PRELIMINARY NOTE ON “THE COUNTRY OF THE GERASENS~We are told that this miracle took place “on the other side of the sea” and in the country of the Gerasens. This latter statement has given rise to much discussion, because the best Greek MSS. name three different places as the scene of the miracle. In the revised Anglican translation we find accordingly that St Matthew localises the place as Gradarens, while St Mark reads Gerasens, and St Luke has Gergesens. Of these three places, for geographical reasons, the ancient Gergesa, now Chersha or Khersa, seems to have been the correct one, for it has all the geographical features mentioned by the Evangelists. Gerasa, on the other hand, is situated about thirty miles south-east of Galilee, while Gadara was a large city in Perea, about eight miles from the lake. There is, however, no real discrepancy, as these towns being on the same side of the lake and in the same region, the land between might be named after any one of them.
1 AND they came over the strait of the sea, into the country of the Gerasens.
Gerasens. A district south-east of the lake and opposite Capharnaum. They would probably have arrived early in the morning, as the distance across the lake was about a night s journey ; moreover, there had been a tempest, arid this would have delayed them.
2 And as he went out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the monuments a man with an unclean spirit,
immediately. Probably the demoniac had seen the boat coming in and felt drawn to meet our Lord.
out of the monuments. Throughout Syria there are many natural caves, and it was also customary to hew tombs out of the solid rocks.
“An immense mountain rises directly above Chersha in which are ancient tombs” (Thomson). Many of these tombs belong to very remote periods, even before the time of our Lord. These sepulchres were considered “unclean” on account of the dead having been buried there, hence no Jew would enter them, and demoniacs and other outcasts would hold undisturbed possession of these caves.
a man. St Luke also speaks only of one, while St Matt. (Mt 8:28) mentions two that were possessed. One does not exclude a second; probably the more violent of the two is mentioned as being more dangerous.
with an unclean spirit. The man was possessed by a demon of impurity. See note “Objections Against Demonical Possession Refuted at the end of this post.
3 Who had his dwelling in the tombs, and no man now could bind him, not even with chains.
his dwelling. The Jews made no provision for the mentally afflicted. They bound them when they became violent; otherwise the poor creatures roamed at will throiigh the land. Maniacs, demoniacs, and lepers were alike treated as outcasts.
no man now could bind him. Evidently he had become more and more violent. The devil gave him supernatural strength, as to the man mentioned in the Acts 19:16. “And the man in whom the wicked spirit was, leaping upon them and mastering them loth, prevailed against them, so that they fled out -of that house naked and wounded.”
4 For having been often bound with fetters and chains, he had burst the chains, and broken the fetters in pieces, and no one could tame him.
chains. Bonds in general, particularly for the neck and hands not necessarily metal chains.
no one could tame him. He could neither be restrained by physical force nor subdued by will-power.
5 And he was always day and night in the monuments and in the mountains, crying and cutting himself with stones.
day and night in the monuments, etc. Probably passing his days wandering over the mountains, and his nights in the tombs. St Luke 8:27 says he wore no clothes, and St Matt 8:28 points out that none could pass by that way for fear of the two demoniacs.
cutting himself with stones. Demoniacs were often urged to lacerate
and even to destroy themselves. “Who, wheresoever he taketh him, dasheth him, and he foameth, and gnasheth with the teeth, and pineth away. And I spoke to thy disciples to cast him out, and they could not. And oftentimes hath he cast him. into the fire and into waters, to destroy him.
But if thou canst do anything, help us, having compassion on us” (St Marl 9:17, 21).
6 And seeing Jesus afar off, he ran and adored him.
he ran and adored him. The devils feared Christ, hence their acknowledgment of His divinity. On the other hand, the poor demoniac
may have felt something drawing him to the feet of Jesus; and while the adoration was a forced one on the part of the devil, it may have been a willing homage on the part of the poor demoniac.
7 And crying with a loud voice, he said: What have I to do with thee, Jesus the Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God that thou torment me not.
What have I to do with thee? These words may mean “What is there in common between us?” or “Why do you trouble us thus?”
Jesus the Son of the most high God. Perhaps- the confession was forced from them, by the sense of power which they felt our Lord exercised over them. Certainly they had no good motive in confessing His divinity, and probably when the confession was publicly made, the devils may have hoped to throw discredit on our Lord, and by admitting that they knew Him, have led the bystanders to conclude that He worked in collusion with them.
