By W. M. Ramsay
The Stigmata of Jesus (Gal 6:17)
The idea that these were marks similar to those inflicted on the Saviour’s body at the Crucifixion belongs to the “Dark Ages” of scholarship. The marks are those cut deep on Paul’s body by the lictor’s rods at Pisidian Antioch1 and the stones at Lystra, the scars that mark him as the slave of Jesus. This custom to mark slaves by scars — produced by cuts, prevented from closing as they healed, so as to leave broad wounds — is familiar even yet to the observant traveller,2 though since slavery was brought to an end in Turkey cases are now few, and will after a few years have ceased to exist.
The same custom existed in the country from ancient times. It was practised on the temple slaves from time immemorial;3 and the Galatian slave owners practised it on their slaves, as Artemidorus mentions, having adopted it from their predecessors in the land.4
The idea suggested by Dr. Deissmann, Bibelstudien, p. 266 ff., that the marks of Jesus are prophylactic, guarding the bearer of them against trouble and evil, is out of keeping with the spirit of the letter and with the tone of this passage. Meyer-Sieffert’s latest edition discusses and rejects that interpretation (ninth edition, 1899, p. 364).
It is not easy for us in modern times to catch and understand clearly the thought in Gal 6:17 : yet it was to Paul perfectly natural and simple. The nineteenth century must often fail to understand fully the first. This sentence, in its emphatic position, with its impressive language and its tone of denunciation and warning, carries more meaning “than meets the ear”. Obviously, it must appeal to something that lay deep in the hearts and memories of the Galatians. They knew, fully and absolutely, that Paul was the servant of Jesus, or, as he says, how deeply branded in his flesh are the marks that prove him Jesus’ slave (for in ancient times the slave was far more closely bound by feeling and affection to his master than a hired servant — strange as that may seem to us). They have only to make that fact clear in their minds, and they will at once understand how completely Paul is the messenger of Jesus, how entirely the Divine message has taken possession of his nature and his whole being, how thoroughly the Gospel that he brought them in the beginning was the Divine Word, how necessary it is for them to come back to that first Gospel.
To understand this verse you must grasp the Epistle in its entirety. You must feel that it is not a carefully framed series of sentences and paragraphs, but is an absolute unity, a single expression, a crystallisation of Paul’s mind at a moment of intense feeling, or (to change the metaphor) a volcanic flood of thought poured forth in one moment and in one effort.
It was said above (p. 288 f.) that Gal 2:1-10 is really a single sentence. One might almost say that the whole Epistle is really a single sentence. You feel at the point we have now reached that the Epistle is like a living organism, so fully conscious that every part feels and vibrates to the slightest touch on any other part. It is the word of Paul; and one remembers that, as Plato says, word is spoken thought, thought unspoken word.
But, in order to approach to understanding Gal 6:17, we must hold together in our mind especially Gal 1:8-12, Gal 1:15 f., Gal 2:19 f., Gal 4:12-20.
 St. Paul the Trav., pp. 107, 304.
 Mrs. Ramsay, Everyday Life in Turkey, p. 7.
 The evidence of Lucian, de dea Syria, 59, about the temple slaves at Syrian Hierapolis, may be taken as proof of a general custom.
 See p. 84.