Were the Demons Women? Luke 8:30 (Monday with Mounce 120)
When the demon saw Jesus coming, he cried out, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” (v 28). “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion.’ (For many demons had entered into him.)” (v 30).
The Greek word is λεγιών, which is a transliteration of the Latin legio, a foreign loan word. It refers to a Roman legion, which consisted of 5,000 – 6,000 soldiers. The word came to be used of a very large number.
λεγιών occurs three times in the New Testament, twice in connection with this story (Mk. 5:9, 15 [λεγιῶνα]) and once in Jesus’ assertion that the Father could “immediately place at my disposal more than twelve legions (δώδεκα λεγιῶνας) of angels” (Matt 26:53).
I was asked if the fact that λεγιών is feminine means that the man “had female entities in him? If so, then, was it possible that this man was involved in female ancestral worship?”
This is another example of the problem we have already seem with words like πνεῦμα, a neuter word referring to the Holy Spirit, who himself is a “person” and not an “it.”
It is important to remember the distinction between natural and grammatical gender. Most Greek words follow grammatical gender, which means the gender is determined by morphological issues and not meaning, and hence the gender of the word has nothing necessarily to do with the meaning of the word.
Of course, there are a few words like pronouns and ἀδελφός/ἀδελφή that follow natural gender. You would refer to me as αὐτός and not αὐτή. But the default position is that a word’s gender is grammatical unless there is a special circumstance. I doubt the feminine form of the word for 6,000 Roman soldiers would mean they were women.
λεγιών is a special instance in that it is a foreign loan word from the Latin. The rule in Latin is that abstract and collective nouns that end in -io are feminine. This explains why λεγιών is feminine in Greek.
No, the demons that inhabited this man and destroyed the pigs were not female, no more than the legions of angels at Jesus’ disposal were women angles (if there is such a thing).
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com
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