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Marks Stigmata

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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The word stigma, in addition to its literal and moral use, is employed technically in botany, anatomy, pathology, zoology, and geometry. The only uses that fall to be considered are the literal, moral, and pathological.

A στίγμα (from vb. στίζω; cf. Lat. stimulus, Germ. stecken, Eng. ‘stick,’ ‘sting’) is a mark upon the body produced by pricking, cutting, or branding. In the East such marking was very common in ancient times, and even yet cases may be found, though they are rare (Mrs. W. M. Ramsay, Everyday Life in Turkey2, London, 1903, p. 7). The wounds were prevented from healing quickly so that broad scars might be produced. Sometimes, with the same end in view, coloured matter was rubbed into the brand-mark. These signs of ownership were impressed upon certain classes of the community.

(1) Temple-slaves (ἰερόδουλοι) were branded with some token of the deity worshipped. See Herod. ii. 113: ὅτεῳ ἀνθρώπων ἐπιβάληται στίγματα ἱρά, ἑωυτὸν διδοὺς τῷ θεῷ, οὐκ ἔξεστι τούτου ἅψασθαι, also vii. 233; Lucian, de Dea Syr. § 59, στίζονται δὲ πάντες οἱ μὲν ἐς καρποὺς οἱ δὲ ἐς αὐχένας; Philo, de Monarch. i. 8, ἐν τοῖς σώμασι καταστίζοντες αὐτὴν σιδήρῳ πεπυρωμένῳ πρὸς ἀνεξάλειπτον διαμονήν, οὐδὲ γὰρ χρόνῳ ταῦτα διαμαυροῦνται. Ptolemy Philopator commanded the Jews of Alexandria to be branded with an ivy-leaf, the symbol of Dionysius. See 3 Maccabees 2:29 : τοὺς τε ἀπογραφομένους χαράσσεσθαι καἱ διὰ πυρὸς εἱς τὸ σῶμα παρασήμῳ Διονύσου κισσοφύλλῳ; cf. Revelation 13:16-17 : ‘And he caused all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand, or upon their forehead (‘in fronte, propter professionem: in manu, propter operationem’ [Aug. Civ. Dei, xx. 9. 3]); and that no man should be able to buy or to sell, save he that hath the mark, even the name of the beast or the number of his name.’ Sometimes the foreheads of the martyrs were branded with the name of Christ. Note also the references to the ‘sealing’ in Revelation 7; Revelation 14:1, 2 Maccabees 6:7, 3 Mac 7:3, 14:1, 22:4.

(2) Household-slaves.-The Greeks and Romans branded those who were re-captured after attempting to escape, and those of bad behaviour. The common method was to press upon the forehead a red-hot iron with embossed letters. This custom is mentioned by Pliny (Historia Naturalis (Pliny) xviii. 3), Varro (de Re Rustica, i. 18), Suetonius (Calig. xxvii.), and other classical writers. Such slaves were called στιγματίαι, literati, notati, inscripti, and were held in disgrace. Slaves of good character were not branded as a general rule (Pseudo-Phocyl. 212: στίγματα μὴ γράφῃς ἐπονειδίζων θεράποντα; Seneca, de Benef. iv. 37, 38).

(3) Captives taken in war were occasionally marked with the stigma of the captor.

(4) Soldiers sometimes bore on their bodies the name of their commander. So some Christians marked their hands and arms with the name of Christ or the sign of the cross (Deyling, Observationes sacrae, Leipzig, 1720-26, iii. 423-427).

The word στίγμα is used by St. Paul in Galatians 6:17 only: ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα τοῦ [κυρίου, Textus Receptus ] Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω; Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] : ‘Ego enim stigmata Domini Jesu in corpore meo porto’; Revised Version ‘for I bear branded on my body the marks of Jesus.’ Most modern commentators hold the view that St. Paul had in mind the ἱεροδοῦλος, or Temple-slave, bearing the stigma of the deity worshipped. This custom would be well known in that part of Asia Minor, where the worship of Cybele was celebrated. A slave of this class is mentioned in a Galatian inscription (Texier, Asie Mineure, 1835, i. 135). Two objections to this theory have been raised. One is that St. Paul was not likely to refer to this custom because it was associated especially with the temple-women whose lives were notoriously immoral. The other is that St. Paul uses the simple form δοῦλος in his Epistles (cf. Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 7:22, 2 Corinthians 4:5, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1). He does not employ the compound word ἱεροδοῦλος.

It is not likely that the Apostle had in mind the soldier, who deliberately marked himself with the name or token of his commander, as the context does not suggest any such idea, though elsewhere St. Paul manifests a liking for metaphors from military life (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:7, 2 Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 6:11 f., 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7). That he refers here to the refractory slave, the runaway, the deserter from the army, is impossible.

