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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Mark 5

Verses 1-20

§ 51. TWO DEMONIACS OF GADARA, Mark 5:1-20 .

Came over unto the other side Landed upon the eastern shore of Gennesaret. Country of the Gadarenes The evangelist does not say that the miracle of the demoniacs and the swine took place at Gadara; but in the country or region of that city. Gadara, the city, was situated southeasterly from the lake, about eight miles distant, and the Jermuk river intervened. The name of Gergesa (in whose country Matthew locates the miracle) appears also as Gerasa, and is identified by Dr. Thomson with Kerza, situated on the eastern shore. See map, p. 62. Dr. Thomson remarks:

“In studying the details of the miracle I was obliged to modify one opinion or impression which had grown up with me from childhood. There is no bold cliff overhanging the lake on the eastern side, nor, indeed, on any other, except just north of Tiberias. Everywhere along the northeastern and eastern shores a smooth beach declines gently down to the water. Take your stand a little south of this Chersa. A great herd of swine, we will suppose, is feeding on this mountain that towers above it. They are seized with a sudden panic, rush madly down the almost perpendicular declivity, those behind tumbling over and thrusting forward those before, and as there is neither time nor space to recover on the narrow shelf between the base and the lake, they are crowded headlong into the water, and perish.

Verse 2

2. With an unclean spirit As this is one of the most unequivocal instances of supernatural possession, it may be properly prefaced by some remarks on this class of phenomena as presented in the New Testament.

1 . No one is said to be possessed by Satan, or the devil; but, in the original, by demons or unclean spirits, or spirits connected with specific diseases, as a deaf or dumb spirit. The whole system of Bible demonology presupposes one arch enemy of God and man, finite yet powerful, an archangel of evil, who is the mightiest finite representative of wickedness revealed to us in the universe. See note on Matthew 4:1. He makes his appearance in Eden under the base guise of a serpent, and procures the fall of man. As Belial he is known in Old Testament history, and perhaps as Azazel. He is Satan in the book of Job. He is Satan, Beelzebub, and prince of devils in the New Testament.

2 . Out of the range of the Scripture lands the powers of evil widely and powerfully ruled. Yet it may have been under other names and wearing other guises. The same world of invisible evil powers in its great outlines is dimly disclosed; but the demoniac agencies appear in different specific modes and styles, as the customs and institutes of men admitted them. There were the oracles, revealing apparently more or less of hidden truth, and with their devotees more or less inspired and phrensied. And it is by this very oracular inspiration that the girl in Acts 16:16, was said to be filled, namely, by the spirit of PYTHON, which was the name of the god of the oracles. And this maiden exhibited the same peculiar phenomenon as these demoniacs, in showing a supernatural knowledge of the true character of the apostles, proclaiming them to be the servants of the Most High, while she herself only professed to belong to a far inferior opposing power. It is a striking fact, (which we shall again notice,) that the fathers of the Christian Church boasted that the oracles became dumb after the coming of Christ. This brings us also to another striking conclusion of the Church, namely, that the demons of the New Testament, the devils of Scripture, lurked under the guise of much of the mythology of heathendom. And on that view of the case we are at no loss to find an abundance of phenomena in pagan antiquity analogous to the possessions in the New Testament.

3 . To those who maintain that the cases of supposed possession were nothing more than ordinary diseases, it is fairly replied that the New Testament writers, and, evidently, the Jews of that age, generally and fully distinguished between diseases produced by natural causes and the same diseases attended with demoniacal symptoms. All phenomena of the diseases exhibited by the possessed manifest themselves in abundance in that country at the present day. Thus Dr. Thomson says: “In Sidon there are cases of epileptic fits which, in external manifestations, closely resemble that mentioned in Mark 9:18, Matthew 17:15, and Luke 9:38. These fits have seized a young man in my own house repeatedly; and lo! the spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out, and foameth at the mouth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and is cast down wherever he may be seized, and pineth away until you would think he was actually dead. Matthew calls him a lunatic; but according to Mark it was a dumb spirit.”

And yet over above these diseases, which were natural, there are, in the cases of the possessed, phenomena which show that, in their case, either the disease is preternaturally produced or aggravated, or attended with evidence of demoniac action in addition. Such is most strikingly the case of the demoniac of Gadara, whose case is now before us. It is impossible to account for his strange consciousness of a wonderful power in Jesus, (see note on Mark 1:24;) or for the utterance of language which comes, as it were, from a being within the man; or for the language on the part of our Lord clearly recognizing the fact of possession; or for the departure of the devils out of the man into the swine by the express permission of Jesus, on any other hypothesis than the existence of beings superinduced upon men.

