Galatians 4:13 A.V.

Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

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    Sadly we don't know and probably never will.
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 3:01
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    The affliction appears to be poor eyesight, the scriptures however do not tell us so we will never know. Besides what it mentioned in the answers below, I add the following. Dim eyesight may be the reason why Paul dictated most of his letters. Another possible reason, it appears that his poor eyesight failed him, we read in Acts 23:1-5 that he looked intently at the Sanhedrin and spoke sharply to the high priest, then apologized. And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your " Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 20:43
  • He says, 1 Cor 16:,8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. To me, this suggests a congenital problem.
    – F2Andy
    Commented Dec 27, 2023 at 19:02

11 Answers 11


It seems probable that when Paul was blinded on the Damascus road and subsequently healed at the hands of Ananias, the healing was partial and his eyes continued to give him ongoing trouble. This is strongly hinted at in the immediate context of Gal 4:13; in v 15, Paul says that had it been possible, the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. But why would they have had such an inclination unless he had difficulty with his eyes?

A further hint may be found in Gal 6:11, where (on the most probable interpretation) Paul notes the large size of the letters with which he is writing the closing section of the letter.

  • Very interesting. But that would suck some of the miraculous out of his conversion story. Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 7:11
  • If Scripture does not clearly say can't we say - Scripture does not clearly say - and leave it at that?
    – David D
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 20:40

There are 3 accounts in the book of Acts that give an account of Paul’s healing from blindness after seeing the glorious light of Jesus Christ, chapters 9, 22, & 26. None of the accounts give mention to a partial healing & seem inconsistent with the analogy our Lord purposed saying in 26:18, “...I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God ...”. Upon observing in 2 Corinthians 11:23ff the partial list of affections the Apostle suffered it is anyone’s guess as to which suffering may have left him with a lasting affliction; however the mentioning of eyes being given if possible & Paul writing with his own hand in large letters, something not normal for the time with limited surface to write on, might indicate that his eyes may have suffered from the many beatings or stoning so that he would learn that God will use our weakness for His strength so that He receives the glory. In Athens, before Paul’s 3rd missionary journey that would take him through Galatia, Paul had no problem viewing all the false idols or the inscription, “To the unknown God”. I would suggest his eyes were fine following his receiving his sight from the Almighty at his conversion & perhaps from suffering for Christ bad eyesight might be one of the “marks I bear in my body” mentioned at the end of Galatians 6?


We do not know what Paul's "infirmity of the flesh" or "thorn in the flesh" was and so all suggestions are educated guesses. I understand the arguments for poor eyesight but none of the reasons advanced hold much water because each can be explained as ordinary literary devices and hyperbole.

Here is another suggestion (that is only an educated guess) based on Paul's remarks in 2 Cor 1:8-11. Paul may have suffered from sporadic bouts of depression - his remarks in 2 Cor 1:8 where he "despaired of life itself" suggests extreme mental anguish. This would be consistent his remark in 2 Cor 12:7 where he says that this was, "a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me."

This may be a question that we will need to wait for the next life in order to ask Paul himself.


The context is Paul's defense of his apostleship. If Paul is able to boast according to the standard of the flesh, then he has more reason to boast than anyone else and he begins to compile a list of reasons to prove why this is true, 11:16-28.

Beginning in verse 22, he says, "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I." These are all genealogical factors that he has in common with all other Jews. Then in verse 23, he begins to set forth a list of comparisons in which he is proven to excel above them all. "Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I MORE SO; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death."

  1. “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.”
  2. “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.”
  3. “I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;
  4. “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
  5. “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. From 11:29 through 12:8 he stresses the fact that these are all things that Paul regards as weaknesses of the flesh. These are things that are hard to endure and that he had the right to boast in the fact that he has suffered in the flesh more than all of them. In 12:6 he says that he does not wish to boast in these things, "... but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me."

In verse 7, Paul gives the paramount reason for his capacity for boasting which was "the surpassing greatness of the revelations." To keep him from boasting and exalting himself in this he was given a "thorn in the flesh." The 'thorn' represents something that is external to the flesh but that is intrusive to the flesh. In spite of his petition to God to remove it, God says "My grace is sufficient for you." It is not through Paul's own power that he is able to endure these suffering that have been imposed upon his flesh (not to mention the psychological stress that accompanies these types of experiences), it was the grace of God that enabled him to endure them and to continue to preach in spite of them. The connecting statement that links all of this to gather is in verse 10 when he says, "THEREFORE." Whatever he says next is rooted in everything he has said up to this point and he connects it to the thorn that was given him. "Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. Why? Because "when I am weak THEN I am strong." The thorn made him weak. The grace made him strong. NOW, he is able to rejoice in his sufferings - in his thorn.

So, because of the "the surpassing greatness of the revelations," Paul was allowed to suffer all of these hardships - thorn in the flesh - in order to keep him from exalting himself. One is not so likely to be self-exalting when he is having the hide stripped from his back with a scourge or having to go hungry or floating around in the sea or having his bones broken from being beaten with rods or lying in a pit left for dead after having been stoned. God allowed these things so that Paul would learn humility in spite of the exalted status that God had granted him. Remember what God told Ananias in Acts 9:16 "I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."

I know this is a very brief exegesis of this text and I certainly do not claim it to be infallible. It is possible that I have missed it but, it seems to me that Paul has been very clear in explaining the nature of the thorn that he had been given. If anyone has a better exegesis of this text than this, I am certainly open to correction.

