God give Paul "permanent" vision problems? (Galatians 4)


#1

Reading NABRE Galatians 4 a skeptical thought comes to mind: Paul had some mental event on the road to Damascus, explaining the revelation and the blindness, and though he briefly recovered, he later succumbed to the blindness, explaining both Galatians 4, the scribes he apparently used for many of his letters, and the ‘thorn in the side’ he asked God to remove.

This thought appears contradicted by the ‘scales that fell from his eyes’, perhaps a detail specifically to refute this sort of idea about brain problems, as well as the Resurrection and miracle narratives – to prefer this explanation (the atheistic skeptical thought above), one would need to explain away all the New Testament miracles, which I cannot do. (The Old Testament miracles are easier to explain away, since they are mostly not literal documents: “They were written after the fact to assign theological significance”, etc. It seems to me grounds for faith – motives for credibility – are in the New Testament as literal documents; thereafter the Old Testament is taken on faith due to the New.)

So I’m kind of ‘stuck’ here with agnosticism, not knowing which is true, and so I wonder what you think of this interpretation of Galatians 4. Even if we discard the notion of a brain event substituting for Jesus actually giving Paul revelation, do you think God made Paul go blind? Is this a popular theory? One can postulate “good reasons” for this suffering, some of which Paul himself gives.


#2

Imdon’t think Paul would have travelled so much if he had been blind.


#3

I briefly followed the fad of agnosticism as a teen when my attempts at reverting to Catholicism failed. I chose to search for God intentionally, through prayer and studying His Word, the Holy Scriptures. I found Jesus there, God and the Holy Spirit and the truths of our Catholic faith.

vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm

The Word is incarnate and Living, both the New and Old Testaments.

Again my agnosticism was short-lived as I was taught the truths in the Bible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit not mindless men bent on leading me astray. You will do your soul well if you accept the Bible as truth and be more skeptical of the wolves telling you to doubt God’s Word.

One should not make up their own interpretations of Holy Scriptures. Look at the protestant churches who have and will continue to split off each other for one whim of interpretation. Read what the early Church Fathers said about the Bible. I’d be leery of any interpretation or commentary written in modern times (say after 1000 AD).


#4

Given that “things like scales” came off Paul’s eyes, the usual assumption is that Jesus gave Paul something like instant cataracts, which went away just as instantly when he was healed.

If Paul had continued to have cataracts, any well-trained Greek-style physician (like Luke) would have been able to keep removing them. Cataract removal surgery dates back to prehistory.

Look, almost everybody in the ancient world used scribes for literary work on essays. That was the normal way to compose. Cicero didn’t use a scribe because he was blind or illiterate or weak in the hands. He used one because the ancient world thought that composition and the ordering of thoughts was best done orally, by hearing one’s own voice talking it out. Similarly, having someone read to you was a fuller experience of the text than reading it for oneself. (And reading it silently, like St. Ambrose, was just strange and almost secretive.) People who didn’t use scribes had to sit there muttering to themselves as they wrote, like St. Jerome.

Finally, it would make no sense as a sign. Jesus blinded Paul as a sign that he had been blind to the true nature of Jesus and the Church, a “blind guide” like many of the rabbis, instead of a “seer” (nabi’, the Hebrew word we translate as “prophet”). His healing was a sign that he now could see and understand, and that he had had a true prophetic meeting with God, Jesus.

If Paul had continued to have vision problems, it would mean that he was still a blind guide. Which he obviously wasn’t, given that he continued to be inspired by the Word of God and to have other prophetic experiences, including doing miracles of healing on other people. Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh” was obviously something other than vision problems.


#5

A few things:

#1: Why do you assume it was simply a mental event? Paul’s conversion was to the very depth of his soul. He went from absolutely despising the Christians and actively rounding them up to be killed, to one of the most devout Christians in all of history. A simple seizure or other mental event would not explain such a radical and complete conversion.

#2: Generally, a simple mental event (I’m assuming you mean hallucination or something along those lines) would not cause blindness. In fact, I don’t think there’s any mental defect which causes blindness; only physical trauma to the cornea or to the nerves which attach the eye to the brain.

#3: What do you mean “explaining Galatians 4?”

