What does Legion mean?

Question
I was reading about the man named Legion (Mark 5:15). What does Legion mean?
Answer
First, let’s look at the meaning of the word "legion." It probably originated in Roman times. A Roman Legion officially consisted of approximately 6000 fighting men. Its basic structure went something like this:

  • Contubernium: consisted of 8 fighting men.
  • Centuria: (or century) consisted of 10 contubernium = 80 men commanded by a centurion.
  • Cohort: consisted of 6 centuriae. However, the first cohort was double-strength (but with only 5 centuriae instead of the normal 6) = 560 men.
  • Legio: (or Legion) consisted of 10 cohorts = 5600 men (not including officers).
  • Moreover, each Legion had a 120-man cavalry unit called the Eques Legion attached to it.

As used in the New Testament, legion refers to a great many fighting men, an army, or a camp. It also implies organization, leadership and purpose. The term is used four times in the New Testament: once in reference to Jesus' ability to call forth twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53) and three incidents regarding the man named "Legion" (Mark 5:9, 15; Luke 8:30). In Mark's account the man indentified himself as Legion and included an explanation, “for we are many." In Luke’s account "for many demons had entered him" concurs. So, in context it means a large body of demons acting in concert together – i.e. an army of demons.

The man Legion's depth of misery and wretchedness is revealed. But aren't all that are enslaved to Satan and his ways miserable? Ultimately, unless one comes to Christ, the wages of sin is eternal death. Here in this text Jesus is met by a man who is enslaved by Satan's occupational army of cruelty, terror, and destruction (cf. John 10:10; Eph. 6:12). Being enslaved by multiple demons is seen other places in Scripture as well (cf. Matt. 12:45; Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2; 11:26).

Jesus cast the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs who went into the sea.[1] Note that they were cast out into a herd of approximately two thousand pigs (Mark 5:13), which are considered unclean biblically (Deut. 14:8). This was an impressive demonstration of the power of Jesus’ word/command. No one could be left with any doubt about the reality or the scale of the deliverance effected. And at the second coming, on the last day no one will doubt the deliverance effected by God when he casts all that is unclean (Satan and his host) into an eternal hell (Rev. 20:11-15).

Note

[1] The demons were cast into the sea. The word "sea" is important. The Old Testament represents the sea as a dwelling place of the dragon (Psa. 74:12-15; Ezek. 32:2; cf. Job 41:1-34). It is the origin of the beast (Dan. 7:2-3; Rev. 13:1) and equated with the abyss (Rev. 11:7). It is the reality of evil (Rev. 13:1; 15:2; 16:3), so it does not exist in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1). However, the sea of glass like crystal is mentioned in Rev. 4:6 and 15:2 (cf. Ezek. 1:22). These texts bring to mind the Red Sea miracle where triumphant Israel is standing on it singing the song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-52). So, as in our text in Mark, the theme of overcoming is seen throughout. Satan is defeated. God reigns on high!

Related Topics

An Eternal Hell is for Real - The Heresy of Annihilationism?
Wasn't hell made for the Devil and his angels and not real people?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).