Galatians 4:13
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.
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(13) Through infirmity of the flesh.—Rather, because (or, on account) of infirmity of fleshi.e., some bodily weakness or ill-health. We should gather from this that St. Paul was detained in Galatia accidentally by illness, and that this led to his preaching the gospel there.

At the first.The first time; on my first visit. This would be the one mentioned in Acts 16:6, in distinction from that referred to in Acts 18:23. (See Introduction.)

4:12-18 The apostle desires that they would be of one mind with him respecting the law of Moses, as well as united with him in love. In reproving others, we should take care to convince them that our reproofs are from sincere regard to the honour of God and religion and their welfare. The apostle reminds the Galatians of the difficulty under which he laboured when he first came among them. But he notices, that he was a welcome messenger to them. Yet how very uncertain are the favour and respect of men! Let us labour to be accepted of God. You once thought yourselves happy in receiving the gospel; have you now reason to think otherwise? Christians must not forbear speaking the truth, for fear of offending others. The false teachers who drew the Galatians from the truth of the gospel were designing men. They pretended affection, but they were not sincere and upright. An excellent rule is given. It is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then, but always. Happy would it be for the church of Christ, if this zeal was better maintained.Ye know how - To show them the folly of their embracing the new views which they had adopted, he reminds them of past times, and particularly of the strength of the attachment which they had evinced for him in former days.

Through infirmity of the flesh - Greek "Weakness" (ἀσθένειαν astheneian); compare the 1 Corinthians 2:3 note; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:7 notes.

13. how through infirmity—rather, as Greek, "Ye know that because of an infirmity of my flesh I preached," &c. He implies that bodily sickness, having detained him among them, contrary to his original intentions, was the occasion of his preaching the Gospel to them.

at the first—literally, "at the former time"; implying that at the time of writing he had been twice in Galatia. See my [2349]Introduction; also see on [2350]Ga 4:16, and [2351]Ga 5:21. His sickness was probably the same as recurred more violently afterward, "the thorn in the flesh" (2Co 12:7), which also was overruled to good (2Co 12:9, 10), as the "infirmity of the flesh" here.

The Scripture having not given us a particular account of Paul’s circumstances when he first preached the gospel to the Galatians, we are at a loss to determine what those infirmities were which Paul here speaketh of, more than that he calls them

infirmities of the flesh: by which may be understood, either the baseness and contemptibleness of his presence, (which the false teachers at Corinth objected to him, 2 Corinthians 10:10), or some bodily sickness which Paul had at that time, (as some of the ancients guess), or his sufferings for the gospel, which were those infirmities wherein he chose to glory, 2 Corinthians 11:30.

Ye know how, through infirmity of the flesh,.... Meaning either their infirmity, to which the apostle accommodated himself in preaching the Gospel to them, delivering it in such a manner as suited with their capacities, feeding them with milk, and not with strong meat; or his own infirmity, respecting either some particular bodily infirmity and disorder, as the headache, with which he is said to be greatly troubled; or the weakness of his bodily presence, the mean outward appearance he made, the contemptibleness of his voice, and the great humility with which he behaved; or rather the many reproaches, afflictions, and persecutions which attended him, when, says he,

I preached the Gospel unto you at the first; not the law, but the Gospel; and this he did at his first entrance among them, and was the first that preached it to them, and was the means of their conversion; and therefore, being their spiritual Father, they ought to be as he was, and follow him as they had him for an example.

Ye know how through {m} infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

(m) Many afflictions.

Galatians 4:13-14. Contrast to the preceding οὐδέν με ἠδικ. Comp. Chrysostom: “Ye have done nothing to injure me; but ye doubtless know, that I on account of weakness of the flesh preached the gospel to you the former time, and that ye,” etc.

