Paul’s Eyes

We can only know what we can know, and we have to be satisfied that we can’t know more than that. My particular engineering-type personality doesn’t like that. I want to know everything; I want to be certain of everything. But I can’t be. I’ve come to accept that for the most part, and that sometimes makes it hard not to be annoyed by people who haven’t.

You see, some things are clearly spelled out in the Bible, and we can safely decide that they are true. Some things are less clear, and while they may be true, the Bible doesn’t give us enough information to know for sure. Take the following passage:

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. – Galatians 4:12-15, ESV

Paul seemed to have some sort of physical ailment (“…a thorn was given me in the flesh…” – 2 Cor 12:7) and people have theorized that he had a problem with his eyes based on the verse above and a few other phrases in the epistles such as “See with what large letters I am writing to you…” – Galatians 6:12).

Now that may very well be what those verses mean. My point is that we can’t be sure.

And left alone, that’s well and good. Does it really matter whether Paul had poor eyesight or gout or heartburn? I don’t think so. What I think we want to avoid is this:

We pick something like this, decide it is a fact, then base further assumptions on that, often not stopping until we’ve “proven” something to be true. Unfortunately that “proof” is based on a series of assumptions, none of which are certain. My wife’s grandmother (Jane Hale) used to warn that you could prove anything by the Bible, and I think by this reasoning she was right.

So be careful to distinguish between what is true and what may be true. What’s our best defense against this? In my opinion it is reading and studying the whole Bible over and over, in many different ways (and it doesn’t hurt to use different translations from time to time). Look for the overall message and for how the pieces fit together. If you believe Matthew 7:7 is true, we’ll understand in the end.


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