Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8

The lectionary reading for Trinity 1, Year C, is Luke’s version of Jesus meeting and healing the demon-possessed man in the ‘region of the Gerasenes’ (Luke 8.26–39). The account occurs in all three Synoptic gospels; in Mark (the shortest gospel) the story is in the longest and most detailed version; Matthew 8.28–34 is the shortest, and just includes the main points in summary; here in Luke, the story is only a little bit shorter than in Mark, and Luke includes much of the detail.

Luke’s description of the location in verse 26 is less precise than Mark’s; he suggests that ‘the region of the Gerasenes’ is opposite Galilee, when it is most likely on the north east shore of the lake rather than the north west. (Mark uses a quite different phrase for ‘sailed across‘ in Mark 5.1, and this fits with the frequent crossings of the lake, and prominent mention of boats, which supports the idea of the influence of Peter on Mark’s narrative.) There is uncertainty about the exact location, as the name is not otherwise known, and Matthew includes other variants of the name; the most likely place is Khursi on the north-east shore, which has the ruins of an ancient church building.

Although ‘they’ sailed across (that is, Jesus and the disciples), it is striking that Jesus alone is mentioned alighting from the boat on the shore. The disciples have already been seriously shaken by the storm that overtook them as they sailed (the immediately preceding story in all three gospel accounts) and Mark 4.41 tells us that they were ‘terrified’. So the lack of mention strongly suggest that, coming to a strange land, and seeing such a strange man approaching the boat from the tombs, the disciples thought it best to stay in the boat! In fact, Jesus is the only person who features in the dialogue with the man until the locals are mentioned after the drama has all died down in Luke 8.34.

Luke follows Mark in recounting what happened out of order, as if the chaos in the man’s life is reflected in the chaos of the events as narrative unfolds. First, he mentions that the man comes to meet Jesus; then he includes a (shorter than Mark’s) explanation of who the man is; then he mentions the man’s cry to Jesus; then he explains that Jesus has already been commanding the spirit to come out of the man; and finally Luke completes the explanation of who the man is, which Mark has included earlier.

In doing this, Luke includes two elements which connect with other parts of his narrative. First, Luke notes that the ‘unclean spirit’ had driven the man into ‘solitary places’ (NIV), translating the word eremos that elsewhere refers to the desert (from it we get our word ‘eremitic’ and then ‘hermit‘ for someone who pursues a solitary life). Thus Luke connects this spiritual battle with the battle Jesus has already won in facing temptation in the desert in Luke 4.1–13. The question of power is not far from the surface there, with Jesus returning from the desert ‘full of the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 4.14) and the power dynamics are quite explicit here.

The second element of significance is the phrase the man (or demon) uses in addressing Jesus: ‘Son of the Most High God!’ (Luke 8.28). This matches exactly the wording in Mark 5.7, but it has added significance for Luke. For one thing, his readers who have come from a pagan, polytheistic background will recognise the claim being made, that Jesus is not exercising the power of one god amongst many but has a distinctive status in relation to the one God who is over all. But as a result, we find this phrase is of particular importance in Luke’s wider narrative. It is repeated twice by Gabriel in announcing to Mary that she will bear this extraordinary child (Luke 1.32, 35), and it is a phrase used by the spirit-possessed girl in Acts 16.17. So this episode offers evidence of the fulfilment of Gabriel’s words to Mary—but also describes a ministry of Jesus that is continued by the apostles in Luke’s second volume.

Jesus’ asking of the demon’s name accords with ancient belief that to know someone’s name, their true identity, was to have power over them. The exchange fits with the earlier addressing of Jesus by the demon, revealing his true identity, and forming part of this ‘power contest’ between the two. The use of the name ‘legion’, evoking the Roman soldiers who occupy the land of Israel, would have been particularly relevant to Luke’s pagan readers. Some modern interpreters read the exchange back into the political situation, seeing this as a metaphorical exploration of the political dynamic—but that is surely to read the metaphor in the wrong direction. For Jesus and the man, the ‘unclean spirit(s)’ or ‘demon(s)’ are an occupying force who have no rightful place in the man’s life, and Jesus’ deliverance of him forms part of ‘setting [him] free to worship without fear’ (Luke 1.74).