διʼ ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκός] The only correct explanation, because the only one agreeable to linguistic usage, is that adopted by Flatt, Fritzsche, Hilgenfeld, Wieseler, and others, also by Winer, Gramm. p. 373 [E. T. 499], on account of weakness of the flesh:[193] so that it is clear, that on Paul’s first journey through Galatia (Acts 16:6) he was compelled by reason of bodily weakness to make a stay there, which properly did not form a part of his plan; and that during this sojourn, forced on him by necessity, he preached the gospel to the Galatians. How he suffered, and from what cause, whether from natural sickness (comp. 2 Corinthians 12:7),[194] or from ill-treatment which he had previously endured on account of the gospel (comp. Galatians 6:17), we do not know. The mention of an involuntary or rather quite unpremeditated working among the Galatians is not opposed to the apostle’s aim (as Rückert objects), but favourable to it; because the love which received him so heartily and joyfully must have been all the greater, the less it depended on the duty of befitting gratitude for a benefit previously destined for the recipients, and for exertions made expressly on their account. Many others have understood διά as denoting the apostle’s condition:amidst bodily weakness,” which is then referred by some, and indeed most expositors, following Chrysostom and Luther, to persecutions and sufferings, by others to his insignificant appearance (Calvin), by others to sickness (Rückert, Matthies, Olshausen, Ewald; comp. also in Jerome), and by others even to embarrassment and perplexity on account of the strange circumstances (Baumgarten-Crusius). But in this case διά must have been used with the genitive (see Matthiae, p. 1353; Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p. 138); for expressions such as διὰ δῶμα, ΔΙᾺ ΝΎΚΤΑ, ΔΙᾺ ΣΤΌΜΑ, ΔΙʼ ΑἸΘΈΡΑ, Κ.Τ.Λ., in which ΔΙΆ denotes stretching through, are merely poetical (see Schaefer, ad Mosch. 4. 91; Bernhardy, p. 236 f.; Kühner, II. p. 282). We should be obliged to think of the occasioning state (as in διὰ τοῦτο, ΔΙᾺ ΠΟΛΛΆ, Κ.Τ.Λ.), which would just bring us back to our interpretation. Hence we must reject also the explanation of Grotius: “per varios casus, per mille pericula rerum perrexi, ut vos instituerem.” Others still have gone so far as to refer ΔΙʼ ἈΣΘ. Τῆς ΣΑΡΚΌς to weakness of the Galatians, to which Paul accommodated himself. So Jerome, Estius, Hug, and Rettig l.c. p. 108 ff.: “I have preached to you on account of the weakness of your flesh,” which is supposed to mean: “I have in my preaching had respect to the infirmity of your flesh.” Utterly mistaken: because Paul must necessarily have added a modal definition to εὐηγγ. (even if it had only been an ΟὝΤΩς), or must have written ΚΑΤʼ ἈΣΘ. instead of ΔΙʼ ἈΣΘ.; moreover, ἘΝ Τῇ ΣΑΡΚΊ ΜΟΥ in Galatians 4:14 shows that Paul meant the ἈΣΘΈΝΕΙΑ Τῆς ΣΑΡΚΌς to apply to himself.

τὸ πρότερον] may mean either: earlier, at an earlier time, so that it would be said from the standpoint of the present (Thuc. i. 12. Galatians 2 : τὴν νῦν Βοιωτίαν, ΠΡΌΤΕΡΟΝ ΔῈ ΚΑΔΜΗΐΔΑ ΓῆΝ ΚΑΛΟΥΜΈΝΗΝ, Isocr. de pace, § 121 and Bremi in loc.), which in relation to the past is the later time (John 6:62; John 7:51; John 9:8; 2 Corinthians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Peter 1:14; Hebrews 10:32; LXX. Deuteronomy 2:12; 1 Chronicles 9:2; 1Ma 11:27); or the former time, so that the same fact (the preaching) took place twice (Hebrews 4:6; Hebrews 7:27). It is interpreted in the former sense by Usteri and Fritzsche, and in the latter by Koppe, Winer, Rückert, Matthies, Baumgarten-Crusius, de Wette, Wieseler, Hilgenfeld, Ewald, Hofmann, and others.[195] The latter is the correct view, so that τὸ πρότερον presupposes a second sojourn of the apostle among the Galatians. For if he had preached among them only once, τὸ πρότερον would have been quite an idle, superfluous addition. But Paul adds it just in order to denote quite distinctly his first visit, during which he founded the churches (Acts 16:6): at his second visit (Acts 18:23), the happy experiences which he had enjoyed τὸ πρότερον were not repeated in such full measure; the churches were already tainted by Judaism. Comp. Introd. § 2, 3. Fritzsche, indeed, maintains that Galatians 4:18-19 imply that Paul before the composition of the epistle had only once visited the Galatians; but see on Galatians 4:19.

