In the last post and the one before it we answered some common, yet deeply flawed arguments that people use from the New Testament to imply sickness may sometimes be God’s will for Christians. Then on a Youtube comment, I saw someone claim that Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians because they were sick.
Have you ever heard that? Let’s examine what was really going on.
What’s The Difference Between Sickness And Infirmity?
Galatians 4:13 (NRSV) You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you
Unfortunately, many translation versions say Paul preached to the Galatians because of a “sickness” or “illness.” The NRSV and several others are more accurate. He preached because of a physical infirmity.
What’s the difference between a physical infirmity and a sickness?
In high school, I took a few classes at a private school. One of them was logic. Many schools don’t offer a logic class, but it was fun. (Thank you, Mr. Schwartz!)
Among other things, we learned to use Venn diagrams to recognize logical fallacies. So I just created a Venn diagram to demonstrate the relationship between sicknesses and infirmities.
All sicknesses are infirmities, but not all infirmities are sicknesses.
Did Paul Preach To The Galatians Because Of A Sickness?
OK, so some theologians have come up with theories about Paul having an eye disease called ophthalmia, misinterpreting the idiomatic expression “you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” (Galatians 4:15) Or theorizing that Paul “wrote large letters” (Galatians 6:11) because he had an eye problem. (Better translated “grand writings.”)
But serious theology isn’t speculation. It seeks to interpret scripture with scripture and to look to scripture to give context. Can we find anything else in scripture that gives us an idea what Paul’s “infirmity” was?
Acts 14:19-22 (NIV) Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
Click here if you’d like to see a map of Galatia. Notice that the cities just mentioned in Acts 14 are cities of Galatia. Paul came to Galatia after being stoned and left for dead, but then getting up and going to the next place.
This at least sounds like a miraculous recovery, since they thought he was dead and then he just “got up” and went on preaching. It may have been a resurrection. But Paul obviously still had “bodily weakness” in the form of injuries from his near murder. That was why Paul went to Galatia, not a sickness!
Paul talks in several passages about his infirmities, such as sleepless nights, shipwreck, beatings, and going hungry. Nowhere does he talk about being sick!
Why in the world would people go to such great lengths to suggest Paul was sick, but ignore passages such as the one where he, by God’s power, cured all of the people who had diseases on the Island of Malta? Do you really think they were bringing all the diseased to be cured by Paul who had ugly pus seeping out of his eyes due to ophthalmia?
For some people, this post may bring up questions about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” I’ve written a two-part article on that. Click to read why Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh Was Not To Humble Him and What Was Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh?