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An essay by John Brown

St. Paul's Thorn In The Flesh: What Was It?

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Title:     St. Paul's Thorn In The Flesh: What Was It?
Author: John Brown [More Titles by Brown]

If the 15th verse of the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, instead of being taken in a figurative sense, as it generally has been, be understood literally, it will be found to furnish the means of determining, with a tolerably near approach to certainty, the particular nature of the disease under which St. Paul is supposed to have labored, and which he elsewhere speaks of as the "Thorn in his flesh." And that the literal interpretation is the true one, may, I think, be shown, partly from the general scope of the paragraph to which the 15th verse belongs; partly from some peculiarities of expression in it, which could only have been used under an intention that the verse in question should be taken literally; and partly also from the fact that there are statements and allusions elsewhere in the New Testament, which assert or imply, that St. Paul really was affected in the manner here supposed to be indicated.

"_Brethren, I beseech you_," says the Apostle, "_be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation (trial) which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus._ _Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me._"

The last words of this passage, "Ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me," have usually been taken in a hyperbolical or proverbial sense, as if a merely general meaning was conveyed, amounting simply to--"There was no sacrifice, however great, which ye would not have made for me." But it is plainly open to inquiry, whether the sense is not of a more special kind; whether (viz.) St. Paul does not here, as in the preceding verses, intend to remind the Galatians of pure matter of fact--to recall to them, not in mere general terms, the depth and warmth of their feelings and professions of regard for him, but to repeat to them perhaps the very words they had used, and to revive in their memories the actual and express import of their desires and anxieties. If this be the case, if it really was a common and habitual thing with them to express a wish that it were possible for them to pluck out their own eyes, and to transfer them to the apostle, the only way of reasonably accounting for so strange and _outre_ a proceeding, is to suppose that St. Paul actually labored either under entire deprivation of vision, or under some severely painful and vexatious disease of the eyes: The meaning being, that so keenly did the Galatians sympathize with the apostle in his affliction, that they would willingly have become his substitutes by taking all his suffering upon themselves, if only it were possible, by doing so to relieve him.

That there is at least no _prima facie_ objection to this explanation of the words, will, I think, be readily enough admitted. It is perfectly simple and unforced, and it conveys a lively and touching representation of the feelings which would naturally spring up in the minds of a grateful and warm-hearted people, to their great benefactor and friend, who, amidst disease, and pain, and weakness, had made the greatest and most unwearying exertions to communicate to them the invaluable truths of Christianity.

But, in addition to this, it will be found, I think, that under the literal interpretation of the 15th verse, a peculiar point and force belongs to the apostle's appeal, and a closely connected and harmonious meaning is imparted to the whole paragraph, all of which, it seems to me, are lost if the figurative explanation is adhered to. In the previous part of the chapter, St. Paul had been arguing against the foolish predilection which the Galatians had taken up for forms and formalisms and ceremonial observances, and strongly exhorting them to abandon this pernicious and unchristian propensity. And now, in the paragraph quoted, he takes up new ground, and appeals to them by the memory of their old affection for him, to listen to his arguments and entreaties, and to be of one mind with him. The general meaning of what he says is plain enough, but there are difficulties of detail, both in particular expressions, and in the train of thought. The words, for example, "Be as I am, for I am as ye are," at once strike the ear as a peculiar and unusual style to adopt in an invitation to unity of thought and feeling. But if the last clause of the 15th verse be taken literally, I think it will appear that this expression has a special fitness and propriety. The words, "for I am as ye are," imply a reference, I imagine, to his being, in respect of his bodily affliction, _not_ as they were; and what follows is intended to remind them how anxious they were, when their love to him was fresh, to be "as he was," even although it would have been necessary to accept bodily pain and mutilation to attain that object. If I am correct in thinking the first clause of the 12th verse, and the last of the 15th, to be thus closely related and corresponsive, it will be seen that they mutually explain each other; and the apostle's argument, as I understand it, may then be thus stated:--If you were so willing and eager, when I was with you, even at the cost of plucking out your eyes, to "be as I am," surely you will hardly refuse me the same thing now in this other matter, wherein there is no such difference between us as to raise any impediment in the way of your compliance, where no such sacrifice as ye were formerly ready to make is required of you, and where all that is asked from you is to give up your false opinions and evil practices, and simply "be as I am" in believing and obeying the truth revealed.

