Was Paul Sick When He Met the Galatians?

This question has been coming up again in the last few weeks, and I wonder if there are more people out there thinking about this.  If so, then here’s my answer.

Let’s begin with the passage:

Gal 4:13-14

You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.  And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.  What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.

Some people use this verse to imply that Paul had some kind of eye disease or other sickness, and that God would not heal him.  Personally, I believe that is a little far fetched.  It requires you to make a lot of assumptions, and eventually you have to come to a conclusion that contradicts the life of Jesus on earth.  If you have to make assumptions, then I think you should make assumptions that agree with the life of Jesus.

For the record, Jesus always healed everyone that came to Him.  There is not a single exception to this in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  And He was doing God’s will all the time, so it was always God’s will to heal.  If it was God’s will for Paul to have an eye disease, then the Father’s will is very different than what Jesus was demonstrating on the earth.  But the Father and the Son and the Spirit all agree, all the time.  God is not divided against Himself.  And when Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, it included both forgiveness of sin, and healing.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s move on to something that will help us understand what is going on.  Read this passage from the book of Acts, where we are given some insight into the events that preceded Paul’s initial visit to the people he was writing to.

Acts 14:19-22 (NET Bible)

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead.  But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.  They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.”

 

As far as I have been able to figure out the timeline, it looks like Paul was stoned in Lystra just before he went to other churches in the region of Galatia.  Galatia is a region, not a city, so the letter to the Galatians would have been sent to churches in cities like Derbe, Iconium, Antioch, etc.

Paul was visiting these places right after he was stoned.  Crowds of people had just thrown rocks at his head, face, and body until it looked like he was dead.  He may have even died and been raised from the dead when the other believers gathered around him to pray.  We aren’t told if he actually was dead, or if he just looked dead.  Either way, he was in bad shape.

I assume that he looked pretty beat up at the time that he went to Derbe, since he had just gone through this.  And since his body was all beat up at the time, it would fit the statement in Acts 14:22 “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.”  This also fits the statement Galatians 4 that we are studying now, except that most translations use the phrase “illness” instead of infirmity or weakness.   This is a form of the same word “infirmity” that I covered in my post on Paul’s Thorn.

So, Paul was recovering from a traumatic beating.  And although it was a miraculous recovery, apparently he still had some scars and bruising, and so he probably looked pretty rough.  Personally, I believe this is what he is talking about when he is talking about his infirmity or his weakness or his appearance.  In other words, he was beat up the first time he went there, so he is referencing that in the letter to the Galatians.

You would have to make many assumptions to go from the text in Galatians 4 to a conclusion that Paul had an incurable eye disease.   Even so, there are respectable Bible teachers and commentators that make this assumption and promote it to others.  I have even seen some people go as far as to give the name of the disease.  I would suggest that we use greater caution before making assumptions that contradict the life of Jesus, especially when it concerns something so clear as His willingness to heal sick people.

Acts 10:38 – God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

7 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting this. Your point makes a lot of sense and I think you are right about wrong assumptions. When I think of all the beatings and floggings that Paul endured, the fact that he was able to do everything he did could only have been through God’s miraculous healing.

  2. That was VERY WELL DONE! We all tend to gloss over the fact that Paul was beaten so badly he was thought to be dead. It is completely MIRACULOUS that he could get up and travel after a beating like that. He had to walk or maybe ride a donkey or other animal, all of which are rugged means of travel. Jesus healed him or he would not have been able to do that.

  3. You know, I was reading the book of Galatians, and the Holy Spirit revealed it to me, this wasn’t illness, Paul was beaten because of my name. With that revelation, I started researching, and I found this text, perfect. It confirms what was revealed in my Heart.

  4. See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
    Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
    Galatians 6:11,12
    From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
    Galatians 6:17

    These 3 verses tell us that what he really had was no illness, but because he was beaten. He was persecuted for the cross. That makes a good link with your text. I have a fair question though. You showed a text in Acts that tells us he was beaten. But in the time of writing this letter, why was he writing with large letters? Wasn’t he covered from the beating yet? Please answer.

    1. Hi Erick. Thanks for your comments. To answer your question about the “large letters” I can tell you that I have found two interpretations for this that sound viable to me. I don’t believe it is due to vision problems.

      The first interpretation involves looking at the way it is translated in the NLT: “NOTICE WHAT LARGE LETTERS I USE AS I WRITE THESE CLOSING WORDS IN MY OWN HANDWRITING.” This gives the idea that Paul is really emphasizing the next few sentences as he sums up his letter. When read in context, it fits in very well. Nearly the entire letter is written to counter the Judaizers that were attempting to compel the people to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. He follows 6:11 with some final blunt and direct remarks contradicting the Judaizers and making the point again that believers are not under the Law of Moses.

      The second interpretation involves looking at another, equally acceptable translation of the verse. If you look up the Greek words for “large” and “letter” that Paul used here, it could be translated “See what distinguished writings I use as I write to you with my own hand.” And if you read this as sarcasm, then it also fits in well with the context and the reason for the letter. It is a short letter, and it is very direct and to the point, and the point is very simple that he is trying to make.

      Personally, I believe either of these could be true, but in my opinion the first one is the best fit.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Thanks Neal. I was just researching this and came to the same conclusion based on the timeline of Paul’s ministry. The infirmity was revolting to them which is consistent with the trauma of stoning.

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