His problem with his eyesight has been a favored speculation even among many commentators. We do know from Gal. 6:11 that Paul seems to have had some type of deficiency with his eyes but the nature of what the thorn was seems very clearly defined in the context of 2Cor. 12. Paul uses three different descriptive terms all of which refer to the same thing. He calls it a 'thorn in the flesh', a 'messenger from Satan', and 'my weaknesses'. These weaknesses are not of a singular nature. They are described as insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties all of which are in the plural. I do not doubt that his seeming deficiency with his eyes would certainly fall within this menagerie of weaknesses. The 'thorn in the flesh' is simply a descriptive term which he employed to describe a host of things he was called to endure for the cause of Christ. Their purpose was to keep him humble in the midst of his exalted position. It is hard to be proud and self-exalting when someone is beating the hide off of your back with a scourge or breaking your bones with rods or stoning you. These types of experiences are by their very nature, humbling.


Go back to Acts 14:19-20. After he was stoned and almost died in Lystra, he and Barnabas went to Derbe the next day, this was in the region of Galatia. That was the first time (first journey) he went to the region of Galatia which he mentioned in Galatians 4:13. If you are stoned to the point of death, you will sustain some very serious injuries and I guess it's the problem that he was referring to in Galatians 4:13. My greek is not the best but the concordance G769 used in the KJV (infirmity) refers more to weakness, lack of energy or feebleness than a specific disease. This could be the result of damages done to his body due to the stoning.

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    Interesting idea - what evidence to we have of such an assertion?
    – user25930
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 23:46

It makes more sense that it would be symptomatic, rather than a specific disease. Judging from the previous answers relating to scripture, Paul's poor eyesight was ongoing; and he was still able to continue his spreading of the gospel. Therefore, an acute, rather than chronic, illness would more than likely be the reason for postponing travel.

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. This answer could be greatly improved by quoting some Bible references or other references.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 0:13
  • I have up-voted +1, to encourage more and in expectation of some scripture quotation being added.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 9:39

According to the Book of Galatians, Apostle Paul seems to have developed bad eyesight during his persecutions in the hands of persecutors as evident in Act 14:19

From now on let no one trouble me [by making it necessary for me to justify my authority as an apostle, and the absolute truth of the gospel], for I bear on my body the branding-marks of Jesus [the wounds, scars, and other outward evidence of persecutions—these testify to His ownership of me]. (Galatians 6:17 AMP)

Act 14:19

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead

  • Very good answer, but kindly avoid paraphrase translation like AMP. Use a literal one like ESV. Use Stepbible.org. I think if he had got blinded by one ye, he would have been called "a blind" in his debates by opponents. Eyesight doesn't diminish by stoning, but only one eye can get damaged. But it's still possible.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 22, 2022 at 12:11
  • Its very clear that Apostle Paul had an eye problem which could have resulted from his frequent persecutions during his early ministry. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. Galatians 4:13‭-‬14 ESV
    Commented May 22, 2022 at 13:01
  • I agree but it is more likely to be a natural illness rather than beating.
    – Michael16
    Commented May 22, 2022 at 13:10
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    Being beaten can escalate any natural ailment. For example: Slapping someone with diabetic retinopathy can develop into full single blurred eye within a short period of time compared to similar patient not beaten in the eye. I had a similar experience.
    Commented May 22, 2022 at 13:17

The Answer is revealed in Acts!

According to Gal 4:13-15, Pauls "infirmity of the flesh" was during "the first time" Paul preached in Galatia.

In Paul's first mission in Galatia, Paul was rejected and stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19). The next day, he walked miles to Debre (a province of Galatia) (Acts 14:20-21).

So he's making a clear reference that his flesh was outwardly beaten and bruised when he preached to them during this "first" mission trip. He likely had bruises on his eyes.

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    – Lesley
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 17:12

Zzzz. Wrong. Saint Paul …. Gave us the answers in his Writings, as did the Good lord & Lord Jesus. That’s the beauty of The Good Word- it constantly reveals to us as we grow and change in the lord. Truly Blessed we are. Am3n

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    This is not the tone we want to have on this site. Also, we are looking for more supporting information and details, such as citations of scripture or other commentaries, as part of a well-reasoned argument.
    – Robert
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 3:52

Honestly, I would like to know what his infirmity was - or as someone else (above) noted from the translation - that it was some weakness not from a disease. And… in v 14 of chapter 4 (right after v 13 “through infirmity of the flesh I preached”) - Paul denotes it as his “temptation” that the Galatians knew about & “despised not, nor rejected, but received” him. What is the context of Galatians? Chapter 3 calls the Galatians foolish for being caught up in the law Vs faith.

So - what is truth? We are all human. We all sin. And yes - even Paul sinned. I think this is what he is speaking to. We can’t not sin until Christs return and our transfiguration. Does it really matter what Paul’s sin was? Consider - if we knew - then it might become a stumbling block for some. Based on his other writings - I highly doubt that it was a sexual sin. Perhaps he drank or took something for his pain & it was noticeable. But regardless - we all sin.

Consider lying - we try not to - but everyone does at some point. Some even excuse it away - saying it was to protect someone. But we know in Rev 21:8 “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Perhaps we all need to read Galatians again & consider. Could this be speaking about how we shouldn’t judge other people? Are there deeper revelations here? I would like to know.

 Thorns in the old testament seems to refer to people. Numbers 33:55 “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live".

Judges 2:3 "Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you". Joshua 23:13 "then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you".