Can you please explain the variation in the Bible between Mathew 8:28, Mark 5:1, and Luke 8:26-27 with regard to where the miracle took place and the drowning of the swine after casting out demons from a man by Jesus?  Mathew places the event in Gadara and Mark and Luke in Gerasa. They are two separated places. More so, it is not possible in both cases (places) for the swine (pigs) to get drowned in the sea, because neither Gadara nor Gerasa are on the Sea of Galilee. Gadara, the nearer of the two, is 7 miles away from the sea of Galilee.  Instead the most probable place would Kursi, which the gospel writers never mentioned.  I’m just curious: If the Bible writers like Mathew and Mark were really led by the Spirit, why do they make such errors? (Forgive me for saying this… )  Can you please help me?  Thank you


With Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we have four independent accounts of the events of the life of Jesus Christ.  If all of the accounts agreed on all of the small details, why would we need four gospels?  As it is, the four accounts are the perspective of four different, mainly independent witnesses.  In the case of Matthew and John, they were eyewitnesses to all the important events.  Mark may have been as well, but in any case, the early church fathers tell us he was the close companion of Peter, who clearly was an eye-witness.  Luke was the most careful historian of the four, and there is good evidence that he interviewed several eye-witnesses.  The small differences are evidence, not of error, but of independence in point of view.  The three different accounts of the demoniac are a perfect case in point.  For example, Matthew’s account mentions two demoniacs.  One was possessed by many demons and was the center of the story.  The other demoniac only played a very insignificant part in the story. Mark 5 and Luke 8 only mention the primary demoniac as the center of the story and do not bother to mention the other, less significant demon-possessed man.  Skeptics call this a contradiction, when it clearly is not.  When we have separate witnesses to an event, the benefit of the doubt must go to the witnesses unless we have incontrovertible evidence that there is a clear contradiction.  Obviously there is not when it comes to the number of demoniacs.

I have been a juror in three different trials. In the first trial, there were three different eye-witnesses to the crime.  Each gave separate accounts, with very widely varying details.  When we, the jurors, heard the three accounts, we were confused at first, but then when we got to the jury room, we realized that there was no contradiction–that the witnesses simply had noticed and pointed out different details.  We also then knew that there was no collusion between the witnesses because of the differences.  This is what is happening in the three separate accounts of the demoniac.

Now, let me get to your example.  On the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee (actually to the Southeast) there are two cities. One is Gadara.  The other is Gerasa.  Gadara is the chief Jewish city of the area, so the more Jewish-oriented Matthew naturally calls this the region of the Gadarenes.  The principle Graeco-Roman city in the area known as the Decapolis, was Gerasa (also known as Jerash. By the way, I visited Jerash this past Fall).  The more Roman-oriented Mark and the more Greek-oriented Luke naturally call the region, Gerasa and tell us the demoniac came from the region of the Gerasenes. Both cities are to the Southeast of the Sea of Galilee.  Gerasa is larger, but is farther from the Sea. It was the chief city of the area. Gadara was closer, but not as significant a city.  There is no contradiction here.  If someone lived in the city of Norwalk, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, some would say that the person lived in Norwalk.  Others would say that he or she lived in Los Angeles.  If speaking to someone from Europe, surely they would say Los Angeles, but if speaking to someone from LA county, they would say Norwalk.  This is not contradiction. It is a different description of the same facts, adapted to the audience of the facts.

This is, apparently, what is going on with the three accounts of the demoniacs.  You read somewhere that the more probably place is Kursi.  What is the basis for saying this, when Matthew was actually there when this happened?  I believe that Matthew is more likely to get it right than some skeptical modern commentator. Also, although Kursi is a possible site of the drowning of the pigs, the evidence is that the settlement was begun in the 5th century AD as a Byzantine monastery. It is more likely that it was named after the biblical story than that it was the site of the story. Besides, Matthew 8:28 tells us that this happened in “the region of the Gadarenes.”  Kursi is not a “region.” This will successfully explain why Gadara is perhaps ten miles from the actual site of the driving out of the demons by Jesus, as this took place, not at Gadara but in the region defined by Gadara. The same applies to Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 which say the event happened “in the region of the Gerasenes,” not at Gerasa. As I said above, Gerasa was the principle Graeco/Roman city in that region.

There are other potential “contradictions” in the three accounts.   For example, Luke mentions that the man was naked.  Mark and Matthew do not mention this.   Is this proof of a contradiction?  Mark mentions the man cutting himself with stones.  Matthew and Luke do not mention this.  Is this a contradiction? Clearly, these are evidence of a separate, independent witness, not of a contradiction.

Again, those who report the facts should be given the benefit of the doubt that they are not mistaken, unless it can be shown that there is a definite contradiction.  In this case, there simply is not such a contradiction.  As far as I know, there is no bona fide contradiction in the four gospels, despite what some may say.  I am waiting to see a single genuine :”contradiction” which is not easily explained as a separate but non-contradictory witness to the events.

John Oakes

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