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Legion in the Bible: What Scripture Says and What it Means

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The word legion in the Bible is not used very frequently, but its significance when it is is that of great meaning. In this article, we will do a deep dive into the word legion’s use in God’s word. First, looking at the legion in an account of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, then the etymology of the word, and the context of Rome as it relates to the legion, we will uncover the powerful intent hidden behind this single word in scripture. 

image of Roman soldier with the text Legion in the Bible: What Scripture Says and What it Means

Legion in the Bible

The word Legion is only used a small amount of time. Its main use is in an account of Jesus using his supernatural powers as the Son of the Most High God to heal a demon-possessed man of the evil spirit within him. You can certainly pull a lot of meaning from these accounts without fully understanding the meaning of Legion; however, diving into that one word adds a great deal of extra oomph behind it. 

Let’s discover exactly what that oomph is. 

Legion in the Gospels

The main appearance of Legion in the Bible is found within an exorcism performed by Jesus recorded in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, as well as the gospel of Luke when Jesus heals a demon-possessed man – a man possessed with a legion of demons. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the telling of the story found in chapter five of the gospel of Mark. 

The biblical story opens with Jesus arriving at the side of the sea, in his ministry journey, at the country of the Gadarenes, also known as the region of the Gerasenes or country of the Gerasenes, via a boat. A man with an unclean spirit inside him approached and fell at the feet of Jesus, nearly immediately upon his arrival.  

Because of this unclean spirit that the man was possessed with, he would spend every night crying out and cutting himself. He would even break out of the chains and shackles that were meant to control him. He could not be contained. 

“He lived among the tombs and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.”

Mark 5:3-5 (ESV)

Clearly, if there were numerous efforts to bind and control the demon-possessed man, he was considered to be a threat, either to himself or others, or possibly even both. What we do know for sure is that this evil spirit within him was of great, great strength. 

The story continues with the man pleading at Jesus’ feet at the top of his voice, and Jesus commanding the demon to come out. However, it is not quite as simple as that.

“And crying out with a loud voice he said, “what have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For He was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

Mark 5:7-8 (ESV)

What is important to note about this segment, is the grammar used that hints towards the timing of the whole thing. It is not necessarily linear, where the man pleads healing and Jesus commands the spirit, but rather a bit more of a ‘tangling’ of events. 

First off, because of the use of the phrase “he was saying” instead of “he said,” we can conclude that Jesus called the evil spirit out of the man multiple times before it finally obeyed (awfully bold of the demon to disobey Jesus).

Secondly, because the man was begging Jesus not to torment him, we can conclude that this process of extracting the disobedient demon was not easy on the man’s physical body. It probably caused him great pain, both physically and mentally, as the demon was so strong and had such control over his body, as we read in verses three through five. 

We will look into the significance of this tangling of events during the exorcism later on in the article. For now, it is important to just focus on understanding the account of the story itself. 

 After this painful process, the demon finally leaves the man’s body. Jesus immediately asks the demon to name himself, to which the evil spirit replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

“And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.”

Mark 5:9-10 (ESV)

Finally, we get to the part where we actually see Legion in the Bible!

Legion begs Jesus not to send them out of the country. Instead, they ask to be sent to a large herd of pigs (the exact number is not stated, but it was approximately two thousand of them) that they spotted feeding on a nearby hillside. Jesus gave the Legion demon permission to possess the pigs, and upon the demon possession, the whole herd immediately ran down the bank and into the sea, where they drowned. 

rt, 3 demons over grey background, Sketch for the post legion in the Bible

Now of course, this whole series of events did not go unnoticed. I mean an exorcism of an entire legion of demons, (which we will later dissect the meaning of legion) and a herd of two thousand pigs drowning themselves has got to cause quite a scene for bystanders and onlookers. I know I personally would want to stop whatever I was doing to watch the whole thing go down. 

It was the herdsmen in particular that witnessed everything up close, as their whole herd of many pigs were directly affected by it. They of course ran into the city and the rest of the country of the Gerasenes to tell everyone else about what they saw happen, causing a large crowd to then flock to the scene. 

Because of the terrible nights that the demon-possessed man had while Legion was in control of his body, the townspeople were aware of the impure spirit within him, whether they knew it was a demon or not. However, when they came to the scene, they saw him in his right mind, as Jesus had extracted Legion out of him. This aroused a great fear within the people, as they did not think this was possible, and were unaware of the miracles of Jesus and the great things his power could do.  

