“two demonized men met him.” This record of Jesus casting out demons that then went into pigs occurs in three of the four Gospels: Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; and Luke 8:26-39. As we would expect, although the records are of the same event, the different Gospels give different, but not contradictory, accounts.
Almost never are the details of an account the same in all the Gospels that record it, and there are a number of reasons for that. One reason is that the Four Gospels are specifically written from four different perspectives, and each Gospel is written in a way that highlights the perspective from which it was written [For more on the different perspectives of the Four Gospels, see commentary on Mark 1:1].
Another reason is that the different details in the different Gospels allow us to get a “larger picture” of what happened than just a verbatim repetition of the account could ever give us. For example, in the record of the trial of Jesus Christ before Pilate, the different Gospels have somewhat different details as to what Pilate and Jesus said to each other, with the Gospel of John giving the most information. But in reality, even the Four Gospels combined don’t give us anywhere near the full conversation between them. Jesus was on trial for his life, and Pilate did not want to crucify an innocent man—and he knew Christ was innocent (Matt. 27:18)—so he surely would have pressed Jesus very hard for details. But the details of the conversation are not important for God to make His point and the end result—Jesus’ crucifixion—would have been the same whether they were given or not, so the Bible only records the conversation in brief.
Most of the records of Jesus speaking only contain a very small portion of what he said. For example, the record of Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42) records Jesus speaking to the woman in only 12 verses, but we know he said a whole lot more than that to her, because she told the people of her village that he told her everything she ever did (John 4:29). Of course the woman was exaggerating, but the point is that Jesus had told her more than enough to convince her he was the Messiah. Had that record in John 4 been recounted in other Gospels, no doubt what Jesus said to the woman would have been recorded differently, with each Gospel picking up different details of the account, but even then the full conversation would not have been recorded.
Still another reason that the Four Gospels give different details of an account, or express what happened in different terms, is to make it clear as to exactly what happened and what was being communicated. For example, in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew, Jesus says, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). In contrast, Luke 11:4 reads, “And forgive us our sins….” It is possible that Jesus repeated the prayer, or lines of it, for emphasis and used the words “debts” and “sins,” and the different Gospels reflect that fact, but there is another possible explanation as well. During the Babylonian captivity the Jews began to equate sin with debt, and a sin was a debt that had to be repaid. [For more on sin being referred to as a debt, see commentary on 1 John 1:7, “sin”].
Matthew is the most Jewish of the Four Gospels and his audience would not misunderstand that when he wrote “Forgive us our debts,” he was referring to sins. Luke, on the other hand, was likely a Greek (he may have been a Hellenistic Jew) and his audience would not instinctively equate debt with sin, so he would have taken what Jesus most likely said to his audience, “debt,” and translated it for his more Greek audience and wrote “sin.” Thus Luke would have written what Jesus meant but not the exact word he spoke, which is the way translation always works.
Still another reason for the different Gospels to give different details is so that anyone who really wants to find out what happened in the life of Jesus must read all Four Gospels. The whole Bible is “God-breathed,” and God is not interested in giving us an “easy way out” so we don’t have to work to get to really know Him and His Word. It honors God when we take the time to read His whole Word and learn from the details.
Returning to the record of the men in the tombs, we can see from the context and content of the accounts in the three different Gospels that they are the same account. It would stretch the limits of credulity to say that Jesus went twice to the east coast of the Sea of Galilee, twice met demonized people from the tombs who kept people from passing by there, twice cast out demons who caused pigs to drown themselves in the Sea, and so forth. The records are of the same account with differing details, and the details never contradict one another.
One differing detail is that Matthew says the region of the “Gadarenes,” while Mark and Luke say “Gerasenes.” Although there are a number of manuscripts that make all the names the same, that is most likely an attempt to harmonize the three Gospels. The more likely explanation is that to Matthew’s more Jewish audience, the region was best known for the important Jewish city, Gadara, and thus the region was called that of the Gadarenes, while the Gospels that were written from a more Greek perspective, Mark and Luke, would label the region by the more well-known Greek city, Gerasa, and thus have the regional name Gerasenes.
Matthew tells us there were two men, and that is almost certainly correct. Mark and Luke mention only one, but never say there was “only one,” and thus there is no contradiction in the Gospels, just differing details. The point is not how many people there were, the point is to show Jesus’ love for otherwise unlovable people and how he can deliver them and turn their lives around.
The records have many details that differ but do not contradict. For example, Matthew uses the Greek word “daimōn” for “demon,” while Mark and Luke use the word “daimōnion,” and for the reason for that see commentary on Matthew 8:31. Mark mentions that the man cut himself with stones (Mark 5:5), a typically demonic activity, but Matthew and Luke omit that detail. [For more on the demonic activity of self-mutilation see commentary on 1 Kings 18:28]. Similarly, Luke says the man was naked (Luke 8:27) which is a detail that neither Matthew nor Mark mention.
The three records show the great love that Jesus Christ had for people—even the most sinful and unlovable of people—and how anyone who comes to him can be saved and have everlasting life.