This thought appears contradicted by the ‘scales that fell from his eyes’, perhaps a detail specifically to refute this sort of idea about brain problems, as well as the Resurrection and miracle narratives – to prefer this explanation (the atheistic skeptical thought above), one would need to explain away all the New Testament miracles, which I cannot do. (The Old Testament miracles are easier to explain away, since they are mostly not literal documents: “They were written after the fact to assign theological significance”, etc. It seems to me grounds for faith – motives for credibility – are in the New Testament as literal documents; thereafter the Old Testament is taken on faith due to the New.)

The scales falling from his eyes is both a metaphor for the Holy Spirit entering him and revealing Christ’s glory to him, as well as the healing of his physical blindness. Also, be careful with how easily you dismiss the OT. Some of the books are not literal (portions of Genesis, possibly Job, the Song of Songs…), but others are quite clearly literal histories (Kings, Daniel, etc.).

So I’m kind of ‘stuck’ here with agnosticism, not knowing which is true, and so I wonder what you think of this interpretation of Galatians 4. Even if we discard the notion of a brain event substituting for Jesus actually giving Paul revelation, do you think God made Paul go blind? Is this a popular theory? One can postulate “good reasons” for this suffering, some of which Paul himself gives.

We know God made Paul go blind. We also know that God later healed him. From Acts: 9 10-19:

Saul’s Baptism.
10
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
11
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying,
12
and [in a vision] he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay [his] hands on him, that he may regain his sight.”
13
But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones* in Jerusalem.
14
And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.”
15
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites,
16
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
17
So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.”
18
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized,
19
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

I’m sorry, but I still don’t quite see how this relates to Galatians 4. Could you expand on the relation you see so we can better answer your question?


#6

The thorn in Paul’s side are the Gentiles, not blindness.

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. (Numbers 33:55)

Remember that Paul was a master of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was making reference to the themes in that particular section of scripture. Similarly, the scales which fell from Pauls eyes are Luke’s reference to the scales which fell from Tobit’s eyes in the Book of Tobit.

*At that very time, the prayer of both of them was heard in the glorious presence of God. So Raphael was sent to heal them both: to remove the white scales from Tobit’s eyes, so that he might again see with his own eyes God’s light; (Tobit 3:16-17)

And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, (Acts 9:18)*

These are all references to the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures.

-Tim-


#7

We simply don’t know what Paul’s specific thorn is.
That’s not the point, to have certitude over what Paul literally dealt with.

We all have a thorn. God gives us the grace to deal with it.
Sometimes we tie the scriptures into knots


#8

I reject the notion that “we simply don’t know.”

Paul was a master of the Hebrew Scriptures with training as a rabbi. Very quick references to the specific words or lines in the Hebrew Scriptures such as the thorn in the side was a common rabbinical teaching technique. The technique is called remez which means to flick or quickly stab. Remez was intended to bring to mind the themes in the surrounding passages.

The passages surrounding the thorn in the side in Numbers 33:55 talk about breaking down false altars, smashing images of false Gods, etc., and establishing a homeland for the true God.

know assuredly that the LORD your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes, till you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you. (Joshuah 23:13)

Thorns in the side is a theme seen several times in the Old Testament. The thorn in Paul’s side is from 2 Corinthians 12. Here Paul is asserting his authority in the Church to the Corinthians. Corinth was a center of pagan worship.

To say that we simply don’t know is to dismiss what is clearly there. It’s right there in Scripture for anyone to read.

-Tim-


#9

Thats a great deductive possibility, but truly we don’t know.


#10

There’s no textual evidence that SP was (after his conversion) or died blind, only thet he had sight problems. Sadly, those are not uncommon after a life under the Mediterranean sun, nor among those who do a lot of writing, or who are subjected to the darkness of prison. The eyes are our dominant sense and so are the most subject to trouble.

There is no reason a priori to connect his later sight problems with the events of his conversion. As long as one has natural eyes, one can easily become blind (such as by an eye-scalding as he received), get healed, and go on to normal eye problems in ageing.

ICXC NIKA


#11

Agreed. It is a possiblity but the scriptures presented do not in themselves establish the theory as a fact. We dont know for sure what the thorn in his side was.


#12

If we can’t use the scriptures to establish anything with certainty then why use them at all?