Here, as earlier (Luke 8.29), Luke has smoothed out the narrative by explaining what the demons (earlier, Jesus) say, rather than simply quoting them as in the Marcan account. But in Mark, they ask not to be sent out of the area; here, Luke sharpens the request, so they ask not to be sent ‘to the Abyss’, the chaotic ‘deep’ (Heb tehom) of the Old Testament and in pagan thought the realm of the dead which we also find mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Rev 9.1, 11.7, 20.1 and elsewhere).

The sending of the demons/unclean spirits into the (unclean) pigs offers us a wonderful irony, and one that will have worked for those who know something about Jewish food laws as well as for Jewish readers themselves. That the pigs hurl themselves over the cliff makes clear the destructive power of the demons, destructive power that has already been evident in the life of the man up until now. It is not surprising that this story is paired with the episode that immediately precedes it in all three gospels; together they underscore the power of Jesus to bring peace to a chaotic world, in fulfilment of Ps 65.7: ‘You calm the seas and their raging waves, and the tumult of the nations.’

Jesus has ultimate authority over evil, whether that evil is manifested in nature or in the life of an individual. By the end of these stories, the audience is hopefully much better prepared to answer the pressing question, ‘Who can this man be?’ (Luke 8.25) (Mikeal Parsons, Paideia Commentary on Luke, p 140).

The narrative offers us potent material for reflection on the ministry of Jesus.

First, there is the significant presence of dissociation. The man has become cut off from his community—and it is striking that the end of this episode is focused emphatically and rather surprisingly on Jesus restoring him to the place he has come from, sending him home in every sense of the word. There is dissociation of the man from his body, as he cuts and harms himself, and dissociation from the forces at work in him, as the voice of the unclean spirit(s) speak to Jesus. These dynamics of dissociation are very evident in our world, with fractured communities and broken relationship, the apparent rise of mental health issue, individualism, and the defining of the self detached from bodily identity at the heart of the debates about sexuality and transgender ideology. There is no sense in which I am suggesting that any of these things are the result of ‘demon possession’ but Luke, like Mark, is telling us the impact of Jesus’ ministry on this complex range of issues.

Secondly, contrary to what has been suggested in relation to disability and Jesus’ healing ministry, there is little sense here that Jesus uses the disabled as a ‘prop’ to demonstrate his power, with the individuals concerned ‘marginalised in the narrative’. Jesus uses his power not as a demonstration, but for restoration—restoring the man to dignity (‘clothed’, Luke 8.35), sanity (‘in his right mind’) and community (‘to your own people’ Luke 8.39). Yet the response is fear; the people are not prepared to accept Jesus’ reordering of their world.

This leads the third observation: just as the disciples had been terrified by both the storm and Jesus’ calming of it on the way over to the Gerasenes, the local people here respond with fear. When they ask Jesus to leave, he does so without any objection; Jesus’ ministry will not be imposed on those unwilling to receive it. Yet he leaves the man, not only restored but with a purpose and a mission, to tell of what God (in Jesus) has done for him. He has (in Tom Wright’s words) become the first apostle to the Gentiles, anticipating what will unfold in the larger narrative of Luke-Acts.

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

73 thoughts on “Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8”

  1. Really helpful, as ever, thank you. I’ve heard some real nonsense on this passage from folk who ought to know better attributing the whole event to a communal trauma induced by the Roman occupation! It’s a symptom of the fact that real demonic activity is only rarely encountered here in the West – the devil has other ways to assault and induce fear in people.

    • This is the incident which proves that the demonic is not just human psychology, no amount of which will explain the change in behaviour of the pigs.

  2. Hi Ian

    Thanks again for a thoughtful exposition. Is it possible Jesus uses his power both as a demonstration and for restoration, The healing was a witness to the restored man’s community. Are not all Jesus’ miracles demonstrations and restoration; invasions of the kingdom in a land more Canaanite than properly Jewish?

    I wonder if you have any reflections on the phenomenon of demon-possession that seems rife in the time of Christ?

