Little Greek Gems: To Bind or Beg?

He surely saw him from the boat. The Lord watched the erratic and unstable demoniac who was as unruly as the storm he had recently silenced.  The man’s appearance alone made him an imposing figure against the otherwise peaceful shores of the Garasenes. One can’t help but wonder if the disciples feared this man more than they had feared the wind and waves!  But they paddled on to become spectators of one of the most significant battles of Jesus’ ministry.

If you read the first twenty verses of this story in Mark 5 of the New American Standard Bible you would get the impression that the demoniac (v. 7), the demons (v. 12), the townspeople (v. 17) and the healed demoniac (v. 18) were all imploring Jesus for something. However, the Greek word used in verses 12, 17 and 18 is not the word used in verse 7. Let me put it differently.  The demons, the townspeople and the healed demoniac are all imploring or pleading Jesus for their particular desires.  The word utilized is parakaleo which does mean to implore or ask with a particular earnest.  The demons were asking to go to the pigs, the townspeople were asking Jesus to leave and the healed demoniac was asking to go with Jesus when he departed the region.

However, verse 7 is not parakaleo and should not be translated in the same way as those other occurrences.  It is the word horkizo and it means to make someone swear or to administer an oath. The difference between the two words is palpable.  One has to do with asking earnestly or pleading and the other seeks to bind someone by an oath.  In other words, the demoniac was seeking an oath from the Lord.  The demoniac wanted the Lord’s word that He would not torment him.

Now, the immediate question is why.  Why this possessed man who cannot be held by chains does not simply run up to Jesus on the shore of the sea and crush the life out of him is a mystery? The answer is a simple one. The demoniac understood what Jesus taught in the previous chapter of Mark.  There Jesus said, “Pay attention to what you hear.”  In fact, the whole of chapter 4 is about the importance of Christ’s word.  Those who hear are brought into the kingdom and those who fail to hear remain outside.  The battle is one of words.  But whose word is authoritative?  The demoniac was attempting to exercise authority over Jesus by binding Him under oath. 

This battle is not like one that may take place in some homes.  The winner is not decided by who can talk the loudest.  Have you ever been in that situation?  You’re talking and the person you’re talking to thinks that he can win the argument if he has enough volume to drown you out?  Volume will not win this battle.  This battle will be won on the basis of authority. Again, whose word is authoritative?  Despite the fact that this man has untold numbers of demons in him and his cries had a legion of demons behind them the one voice of Jesus authoritatively rose above them all. 

And notice what happens, the conflict ends with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ authority.  The demons can’t do anything but submit to the word of the Lord.  Notice what they do.  Whereas they once attempted to command him now they beg him.  “And they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs, let us enter them.”  Jesus gave them permission. 

This story also illustrates the great weight of the ministry of the preached word.  How so?  When the minister of the gospel proclaims the word of God faithfully he speaks the word of Christ to the people of Christ.  The minister is fully aware that the people of his congregation are hearing many other competing voices – not all of them good.  And this story reminds the preacher that the battle of words is not a battle of volume but one of authority.  Consequently, if the battle is one of authority the minister must understand that pulpit pounding and volume is not enough.  He must open the Scriptures to the people so that they hear the Word of Christ.  He must be a faithful expositor of God’s word that Christ’s authority might be heard among the volume of other voices.  Indeed, this story illustrates the great weight and importance of a Word centered ministry.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He has recently been appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 


Jeffrey Stivason