This title Son of the most high God occurs here and in St Luke 1:32. From the earliest times we find the title “the most high” applied to God. Melchisedech was called “the priest of the most high God.” “But Melchisedech the king of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God” (Gen. 14:18).
Balaam employs it. “The hearer of the words of God hath said, who knoweth the doctrine of the highest, and seeth the visions of the Almighty,” etc. (Num. 24:16). Likewise Moses, “When the most high divided the nations; when he separated the sons of Adam, he appointed the bounds of people according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut. 32:8). It seems to have arisen in consequence of the Jews having been in contact with Gentiles, who held polytheistic creeds. It was frequently used in the formula of exorcism, therefore the title was familiar to the devils, since they were expelled “in the name of the most high.” (See St Luke 8:28; Acts 16:17.)
I adjure thee. Whenever a demoniac comes in presence of our Saviour we notice a btrange mingling of su pplication and arrogance. They evidently feared, and yet would fain defy Him.
torment me not. St Matt, adds “before the time” (Mt 8:29). The devils
do not wish to be sent back to hell. They prefer to roam at will and
torment men. Though they carry their torments with them wherever
they go, yet, evidently from these words, we may infer that they suffered
more intensely when confined to their own place.
8 For he said unto him: Go out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
For he said unto him, i.e. Christ had said to the demon Go out, etc., before the demon adjured Him, saying, Torment me not.
9 And he asked him: What is thy name? And he saith to him: My name is Legion, for we are many.
What is thy name? Thy: here our Lord addresses the spirit, not
the man. Though there were many devils in the man, one seems to
have acted as spokesman. What have I to do with thee? Torment me
not. Jesus asked the question for the benefit of the Apostles.
Legion. Perhaps the devils wished to strike terror into the souls of the listeners and to give a great idea of their strength and power. A Roman legion varied from 3,000 to 6,000 men, and was a terror to the Jews. The number is not here to be taken literally. It simply implies they were many.
10 And he besought him much, that he would not drive him away out of the country.
he besought him, etc. Notice the four requests made by the devil. He asked Christ:
(a) Not to torment him by driving him out (v. 8).
(b) Not to drive him away out of the country (v. 10).
(c) Not to command them to go into the abyss (i.e. hell) (St Luke 8:31).
(d) That he might go into the swine (v. 12).
11 And there was there near the mountain a great herd of swine, feeding.
near the mountain. There are in the environs of Chersha large plateaus of fertile soil, where abundant pasture and bulbous roots suitable for swine s food are still to be seen.
a great herd of swine feeding. Jews were forbidden to keep swine or to eat swine s flesh. These swine may have belonged to some irreligious Jews or to Gentiles. Probably the herd was the property of more than one man. The greater number of the inhabitants of this region were certainly Gentiles, but there were also Hellenistic, i.e. Greek-speaking Jews living there.
12 And the spirits besought him, saying: Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
Send us into the swine. If the devils could enter into a man’s body, still more would they be able to take possession of animals, but they needed our Lord’s permission to do this. The devils doubtless wished to go into the swine
(1) That they might, by destroying the swine, free themselves.
(2) In order to stir up the owners of the herd against our Lord.
13 And Jesus immediately gave them leave. And the unclean spirits going out, entered into the swine: and the herd with great violence was carried headlong into the sea, being about two thousand, were stifled in the sea.
the herd with great violence was carried headlong. Near Chersha, a little to the south, a steep mountain rises almost perpendicularly from the sea. The swine rushing down the sides of this mountain with great violence could not have checked their course on arriving at the edge of the abrupt descent, but must inevitably have fallen into the sea.
two thousand. St Mark alone mentions the number.
stifled. Suffocated in the water. Jesus, as God, has a right to give or take worldly possessions as He wills. If the owners of the swine were Jews, they were breaking the law and deserved to lose their herds. If they were Gentiles, they had probably induced the Jews, in view of profit, to trade in swine, and thus gave scandal. In any case God can always, without injustice, take back what comes from Him, and we know that famine and pestilence have been frequently sent as chastisements. This miracle and that of “the cursing of the barren fig-tree” are the only two miracles of destruction which our Lord wrought.
14 And they that fed them fled, and told it in the city and in the fields. And they went out to see what was done:
they that fed them fled, etc. They ran away in fear and told all whom they met. The owners of the herds would have dwelt in the city. Hence they went out into the plains to see what was done (v. 14).