  3. The NT is consonant with what is known as the apocalyptic narrative of Scripture and a Christus Victor model of the cross. The most detailed analysis I know points out that Satan is mentioned in the NT at least 137 times, by every NT author, and ‘topically’ (that is, when Satan is the subject of the discourse) in 14 out of the 27 books.

    The Reformed tradition of an obedience/disobedience/sin narrative has generally speaking not embraced such in its theology.

  4. The demonic isn’t very respectable, is it, in Christian circles. Perhaps there aren’t any such things, nowadays.
    I recall David Devenish, a (former?) New Frontiers leader, teaching on demonic manifestations when people were being confronted and converted to Christ. Not necessarily demon possession but having a demon. Indeed, on an Alpha course, there were demonic manifestations in the family of a couple of particitants. And at that time, there were Anglican Diocese exorcists.
    ( I think I recall correctly, that Simon Ponsonby a few year ago now commented here and confirmed such a ministerial role in the CoE continued to exist.)
    Maybe they are now all redundant. And demons are a pig -ment of the imagination.
    But is this scripture not all of a piece with the doctrine of God, of good and evil, of the Personl Good God, and personal, evil, satan, father of lies, who comes to steal, kill and destroy; the god of this age; of spiritual warfare.
    And the deliverance by Jesus wasn’t restricted to paganism or gentile regions, but included a daughter of Abraham, a believer.
    To paraphrase CS Lewis, from Mere Christianity, Jesus the rightful king landed in disguise, into enemy occupied territory with a campaign of sabotage.
    Now, where is that can of worms.

    • Among charismatic circles in the late 1970’s there was a popular preacher who wrote a book on exorcisms called ‘Deliver us from Evil’. His name was Don Basham.

      Another case of nominative determinism..

      • I suppose Chris, Bishop is not a case of nominative determinism!
        Though Chris, the elder, may now be more chronologically appropriate and accurate.
        Though I seem to remember that Basham may have found his way into folklore as progenitor of the Bash Street Kids.

        • I am not an Anglican Geoff, but I did once manage to confuse Andrew Godsall that I was an Anglican Bishop when I used to sign off on this blog as Bishop Chris.

          (no offence meant Andrew)

    • The change in behaviour of the man might be explicable by human psychology but the change in behaviour of the pigs cannot be.

  5. Yes. And people might have noticed that the Lewis: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is an allegory of a Christus Victor model of the cross.

    • I suggest it is significant that Jesus was crucified not on the day of Atonement but on the Passover day when Israel celebrated their release from their enemy Pharaoh—who, incidentally, wore on his turban a symbol of a serpent. But, as I have mentioned before, John Walton comments:

      Classical theologians from Augustine to Aquinas began their theology with God and when they were finished found little room for the demons. […] Unfortunately, many conflict theologians [… believe] that there are such things as Satan and demons

      • Fancy that Colin. Now that I can rest uneasy in knowing that there is a theological category of, conflict theologians.
        I suppose that includes all of the New Testament writers, and that arch conflict theologian Saul/Paul.
        … And Colin… theologians of the Fall!
        But they were all theologians of judgment, victory, reconciliation and restoration as well.

        • Hi Geoff,

          I do not undsertand these comments. John (as below) certainly misunderstood mine. My quote is from John Walton, it is not what I believe. I would argue for a Chritus Victor model of the cross.

          • Hi Colin

            I’m glad I got it wrong. I’m surprised at John Walton. I thought you were citing him with approval. Sorry.

      • I’m surprised Colin you are rejecting Satan and demons. I thought you were more orthodox than that. Over whom was Christ victorious?

        • Colin

          I may be misunderstanding you (or the quotation). Earlier you point out the many references to Satan in the NT.

        • Hi John

          The flaw in what you say is the idea that whoever is conservative in one thing must be so in all; whoever maximally conservative must be that in all; whoever radical…; whoever maverick…; whoever Platonist… – and so on.

          Rather than following the evidence, which is always the main thing.

          Your version sounds more like tribalism rather than there being much thought behind it.

