Stigmata

Galatians 6:15-17
15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

Stigmata (noun)
• a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.
• Medicine/Medical: a mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease.
• marks resembling the wounds of the crucified body of Christ, said to be supernaturally impressed on the bodies of certain persons, esp. nuns, tertiaries, and monastics.
• Archaic: a mark made by a branding iron on the skin of a criminal or slave.

When I came across this passage last night from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, one phrase kept jumping out at me: “for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” At first, I thought as many might think, that Paul spoke of his many afflictions, the scars of his sufferings. Paul had been through an awful lot, and his troubles must certainly have taken a toll on his body. He’d been whipped and beaten, shipwrecked, bitten by a viper, chained and imprisoned for years at a time, and he had traveled on foot for most of his lifetime. And so, writing to the churches in Galatia from his prison in Rome, it would be easy to understand if Paul spoke of his scars as being marks much like those of our Savior.

“Marks” is the English translation for the Greek word στιγματα (“stigmata”), which is a word we’ve carried over into modern language. In contemporary religion, we usually think of stigmata as being specifically marks that are like the scars of Jesus–holes or wounds on one’s body like the scars of our Lord’s crucifixion. With that definition in mind, the first time I read this passage from Galatians, I thought perhaps Paul was likening his scars to those of our Lord Jesus. But “stigmata” is an ancient word and it has ancient meaning.

You see, “stigmata” did not originally mean a mark or scar from a wound. A stigma (singular of stigmata) was originally a brand or mark put upon a slave to indicate to whom they belonged. The word comes from a Greek word στιζω (“stizo”) which means to prick or pierce, usually done as a mark of ownership. When I learned this older definition, I went back and read that passage from Galatians again, and I remembered something our Lord had said:


Luke 16:13
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

And that reminded me of another of Paul’s letters:


Romans 6:16-18
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.
18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

The “marks of the Lord Jesus” were more than just the scars on Paul’s body: they were the marks on his soul that signified to Whom his soul belonged. The stigma was his inward circumcision, the scar that designated him as set aside for God. Outward markings made no difference. He could have had a giant cross tattooed across his chest, or the name “Jesus” written on his forehead, but it wouldn’t make any difference if there were no mark on his heart that said “I am His.” The scars that Paul bore on his body were the outward mark of his inward faith, the stigmata of his being owned body and soul by the Lord Jesus.

Who is your master? To whom are you a slave? Whose mark do you bear on your body–if any mark at all?

The mystical stigmata that have been seen throughout history–the literal scars of Jesus appearing on believers–are something miraculous, and they show that God’s Spirit is present in that place. But isn’t His Spirit present in all believers? Are we “slaves to righteousness”? Do we bear on our hearts the mark of the Lord Jesus? And does our service to that Lord take us into places where we will acquire the physical scars that accompany persecution and oppression?

Paul gained the scars on his body through many trials and attacks, and yet they were nothing compared to his love for Jesus.


Philippians 3:8-11
8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Therefore, let us be marked by our Lord Jesus. Let our service to our Savior be seen by all, and let there be no mistake about which Master we truly serve. Let our hearts be pierced by the gospel of Christ, an inward circumcision setting us apart, making us holy unto God. And having been saved by Jesus Christ and given the stigmata of His ownership, let us pursue the course the Father has set before us. Let us bear all things we must suffer for Christ’s sake and the sake of the gospel, so that the outward marks of our service may in some small way match the scars of the Lord by whose wounds we ourselves are healed.

Precious Lord Jesus, all praise be to You for bearing on Your body the pain and punishment for my sin. Mark me, Lord, as Yours alone. Let me serve You as a loyal servant, a slave to Your righteousness–a righteousness I can know only through faith, and that only by the grace of God. Master, let me be pierced by Your gospel, and let me serve you wherever You may lead. Amen.

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About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and husband to a beautiful wife and the father of four lovely kids. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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