Was it an eye disease?



Table of contents

Background

Was it an eye disease?

Evidence against eye disease

What does the phrase "pluck out their eyes" mean?

What does Paul mean by the phrase "with my own hand"?

What does Paul mean by the phrase "large letters"?

What was the infirmity that caused Paul to preach to the Galatians in the first place?

Is Paul's infirmity a disease?

Was Paul diseased?

Does infirmity mean sickness?

Conclusions

Featured article: Sola Scriptura | Related article: My Visions & Ideas


Background

2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

What was Paul's thorn in the flesh?


Was it an eye disease?

Galatians 4:15 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 interpret this to mean that they would have plucked out their eyes and given them to Paul because his eyes were bad. Of course this is merely a figure of speech indicating the people loved him and were concerned for him.

Galatians 6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

Some interpret this to mean that he wrote his letters large because he could barely see.


Evidence against eye disease


What does the phrase "pluck out their eyes" mean?

There is a passage in the New Testament in which Jesus talks about plucking out your eyes. The phrase is used as a figure of speech to indicate the seriousness of the situation. Jesus is not recommending that we literally pluck out our eyes.

Mark 9:47 "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire;

Jesus is using this phrase as a figure of speech to express the idea that going to hell is the worst possible fate.

Paul is likely using this same phrase in Galatians 4:15 to indicate the depth of their love for him, but it sounds like the people did recognize that Paul had a problem with his eyes and wished they could help him with that. But of course they couldn't.


What does Paul mean by the phrase "with my own hand"?

The following are examples of ways that Paul closed his letters:

Galatians 6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

1 Corinthians 16:21 The salutation with my own hand; Paul's.

Colossians 4:18 This salutation by my own hand; Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.

2 Thessalonians 3:17 The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write.

Philemon 1:19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay; not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.

The following expresses why it was so important to Paul that people knew whether a letter was really written by him or whether it was forged:

2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.

Note that only in the passage in Galatians 6:11 does Paul refer to large letters. But if Paul wrote using large letters because he had an eye disease and couldn't see, wouldn't he have written all his letters using large letters?


What does Paul mean by the phrase "large letters"?

Galatians 6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!

The word translated letter in Galatians 6:11 sometimes refers to letters of the alphabet and sometimes to letters of correspondence. Perhaps the letter to the Galatians was packaged with some other letters and together it constituted a large letter.

The King James Version has how large a letter here. Apparently the translators thought that Paul was referring to a written letter and not letters of the alphabet.

Acts 28:21 Then they said to him, "We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you.

The word letters is the same Greek word as used in Galatians 6:11. Here it clearly refers to letters of correspondence and not to letters of the alphabet.


What was the infirmity that caused Paul to preach to the Galatians in the first place?

The key phrase in Galatians 4:13 is because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. The physical infirmity is what caused Paul to preach to them in the first place. He would not have even been there to share the gospel with them except for his change of plans which resulted from his physical infirmity

Galatians 4:13 - 15 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.

Here is the story of what events caused Paul to even be there in the first place.

Acts 14:19 - 21 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.

This is the account of why Paul stayed in Galatia so long. He was planning on leaving the area but God used his stoning to keep him in the area. He stayed long enough to make many disciples. He must have been severely injured to stay so long to recover.


Is Paul's infirmity a disease?

The words "infirmity" and "weakness" are the same Greek words. Notice that in the context, it is not sickness which is being referred to.

2 Corinthians 11:29 - 30 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.

The following is the passage in which Paul speaks of his "thorn in the flesh." The context is important in order for us to understand the nature of his "thorn in the flesh."

2 Corinthians 12:2 - 10 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago; whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows; such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man; whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows; how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Some significant points regarding this passage:


Was Paul diseased?

Acts 19:11 - 12 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.

There are no examples in the Bible of people who are diseased being used of God to heal others.


Does infirmity mean sickness?

Infirmity is not necessarily sickness.

The highlighted words in the following passages are the same Greek word as the word infirmity in 2 Corinthians 12:5:

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

The word weaknesses in these passages doesn't specifically refer to physical disease but to spiritual weakness (which could include physical weakness).


Conclusions