          I never know where I will end up on that particular spectrum (which is of course, given the primacy of evidence, the least important of spectra – it imbibes uncritically the world’s view of the primacy of fashion considerations) on a given question. Which makes research incredibly exciting, full of cliffhangers. But nor does anyone else know that on non-obvious questions. They cannot precommit themselves in advance of investigation.

          • Christopher

            I think the calling of all christians is to stay within apostolic teaching. If our conclusions take us outside of this we will end up as castaways.

            Today when looking at some perplexing issues my wife reminded me that ‘except you become like a little child you will in no wise enter the kingdom of God’. There is a certain simplicity in following Christ that may sometimes have to say no to ‘knowledge’. Lots of ‘knowledge’ is esoteric and perhaps misleading.

          • Which will mean sometimes going against the evidence. Which honest people do not do. So who does?

            How is it that (for example) a thinker as bright as Tom Wright analyses apostolic teaching and regularly reconfigures or alters orthodoxy as it has been thought to be?

            I cannot imagine why some doubt evil spirits. The phenomenology is detailed and coherent across cultures.

      • True but then the actual event of the Passover involved the shedding of the blood of a lamb, whose blood protected those it covered from God’s judgement resulting in death. Thus Jesus’ death protects those covered by His shed blood. And Jesus was crucified and died when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. The link is obvious.

        Christus Victor is one aspect of the Atonement, but only one.


    • Christus Victor is an important aspect of the cross. Are we able to say how this victory was achieved? How did Christ triumph over his enemies at the cross?

      And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Col 2:13-15

      Did he disarm oppressive powers by removing the record of sins/debt that gave them power? By taking the debt of our sin upon himself the tyranny of Satanic forces was broken.

      One aspect of the atonement impinges on the other. Sin bearing seems foundational.

  6. Sir

    ‘Yet the response is fear; the people are not prepared to accept Jesus’ reordering of their world.’


    During the Welsh revival of the 1900s:

    The pubs were empty; the police had nothing to do except eat their sausage sarnies; the magistrates sat on the bench drumming their fingers; and the pit ponies couldn’t understand why they weren’t being beaten nor the commands of their masters – delivered without cursings and blasphemies.

    • The Welsh revival did have an effect, even if not as dramatic as your quotation suggests:

      The abstract is:

      Cultural beliefs usually evolve slowly, but during times of religious revival, beliefs change rapidly. During the two-year Welsh Revival of 1904-5, roughly 6% of the adult population converted to Christianity, after decades of stable religiosity. This religious shock was temporary, with church member-ship returning to pre-Revival levels by 1909. I use this unusually sharp variation in societal religiosity to estimate effects of religion on social order. I use a difference-in-difference design, comparing Wales with neighboring England. The Revival led to a reduction in aggregate crime by 5 to 12%, with this effect driven by much larger and persistent reductions in violent crime, and drunkenness, which was considered a major social ill at the time. In contrast, I estimate no effect of an earlier legislative effort to reduce drunkenness: in this setting, religion succeeded where institutional efforts had failed. The Revival did little to regulate sexual behaviors and did not promote prosociality, as measured by local welfare spending. Instead, the Revival increased social order only among the domains most emphasised by the revivalist preachers of the time. Reinforcing my findings, I estimate similar effects on crime of the earlier 1859 Welsh Revival.

  7. A few comments:

    A long time ago at a youth group I helped with we had a talk by a local vicar, who was, if recollection served, the diocesan exorcist. His basic message has stayed with me: don’t discount the demonic but do not get too interested in it, either.

    I have encountered a teaching which seems to assign all problems to demons. This seems to me to be a way of removing evil from our own responsibility. We combat the world(ly) and the flesh, our self-centered nature, as well as the devil.

    We should not get into a dualism which equates the power of the demonic with the power of God. All evil spiritual beings and forces are created. Perhaps their power is the result of their mastery of deceit.

    • I think, David Wilson, that your summary is “on the money”…

      I first worked with a diocesan exorcism adviser in the late 1980’s after a parishioner encountered something “untoward” in his home. I’ve never dealt with individuals who may/may not have been in the possession of the demonic but I have encountered /been involved places/incidents which fall into a similar category.

