In the account in Mathew of Jesus casting out the demons into swine (included below), is there evidence for commentary on property? It would seem the main point of using swine would be for an unclean animal to take unclean spirits (couched in the main point of Jesus's power over deamons and His mercy extending even to demons).

However, we also get the reaction of the swineherds and the town asking him to leave. This has been a question of mine since going through "A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments" which implies that the destruction of the property is warranted as the herders would have been Jewish and their herd unclean. I acknowledge that is not a recent commentary, but I've seen the same short snip-it included in many more modern commentaries if the issue is addressed at all.

I understand that this focusing tangentially to the main point of the text, but I'm considering on including it in a series covering property in the NT in general. Any additional points or commentary that deal with the property/swineherds would be appreciated.

[NRSV MT 8:28-34]

28 When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,* two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29Suddenly they shouted, ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ 30Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. 31The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.’ 32And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and perished in the water. 33The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. 34Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

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  • I don't understand your question. Are you asking whether it was warranted for Jesus to destroy the herdsmen's property, OR whether it was warranted for the herdsmen to own swine? Perhaps your question could be stated like this: "Does Jesus' destruction of the herdsmen's property (the swine) provide theological insight into the ownership of property in general?" -- is that what you're asking?
    – kmote
    Oct 5, 2015 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


Matthew 5:28-40 does not tell us why the owners of the pigs came out to meet Jesus and ask him to leave. Two possibilities are that they were incensed because of the loss of property or they were afraid of Jesus. Fortunately, we can look at a somewhat earlier version of this story to see whether this casts any light on their reasons.

John Dominic Crossan says in The Birth of Christianity, page 53, a large consensus of gospel scholarship agrees that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their main literary sources and that they did so independently of one another. This means that the account in Mark 5:1-17 is more original than that in Matthew:

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 most 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. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.

Although Mark only reports one demoniac, this is undoubtedly the same story as in Matthew 5:28-40 and therefore the source used by the author of Matthew. See Matthew pages 157-158, by Robert Horton Gundr.

The event occurred in Galilee, so the owners and swineherds could have been Jews or Gentiles, but we can say for religious reasons that they would certainly not have been Jews. In spite of the commentary by Jamieson and Fausset in A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments Galilee was a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles and, unlike Judea, had no national religion. Gentiles had a right to keep pigs, even if the size of this herd seems improbable.

This passage in Mark tells us the swine owners were afraid, before hearing what happened, then asking Jesus to leave. Even this account leaves some ambiguity, but suggests the reason Jesus was asked to leave was fear, not anger at the loss of their livestock.


I think that a powerful point is made by casting the demons into the pigs, and it is often overlooked. Pigs were not only unclean, but being likened to a pig is a matter of derision. The fact that the demons requested to enter the herd of swine shows just how little regard for humans that Satan and his hoard of demons have.

@Dick Harfield. Just a point of clarification. The swine owners had already heard from the swine-herders (Mk 5:14). They "feared" when they arrived and saw the Demoniac sitting talking with Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (vs 15). It is possible that they feared for several reasons: 1. They were well aware that this demonised man was untameable (humanly speaking), yet here in front of them was the evidence. Naturally, they would have been very cautious of getting close to a man who had demonstrated so much ferocity. 2. They were now in the presence of the Lord. 3. With the loss of so much stock, thus greatly affecting their business, yet a recognition that this man before them (Jesus), was no ordinary man, it would be better to be rid of Him before any further damage could be done to their business.

The "those who saw it" of verse 16 is likely the same "they" who "came to the other side" with Jesus in verse 1. This would therefore be an account of 2 or more witness providing testimony of the event; first the swine-herders, then the company traveling with Jesus.

I think there is no reason to believe that the business owners were Jewish.

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