[193] Bengel also translates correctly: “propter infirmitatem,” but erroneously explains that the weakness was not indeed “causa praedicationis ipsius,” but “adjumentum, cur P. efficacius praedicaret, cum Galatae facilius rejicere posse viderentur.” Similarly, but still more incorrectly, Schott, who detects an “acumen singulare” in Paul’s saying: “per ipsam aegritudinem carnis doctrinam divinam vobis tradidi;” for the fact that Paul, although sick, had preached very zealously, had been of great influence in making his preaching more successful. In this interpretation everything is mistaken: for διά must have been used with the genitive; the “ipsam” and the thought of successful preaching are quite gratuitously imported; and the whole of the alleged “acumen” would be completely out of place here, where Paul wishes to remind his readers of their love then shown to him, and not of the efficacy of his preaching.

[194] In respect to 2 Cor. l.c., Holsten, in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschrift, 1861, p. 250 f., conceives it to refer to epileptical disturbances of the circulatory and nervous system, such as occur among visionaries. Comp. his Ev. d. Paul. u. Petr. p. 85.

[195] The older expositors, translating it jam pridem (Vulgate), or prius (Erasmus, Beza, Calvin), or antea (Castalio), do not for the most part attempt any more precise explanation. Luther: “for the first time.” Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact do not give any explanation of τὸ πρότ.

Galatians 4:13. διʼ ἀσθένειαν. This can only mean owing to infirmity of the flesh, i.e., to illness. διά with accusative has the same causal force in the N.T. as in Attic Greek. A phrase like διά νύκτα, by night, is found in Homer, but διά subsequently lost its temporal force, and only regained it in the Latinised Greek of later centuries from confusion with the Latin per. The position of διʼ ἀσθένειαν before the verb lays stress upon the fact that the ministry was due to illness alone, and not to spontaneous resolve.

It appears from this and the following verses that the illness occurred under the eyes of the Galatians, who watched its progress, were familiar with its repulsive symptoms, and displayed tender sympathy with the sufferer. They were aware also of the alteration it had made in his plans. The inference from these facts is clear, that he did not intend at the time of his arrival in Galatia to preach there at all, but was prostrated immediately after by sudden illness, and so forced to relinquish his previous project and abandon for the present any further journey. The only conceivable way, in short, in which an attack of illness in Galatia can have occasioned his preaching there was by involuntary detention. Here, accordingly, the motive for mentioning it is to show how little claim he had on the gratitude of the Galatians at that time, and how little he had deserved the tender sympathy which they exhibited. The historical connection of this illness with the ministry of Paul and Barnabas is investigated in the Introduction (pp. 135–7).

It has been suggested that this attack was perhaps identical with the σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7, and this may be true, but the real nature of the σκόλοψ is unknown. Some features of this attack on the contrary may be inferred from the description given of its effects: it incapacitated the patient for travel, produced disfigurement and offensive symptoms, but allowed free intercourse with those around him. His success in winning the hearts of those who visited him in his sick chamber suggests a chronic ailment prolonged for a considerable time, as does also the complete change in his plans. The only definite hint given of a specific malady is the language of Galatians 4:15 : from which I gather that the eyesight was imperilled by a virulent attack of ophthalmia. That disease was notoriously prevalent in the lowlands of Pamphylia through which he had been travelling, and if so contracted, would produce the symptoms described. The pathetic appeal to Galatian sympathy on the score of imperfect sight in Galatians 6:11 confirms this view. If his sight had been impaired by an illness to which they had themselves ministered with tender solicitude, they would be quick to feel for his privation.—τὸ πρότερον. Lightfoot contends with justice that this phrase cannot on account of the prefixed article refer to an indefinite period in time past. The author clearly had in his mind two distinct periods, an earlier and a later, during the earlier of which he states that his preaching had been occasioned by illness. Lightfoot suggests that he referred perhaps to the two visits which he had paid to the Galatian Churches: and the suggestion is reasonable if his theory be accepted of sites in Northern Galatia, for no details are known of either visit. But it is quite incompatible with the history of his ministry in Southern Galatia recorded in Acts 13, 14. That lasted over two winters at the very least, comprised two visits at considerable intervals to each of the Churches, and displayed throughout as resolute an initiative, as determined energy, as vigorous activity, as can be found in the whole course of his apostolic career. That ministry gave certainly no sign of illness, but the contrary. We have seen, however, that it was preceded by a prolonged illness, during which he was probably confined to his sick chamber and could only minister to those who visited him there. His first ministry in Galatia passed in short through two distinct stages, first the private ministrations of a sick man, and then a public career of unexampled vigour and success. The last verse placed the readers on the division line between the two, for it reminded them of the memorable petition addressed to him and Barnabas at the close of his first public address in the synagogue of the Pisidian Antioch. It is, therefore, of the preceding period that he writes here, “You know that it was owing to illness that I had preached to you up to that time (τὸ πρότερον)”. It is needless to dwell on the complete harmony of this interpretation with the context.