      My approach is simple (no doubt someone will suggest “simplistic”) :

      1. Don’t assume what is encountered or described is demonic. Mis-describing is always possible for a variety reasons, not least prior desire to attribute to demons.

      2. When the other alternatives have been ruled out (as best as one can) then treat the situation as a possible demonic one.

      3. Don’t over complicate the analysis. There was a strain of theology which set great store on finding the name(s) of the demon(s). It’s pretty well pointless I think and unnecessary.

      4. “Just” Pray… There is nothing that can stand against the power of Jesus. Its like a nuclear bomb to stop a tadpole. God doesn’t need advice on what it is or what to do.

      5. There are traditional words/phrases that can be/are used… but they are far from essential. Just ask God to deal with it… Cleanse, heal, restore.. Whatever you think needs to be done.

      6. Christians need have no fear of these things and should give them no credit or time. The death, resurrection and kingly reign surely trump card everything?

      Sure… It’s a difficult area of ministry but not to make a mountain out of a molehill.

      And thanks for the article Ian Paul…

  8. This passage means so much to me. At one time, whilst interceding and weeping for someone I loved who was in deep need (I rarely use the ‘opening the Bible randomly for a word’ strategy) and desperately in need of hearing from God I asked him to speak directly into the situation I was interceding for. My Bible opened on this story and to this day I am without any doubt that God wanted to speak to me through this passage of profound compassion, kindness, deliverance and power over darkness and chaos. It was utterly relevant to my need at the time. I love the small but important details such as ‘dressed and in his right mind’. I am now able, whenever I face any recurrent concern for the situation I was praying for, to go back to this passage and remind God (and myself) of the promises and hope he offered me through this passage at a time of deep need. I am truly thankful for this beautiful and profoundly important account of Jesus’ intervention into a troubled life. This is not a deep theological comment but a personal experience of God using his word to build faith and hope.

    • Interesting. I would not advocate the ‘opening at random’ approach but in an extreme situation God gave me help in this way. I emphasise it is not a normal means of guidance and we should seek instead to walk by the Spirit and the word.

  9. I am not sure I follow you, Ian, in your logic about metaphor, reading back, Legion and Rome. I think there is a clear prophetic challenge in this story, there is a real challenge to power, real-world power (note the response of the locals who are more concerned at damage to agribusiness than homeless needy individuals, and also to the oppressive occupying force of Rome in its destruction of life is not within the will of God. is Legion really just a rather colourful synonym for “many”?
    The gospels quite often seem to merge the demon with the person possessed, so the person speaks the voice of the demonic, as if they are taken over. Here a man is so taken over and damaged by Legion that he is barely alive and barely human; naked, solitary and among tombs; he has lost his original name, . Legion is primarily a Roman military word, Latin in origin, and the first readers and listeners would immediately link it with Roman military force.
    In Mark and Luke the word used for the herd of pigs is more like a military group (and pigs are not normally herded anyway).What else in the Bible gets cast into the sea, except enemy horse and rider? “Pigs” has a longer history as an abusive word, than just recently when used against the police!
    The unclean pigs are drowned in the sea (as was Pharaoh’s army in the Exodus), but the victim is safe – the demons did not take him down with them. Symbolically Legion is destroyed as God’s enemies were in the past, and the man is now free, dressed and able to live again – this is a prophetic symbolic challenge to Roman absolutism, as was “Palm Sunday” and the provocative teaching on extra mile etc. Jesus did not call out an armed confrontation, but neither did he stay silent.
    This is not the complete interpretation of the passage, as if it has not something to say on other levels, but is it not a key part of it which we have downplayed, and which should be brought back into our understanding? I suspect we like our Jesus to be less edgy politically.

    • Most excellent! I had often wondered if there might be a connection between the swine incident and the pharaoh’s army. Sadly, one need only look at the recent incident in Memphis (and elsewhere) to see that there are still many “Legions” to be driven into the sea!

  10. The NT Jewish world view of the gospels embraced the concept of cosmic evil/Satan/demons. However our own theological tradition is more rooted in the Graeco-Roman neoplatonic world of the later church fathers (e.g., Augustine) and the demythologised reception history that followed on from that through into the Reformation.