Out of their fear, they pleaded with Jesus to leave their country, the country of the Gadarenes. Jesus complied. 

The man with the previous demon possession wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay and spread the word of what He had done for him among his friends. The man obeyed and everyone was in awe of the story he had to tell, instead of the fear that the original large crowd was overcome with. 

“And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”

Mark 5:19-20 (ESV)

This is the conclusion of the account of Legion in the Bible in Mark. I would encourage you to read through the accounts of this same story found in the gospel of Luke and Matthew, as each is written a bit differently.

There is one other use of the word Legion in the Bible, found in Matthew 26 when Jesus is being seized by the pharisees and their soldiers, led by Judas the betrayer. 

“Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Matthew 26:52-54 (ESV)

I also encourage you to study further into that passage after going through the rest of this article, using your newfound understanding of the meaning of Legion to uncover an even greater meaning than what first meet’s the eye. 

Let’s now look into the etymology of the word Legion to get one step closer to understanding the significance of its use in scripture. 


As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a legion is “the principal unit of the Roman army comprising 3000 to 6000 foot soldiers with cavalry” or simply “a very large number.” Simple, right? But we want to look even further into it, as God’s word is far too intricate and intentional to ever stop at a surface-level understanding.

The English word legion comes from the Latin word Lego, which means to collect or gather, which lends hand to the use of the word legion in the Roman army. According to Abarim Publications, who describes this far better than I ever could, “The designation legion as a Roman military unit came about during the Marian reforms of 107 BC. A legion would contain around 4,500 to 5,500 legionaries (professional soldiers who were Roman citizens), divided into cohorts (480 legionaries)”. 

Now, the meaning of legion to the world today just means a large number, like in the Roman military, but in the specific time of Christ where this account of him healing the demon-possessed man takes place, legion was a term specific to Romans. Abarim publications says, “By using the word legion (instead of calling himself, say, Ten Cohorts), the demoniac makes a point to indicate that his demonic infection consists of “Roman citizens.”

This gives so much more meaning to the name of the demon as Legion. No wonder the man could not be controlled! No wonder it was such a painful extraction! 

This also lends a hand to the power of Jesus, which we will further look into later. 

Context of Rome at the Time

The Gospel of Mark is estimated to be written in the mid-to-late 50s AD, but the active ministry of Jesus, which the account of Legion falls in, was from 28 to 33 AD. 

The Roman Empire controlled most of the Mediterranean during this time period, and the Jewish people were not too fond of it. The empire collected taxes and created some religious tension, which stemmed from its conquering of the land that the Jewish people believed was given to them by God. 

The general attitude towards Romans was simply just not good. The Romans took their sacred land and then took their money, which they already did not have a whole lot of. 

image of Roman soldier for the post legion in the Bible

A great example of the attitude of the Jewish people towards tax collectors is when Jesus eats with them, and the Pharisees, who were religious leaders, are not slow to express their disgust to Jesus’ own disciples. 

“And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and other reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Luke 5:29-30 (ESV)

Tax collectors, who were collecting taxes for the Roman empire, were likened to sinners, and not just by anybody, but by the leaders of the Jewish religion. Of course, the Jewish people were not perfect, especially not the religious leaders, as they were literally the ones to crucify Jesus, but the point in this context is simply just the perspective that the Jews had on Romans, as it adds weight to the significance of the demon being made up of roman citizens. 

“Rome was the dominant power in the entire Mediterranean basin… and controlled over two million square miles,” with the help of its “beating heart,” which was its “powerful and outstanding army.” Remember from the Etymology section that this army, which was used to conquer many lands, consisted of large troops of Roman soldiers, which were called legions. 

What we can draw from all of this information as it relates to the story of Legion in Mark 5 is that it was no simple feat that Jesus performed when healing the man with the impure spirit. We now know that a legion is used to refer to a large number, which means the man was possessed by a multitude of demons—and not just any demons. They consisted of Roman citizens, who were a people that the Jews, Jesus’ own people, had quite the nasty attitudes towards. 

The Significance of Legion

Finally, we have everything we need to dig into what all of this means and why it is significant in scripture. Based on what we read in Mark, the etymology of the word Legion, and the context of the Roman Empire during Jesus’ life and ministry, there are two main uses of Legion in the Bible – to accurately show the lengths of Jesus‘ power as the Son of God and for Jesus to spread the good news that he was the Messiah. 