In another respect, the ordinary explanation involves, I think, an unnatural rupture of the continuity of thought, which is completely avoided by the literal interpretation of the passage. In the 13th verse, we find the apostle introducing, in a somewhat formal and special manner, the subject of his bodily affliction. "Ye know," he says, "how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you at the first." And it cannot but strike the reader as strange that, after this, all he should have to say about the matter, is that the Galatians "despised not nor rejected it." The very vagueness, and merely negative character of this expression, excites a sort of instinctive expectation that he will forthwith proceed to state something more positive and specific. But instead of this we are taught by the common explanation, to suppose that an abrupt transition is at once made from the subject of his "temptation" altogether; the statement about the attachment of the Galatians, instead of becoming more distinct and special, as we naturally expect it to do, suddenly merges into the widest possible generality; and their affection, instead of being described by any further reference to the facts of its manifestation, is now represented to us under a strong (it is true) but rather fantastic figure, which leaves an impression of its character and aspect just as undecided and imperfect as before.

But a closer examination of the words at once throws doubt on this conception of their meaning. In the 13th and 14th verses, the associated ideas are, the apostle's disease or affliction, and the affectionate concern of the Galatians with reference to it. In the 15th verse, the reference to the Galatians' display of affection is still continued, and now the idea connected with it is, that of their giving him their plucked-out eyes. But this is not necessarily a change of association, for, as already intimated, their plucking out their eyes and giving them to the apostle, naturally and readily suggests the thought that their design was, "if it had been possible," to supply them to him as substitutes for his own, under the assumption of the latter being diseased or defective. If this be the reference, then the missing idea reappears, the lost association is recovered; bodily affliction in the apostle, and the affection of the Galatians towards him, are still the connected thoughts, the only change being just what might naturally be expected to take place as the discourse proceeded, viz.:--that the ideas are more distinctly developed, and that what was previously alluded to in general terms, is now, not indeed directly stated, but specifically indicated and implied. The "temptation" in the one verse, and the disease hinted by implication in the form assumed by the passionate sympathy of the Galatians, are therefore identified; and thus, the whole paragraph, from the 12th to the 15th verse, instead of presenting an agglomeration of abrupt transitions and disconnected thoughts, evolves a close, natural, and continuous meaning throughout.

Something more, however, is required than merely to show that the interpretation which I propose exhibits a better arrangement, and connection of the thoughts. The apostle may have written in haste, and that explanation of his meaning which attributes to him imperfect connectedness, may after all be the correct one. I shall therefore proceed to inquire whether some further light may not be thrown upon the subject, by a more minute investigation than I have yet attempted, of particular words and turns of expression in the passage.

The phrase, "I bear you record," could only have been used with propriety in reference to a positive _fact;_ something that the apostle had actually witnessed. He could not have employed this language in announcing a mere _inference_ (as the common interpretation would make it) from the conduct of the Galatians towards him, as to the strength and extent of their regard; for a man's testimony can only bear reference to facts which have actually come under his observation. The apostle's language, let it be observed, is not the declaration of a _belief_ that the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes in his behalf, if circumstances had arisen to make such a sacrifice necessary; it is the announcement of a _testimony_ ({martyro}), on the assumption that those circumstances had actually arisen. And the testimony is not to the effect that the Galatians entertained strong affection to him, and as a consequence of that affection; that he is assured they would have plucked out their eyes for him (for these must have been the terms of his declaration, upon the ordinary understanding of the passage); but it is direct to the point, that if it had only been possible, "they would have plucked out their own eyes, and have given them to him." Such language, it appears to me, would be absurd, unless we are to understand by it, that the Galatians had actually expressed a wish, and demonstrated a desire to perform the very act which the apostle speaks of! And if so, I think it is obviously necessary to infer that some circumstance must have existed to give occasion to a wish of so peculiar a kind, in the minds of those who were attached to the apostle's person; and the only circumstance which I can conceive of as calculated to excite such a wish, is St. Paul's suffering under some painful affection of the eyes.

