Did Jesus Go to Gerasa or Gadara?
Matthew recorded that Jesus commanded demons to come out of two men (8:29). This account is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospel accounts, but with two different renderings of the name of the place where the miracles occurred. The Greek word commonly accepted in Mark 5:1 and Luke 8:26 as the basis for the name of the people who inhabited the place where Jesus and the disciples went is rendered Gerasenes in English (Metzger, 1975, pp. 84,145). The Greek word in Matthew 8:28, however, reveals that Jesus went to the country of the Gadarenes (p. 23). Were the writers of the synoptic gospel accounts confused about where Jesus was when He healed the men? Albert Barnes explained the difference between Gadara and Gerasa:
Gadara was a city not far from the Lake Gennesareth, one of the ten cities that were called Decapolis. Gergesa [probably a variation of “Gerasa”—CC] was a city about 12 miles to the south-east of Gadara, and about 20 miles to the east of the Jordan. There is no contradiction, therefore, in the evangelists. He came into the region in which the two cities were situated, and one evangelist mentioned one, and the other another. It shows that the writers had not agreed to impose on the world; for if they had, they would have mentioned the same city; and it shows, also, they were familiar with the country. No men would have written in this manner but those who were acquainted with the facts (1949, p. 91).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke were writing of the same general area. The Roman city Gerasa was a famous city that would have been familiar to a Gentile audience, but Gadara, as the capital city of the Roman province of Perea, was the chief of the ten cities in Decapolis (Lenski, 1946, p. 205; Coffman, 1975, p. 85; Youngblood, 1995, p. 468), so even those who lived in Gerasa could have been called Gadarenes. The stamp of a ship on Gadarene coins suggests that the region called Gadara probably extended to Galilee (McGarvey, n.d., p. 344; McClintock and Strong, 1969, 3: 706). The New Testament writers chose to refer to the area in different ways.
It is also a possibility that in the handing down of New Testament manuscripts over many years, slightly different readings of the same word have developed. Some have suggested that the words “Gergesenes” and “Gerasenes” are not words referring to people from a city other than Gadara, but merely different variations of the word “Gadarenes” (Youngblood, p. 468; McGarvey, p. 344).
It is clear that Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not contradict each other—in fact, they complemented each other. The writers were not confused about Palestinian geography. In this instance, each writer intended to draw attention to an area close to the Sea of Galilee. The precise place where the miracle occurred is not as essential to our understanding of the narrative as is the realization that Christ has control over the spiritual realm (Lenski, 1946, p. 205).
Barnes, Albert (1949), Notes on the New Testament: Matthew and Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Coffman, James Burton (1975), Commentary on Mark (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).
Lenski, Robert C.H. (1946), The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1975 corrected edition), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York, NY: United Bible Societies).
McClintock, John and James Strong (1969 reprint), Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
McGarvey, J.W. (no date), The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
Youngblood, Ronald F., ed. (1995), New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Nelson).