4 . It is asked, Why do not demoniacs appear at the present day? and to this we reply: The most profound observers in mental and psychological science have remarked that certain supernaturalisms seem to affect the human system in particular ages, then disappear, and are the subjects of scepticism in a later era. Phenomena of this kind took place in the middle ages which are unknown now. We have elsewhere remarked (note on Matthew 1:20) that the coming of our Lord was attended by a series of splendid manifestations of the heavenly world; that the powers of hell should come forth in counteraction is not wonderful. That the battle between supernal and infernal powers then took place on earth more or less manifestly, is plain from the whole scene of the Saviour’s temptation. That victory was on the side of heaven was boasted, as we have before remarked, by the Church in regard to the dumbness of the oracles. The fatal blow was struck to paganism, and the decay of diabolical influence commenced, which is yet to result in the binding of Satan and the casting him down to the abyss, the triumph of the martyr spirits reigning in heaven and over earth with Christ. Revelation 20:0. Yet still there are cases, especially of men given over to delirium tremens, which exhibit a terrible approximation to possession, and which, if Satanic power were at the present time in the manifest ascendant, would very possibly develop a clear possession by the power of the evil ones. Dr. Trench quotes cases where a double consciousness has shown itself, and we have known cases take strangely a supernatural tendency. How much diabolical mingles with the so-called spiritism of the present day, may be matter of serious consideration. That these phenomena, many of them, may belong to the human organism in a preternatural condition, is probable. But they may belong to that part of the human which is allied to the supernatural; and no one can perhaps draw the line which divides them from the supernatural, or tell when the supernatural is superinduced upon the preternatural in man. This much we are certain: these phenomena belong not to the divine, but to the lower if not to the infernal order of invisible powers. As there is day and night, light and darkness, good and evil, so there is a kingdom of heaven and a kingdom of hell. Let men beware how they join themselves to the power of darkness, and come under the dominion of Beelzebub, prince of devils.

Verse 3

3. Dwelling among the tombs Mark is very copious in his description of the fierceness of this demoniac. We may remark that these feats of strength and fondness for horrible resorts are often manifested by madmen. The tombs and charnels of the Jews were large, and filled with the uncleanness of dead men’s bones. In this wild region, around the eastern and less civilized side of Tiberias, many gloomy recesses were to be found.

Verse 6

6. Saw Jesus… ran A traveller not far from this region describes a similar scene near Lebanon: “The silence of night was now broken by fierce yells and howlings, which I discovered proceeded from a naked maniac, who was fighting with some wild dogs for a bone. The moment he perceived me he left his canine comrades, and, bounding along with rapid strides, seized my horse’s bridle, and almost forced him backward over the cliff.” Warburton’s ‘Crescent and the Cross.’

Worshipped him The spirit recognized with a supernatural discernment our Lord’s superior nature, and did him a reverence.

Verse 7

7. Torment me not In Matthew they cry: “Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” From this we seem able to derive some inferences as to the laws under which these demons were, and which produce manifestations over and above the symptoms of mere disease. 1. The organs of the man are so completely possessed by the demon that the latter speaks through them, and thus he communicates with other beings in the body here on earth. 2. There is apparently a desire on the part of these unhappy spirits to come into such possession and into communion with the human scene of things, as if they were thus less miserable than when without. 3. These infernal beings dread to be driven back to their own infernal abode. They are there to be chained down in darkness, and in dread of the day of judgment yet to come. Jud 1:6 ; 2 Peter 2:4. Hence they fear that Jesus will anticipate that day, and “torment them before the time.” Matthew 8:29.

Verse 8

8. For he said That is, our Lord had said so. The demon’s cry of terror of coming torment was in consequence of the Lord’s previous order to depart out of the man. Unclean spirit Some spirits may be specially spiteful, and some unclean or sensual.

Verse 9

9. Asked… What is thy name? Christ asked the man (not the demon) his name, in order to call out his personal consciousness, and aid in restoring him to himself. My name is Legion The demon snatches the man’s organs and answers the question for himself, giving his own name. He is a host by nature and by name. A Legion in the Roman army was a division embracing six thousand men. The demon, perhaps, assumes that name for this whole number, as being their leader. That Legion is a name for a commander of a legion among the Jews, appears from the Talmudical writings. It is not indeed to be supposed that either angels or devils wear in the invisible world the names that men give to their visible manifestations; and hence the same dark personality may enact the oracular Python or Apollo among the Greeks, the Belial, perhaps, among the Hebrews, and the Beelzebub among the Canaanites.

Verse 10

10. He besought him The demon besought the Lord. He knows his master. It is a demon’s prayer. And it is heard! But he utters no petition to have his diabolical nature changed. He only asks a boon suited to his demoniac nature. Luke (Luke 8:31) says: “They besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep;” that is, the abyss, or “bottomless pit.” Revelation 20:3.

Not send them… out of the country Our Lord only assumed to expel the devils from their abode in the particular human being. He did not shape their subsequent course, or mark out their path. And Stier well argues with those who impute immorality to Jesus for giving this permission, that it is even less liable to the imputation of immorality than the divine permission, not withheld from demons, to possess men; or, we may add, the divine permission yielded to evil men to rule in the world. That a Mohammed, a Nero, or a Napoleon should rule mankind with bloodshed, is the mystery of God.

