How the destruction of 2,000 pigs wasn’t at all Jesus’s idea—and actually got in his way.
Mark 5.11-20 • Matthew 8.30-34 • Luke 8.32-39
You might remember devout Jews don’t eat pork. It’s because the L
No, ritual uncleanliness does not mean pigs are sinful, nor that eating them is a sin. The only consequence in the scripture for eating an unclean animal is you couldn’t worship. You’d first have to baptize yourselves and wait till sundown. Realistically, if your only worship consisted of going to temple three times a year,
Anyway some commentators figure this fact puts a new spin on the story: Here are some animals which shouldn’t even have been in Israel anyway. So Jesus likely had no qualms about the demons destroying them, and even permitted them because he wanted the pigs dead. Go ahead demons; purge Israel of its swine.
Okay, now back up a few yards and let’s think about how contrary to Jesus’s character this interpretation is.
Jesus doesn’t endorse devilish behavior.
Much of the reason for the idea Jesus wanted the pigs killed, comes from
People like determinism because they love the idea God controls absolutely everything. It appeals to us because humans covet power, and we’d kinda like to control absolutely everything, so we like imagining God works like that. It also appeals to us because it feels like a guarantee we’re going to heaven: If God wants us, God absolutely, unstoppably gets us. He controls all, remember?
But its one cosmic flaw is it turns God evil. See, the universe has an awful lot of evil in it. If God controls absolutely everything, it’d mean he controls the evil too. The evil’s there because God wants evil there. He set it up so people would be horrible to one another, reject him, go to hell, and perish forever. He put every sin, every woe, every illness, every evildoer, every devil in our lives… all so he can appear to be a hero when he stops it or gets rid of it, all so he can appear righteous for judging sinners… who only did all the evil he made them do.
Determinism turns Jesus into a moral monster too; a chessmaster who’s happy to let his pawns suffer so he can play the victor and save the day. Remember how Jesus would regularly speak out against evil? Be compassionate? Call people to repent? Tell us we had a choice, so choose to do the right thing? Determinism means these are all lies—we never really had a choice, ’cause we’re locked into following God’s script, and if we resist it… well, that resistance was also part of the script. Thanks for playing, but you were never gonna win anyway: We’ve been entirely manipulated, and free will’s an illusion.
It’d also mean this moshpit of demons were also following the script. God arranged to put them in the man, all so Jesus could look good taking ’em out. With the added bonus of smiting pigs… even though God created these pigs. Guess he only created them so he could have the demons destroy them for fun, like a kid who likes to build sandcastles near the shore then watch the waves melt ’em. Guess he only created sinners for much the same reason.
If the idea God is secretly evil really bothers you, and you’re wondering, “Determinists believe that?”—they say they actually don’t. All they want to believe is God micromanages the universe. They never, ever wanna take it to its logical conclusion. They insist there’s some magic mechanism hidden in their system, one which disconnects God from all the evil he’s decreed, one which makes it so God isn’t evil deep down, because the bible says he’s not evil deep down.
Now compare this with what we actually do know about Jesus: He’s loving and compassionate. He came to this world to save it, not smite it.
Smiting the pigs wouldn’t have been a fair judgment. First of all, the Syrian Greeks weren’t under the Law.
But for gentiles then, same as gentiles now, pork isn’t an issue. And God doesn’t judge people on non-issues. It’s odd how these same commentators who figure Jesus wanted these pigs to die, themselves have no qualms about eating pork chops and bacon.
Also bear in mind how the loss of 2,000 pigs was a serious blow to the local economy. Y’know how much a pig went for back then? Different Greek sources say adult pigs sold for 40 drachmas; young pigs for 20. Laborers back then might only earn a drachma a day, so a pig was worth more than a month’s wages. A dozen pigs was worth more than a year’s wages. And the demons just wiped out 2,000-some pigs: That’s 22 years’ wages.
But hey, gentiles shouldn’t’ve been raising pigs anyway. Right?
The reality is Jesus let ’em go into the pigs, because better they infested pigs than humans. He wasn’t gonna send them to the abyss yet; I don’t know why. (I don’t know what rules God’s handed down for demonic behavior. Probably not wise to speculate either. But it’s possible they hadn’t pushed God too far just yet, so Jesus decided not to judge ’em yet.) But he definitely wasn’t gonna turn them loose… to head to the nearby town. ’Cause that’s precisely where they’d go. The pigs were the better choice.
But the pigs running off the cliff to drown? Not Jesus’s idea. Some folks figure it was the pigs, choosing to die rather than be demonized. Others figure it was the demons, who (they speculate) weren’t allowed to kill humans, but could (they still speculate) kill all the pigs they pleased.
My guess? The evil spirits were hoping to bollix the gospel by destroying the locals’ property. So of course Jesus didn’t endorse this behavior: They were working against him, not secretly for him. As usual.
Mammonism and the gospel.
In the case of the Syrian Greeks, their introduction to God’s kingdom had just got their pigs killed off. So they weren’t all that receptive to anything Jesus was gonna do thereafter. No doubt they were outraged by him, and if some nut had simply released their herd of pigs and drove ’em off the cliff, they’d have crucified him right there.
But these were pagans who believed demons were lesser gods. And Jesus had just thrown thousands of them out of a man. Without an exorcism ritual, without a magic spell; with a command. So, as all three gospels report, they were scared to death of our Lord. They didn’t want him around, but they weren’t gonna mess with him.
So the reason I bring up the economics of the situation is for two reasons: First to point out it wasn’t Jesus’s intent to damage their economy, nor judgment on the Syrian Greeks for liking pork. That was all on the demons.
And second, to point out the demons’ evil little scheme to bollix the gospel kinda worked. Jesus had good news for the Dekapolis, but now they didn’t wanna hear it. They couldn’t get beyond the idea Jesus had got their pigs destroyed. They just wanted the whole thing to be over with, and for Jesus to go back to the Galilee province and leave them alone. And Jesus didn’t fight ’em, because Jesus doesn’t
Well… with one sleeper agent left behind.
Later in the gospels, Jesus came back to the Dekapolis, and now they were ready to listen to him. (And he fed 3,000 of them. Yep, it’s part of that story.) Because this guy had been sent around with a rather simple tale: Give your testimony of what God did for you.
Had the pigs not been destroyed, Jesus might’ve fed the 3,000 a lot sooner. Unfortunately things didn’t happen that way. But he did gain an advance man, so there’s that.
I’ll just wrap up with this little reminder: Any interpretation of the New Testament which doesn’t take into consideration Jesus’s compassion for people—which doesn’t make it front and center of his motivation for what he’s doing—is seriously flawed. Don’t be like that.