    A conflict theologian would suggest that the prevalence of demons in Jesus’ ministry is because, while they were not omniscient, they knew that for them something bad was eventually coming (based on Genesis 3:15) and sensed that that ‘bad thing’ had arrived in Jesus—hence the comment, for example, in Mark 5:7.

    • Or as Screwtape may have said:
      1. your work is never more successful than when you convince the Enemy that you don’t exist in reality. That you are a mere metaphor for social, political oppression, unequality and injustice.
      2. Distract the enemy with thoughts of political theology, liberation, rather than a freedom from us. (With apologies to CS Lewis)

      What Screwtape did write included this:
      “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

      ― C.S. Lewis, quote from The Screwtape Letters

    • Colin Hammer

      Interesting citation of Mark 5:7.

      I don’t know the answers to these questions.

      On the one-hand the chief demon acknowledges Jesus as the Son of the Most High God. On the other he appeals to God.

      1. Does it recognise the two natures of Jesus – and therefore appeals to His God-side (as it were)?
      2. Is it appealing to the Trinity?
      3. Or, following Aristotle, am I asking the wrong questions?

  11. Hopefully I’m not posting this twice (it seems to have got lost) —I think the best book on demons from a biblical theology point of view is:

    Heiser, Michael S. “Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness.” Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham, 2020.

      • Dr Heiser’s book.
        There is an interesting comment on the book on Amazon, from an American M.D ….
        “This is a very technical work for scholars: full of ancient language studies and quotes from technical works. He is an accomplished scholar and makes interesting insights.
        “Sadly his conclusion about not needing to combat the demonic are based on him strictly analysing the OT background and NT grammar, but he totally omits any study of the 2000 years of cchurch and missionary activity. Many missionaries have gone to fireign countries totally believing that deliverance was something for the past, but encountered evil spirits and learned how to exorcise.
        “The author correctly states that the preaching of the Gospel is a way to fight the evil unseen kingdom of darkness, yet scripture clearly states that evil spiritual forces are the ones often blocking the preaching of the Kingdom (of God). ” For we wanted to come to you, certainly I, Paul, did, again and again,,, but satan blocked our way.” 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ”

        Indeed, David Devenish, did not go demon hunting but they became manifest in the preaching of the Gospel and Kingdom of God.

        In another comment on the book, Heiser is described as presenting his theory of “Divine Council Rebellion” and that the conclusions drawn are not Biblically established.

        Another, comments that Heiser goes outside the Bible to Ugaric text and that there was only one heavenly oppressor, satan in support if his Divine Council Rebellion theory. He doesn’t place rebellious fallen angels as demonic oppressors of humans on earth. And the commentator asks what Heiser makes of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4

        • Yes, I’ve read a different book of Heiser’s. But does he think that demons are fallen angels or something lesser, please?

          • I’ve no idea who Heiser is but from what has been said about him it leads me to think he had/s no gift for spiritual discernment.

          • Perhaps only Colin can give a succinct answer, having read and recommended the book.
            It seems that Heiser thesis, view is based on his theory of Divine Counsel Rebellion. So that the sole opposition or Adversary of God is Satan, not angels, fallen as demons.
            If that is so, unless satan is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, and he isn’t, I’m unsure how he exercises his position as god of this age and malign purposes as father of lies, to steal, kill and destroy.
            Colin’s correcting input is needed.
            Perhaps Colin has a huge aversion to a fall of any sort, human, material, spiritual, unless it is wrapped in language of God’s divorce!

    • Im always slightly suspicious when someone writes ‘what the Bible ‘really’ says…’. My Spock eyebrow elevates.

  12. Why not buy Michael Heiser’s “Demons” book and read it? £10 used £15 new. He is a distinguished Hebrew Bible scholar and has spent many years studying the Bible’s teaching in this area and has had several books published on it and has a prominent YouTube presence. I have read all his books and corresponded with him—he is a clear engaging writer and in my view the best in this area of biblical studies.

    He is less interested in confessional positions or reception history.

    • Colin – thanks for mentioning this book. I had never heard of the book, or indeed of Michael Heisler before, but the negative review that Geoff found indicates that the book is probably very good and well worth a read.

