Harmonization and the Tale of Two Demoniacs
Mark 5:1-10 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the ost high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. (see also Luke 8:26-39)
Matthew 8:28-31 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. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.

We have quoted relevant portions of this story to address two questions of discrepancy. Here are the issues:

At present, I am inclined to think some variation on the second point is the most likely, though the third is not impossible. Both options, however, involve matters of freedom in literary composition associated with ancient writers.

A couple of other points to keep in mind. In the NT era only 10% of people could read at most. Stories for the average person had to be easy to remember when read out loud to them. Adding extra detail beyond your purpose would have made your readers have to work too hard and they'd lose track of the main point.

Imagine all you'd have to remember if you couldn't read or write (and it cost money you didn't have to have someone do it for you -- and there aren't any charities to help you learn to read or anything like that). Furthermore, writing materials such as parchment and ink are very expensive and very hard to get. You have only a limited amount of space to write something, and if you have an area of concentration, you don't need distracting "by the way" elements running around in your account. You get to that point, and you don't waste expensive and limited resources talking about what in your context is a non-essential. (For more on this, see link 1 below.)

I hope this gives the reader some idea of just how little awareness critics show when they object, "one demoniac or two?" and approach it as though it were some sort of unsurmountable, irreconcilable difficulty. They're living in a world full of conveniences the ancients didn't have, and without difficulties the ancients had to overcome.

But then again, we moderns often "fail" on the same points. In my essay comparing the four biographies of Lincoln (link 2 below) I found exactly the same sort of "mistakes" the critics find in the Gospels, including one that is a perfect match for this one: One bio says Lincoln shot a turkey; another says there was a flock of turkeys.

So would the critic say: "So, was there one turkey, or more than one? This allows entirely too much freedom of selection to writers who are professional historians."


One additional point of notice. One Skeptic tried to devalue this sort of explanation by appealing to 2 Peter 1:20-1:

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

According to this Skeptic, this makes it impossible that the Gospels or any Biblical book should in any sense reflect the view of the author and be subject to such variations as we have described, for that would constitute the "will of men" being involved in the process.

But Peter refers here to prophecies of Scripture -- not "narratives" like the Gospels. He is speaking within a specific genre-context, and this is confirmed by the reference to "holy men of God" that "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The content in question is prophetic oracles spoken by a specific class of persons.

Moreover, understand what is meant here by the "will" of man: it refers to the choice or pleasure of men. It does not even mean in this context that the men who spoke became automatons with no ability to couch the message in terms understandable to their audience.

Finally, one could ask: Why could God not have chosen men of different backgrounds who He knew would make such adjustments in order to provide the message the best way possible to a certain set of readers? Skeptics often make much of a perception that God "plays favorites"; yet giving the universal message of salvation in multiple-level formats indicates a "non-favoritism" orientation.


  1. Link
  2. Link