What about those Gadarene Hogs?

Bible critics charge Jesus with an unethical act when he gave permission for some demons to enter a herd of swine. A closer look, however, reveals that the accusation is baseless.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

“How does the Christian justify Jesus Christ who supposedly destroyed a large herd of pigs that did not even belong to him (Mt. 8:28-34)?”

On the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus encountered two men possessed by demons. [Note: In their parallel accounts, Mark and Luke mention only one man (Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:25-39). But this is no reason to worry. Obviously, they focused only on the more prominent of the two.

We must remember that just because one account may supplement another does not imply a contradiction. Nothing in either Mark’s or Luke’s record suggests only one man.

When the Lord commanded the unclean spirits to leave the unfortunate men, they requested permission to enter a herd of swine grazing nearby. Christ granted that request. The demons entered the hogs, then rushed down an embankment into the sea and drowned.

Bible critics have charged Jesus with destroying the property of others, claiming that His conduct was reprehensible. Several things may be said in response to this baseless accusation.

First, a charge can only be made against the Lord if the event happened. Those criticizing Christ must concede that this account represents a factual incident. Otherwise, their allegation is baseless.

Are skeptics willing to admit that Jesus cast out demons? If so, exactly what did that phenomenon prove?

Second, if Christ is a Divine Being, then He is sovereign over the entire creation and, in reality, everything belongs to Him (cf. Col. 1:16). God said: “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10)—including the hogs!

It is interesting to observe that the demons obviously acknowledged the Savior’s right to use these swine for His own purpose in this episode. It appears that demons have a greater respect for the authority of the Lord than most men!

Also, one of the men who was relieved of the demonic possession subsequently worshipped Jesus (Mk. 5:6). Does someone worship another whom he perceives to be a rogue who destroys the property of others?

When the region’s citizens learned of this miraculous feat, they came to Christ. Out of fear, they asked him to leave the area. But no appeal was made to the authorities to “arrest” and incarcerate the Savior! Instead, the people “marveled” (Mk. 5:20). Christ had every right to allow this incident to occur.

Here’s another thought. According to Old Testament regulations (Lev. 11), swine were “unclean.”

Edmond Hiebert noted that it “is generally assumed that the owners were non-Jewish, but it is possible that Hellenizing Jews, lured by the good market for swine flesh in the cities of the Decapolis, may have engaged in raising pigs for financial gain” (133). If such were the case, the Savior’s economic “rebuke” certainly would have been warranted.

Next, consider the benefit this event might have had on the local people. The scholarly R. C. Foster once observed that Christ “permitted the destruction of the swine knowing that it would awaken the Gergesenes from their indifference and ultimately assist in the salvation of a multitude in the community” (599).

Some things transcend material things, and hardship can have a benevolent result in the final ordering of one’s affairs. Who knows how much these folks might have been blessed by the loss of their livestock!

Of course, the spiritually insensitive cannot appreciate this concept.

Finally, anyone who thinks that the value of 2,000 hogs is more than that of a human soul made in the image of God (cf. Mt. 16:26) is so obtuse that no argument will likely be effective in unscrambling the discombobulation within his skull.

Given these factors, no legitimate indictment can be leveled against the Son of God in connection with this episode.

  • Foster, R. C. 1971. Studies in the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker.
  • Heibert, Edmond. 1994. Commentary on Mark. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.