    • If you cannot not succinctinly encapsulate the book Colin, as there is nothing of significance or substance, I’ll not bother, especially if you can’t or won’t answer the questions of Anton who has read Heiser.
      I find that of sufficient significance, not to give it any time, time you seem reluctant to devote to giving any explanation, waving away questions with a dismissive category of confessional or reception theology/history (perhaps with a side – swipe of being unthinking.) I do wonder what your own confessional Christianity amounts to.
      Off to a funeral of a non -stipe Anglican minister, who had a healing ministry. Now at home and restored, received into glory. What a reception of “well done” he’ll have received. He ended his life well, ran the race. Reception reality: sublime.
      What has happened to you, Colin?

      • Heiser:
        The concept that demons are ‘fallen angels’ … “is ubiquitous in popular Christian books and preaching. It is both on target and misguided. The statement fails to account for a number of items of in the biblical text and the development of biblical thought about the powers of darkness.

        As we noted early in our study … the OT ‘angel’ is functional, not an ontological term.
        It is, in effect, a job description. This circumstance changes in the Second Temple period and the NT, where ‘angel’ is a term used predominantly to distinguished loyal supernatural beings from evil, rebellious ones.

        The devil (Satan) can have angels on his side (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:9), which, in the totality of good versus evil, would mean that demons, part of Satan’s kingdom, can be considered fallen angels. Nevertheless, demons are consistently cast as disembodied spirits of dead Nephilim and their giant-clan descendants.

        Those spirits are the offspring of the angels that sinned before the flood, so the demons cannot be those fallen angels. Consequently, while a term like ‘fallen angels’ may be used correctly in discussing demons, it is too often used simplistically and inaccurately.”
        Heiser, “Demons”, 241-42.

        • Thank you; that’s interesting. It strikes me that an ‘angel’ might be ontological and a messenger/angel of Satan as in 2 Corinthians 12:7.

          Where did Heiser get his claim that demons are spirits of dead nephilim from, please? That’s not deducible from the Bible.

        • Colin,
          If Angels are functional rather than ontological, how about Angel of the Lord, seen as Christophany/ Theophany?

      • Geoff,

        My comment that Heiser does not deal with reception history is an answer to the criticism of Heiser’s reviewer that you cite: “but he totally omits any study of the 2000 years of church and missionary activity.”

        —that is not what his book is about.

        • Heiser does spend time (pages 37–58) in linguistic arguments pointing out the complications created by the LXX translation of the Hebrew Bible, under a heading: “It [the Hebrew text] Was All Greek to Them, Too.”

          This does raise further issues as to the nature of the inspiration of the LXX text cited so frequently in the NT—but probably outside the remit of a blog such as this.

          Michael Heiser’s Masters and PhD degrees were in the Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages. Study of the latter (and ANE culture) over recent decades has given a greater understanding of the Masoretic Text.

          • John Walton (I have cited him) I believe would be happy to be described as an evangelical (although he does not believe that demons are an ontological reality), points out the large overlap between the ANE mindset and that of the Hebrew Bible in the matter of gods/angels/demons etc.

            In my view his book (as below) is worth reading simply for Chapter 2 where he points out the challenge this presents many Christians—as these studies open a world unknown to the post-apostolic church fathers or the Reformers on which our confessional positions are often built.

            This is not to say that such are fatally flawed—but simply to say it is possible to learn new things about the Bible which our forefathers did not know.

            John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007).

  13. I have a meeting this morning with psychiatric specialists to learn how to work with placements from a local hospital.
    Colin, do you think Michael’s book will be of practical worth?

    • Hi Steve,

      Yes, his final section IV does cover practical issues. But he spends most of the book looking at the Bible’s teaching from a theological standpoint rather than a practical one.

      • Thanks Colin,
        I’m tempted to get the book.
        When the Bible says ‘ye are gods’ this is identical to saying we are ‘a little lower than the angels.’ The demonic are I think, probably, the spirits of the antideluvian hominid halfbreeds created fromAdam’s descendants (sons of God) and other races of hominid.
        The good angels are nearly always manifestations of God or persons given unique cameo roles in scripture. Godly, spirit filled messengers. I really do not like the idea that there are 8ft tall Scandinavians with wings anywhere in the created order. God as the Holy Spirit appears to people sometimes but usually He sends people who deliver His message then retire, untroubled by the usual need to turn one unique experience into a career on GodTV.

