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The gerasene demoniac account (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) is so alien to our experience that New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders compared it to the strange apocryphal legends about Jesus—such as his turning clay birds into real ones. Although evangelicals would not go that far, we are in a quandary about how to make sense of the passage. Should we negotiate with demons the way Jesus did? If no pigs are available, should we consider casting demons into a tank of goldfish?

Many scholars grapple with questions the text presents: Where did this event happen—Gerasa, Gadara, or somewhere else? How many demoniacs were there? (Matthew says there were two; Luke and Mark say one.) These questions, while important, do not help us draw out implications for our beliefs and practices today.

Part of the difficulty is that we are still not sure if we be lieve in the reality of demons. Liberal biblical scholarship has often suggested that the text reflects a worldview that has no relevance today, that the demonic was the first century's way of describing modern psychological diagnoses (personalities in dissociative disorder or a projection of the inner self) or political categories (the demons are symbols of an oppressive power structure).

Evangelicals typically affirm the reality of demons but often see the function of the story as magnifying the authority of Jesus. Little attention is given to what we can learn from Jesus about dealing with demons.

Here are some lessons we can learn if we assume the reality of demons as created, personal spirit beings, and see the Gospels as containing lessons on discipleship from Jesus:

• Many demons can inhabit a person simultaneously. A Roman legion normally consisted of 6,000 men.

• Demons can ...

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In the Magazine

September 3, 2001

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