The expression, "if it had been possible," has also, I think, a peculiar significance. If the sentence in the 15th verse, beginning, "I bear you record," &c.;, is thoughtfully considered, it will be seen that three suppositions may be made as to the apostle's meaning and reference: _1st_, The language may be understood (as has usually been done) in a figurative or proverbial sense, and as containing no allusion to any really existing circumstances; _2d_, It may be taken literally, but with reference rather to what _might_ happen than to circumstances actually existing; as if the writer had said, "If I were to lose my eyes, I bear you record that you would willingly have plucked out yours to supply their place;" or, _3d_, The words may be understood as giving a plain matter-of-fact representation of what the Galatians really thought and felt in reference to the apostle's bodily affliction. Now, I think it may be made out quite distinctly that the words "if it had been possible," could only have been used under the last of these hypotheses; for in no other case would the contingency of _possibility_ have presented itself to the writer's mind. If, for example, we are to understand the language as literal, but with reference to the _future_ or _conceivable_, rather than the present or actual, the expression would obviously have been,--"I bear you record that if it had been _necessary_" or, "if such a thing had been required of you for my benefit, ye would have plucked out," &c.;[1] If, on the other hand, we suppose the language to be figurative or proverbial, no contingency would have been mentioned at all, for it is characteristic of such language that it is always absolute and unconditional. For example, in the expressions, "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee;" "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee;" every one at once recognizes the purely proverbial or figurative character of the language, and this simply because its form is absolute and unconditioned. The moment you introduce anything like a condition, and make the removal of the sinning eye or the offending hand dependent upon some circumstance, you are compelled to understand the words according to their strictly literal meaning. Thus, if our Lord, instead of saying what he did in this case, had used such an expression as this,--"If thy right hand offend thee, and if the tendency to offend be insuperable, cut it off;" or, "If thy right eye offend thee, and its extraction would not endanger life, pluck it out," it is clear that the expressions could only have been taken in their strictly literal sense. So, in the words under review, it is also obvious that the introduction of the "if it be possible" takes the phrase out of the class of figures or proverbs, and necessitates its interpretation in a close, literal, matter-of-fact manner.


Footnote:
[1] This seems to have been the view taken by Calvin, but with that logical acuteness which was characteristic of him, he at the same time perceived that it was inaccordant with the expression, "if it had been possible." In his commentary upon the passage, therefore, he substitutes "_si opus sit_" for the apostle's words; thus, of course, assuming that St. Paul had adopted an inapt phrase to express his meaning. But I need scarcely say that such a mode of interpretation is altogether inadmissible, the only legitimate rule being to take the words of the text as they stand, and thence to infer the circumstances or conditions under which they were used.


Perhaps a slight incident which lately occurred in my presence will better illustrate what I wish to convey than any elaborate exposition could do. One day, a poor simple-hearted married couple, from the country, called on a medical friend of mine, to consult him about a complaint in the eyes of the husband, which seemed to threaten him with total blindness. The wife entered at great length into all the symptoms of the complaint, and was extremely voluble in her expressions of sympathy and of anxiety that something should be done to remove the disease. It was difficult to repress a smile at the scene, and yet it was touching too; and the doctor, looking in the old woman's honest affectionate face, quietly said, "I suppose you would give him one of your own eyes, _if you could_:" "That I would, sir," was the immediate answer. Now, it is clear that my friend's words could only have been used under the particular circumstances which called them forth. Had the affection of the old woman been exhibited upon some other occasion than her husband's threatened blindness, he _might_ have said (though, of course, the allusion to eyes at all would not very naturally or probably have suggested itself), "I suppose you would give him one of your own eyes _if he required it_," but he could never have used the words, "_if you could_." The application of this to the language used by St. Paul is sufficiently obvious.

Another expression in this paragraph seems to me still further to discriminate the nature of the complaint under which St. Paul suffered. I mean the words, "and have given them to me." Admitting that the Galatians might, under other circumstances than diseased vision in the apostle, have thought of such a way of demonstrating their affection to him as plucking out their own eyes, I cannot imagine how the notion of "giving them to him" could ever have occurred to them, unless his organs of sight were in such a state of disease as in the natural association of ideas to give rise to this vain and fanciful wish. For the very fact of its being thus vain, fanciful, and far-fetched, makes it necessary to assume that there were some peculiar circumstances in the case to occasion a thought so odd and out of the way. If the language had really been what it has so generally been supposed to be--figurative or proverbial--I can conceive the apostle putting it in this way, "Ye would have plucked out your own eyes _for me_," or, "_to show the strength of your affection for me_;" but it seems to me that it is absurd and unmeaning to say, "_and have given them to me_", unless under the idea of such giving being of some service to the apostle, as a kindly fancy would naturally dwell upon the thought of its being, if St. Paul's own eyes were injured or destroyed. And, further, we are compelled, I think, to conclude that the idea of _substitution_ is conveyed by the word "given," from this fact, that the clause, "if it had been possible," has actually no meaning at all, unless it is to be understood as referring to the supposed attempt of the apostle to make use of the Galatians' eyes. It is clear that the writer could not have used the words, "if it had been possible" in reference to the "plucking out," because _there_ the obstacle of impossibility did not present itself; there was nothing to hinder the Galatians from plucking out their eyes if they had been so disposed. Neither could the reference have been to "giving" in the simple sense of that word; if they could pluck out their eyes there was no impossibility in merely _giving_ them to the apostle. The only thing about the possibility of which there could be any question was their being _so_ given--_so_ made over to him as to be of any service as substitutes for his own.

One other expression in the paragraph still requires to be noticed, but I must defer alluding to it until I have referred to some other points which seem to me to have a bearing upon the question. In the mean time, having thus shown how exactly the whole of the language of this passage tallies with the idea of the apostle having been affected with some distressing complaint in his eyes, it is surely very remarkable to learn, from a totally different source, that St. Paul actually had at one period of his life lost the power of vision. I allude, of course, to what is recorded, in the ninth chapter of Acts, of the strange occurrence which took place when he was on his way to Damascus. And although we are informed that he shortly afterwards recovered his sight, it is obvious that this is quite compatible with the existence of much remaining disease and imperfection of vision. Indeed, I am not sure but his own language in giving an account of the extraordinary event actually favors the idea that the miraculous cure effected by Ananias went barely to the restoration of sight, and did not amount to a complete removal of the injury which his eyes had sustained. In his address to the Jews at Jerusalem, when he stood upon the stairs of the castle (Acts xxii. 13), all that he says is, "Ananias came unto me and stood and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour _I looked up upon him_." In Acts ix. 18, the words are, "Immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales, and he received sight forthwith." In neither passage at least is there anything inconsistent with the idea that his eyes, though they had not lost the power of vision, may yet have been seriously and perhaps permanently injured. And although it is perhaps scarcely legitimate to bring it forward as an argument for the view which I have adopted, yet it is impossible to overlook the fact that a most important end was served by the apostle's eyes being permitted to retain the marks of disease and severe injury, for a standing proof was thus afforded to the Church and to the world that the extraordinary vision, so confirmatory of the truth of our holy religion, was not, as some might otherwise have been inclined to think it, a vain fancy of the apostle's own mind. Often, no doubt, when St. Paul told of that remarkable meeting with the Lord Jesus, he was met by the reply, "'Paul, thou art beside thyself;' delusion, a heated imagination, has deceived and betrayed you." But he had only to point to his branded, half-quenched orbs, and to ask the objectors if mental hallucinations were accustomed to produce such effects on the bodily frame. To such a question there could obviously be no answer And if the objectors were satisfied of the apostle's veracity in alleging the one thing to be the effect of the other, it was hardly possible for them to gainsay the claim of a Divine origin for Christianity.

This hypothesis as to the _cause_ and _occasion_ of St. Paul's infirmity, receives from another part of Scripture, where allusion is made to it, a somewhat remarkable confirmation. In the 12th chapter of Second Corinthians, it cannot, I think, after what I have just stated, but be regarded as very singular that the "thorn in the flesh" is mentioned in immediate connection with "visions and revelations of the Lord." The ordinary idea, indeed, has been that this connection is merely incidental; but a little consideration, I think, will show that this cannot be the case. In the 7th verse he says, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh," &c.; Now, I contend that unless there was some such intimate relation between the thorn in the flesh and the revelations in question, as that of the one being immediately occasioned by the other, the humbling effect here attributed to the bodily infirmity could not have been produced on the apostle's mind, because the cause assigned would have been unsuitable and inadequate to such an effect. It is true that every affliction, bodily or otherwise, has a tendency to produce a feeling of humiliation, but it does so only in so far as it cuts away the ground on which we are disposed to build up matter of pride or boasting. If a man is proud of his strength or personal beauty, it would humble him to lose a limb, or to have his features disfigured by loathsome disease. But these afflictions would not produce the same effect if they befell another person who valued himself exclusively upon his learning and mental endowments. The pride of learning and of intellect would, in such a case, remain as strong as ever. Accordingly we find that deformed persons, so far from being distinguished by the grace of humility, are very frequently rather remarkable for the opposite characteristics of vanity and self-conceit; so natural is it for the mind to take refuge from what tends to produce a sense of degradation, in something that the humbling stroke does not directly smite. It does not, therefore, distinctly appear, in any explanation of St. Paul's affliction which would refer it to disease of an ordinary kind, how it should have had the effect which he attributes to it,--that of preventing him from being unduly exalted by the abundance of the revelations made to him. But when it is pointed out that his affliction was the immediate consequence of his close intercourse with Deity, the relation of the two things assumes an entirely different aspect, and a sufficient cause of humiliation appears. For, if at any time the apostle was disposed to glorify himself on his superiority to his fellow-men, and on being the peculiar favorite and friend of God, his real insignificance, and the infinite distance that lay between him and the Divine Being, must have been sent home with irresistible power to his mind, by the recollection that the mere sight of that terrible majesty had struck him to the ground, and had left an ever-during brand of pain and disfigurement on his person. I shall just add, that in Second Corinthians xii. 7, the words, {te hyperbole ton apokalypseon} may with quite as much propriety be construed with {edothe moi skolops te sarki}, as with {hina me huperairomai}; the meaning being thus given,--"and that I might not be exalted, a thorn in the flesh [caused] by the exceeding greatness (for this rather than 'abundance' seems to me the proper translation of {hyperbole}) of the revelations, was given me."

