I was reading Morning Prayer today and came upon these verses in Galatians (4:13-15)
You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.
What struck me for the first time in many readings was the special reference to the eyes, and the indication that whatever Paul’s infirmity, it seems to have had something to do with his vision.
This would help make sense of another detail of this Epistle, Paul’s reference to the “large letters he writes in his own hand” (6:11). Earlier translations suggests he is referring to the epistle itself (KJV: “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.”) However, this does not make sense of the plural, which refers to letters.
A vision disability also gives a reason for Paul to have dictated most of his correspondence, and to have made a distinct point about the parts he signed off on in a number of the epistles, including another reference to his apparently characteristic “hand” (2 Thess 3:17). It may perhaps also help make sense of his imagery of seeing dimly in the present what we will one day behold in its full glory. (1 Cor 13:12)
So it occurs to me that Paul may not have fully recovered from his Damascus Road experience, and suffered with a form of what is known as “low vision” afterward; if this was the “thorn in the flesh” it was God’s will he endure it. (2 Cor 12:9)
A quick bit of googling shows I’m not the first to note these possibilities, though I don’t think I’d encountered them before. So I offer them here as an instance of how one can read a text many times but only “see” certain things after many readings. Suffering from an annoying eye ailment myself, I’m amazed not to have noted this before, and always put Paul’s large handwriting down to his not being an experienced scribe — so a vision disability is a fascinating alternate interpretation.
Tobias Haller BSG