13. through infirmity of the flesh] Rather, as R.V. ‘because of an infirmity of the flesh’, owing to bodily sickness.

What was this infirmity? Most commentators identify it with the ‘thorn in the flesh’, 2 Corinthians 12:7. Bp Lightfoot (p. 169 foll.) enumerates in chronological order the different conjectures which have been put forward in early and more modern times. They are (1) some bodily ailment, (2) persecution, (3) fleshly desires, (4) spiritual trials, such as temptations to despair, blasphemous suggestions of the Devil. The most recent expositors recur to the earliest view of this infirmity—that it was some bodily ailment. Bp Lightfoot conjectures that it was ‘of the nature of epilepsy’. Between this suggestion and that of some defect of eye-sight, perhaps acute ophthalmia, it is not easy to choose. The passages adduced in support of this latter conjecture are not conclusive in its favour, though their cumulative evidence is strong. They are discussed in an interesting note by Bp. Lightfoot, p. 174, note 1.

at the first] Probably, ‘on the former occasion’, i.e. on the earlier of my two visits, mentioned Acts 16:6. The second or later visit is named Acts 18:23. We may fairly infer from the Apostle’s language that on the former occasion he had not intended to preach the Gospel in Galatia, but that sickness of some kind (probably acute disorder) detained him there, and that notwithstanding weakness and pain—distress to himself, and disadvantage to the reception of his message—he proclaimed the Gospel of his Lord.

Galatians 4:13. Δἰ ἀσθενείαν) διὰ, on account of, by reason of infirmity. Infirmity had not been the cause of his preaching: but yet it proved an advantage [an assistance], owing to which Paul preached more effectively; 2 Corinthians 12:9; though it might have seemed that the Galatians would have been the more easily disposed to reject him on account of it.