If the account I have thus given of the connection between St. Paul's "thorn in the flesh," and the visions or revelations with which he was favored, be the correct one, we are now furnished with the means of explaining a somewhat obscure expression in the 14th verse of the fourth chapter of Galatians, to which I promised to return: "And my trial which was in my flesh, ye despised not, nor _rejected_." If we are compelled to abide by the belief, that St. Paul's "trial" was merely some bodily affliction of the ordinary kind, we can understand the meaning of his saying that the Galatians did not "despise" it (although, by the way, it seems rather a microscopic basis on which to found a laudation of a body of Christian men and women, to say that they were so good as not to despise him on account of a natural bodily infirmity), but it is impossible, on this assumption, to attach any consistent sense to the word "_rejected_." It has, therefore, been taken as simply synonymous with "despise," an interpretation which is objectionable, both because it is at variance with the well-ascertained meaning of the Greek word {exeptusate} (spit _out_, not spit _at_), and also because it involves the imputation of needless tautology to St. Paul's language, from which, almost more than from any other fault of style, the whole of his writings prove him to be singularly free. But if my explanation of the nature of the apostle's trial be the true one, every word of the sentence has a clear and intelligible meaning. St. Paul came among the Galatians proclaiming to them the glad truth, that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead. How did he know it? Because he himself had seen him alive after his passion, "when he came near to Damascus." Was he quite sure that the vision was not a dream, or a delusion? He pointed to his eyes in proof that it was a great certainty, a terrible as well as joyous reality. And this evidence the Galatians "despised not, nor rejected."

This explanation of the reference of "rejected," has also the advantage of removing a difficulty which has hitherto been felt in the translation of the preceding verse. It is there said, "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached," &c.; Now, it so happens, that the Greek words {di astheneian}, cannot, in accordance with the common usage of the language, be translated "through" (in the sense of _during_) "infirmity." Had this been the meaning which the apostle intended to convey, he would have used the genitive {di astheneias}. With the accusative, the reference of {dia} is generally found to be to the instrument, ground, or cause of anything, and its meaning is--by, on account of, by means of, on the ground of, &c.;[2] The literal and strictly correct translation of St. Paul's words, therefore, is: "By the infirmity of my flesh, I proclaimed to you the good news," _i. e._, I adduced the fact of my bodily affliction, as giving indisputable evidence of the truth which I told you about the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and this evidence "ye despised not, nor rejected." Thus, not only a specific meaning is attached to the word "rejected," but a much more close, distinct, and consistent sense is given to the whole passage, than upon any other understanding of the reference it could possess.


Footnote:
[2] See Robinson's _Lexicon to the New Testament_, _sub voce_ {dia}.

There are one or two other passages in St. Paul's Epistles, in which reference, I think, is implied to this subject of his bodily affliction, and all of them seem to me to afford incidentally some confirmation of the particular view of the matter which I have endeavored to establish. At the close of the Epistle to the Galatians (chap. vi. verse 11), we find him saying, "Ye see how large a letter I have written to you with my own hand." Now, the letter is not a very large one; on the contrary, it is one of the shorter of the apostle's productions. And, then, why should he take credit for having written it with his own hand? Under ordinary circumstances, it would scarcely occur to any one in the habit of writing at all, to speak of this as any remarkable achievement. But, if the Galatians knew him to be laboring under impaired vision, and perhaps severe pain in his eyes, the words are peculiarly significant, and could not fail to make a touching impression on the quick, impulsive temperament, so vividly alive to anything outward, of the Celtic tribe to which they were addressed. And thus too, we obtain an explanation of what would otherwise be rather unaccountable, how a man of St. Paul's active habits, and whom we have difficulty in conceiving of as accustomed in anything to have recourse to superfluous ministrations, seems to have almost uniformly employed an amanuensis in writing to the various churches.[3]