15 And they came to Jesus, and they see him that was troubled with the devil, sitting, clothed, and well in his wits, and they were afraid.
they come …. and see him, i.e. the demoniac.
Mark the contrast:
(a) The demoniac, now well in his wits.
(b) sitting at His feet. No longer roaming about, crying out, or cutting himself with stones.
(c) clothed: instead of naked.
they were afraid. Awed by the evident miracle.
16 And they that had seen it, told them, in what manner he had been dealt with who had the devil; and concerning the swine.
In this verse St Mark relates the scene as an eye-witness might have done. Those who had seen the miracle are eager to give all details to the newcomers, and also they wish to exonerate themselves from all blame for the loss of the swine.
17 And they began to pray him that he would depart from their coasts.
they began to pray him, etc. They regretted the loss of the swine, and feared to incur other losses. St Peter, in his humility, once said, “Depart from me, Lord,” but the Gerasens did not ask our Lord to depart on account of their unworthiness, but simply from interested worldly motives.
18 And when he went up into the ship, he that had been troubled with the devil, began to beseech him that he might be with him.
He went up into the ship. Our Lord granted their request. He does not force His graces on the unwilling. These Gerasens were also selfish, not considering the blessings which the poor demoniac had received. Jesus returned there about a year later.
that he might be with him. He wished to accompany our Lord, either out of gratitude, or perhaps he feared the devils might again take possession of him when Jesus had left.
19 And he admitted him not, but saith him: Go into thy house to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had mercy thee.
tell them how great things, etc. The man now delivered was to be a disciple of Jesus and tell what God had done for him. Thus some at least, must have been prepared to receive our Lord when He returned there.
20 And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men wondered.
Decapolis. A district containing a league of ten cities. It was established by Pompey the Great, in order to conquer and subjugate the native bands of robbers and Bedouins. (See Geog. Notes, page 83.)
Objections against Demoniacal Possession refuted
It has been objected by non-believers that there is no such thing as “possession by the devil,” but that what is and has been so called, is merely a form of disease, such as insanity, epilepsy, or some nervous complaint. They base their assertion on the fact, that many of the symptoms are similar, since maniacs and persons afflicted with fits, gnash their teeth, foam at the mouth, and strive to injure or destroy them selves. To this objection we can give the following answers:
I. The Jews (who had the true faith) believed in possession by the devil, since they attributed certain diseases to the power of the devil.
(a) “And when they were gone out, behold they brought him a dumb
man possessed with a devil” (St Matt 9:32). “Then was offered to
him one possessed with a devil blind and dumb : and he healed him so
that he spoke and saw” (St Matt. 12:22). “Master, I have brought
my son to thee having a dumb spirit” (St Mark 9:16).
(b) They distinguished between persons afflicted with disease and
those possessed by devils. “And when it was evening after sunset,
they brought to him all that were ill, and that were possessed with
devils” (St Mark 1:32). “Who were come to hear him, and to be healed
of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits, were cured” (St Luke 6:18).
(c) They accused our Lord of being thus possessed. “Why seek you
to kill me? The multitude answered and said: Thou hast a devil; who seeketh to kill thee?” (St John 7:20). “And the scribes who were come from Jerusalem, said : He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of devils he casteth out devils” (St Mark 3:22).
II. A spirit or personality only could reveal the divinity of our Lord, could fear being cast into the abyss, or desire to remain in a given locality. Such manifestations are not within the compass of a mere disease.
III. Our Lord distinctly teaches that there is such a thing as possession by devils, since
(a) He gives His Apostles power to cast out devils, and they used this power. “Lord, the devils also are subject to us in thy name.” “I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven.” “But yet rejoice not in this, that spirits are subject unto you” (St Luke 10:17, 18, 20).
(b) He warns them that certain devils are difficult to expel (St Mark 9:28).
(c) The sudden cure of the Gerasen demoniac, and the consequent possession of the swine and their destruction, shew that the afflicted man was not suffering from a disease, since this could not be transferred to animals.
IV. The Church, following the teaching of Christ, has always believed in demoniacal possession, therefore she has
(a) instituted, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, special ministers and rites in order to expel evil spirits:
(b) established and preserved the custom of blessing people and things, which has, among other objects, that of preventing them from being possessed by the devil.