The etymology of legion as a word, the history of the Roman Empire, and the interaction between the demon Legion and Jesus prove the heights, depths, widths, and lengths of Jesus’ power and authority over all creation.  

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Matthew 28:18 (ESV)

First, looking at the etymology of the word legion, we saw that its meaning of a very large number, or a multitude, is derived from its use in the Roman army. The Roman army was made up of large troops of soldiers, numbering between 4,500 to 5,500, which were called legions. So we know that whenever the demon made himself known as Legion, he was not just a demon, but rather a mass gathering of many demons acting as one inside the man. 

And remember, this demon possession was no small thing. The possessed man would scream and cut himself with stones against his will, breaking free of literal chains and shackles. Absolutely nothing could control the strength of Legion inside of this man. Except for Jesus. 

Moving on to the historical aspect of the Roman empire, we gain even more insight into the strength of this demon and the turmoil it caused. Because the unclean spirit’s name was a roman specific term (at that point in time), it is inferred that the mass of demons was made up specifically of roman people. 

The Romans were not seen in a positive light by the Jews, who were Jesus’ own people, as he himself was a Jew. The Roman Empire took control of the Jews’ holy land by force, meaning they used their army, which means it was more than likely the act of a Roman legion. This Roman legion conquered the Jewish people and their land, as well as many others. Nobody could defeat the Roman army.,,,,,, except for Jesus. 

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Upon conquering the Jewish people and their land, the romans collected taxes from the Jews, who were already struggling for money anyway. The religious leaders of the Jews, and I’m sure the rest of the Jews as well, likened the tax collectors to sinners, and expressed disgust in them, as we saw in Luke 5 when Jesus partakes in a dinner prepared by Levi, a tax collector. 

Adding these two things together – the conquering of the Jewish holy land by a Roman legion and the attitude of the Jews towards the Romans, specifically tax collectors – it becomes an even bigger deal that this demon was named Legion. Not only was he a multitude of demons in one, but he was made up of the people group that was perceived in the most negative light by Jesus’ own people. 

We now have a full grasp on the strength and power of a legion of demons; and that makes the interaction between Legion and Jesus all the more interesting and meaningful. 

When we looked into verses seven and eight, where Jesus was commanding the evil spirit to come out of the pleading man’s body, we saw the disobedience of Legion, as Jesus had to repeat his command multiple times before they actually obeyed and came out of the man. So now, not only is Legion strong and powerful, but quite bold to not immediately obey the Son of the most high God! 

But in the end, Jesus won, just as he has already won the great war between heaven and hell. No one could control Legion, except for Jesus. 

And then, Legion quite literally had to beg to Jesus and ask for his permission to move onto the pigs! Remember when this legion of demons seemed so scary? Well even they were under the great authority of Jesus. How powerful is our God! 

“And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Mark 1:27 (ESV)

The other main significance of Legion in the Bible, was that Jesus used this whole showdown to spread the message of the gospel, the ultimate manifestation of God’s great grace and mercy. 

Just like the pharisees who crucified their own Messiah, the people that rushed to the scene of this exorcism and saw the previously demon-possessed man in his right mind, they were afraid and did not want anything to do with Jesus, begging him to leave the region of the Gerasenes where they resided. But Jesus wanted to reach these people, as his salvation and the holy spirit that was soon to come upon his death on the cross, was meant for everyone, even those that originally rejected him. 

So when the man finally in his right mind asked Jesus to go with him, likely as a disciple, Jesus had another mission in mind for him. He bestowed upon him the responsibility of reaching these people. He told him to stay back and tell everyone what had happened, so that they might understand the great works and mercy of the Lord. The man was obedient and proclaimed this message in the Decapolis, and this time, instead of being afraid, everyone marveled. 

The significance of Legion in the Bible is so subtle, yet so powerful. It is crazy how looking into one singular word can bring so much more depth to the meaning of God’s word. Each and every word is full of purpose and intent, meant to guide us in our walks with Christ and our relationship with our Heavenly Father

Through this specific study, you should have gained deeper insight into the power and authority of Jesus, and I hope you stand in more awe and reverence than ever! 

You may enjoy this video on legion in the Bible for further study:

Or one of these recommended resources:

Legion: Rediscovering the God Who Rescues Me (Bible Study) by Shadia Hrichi 

Biblical Demonology: A Study of Spiritual Forces at Work Today by Merrill F. Unger 

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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