Footnote: [3] It has been suggested to me that the state of St. Paul's eyesight might also furnish an explanation of his mistake in not recognizing the High Priest, which is recorded in Acts xxiii. 5, and about which some difficulty has been felt by commentators. One can picture the great apostle, who was a thorough gentleman, stretching forward, and shading his eyes, to see better, and saying, "Pardon me, I did not see it was the High Priest." "I wist not."


Again, at the very conclusion of the Epistle, we have what I cannot help regarding as another allusion to his affliction: "From henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body the _marks of the Lord Jesus_." It has been customary to regard these words as referring to the marks of scourging, stoning, &c.;, which had been imprinted on the apostle's body by the enemies of the gospel, in the course of the persecutions to which he had been subjected in consequence of his firm adherence to the faith. But though the fact of his having undergone severe persecution was a strong proof of his _sincerity_, it was no proof at all of his bearing any _authority_ over the Galatians. Yet this is what he must be understood as asserting here. And I cannot help thinking, that the words, "marks of the Lord Jesus," are chosen with a reference to that relationship which was established between St. Paul and his Master and Lord, on the occasion of that extraordinary meeting on the way to Damascus, for it was then he received his commission to bear Christ's name to the Gentiles. {Stigmata} were the brands with which slaves were marked in order to prove their ownership. So, if I am right in my understanding of the meaning of the word here, the apostle intends to intimate that the blasting effect produced on his eyes by the glory of that light, constituted the _brand_ which attested his being the servant ({doulos}) of Jesus Christ, and of his being commissioned by him to communicate to others the truth of the gospel. This gives a force and fulness of meaning which corresponds exactly with the peculiar energy of the expression, while, according to any ordinary explanation of the passage, it seems rather to be strong language used without any adequate occasion for it.[4]


Footnote:
[4] It may be worth mentioning here, that an opinion prevails in the Roman Catholic Church, that persons who have been favored with Divine visions, or to whom God wishes to give a token of his peculiar love, are frequently marked by what are specifically called _stigmas_. I have not met with any account of the grounds on which this opinion is founded: but the _stigmas_ are explained to be the marks of the Saviour's five wounds. It is very likely that the notion is nothing more than a fantastic and superstitious explanation of the passage in Galatians vi. 17. But it is not altogether impossible that it may be the faint and imperfect echo of some early tradition in the Church as to the physical effect produced upon St. Paul by Christ's miraculous appearance to him near Damascus. Whatever be its origin, the existence of such an opinion is not without a certain degree of curiosity and interest.


I think the circumstance of the expression, "marks of the Lord Jesus," occurring just where it does, at the close of the Epistle, is worthy of remark. From what he says at the 11th verse of the same chapter ("Ye see how large a letter I have written to you with my own hand") it is obvious that, to whatever cause it is to be attributed, the act of writing was one of considerable effort to the apostle. His zeal, and anxiety, and Christian affection, however, had borne him up, and carried him through with his task. But just as he was concluding, I imagine that he began to feel that the effort he had made was greater than his infirmity was well able to bear. If my idea as to the nature of that infirmity be correct, his weak, diseased eyes were burning and smarting more than ordinarily, from the unusual exertion that had been demanded from them; and this, at once leading his mind to what had been the cause of that exertion, the misconduct of the Galatians and their teachers, naturally wrung from him an assertion of his authority, in the impetuous and reproachful, but at the same time deeply pathetic exclamation: "From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." And so he concludes his Epistle.

In pursuing the above inquiry, certain further conclusions, naturally flowing out of what I have attempted to establish, and yet involving results considerably remote from it, have presented themselves to my thoughts. I am inclined to regard them as calculated in some degree to simplify the mode of presenting the Christian scheme to the mind, and to impart to its claims upon the understanding and belief more of logical directness, and less of the liability to evasion, than appear to me to characterize some of the more ordinary modes of its presentation. But I must leave the development of this, the most interesting, as I think, and important part of my subject, to some future opportunity, should it be granted me.


[The end]
John Brown's essay: St. Paul's Thorn In The Flesh: What Was It?

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