In what sense did St. Paul use the word βαστάζω? It has a variety of meanings in the NT. It is employed for the taking up of stones (John 10:31); for bearing the cross (Luke 14:27, John 19:17); for undertaking a matter with calmness and sufficient strength (John 16:12, Galatians 6:5); for bearing the sentence of a judge (Galatians 5:10); for bearing or enduring (φέρειν is the classical word generally used) (Matthew 20:12, Acts 15:10, Romans 15:1, Galatians 6:2, Revelation 2:2 f.); for carrying (Matthew 3:11, Mark 14:13, Luke 7:14; Luke 22:10, Revelation 17, and passive in Acts 3:2; Acts 21:35); for carrying knowledge by preaching (Acts 9:15); for carrying on the person (Luke 10:4, Galatians 6:17); for carrying the fœtus in the womb (Luke 11:27); for sustaining (Romans 11:18); for bearing away or carrying off (Matthew 8:17, John 12:6; John 20:15). In this same chapter (Galatians 6:2; Galatians 6:5; cf. Galatians 5:10) the word is used in connexion with the bearing of burdens, and probably means ‘bear as a burden’ in Galatians 6:17. There is, however, a suggestion of something more. Chrysostom’s idea (Com. in loc.) has much to commend it: οὐκ εἶπεν, ἔχω, ἀλλά, βαστάζω, ὥσπερ τις ἐπὶ τροπαίοις μέγα φρονῶν ἢ σημείοις βασιλικοῖς; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:10. No doubt he referred to the marks left upon him by the scourgings, stonings, imprisonments, privations, and toils of his missionary career (cf. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, pp. 107, 304). On the pages of his flesh his personal history was inscribed (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). These stigmata proved that Christ was his Master, Commander, Owner. The metaphor was ready to his hand. In the dungeon everything suggested ownership-the marked walls, the marked chains, the marked slaves, the marked soldiers. He too was no longer his own but Another’s. The servant was not a mere hireling, but a possession, made secure by the unbreakable bonds of mutual affection. It is significant that in the Epistle to the Romans, written soon after the Galatian letter, St. Paul describes himself as a δοῦλος, ‘slave,’ ‘bond-servant’ of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1), distinctly adopting that title for the first time. This term is found in Phil., Tit., James, 2 Pet., Jude, ‘showing that as the Apostolic Age progressed the assumption of the title became established on a broad basis’ (Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans’5, Edinburgh, 1902, p. 3).

Deissmann suggests that the stigmata were prophylactic against trouble and evil (Bibelstudien, Marburg, 1895, p. 266 f.), but this view is not in harmony with the spirit of the Galatian Epistle in general, and the closing passage in particular. To understand Galatians 6:17 it is necessary to note Galatians 1:8-12; Galatians 1:15 f., Galatians 2:19 f., Galatians 4:12-20, and compare 2 Corinthians 4:10. Possibly the scars caused Lysias to conclude that St. Paul was the Egyptian bandit (Acts 21:38; cf. J. H. Moulton, Expository Times xxi. [1909-10] 283-284).

Not only did the Apostle bear the physical stigmata, but he displayed also the spiritual ‘marks of Jesus’-love, gentleness, humility, unselfishness (John 13:35, Philippians 2:5, 2 Timothy 2:24).

In the ‘Age of Faith,’ in reality the ‘Dark Age,’ many believed that the body of the Apostle bore marks resembling the wound-prints on the body of the Crucified Jesus. A similar belief prevailed with regard to St. Francis of Assisi, upon whose body the marks were impressed on 15th Sept. 1224 by a seraph with six wings. Bonaventura says, ‘Jam enim propter stigmata Domini Jesu quae in corpore tuo portas, nemo debet tibi esse molestus’ (Life of St. Francis, 13. 4). These words were paraphrased afterwards by Aquinas as follows: ‘portabat insignia passionis Christi,’ but what he says subsequently proves that he did not accept the view of Bonaventura. Another very famous instance is that of St. Catherine of Siena. Altogether there are about ninety cases of stigmatization on record. It is alleged that in some cases all the marks were present; in others some were visible and the rest caused pain but produced no outward sign; in others, again, there was no visible mark at all, but local pains were felt. Occasionally the marks became visible after death. There are fewer cases of stigmatization recorded amongst men than amongst women.

Investigation has proved that some instances were fraudulent, others the result of self-mutilation (cf. Matthew 19:12), and some owing to a kind of hysteria. But all cannot be explained, or explained away, in these ways. The influence of the mind upon the body is great and mysterious. Beaunis states that rubefaction and vesication have been produced by suggestion in the hypnotic state (Recherches expérimentales sur les conditions de l’activité cérébrale). In certain varieties of religious ecstasy a bloody sweat may leave a red mark upon the skin, and such marks are caused also by capillary congestion. It has been maintained that transudation of blood through an unbroken skin is an unknown and impossible phenomenon. Pathological facts probably gave rise to the belief that the stigmata of the crucified body of Jesus were seen upon some of His followers.

Literature.-articles ‘Cuttings in the Flesh’ and ‘Mark’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , ‘Stigmata’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ; Commentaries on Galatians 6:17, by H. A. W. Meyer (41862), H. Alford (51871), J. A. Beet (1885), J. B. Lightfoot (121896), W. M. Ramsay (1899); ‘Stigmatization’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 and ‘Stigmatisation’ in PRE [Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.] 3; Lives of St. Francis of Assisi by Thomas de Celano (ed. Rosedale, London, 1904) and St. Bonaventura (ed. Amoni, Rome, 1888), Mrs. Oliphant (2do., 1871), Paul Sabatier (Fr. ed.22, Paris, 1899, Eng. translation , London, 1901, etc.); H. Beaunis, Recherches expérimentales sur les conditions de l’activité cérébrale. Paris, 1886; P. Dearmer, Body and Soul: An Inquiry into the Effects of Religion upon Health, London, 1909; Expository Times xx. [1908-09] 485-86.

H. Cariss J. Sidnell.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Marks Stigmata'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​m/marks-stigmata.html. 1906-1918.
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