Commentary for: Galatians 4:13   

Indeed, you know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I told you the Good News the first time,

“infirmity.” The Greek is astheneia, (#769 ἀσθένεια), “weakness, illness.” Paul preached where he did in Galatia for the first time because of an infirmity. Many people have guessed about what this infirmity was, but the simple fact is that we do not know.

Some commentators have suggested that the translation should be, “despite my bodily illness,” instead of “because of my bodily illness.” Lenski points out that all the texts have the phrase with the accusative, and thus “because of” is correct. He points out that the proposal to have “despite…” is “due to the supposition that when Paul came from Paphos and landed at Perga and then continued on to Pisidian Antioch in Galatia, he had not intended to stop here but purposed to go on past this country [of Galatia]. But whither did he intend to go?” Lenski then shows how the geography is such that it seems clear that Paul always intended to go to Galatia, but likely not as fast as he was seemingly forced to go by his illness, which was likely helped by the higher altitudes of central Galatia. If he had not been sick, he may have stayed on and around the coast longer.

Some people believe that this sickness Paul refers to is the “thorn in the flesh” of 2 Corinthians 12:7. That cannot be because Paul’s “thorn” was permanent, while the sickness he mentions in Galatians got better. This record in Galatians should teach us a powerful lesson: we should not be ashamed of any sickness or weakness in our physical body. Our bodies are flesh, and people get sick. Getting sick is not a “bad witness;” it is a sign we are human. Certainly we need to use wisdom when it comes to diet and exercise, but even the most fit people get sick. Christ never tells us that Christians will have perfectly healthy bodies; he tells us that in the future we will have a body like his powerful body (Phil. 3:21).

“the first time.” Paul was on his first missionary journey when he preached in Galatia, and we believe he wrote Galatians shortly after that journey ended and before the Jerusalem counsel. If that is the case, what does Paul mean by the “first” time? After Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14-50), he was driven out of the area and turned east. But then he retraced his steps and went back to the area of Antioch a second time (Acts 14:21). Another, but perhaps less likely way to understand “the first time” of Galatians 4:13 is in contrast with “have I [now] become your enemy” in Gal. 4:16. Paul’s first encounter with the Galatians was a warm welcome, but now he is being treated as an enemy.

Commentary for: Galatians 4:13