Luke does the exact same thing as Paul when he writes about scales falling from Paul’s eyes. He is using remez to bring to mind the relevant passage from the Book of Tobit.

*At that very time, the prayer of both of them was heard in the glorious presence of God. So Raphael was sent to heal them both: to remove the white scales from Tobit’s eyes, so that he might again see with his own eyes God’s light; (Tobit 3:16-17)

And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, (Acts 9:18)*

Jesus himself uses this Rabbinic teaching technique, and others, dozens of times in the Gosples.

Hekesh is another Rabbinic teaching technique where where two Hebrew Scriptures are mentioned together in one verse. It is known as “Banging” two Scriptures together to produce a greater effect.

Jesus, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do it constantly. Paul was a Master Rabbi and was very good at it.

-Tim-


#13

First off, good post on rabbinical quote techniques, and we do see tons of these things in the NT.

Second, I think it’s likely to be a quote from Psalm 31/32:4, in the Septuagint, which is one of the seven penitential psalms:

“For day and night, Your hand was heavy upon me; I am turned in my anguish while the thorn is fastened.”


#14

Hi!
Sadly, jumping to conclusion is more harmful than bungee jumping without a rope; the first is easily accepted and used to twist things “just so;” the latter, only complete crazed people would engage it, and thus, only once, and mostly take only themselves down! :stuck_out_tongue:

First: Galatians 4 does not explicitly or implicitly demonstrate that St. Paul is speaking about blindness… we can deduce from the passage that it is indeed not blindness because there seems to be a great hardship placed on the people themselves (either financial or personal: 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. )

…if the issue was blindness, a notable person as St. Paul was he would have the “pick” of the lot and people would be anxious to be chosen to be his personal assistants… so, clearly, it had to be some sort of medical issue that would be costly and pose great discomfort for him and those in his presence.

…as for the incident on the way to Damascus, while is good to explore possibilities we must have a balanced equation… St. Paul was not alone in this expedition (searching out and capturing those of the Way) so if the experience with the light caused him blindness, why did it not do the same to his companions? So we see that there is a direct selection being made: Saul!

Then there’s the blindness itself… St. Paul did not realize that he was blind till he gathered himself up and opened his eyes… finding himself blind and converted, he followed Jesus’ instructions. The blindness lasted only for three days as Saul had to wait (as the Apostles did for Pentecost) till the appointed time; when Ananias called Saul “brother,” and touched him as he explained that it was the Lord, Jesus, that had sent him so that Saul could regain his sight–Saul regained his sight immediately!

Soon St. Paul’s ministry began and he travelled for many years preaching the Gospel and establishing the Church throughout many countries and territories… not once was there a mention of him having a relapse of instant blindness!

Maran atha!

Angel


#15

It depends on what you mean by “we”. I admit its been a few years since I have brushed up on this particular issue but at that time it was my understanding that the issue as to what the thorn in Pauls side was has hotly debated by theologians. Are you saying that theologocal opinion on this has shifted? or that you have found the answer that other theologians and scholars have missed?

It is clear to me that you have put a lot of thought into this topic and that it is intelligent thought but it might be better not to state your position as a fact but instead just state it as your very educated opinion especially seeing as how so manuy other scholars may disagree with you.


#16

Re: the thorn in his flesh or the angel of Satan sent to buffet him in the flesh lest he become puffed up (2 Cor. 12:7), actually St. Jerome says in his commentary on Galatians (Book 2, the section on Gal. 4:12-14), that “tradition records that he often suffered from severe headaches,” and the footnotes tell us that Tertullian also mentioned that in “De Pudicitia,” 13.16, and so did St. John Chrysostom in Homily 26 on 2 Cor. (NPNF 12.400)

There are probably other ancient sources with other info, of course, and they may all be right. Paul apparently didn’t spare his body when he was busy, and his body may have gotten revenge by getting sick a lot.

The collection of excerpts called Ancient Commentaries on Scripture may have more info. I just happened to come across this bit in Scheck’s translation of Jerome.


#17

Hi!
Thanks for the info… what I find most interesting about this is St. Paul’s obedience… he asked God to remove his pain (three times); yet, when Jesus explained that in his suffering He is Exalted, St. Paul did not insist but allowed the Holy Spirit to enlighten him:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9b)

Maran atha!

Angel


#18

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