Verse 13. - Ye know (οἴδατε δέ); and ye know. The apostle very often uses the verb οἵδαμεν, or οἴδατε, conjoined with either δέ, γάρ, or καθώς, when recalling some circumstance of personal history (1 Corinthians 16:15; Philippians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 1 Thessalonians 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:15) or to introduce the statement of a doctrine as one which would be at once recognized as certain or familiar (Romans 2:2; Romans 3:19; Romans 8:28; 1 Timothy 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:6). The phrase as so used is equivalent to "We [or, 'you'] do not need to be told," etc.; and with δὲ is simply a formula introducing such a reminiscence, this conjunction having in such cases head versative force, but being simply the δὲ of transition (meta-batic); equivalent to "now" or "and," or not needing to be represented at all in translation; so that the Authorized Version is perfectly justified in omitting it in the present instance. The phrase may be taken as meaning "And you will well remember." If the apostle had intended to introduce a statement strongly adversative to the last preceding sentence, he would probably have written ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον (ch. 2:7) or some such phrase. How through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you (ὅτι δἰ ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς εὐηγγελισάμην ὑμῖν that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you. "An infirmity of the flesh;" that is, a bodily illness. The noun ἀσθένεια is used for "illness" in John 11:4; Acts 28:9; 1 Timothy 5:23; Matthew 8:17. It also denotes a nervous disablement, as Luke 13:11, 12; John 5:5. The verb ἀσθενέω is the common word for "being sick," as Luke 4:40; Luke 7:10; John 11:3, etc. It is possible that the apostle meant to say that the Galatians might not unnaturally have thought themselves treated slightingly in that his remaining among them so long was owing to illness and not to his own choice; but that yet, for all that, they had shown themselves most eager in welcoming their involuntary visitor. The words, however, do not require to be thus construed, and in all probability intend no more than to bring back to their remembrance the disorder under which he was then suffering. The illness would seem to have been of a nature to make his personal appearance in some way unsightly, and even repulsive; for the ἐξεπτύσατε, spat out, of the next verse suggests even the latter idea. Evidently this disorder, as also the one noted in 2 Corinthians 12:7, 8, did not disqualify him for ministerial work altogether. He adverts to the circumstance, as making it yet more remarkable and more grateful to his feelings, that, notwithstanding the disagreeable aspect which in some way his disorder presented to those about him, they had cherished his presence among them with so much kindness as they did and also with such reverential respect. How it was that his illness brought about this protracted stay, whether it was that he fell ill while journeying through the country so as to be unable to pursue his way to his ulterior destination, or whether the remarkable healthiness of the climate either first attracted him thither or detained him there for convalescence (see Bishop Lightfoot, 'Galatians,' p. 10, note 2, for the character of the climate at Angora, the ancient Ancyra), it is impossible for us to determine. It is noticeable that St. Chrysostom's comments on the passage appear to show that he considered the apostle to be simply stating the circumstances under which and not those in consequence of which he preached the gospel to them; and so also OEcumenius and Theophylact paraphrase δἰ ἀσθένειν by μετὰ ἀσθενείας, suggesting the conjecture that they and St. Chrysostom understood the words as equivalent to "during a period of infirmity of the flesh." But this gives to διὰ with an accusative a sense which, to say the least, is not a common one. Is this illness of body to be connected with the affliction, most probably a bodily affliction, mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7, 8, "the stake in the flesh"? This latter affliction has been discussed very fully by Dean Stanley and Meyer on the Corinthians, by Bishop Lightfoot in his commentary on the Galatians, and by Dr. Farrar in his ' Life of St. Paul.' It appears to have first befallen the apostle after the "revelations" accorded to him fourteen years before he wrote his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which he is supposed to have done in the autumn of A.D. . This would bring us back to about A.D. . The apostle's first visit to Galatia, according to Bishop Lightfoot, p. 22, took place about A.D. . When we consider that no doubt many of those wearing labours and hardships, interspersed with frequent suffering of gross personal outrage, recounted in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, had been undergone in the eight first of those fourteen years (the stoning at Lystra certainly had), it must seem very precarious to conjecture that the malady here referred to was a recurrence of just that particular disorder experienced eight years before. How many other ailments might not the apostle have been subject to, amid the cruel allotment of suffering and hardship which prevailingly marked his course! It is quite as probable, to say the least, that he may then have been suffering in health or in limb from some assault of personal violence recently undergone. St. Luke gives no particulars whatever of this portion of St. Paul's journey, which is only just mentioned in Acts 16:6. The apostle visited Corinth for the first time not many months after this first sojourn in Galatia; and it is interesting to observe that he speaks of his having then ministered to them in "feebleness" (ἀσθενείᾳ, 1 Corinthians 2:3), in a manner strongly suggestive of bodily weakness. At the first (τὸ πρότερον); the first time - an expression plainly implying that there had been a subsequent sojourn. Respecting this latter visit, all we know is what we have so cursorily stated in Acts 18:23; unless, perchance, we may be able to draw some inferences relating to it from what we read in this Epistle itself. Chronologers are pretty well agreed in placing the commencement of this third apostolical journey about three years after the commencement of the second. Galatians 4:13Ye know (οἴδατε δὲ)

The A.V. omits δὲ which is wanting in some Mss. Δὲ not oppositional as commonly explained: "Ye did not injure me, but on the contrary ye know, etc."; but introducing an explanation of ye did not injure me by reference to the fact that they might easily have been moved to do him wrong by the unfavorable circumstances under which he first preached the gospel to them (through infirmity of the flesh). The formulas οἶδα δὲ, οἴδαμεν δὲ, οἴδατε δὲ, are habitually used by Paul to introduce an explanation of what precedes, from a new point of view. See Romans 2:2; Romans 3:19; Romans 15:29; Philippians 4:15. The general sense therefore is: "Ye did not wrong me at all as you might easily have been moved to do; for (δὲ) you know in what an unfavorable light my infirmities placed me when I first came among you."

Through infirmity (δἰ ἀσθένειαν)

On account of infirmity. Referring to the fact that Paul, in his first journey, was compelled by sickness to remain in Galatia, and preached to the Galatians during this enforced sojourn. This fact made their kindly reception the more commendable.

At the first (τὸ πρότερον)

Either generally, at an earlier time than the present (as John 6:62; John 9:8; 1 Timothy 1:13), or the first time (as Hebrews 7:27). Here in the latter sense. Paul had visited the Galatians twice before he wrote this letter.

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