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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gerasene Demoniac & Christology

Luke 8:28 “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” RSV

Luke 8:32 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. RSV

Luke 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying,  39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. RSV

Luke 8:38 ἐδεῖτο δὲ αὐτοῦ ὁ ἀνὴρ ἀφ᾿ οὗ ἐξεληλύθει τὰ δαιμόνια εἶναι σὺν αὐτῷ· ἀπέλυσεν δὲ αὐτὸν λέγων·  39 ὑπόστρεφε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου καὶ διηγοῦ ὅσα σοι ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός. καὶ ἀπῆλθεν καθ᾿ ὅλην τὴν πόλιν κηρύσσων ὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς.

In the pericope of the Gerasene Demoniac, the manner in which Jesus is addressed by Legion “Son of the Most High God?” has obvious christological significance and the exchange between Jesus and Leigon demonstrates Jesus’ authority over unclean spirits when Legion begs permission permission to go into the heard of swine.  The theological significance is somewhat less obvious at the end of the story where Jesus tells the man, now free of demons, to go home and tell his story to his people.  

Luke 8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. RSV

The literal rendering of the RSV preserves both the ambiguity and parallelism of the original. Focusing our attention on the end of Luke’s version we see a formal pattern repeated:

... how much God has done for you
... ὅσα ἐποίησεν σοι ὁ θεός R-P[1]
... ὅσα σοι ἐποίησεν ὁ θεός NA27
... how much Jesus had done for him
... ὅσα ἐποίησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς  NA27 & R-P[1]

The parallelism is disrupted a little bit in the reading adopted by the NA27 σοι ἐποίησεν “for you has done” instead of ἐποίησεν σοι “has done for you” Byzantine Textform[1]. This word orderer variation is somewhat less important than the position of ὁ θεός “God” the subject which is clause final and in-focus in both NA27 and R-P[1]. Placing the subject-agent ὁ θεός “God” at the end of the clause signifies that ὁ θεός “God” is the most salient information. Obviously the RSV converts this into standard English syntax but preserves the parallel structure. What is lost in the English rendering is the in-focus salience marking of ὁ θεός “God” which isn’t easy to accomplish in natural sounding English. Now we should take careful note that in the second statement Jesus the subject-agent is also found in clause final position and here both NA27 and R-P[1] have identical word order. This marks Jesus as the most salient information. To sum up, the subject-agent is marked for salience in both clauses, telling us that it is important that God did this and that Jesus did this.

christological significance

What is not at all obvious is the intended christological significance of this exchange between Jesus and the man released from demonic domination. Jesus tells the man to go home and give a report to his people what God had done for him but the man goes home and tells everyone he can find what Jesus did for him. There is ambiguity here. Did the man disobey Jesus? Does the author of the gospel intend for us dwell on the difference between what Jesus said and what the man said? Jesus tells the man to declare what God did for him. However, Jesus is the speaker-agent in the verbal exchange with Legion. What are the christological implications? The Gerasene man tells it the way he experienced it which is not the way Jesus framed it for him. 

My first inclination is to read this in light of Jesus repeated statements in John’s gospel[2] about being sent by “The Father” to speak for Him and do mighty works as the Father’s agent. On this reading, Jesus would be telling the Gerasene man that God was ultimately responsible for his deliverance and that he should give God the credit when telling his story.

On further reflection I am wondering if there might be something more here. The original text marks as salient the discrepancy between Jesus words and the words used by the Gerasene man. The question of who delivered the Gerasene man from demonic control is highlighted. The fact of his deliverance is not as important as who delivered him. What if we suggest that Jesus is claiming not only to speak and work on behalf of God but also speak and work as God himself. I can hear in my mind  multiple objections that would raised against that sort of reading of Luke. Never the less, I find it worth contemplating.    

[1] The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005 Compiled and Arranged by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont
Chilton  2005

[2] I do not habitually keep Jesus from one gospel separated in my mind from the Jesus of another Gospel.


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