What kind of illness did Paul have? Why did Paul say his illness was a trial to the Galatians?

Galatians 4:14

and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

  • [sigh] It needs a very ‘loose’ translation of peirasmos to get ‘illness’. Nevertheless some do this [arguably] to support their doctrine.
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 20:21
  • It's a mistranslation, cite which false translation did you quote and refer to the better literal ones and word meaning on biblehub for the solution.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 6:33

1 Answer 1


"Nobody knows", is the simple answer, because the Bible does not state what it was. Church stories / traditions may offer some word-sketches as to Paul's physical appearance and health, but none of them can cite anything the apostle Paul wrote outside of the Bible where he might have specified it.

Indeed, Paul seems to have been careful to avoid saying what, exactly, it was. Even in his letter, 1 Corinthians 12:7-9, he is non-specific mentioning an illness described as "a thorn in my flesh". He said it was from a messenger of Satan, to torment him, and despite asking God three times to take it away, God ended the matter by saying to Paul, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.." (NLT).

It was taken as understood that folks in the congregations he personally visited would know, and that it was not necessary for anyone else to be informed in writing. A foot-note in the NIV Study Bible says re. Gal.4:13:

"13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you" - illness. On the basis of v. 15; 6:11 some suggest it was eye trouble. Others have suggested malaria or epilepsy."

Perhaps the biggest clue is in verse 15 where Paul adds, "I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." The eye-problem idea has a lot going for it, I suppose, but even if it was that, there's a whole array of eye diseases that it could have been, and we just do not know.

  • Agreed - we are not told and so we do not know.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 19:35
  • Thanks Anne. So why was it a trial to the Galatians? Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 3:12
  • @Vincent Wong If we knew what the illness / condition was, exactly, then we could answer that question! We will just have to wait until the day comes when "everything hidden will be revealed", as Jesus said (Mat.10:26). That's when such accounts will be understood, and we will also realise why it was not necessary for Paul to make public (to the world) his medical issues.
    – Anne
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 10:26

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