Verse 12

12. Send us into the swine From this we should infer, 1. That the infernals preferred a human residence to a bestial one; but they preferred a bestial one to their own infernal home. 2. That it may be, at certain periods of the world, possible for the infernal natures to possess a brute body, especially of such unclean brutes as are congenial with their own uncleanness.

Verse 13

13. Gave them leave That is, as before said, after dismissing them from the man, he did not hold any control over their course. If they were able, like their fellow devils, to make any other lodgment, that was not our Lord’s present business. They had full leave, for aught he had to do. At any rate, better they should possess a beast than a man. We say this, because many have accused our Lord of doing a harm by sending them into the swine, and so destroying life and property. Our Lord drove them from the man, and that is all he had to do with them. For their own subsequent course of mischief they alone were chargeable, as truly as Judas or the Pharisees who blasphemed the Holy Ghost.

Ran violently down Devil upon brute! The ferment of the two combining natures produces madness. The swine ran into the sea and the devils went to their own place. This may have been the best way of driving him out of the human world to hell. And that is a second full answer to those who cavil, falsely as well as foolishly, that our Lord here destroyed the swineherd’s property. Surely our Lord is not responsible for the doings of the devils he expels from men.

Verse 15

15. In his right mind A grateful monument of mercy! The frenzy has subsided, the victim is redeemed, his body is clothed, his troubled soul is once more tranquil. And there is his benefactor soon to be banished the country!

Verse 16

16. Also concerning the swine Our Lord had saved the man; the devils had destroyed the swine. The Gadarenes are thankless for the mercy, and hold our Lord responsible for the loss of the swine.

Verse 17

17. They… pray him to depart They considered the salvation of the man as a poor compensation for the loss of their pigs. A man who drives away devils must be himself driven away. So do men hug the disease and hate the physician. Skeptics at the present day agree with the Gadarenes and repudiate Jesus, because the demons destroyed the swine. They began to pray We have here three prayers from three very different sources. The devils pray, and their prayers are granted, but to their own final discomfiture. The Gadarenes pray, and their prayer too is granted; for the Lord departs and leaves them to their own abandonment. The delivered man prays to be with Christ; his prayer is not heard, but a better lot is assigned, a lot of home duty, which if he will fulfil, he shall be with his Lord forever.

Verse 18

18. Prayed him that he might be with him How different is the grateful man from his former furious self!

Verse 19

19. Go home… tell This time our Lord does not forbid his miracle to be proclaimed abroad. There is a very plain reason. In other cases the publication of the miracles subjected our Lord to be overwhelmed by a throng, (see on Matthew 8:4.) But here he was about to leave the country. Besides, an evil report was liable to be spread by the losers of the swine. For this reason he desired the man not to go with himself, but to remain and proclaim his miracle of mercy at his own home. So that home shall be doubly blessed, with the restoration of its own lord, and with a reception of new mercy from God. Very touching is the poor man’s gratitude. He would be forever with his benefactor.

Verse 22



22. Jairus by name The raising of Jairus’s daughter is in each of the three evangelists closely connected with the healing of the diseased woman.

Verse 23

23. Point of death Adding perhaps, as Matthew reports him, “is even now dead,” so hopeless was the case.

Verse 25

25. A certain woman She intercepts him as he passes on, followed by a pressing crowd, to the house of Jairus.

Verse 27

27. Touched his garment She seemed to consider his body entirely charged with healing power like electricity. If she can but touch his garment she can draw it out.

Verse 30

30. Virtue Power. This is a remarkable expression. It seems to imply that faith would draw the healing power from Jesus almost without his volition! How unlike the unbelief of his own countrymen, which compelled the “virtue” to stay within him, so that he could scarce do a miracle among them. But in both cases the operation was really through the consent of his will.

Verse 31

31. Who touched me? The judge who asks the prisoner whether he is guilty or not guilty, really knows, perhaps, but he will none the less put him to the answer. The Lord knew who, but he must make her reveal herself.

Verse 33

33. Told him all the truth For the Saviour held that she would not be truly blessed unless she should with her mouth before the world confess her salvation. Then could he wisely speak her peace.

Verse 35

35. Daughter is dead And so, they thought, beyond the Master’s power.

Verse 36

36. Believe Trust even beyond the gates of death.

Verse 37

37. No man to follow him Amid the chosen twelve there was a lesser chosen number. This was an occasion of deep solemnity, and our Lord allowed but three disciples present.

Verse 39

39. Sleepeth See on Matthew 9:24.

Verse 41

41. Talitha cumi This is in the Syro-Chaldaic language, which our Lord usually spoke. Mark alone gives the express words as a memorable reminiscence.

Verse 43

43. Given her to eat So that when natural or spiritual life is restored, (Mr. Wesley well remarks,) even by immediate miracle, all proper means are to be used to preserve it.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Mark 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.