        • What do you have against Scandinavians?!

          Actually angels rarely seem to have wings in Scripture, though I find it intriguing of the reports of feathers appearing in certain ‘revival’ meetings. But I think they exist and are part of God’s creation. Why would He not create other beings apart from humans? Jesus believed they existed.

          As for demons, they too exist. Not only does Scripture testify to that, so does the experience of many sensible Christians down through the ages. John White was a psychiatrist, and certainly accepted their reality as he experienced their presence in some of the people he encountered.

          Though no doubt they got all excited when the Son of God was on earth, invading their space which they really didnt like, which is why they were a regular occurrence. So perhaps not so much now, but still a reality.

          Im not sure it’s particularly helpful or of relevance as to the details of the origins of the demonic or satan. It seems they can be dealt with effectively without such knowledge.


          • Yes. I agree . Not helpful to speculate. I couldn’t help go off on a tangent. I had to watch some American god TV yesterday to be polite. It was about flogging a book about some near death experience. After 20 minutes there was still no identifiable conversion experience, just a lot of twaddle about angels. Drives me nuts. Perhaps, if I bought the book it would teach the gospel but I doubt it.
            I just don’t like Angels. They get in the way. I’m allergic. To be a distraction they don’t have to deliver another gospel, they simply have to take up airtime.

    • The book I recommend to you above all others is “Demonic Foes” by Richard Gallagher, MD, subitled “My 25 years as a psychiatrist investigating possesions, diabolic attacks, and the paranormal”. Gallagher is Catholic and I am not, but the differences do not have a bearing on the subject matter.

  14. Hi Ian,
    Many thanks for this helpful analysis of next Sunday’s gospel passage. I was wondering what gems to bring out of it and you have provided several. It strikes me that – in restoring the man to his community – there is also a link to the Epistle reading, in that Gal 3:28 emphasises the one-ness in Christ that Christians enjoy. Whereas we naturally like to create distinction and division between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female (so as to proclaim our own superiority), we are all equal in Christ.

  15. The association of the quietening of the raging waves with this passage which followed it, is very well made, Ian. Thank you. In both cases, the outcome of the exercise of power is quietness: the stilling of the storm, and the return of the poor man to his senses. In a sense – in both cases – the command involves “hush, be still”.

    In encounter with the power of God, so often “in quietness and trust is your strength” is the desired outcome and position of faith.

    This very much applies to the practice of exorcism… quiet spirit and prayer, in trust… you don’t need all the loud shouting and drama… and although these incidents can be dreadfully dark and ugly… I have seen people sitting up afterwards, quiet, at peace, and in their right senses.

    I have a policy of never going looking for any of this stuff. Our interest is the presence of God and lives with God. That’s it. In one instance, after an exorcism, it turned out the individual had got drawn into reading about the occult, and even just doing that with the wrong books risks opening a person to the forces of evil.

    Our focus should always be the Prince of Peace, our Jesus, our God, who committed in covenant to us, by giving himself both in life and in death, all the way to the point of no turning back, to the shedding of blood, and the outpouring of blood.

    He is the focus.

    • Indeed,
      Susannah. The occult has been an unsuspecting part in the lives of a number of people, including those in mental health settings, in my experience.
      A testimony conversion to Christ, of a team member on a Anglican led mission in Tunbridge Wells included burning thousands of pounds worth of occult paraphernalia, following his salvation, conversion, life transformation.

  16. Ian, thank you as always for your thoughtful blog, and for the subsequent video discussion.

    The comments raise yet again the issue of sin and the devil. At risk of over simplification there have been times when evangelicals focused on sin, and charismatics on the work of the devil. There are clearly some misunderstandings here.

    There are dangers of looking for the devil; and there are dangers of ignoring him.

    Is there scope for a blog on these issues? It ma help to dispel such confusion.


Leave a comment