In Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8 we find the account of Jesus healing a demoniac (demon-possessed man). Was it one or two demoniacs? Matthew says two, but Mark and Luke say one.
This difference in the accounts is used by skeptics to say the Bible has contradictions and that the Bible is an unreliable source of historical events. But is this really a contradiction? The accounts clearly vary:
Mat 8:28 And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
Mark 5:2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man [one] with an unclean spirit,
Luke 8:27 And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man [one], which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.
Are These the Same Event?
Yes, these are the same event. We can verify that by looking at the timing and the things that took place in each of the synoptic Gospel accounts.
- The event took place after Jesus and His disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee and Jesus had calmed the storm (Matt 8:23-27, Mark 4:36-4 and Luke 8:22-25)
- The demoniacs had been living in the tombs and came out (Matt 8:28, Mark 5:2, Luke 8:27)
- The demons spoke to Jesus (Mat 8:29, Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28)
- Jesus drove the demons out of the men into a herd of pigs (Mat 8:32, Luke 8:32-33)
- The herd of pigs) ran into the sea (Mat 8:32, Mark 5:13, Luke 8:33)
- The pig herders fled and went into the city and told of what had happened (Matt 8:33, Mark 5:14, Luke 8:34)
- Jesus returned by ship to the other side (Mat 9:1, Mark 5:21, Luke 8:40)
Is There A Contradiction?
No, Matthew does not contradict Mark and Luke. The variance in the number of demon-possed men can be explained by:
- Writing style: Mark and Luke are more detailed in their narratives. Matthew’s narrative records the highlights with less detail, but being a tax collector, Matthew gives an inclusive count of demon-possessed men.
- Writing focus: Mark and Luke are more narrowly focused (about only one of the two demon-possessed men). Matthew’s focus is broader.
- The Laws of Logic: For the statement from Matthew and the statements from Mark and Luke to be contradictory there would have to be no possible way to reconcile them. But there is.
Reconciling the Accounts
- According to Matthew, Jesus met two demon-possessed men. Therefore, it’s true to say that Jesus met one demon-possessed man, making Mark’s and Luke’s accounts true also.
- According to Mark and Luke, Jesus met one man, but that does not preclude the possibility of there being more than one man, making Matthew’s account true also.
Clearly both of the accounts can be true. Therefore, the variation must be attributed to a different focus and/or a different writing style.
This is further supported in the variance of Matthew’s record of two beggars (Matt 20:30) and Mark’s and Luke’s records that mention only one (Mark 10:46, Luke 18:35). Once again, Matthew accounts for the number of beggars (being two), and Mark and Luke focus on only one. Again, the variances in the accounts are attributed to them being from different people, who were writing from different perspectives, about the same event. And just like with the accounts of the demoniacs, all three of the accounts of the beggars harmonize, and not one of the accounts invalidates another.
We know that the Bible is God’s perfect and preserved Word and that there are no contradictions. Therefore, it’s important that we be prepared to defend what others might suggest is a contradiction. That said, we should also understand that many who might raise such contradictions, often only want to argue. It’s usually God they want to refute, not the Bible. They are looking for ways to support their rejection of God and attacking His Word is one way to do it.
Do your best to give an answer to a skeptic’s questions. But also try to turn the conversation to one of spiritual importance. Look for a “turning point” opportunity. For example, in this case, try to turn their attention to what Jesus is doing in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8.
The real lesson, in these passages, is not about how many demoniacs Jesus encountered. It’s all about Jesus’ ability and willingness to cast out the demons from the men and give them new life. The accounts demonstrate Jesus’ amazing love and spiritual healing. That’s exactly what Jesus does when a repentant sinner comes to Him in faith and trusts in His life, death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus is faithful to forgive and wash away sins, to heal the soul, and to give new life.
Try to turn any conversation with a skeptic into an opportunity to testify for the love of Jesus. Visit our salvation page for a clear gospel presentation and be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have and how others can receive True Hope.
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