regarding the Decapolis: “On the side of Syria, joining up to Judaea, is the region of Decapolis, so called from the number of its cities; as to which all writers are not agreed. Most of them, however, agree in speaking of Damascus as one, a place fertilized by the river Chrysorroös, which is drawn off into its meadows and eagerly imbibed; Philadelphia, and Rhaphana, all which cities fall back towards Arabia; Scythopolis (formerly called Nysa by Father Liber, from his nurse having been buried there), its present name being derived from a Scythian colony which was established there; Gadara, before which the river Hieromix flows; Hippo [Hippos], which has been previously mentioned; Dion, Pella, rich with its waters; Galasa [Gerasa], and Canatha.”

See http://bibleplaces.com/gerasa.htm regarding Gerasa, one of the cities of the Decapolis.