Readers Question / Comment - What did Paul mean by saying he carried the marks of Jesus in his body?

Hello Iain

I am currently studying the book of Galatians and i came across the 17th verse where the Apostle Paul says " let no one bother me, for I carry the marks of Jesus in my body". I am honestly struggling to interpret this verse, the questions I have are as follows:

Is there any historical context that he is referring to?

What does he mean by that?

What does this mean to an ordinary Christian like me?

Will you please assist just to unlock this scripture for me.

Regards. M.

JPN Reply:

Hi M,

hope things are well with you. In terms of your questions, here are some thoughts.

Is there any historical context that he is referring to?

Yep, he is referring to the suffering that he has experienced for the sake of Christ. The best passage to study to see all that Paul went though for the sake of Christ is in 2 Cor 11:23-27 which says:

2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

You can only imagine the scars that would have been on his body through being whipped 39 times on 5 separate occasions! And not to mention the beatings with rods and stoning!

What does he mean by that?

We need to remember that where ever Paul went, there were also false teachers. Some would doubt his message of grace (such as in this book, with the Galatians, where false teachers came in and starting taking these Gentile believers back under aspects of Judaic law.) Others would say that Paul isn't sent from God and isn't a true Apostle. So in this verse Paul was reminding the Galatians that his message wasn't just one that he spoke. He lived it! And he suffered for it! If they weren't sure how much he was devoted to giving forth the gospel of grace that God had entrusted to him, they just had to look at his body and see the scars!

J Vernon McGee has some good comments here:

Gal 6:16-17 Notice the word marks. Paul is saying, "I bear in my body the 'marks'"—the Greek word is stigmata—meaning 'scar marks.' If you want to see the handwriting of Jesus, look upon Paul's body... In Paul's day stigmata was used in three ways. When a runaway slave was found and brought back to his master, he was branded on the forehead. Also soldiers who belonged to famous companies had the names of their commanders tattooed on their foreheads. Then, too, devotees of a pagan goddess (and there was much of this in Asia Minor and throughout the Roman Empire in Paul's day) had her name branded on their foreheads. Paul says, "I have on my body the stigmata of the Lord Jesus." He is saying this in effect, "I have written to you out of deep emotion and with great conviction. If you want to know if I truly believe what I have written and if these things are real in my own life, read my body—look at my scars."

What does it mean to an ordinary Christian like me?

Well, it means that the Christian life isn't a bed of roses! It can mean that we too are called upon to suffer for His namesake, whatever form that suffering may take. There are many Christians around the world suffering physically for their faith as you know. Some are being killed or maimed by ISIS and other demonically inspired groups as I write without compromising their faith. Now obviously many of us don't live in countries where such atrocious suffering are taking place, but this verse is still a good reminder that there is a cost to following the Lord Jesus. Persecution could come in the form of mockery or ridicule as we speak the Gospel or stand up for the things that God declares. It is a good reminder that we walk a narrow path, pleasing God, not man, which is normally in the opposite direction to which the majority tread.

Thanks for the verse. It's been good to think about it.