“How does the Christian justify Jesus Christ who supposedly destroyed a large herd of pigs that did not even belong to him (Matthew 8:28-34)?”
On the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus encountered two men who were possessed of demons. [Note: Both Mark and Luke, in their parallel accounts, mention only one man (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:25-39). But this is no cause for concern. Obviously they focused only on the more prominent of the two. One must remember that just because one account may supplement another does not imply a contradiction. There is nothing in either Mark or Luke’s record that 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 feeding nearby. Christ granted that request. The demons entered the hogs which, in turn, rushed down an embankment into the sea and drowned.
Bible critics have charged Jesus with destroying the property of others. It is alleged that His conduct was reprehensible. There are several things that may be said in response to this baseless accusation.
- No charge can be made against the Lord unless the event actually happened. Those who censure Christ first of all must concede that this account represents a factual incident; otherwise, their allegation is baseless. Are skeptics willing to admit that Jesus actually cast out demons? If so, exactly what did that phenomenon prove?
- If Christ is a Divine Being, then He is sovereign over the entire creation and, in reality, everything belongs to Him (cf. Colossians 1:16). God said: “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). Hogs, too!
It is interesting to observe that the demons obviously acknowledged the right of the Savior to use these swine for His own purpose in this episode. Demons have a greater respect for the authority of the Lord than most men! Also, the man himself subsequently worshipped Jesus (Mark 5:6). Does one worship another whom he perceives to be a mere rogue that destroys the property of others? Finally, when the citizens of the region learned of this miraculous feat, they came to where Christ was. Out of fear, they asked him to leave the area.
No appeal was made to the authorities for “arrest” and incarceration! Rather, the people “marveled” (Mark 5:20). Thus, in the interest of a higher good, Christ had every right to allow this incident to occur.
- According to Old Testament regulations (Leviticus 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” (Commentary on Mark, Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994, p. 133). If such were the case, the Savior’s economic “rebuke” certainly would have been warranted.
- 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” (Studies in the Life of Christ, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971, p. 599). There are things that transcend the material, 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.
- Anyone who thinks that the value of 2,000 hogs transcends that of a human soul made in the image of God himself (see Matthew 16:26), is so obtuse that likely no argument would be effective in unscrambling the discombobulation within his skull.
In view of these factors, no legitimate indictment can be leveled against the Son of God in connection with this episode.