What is stigmata? Are stigmata biblical?Stigmata are wounds appearing on a person's body which are apparently without natural cause, and which mimic the wounds or sufferings of Christ at the crucifixion. Stigmata normally include nail wounds on the hands and feet, an open wound in the side, cuts on the forehead which resemble the cuts made by a crown of thorns, stripes on the back that resemble whip-marks and at times, bleeding from the eyes or sweating blood.
Many reported stigmatics are physically weak or chronically ill before the appearance of stigmata, and many also display reluctance to eat or drink. Since there have been scientific studies linking anorexia with self-mutilation, there has been speculation as to whether stigmata is actually due to this. But the Catholic Church claims to have watched stigmatics closely to verify that the wounds are not faked or caused because of mental illness, and though there were many inauthentic instances of stigmata, they do report seeing supernatural stigmatic events. The idea is that when a person's fealty to Christ reaches a certain spiritual depth, that person will manifest on their body the wounds of Christ, literally "sharing in His suffering" (Philippians 3:10; 2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 4:13). The verse that is most often given as proof of stigmata is Galatians 6:17, which says "… for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."
But do these verses prove that stigmata are biblical? Taken as a whole, the Bible does not support stigmata. That is not to say that supernatural appearance of wounds is impossible, nor is it to suggest that the wounds could not be self-inflicted because of a psychosomatic association with Christ. Demons could create these wounds to deceive—a theory that is supported by the fact that some stigmatics have prayed and asked for the wounds to be taken away, and those prayers were answered—and they could also be a result of mental illness.
It is not biblical to assume stigmata are caused by God. Christ is alive now. His suffering on the cross is done. It is finished (John 19:30; Hebrews 10:10, 14). Our sins are paid and Jesus has sat down at the right hand of God in glory (Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 1:3). There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that we need to suffer Christ's physical wounds to experience closeness with Him. Furthermore, the suffering that Paul says we share is a purposeful suffering—it is the persecution that comes from sharing the Gospel with a lost and antagonistic world. In all three verses that refer to the believers' sharing in Christ's sufferings, those sufferings are endured to preserve the truth of the Gospel, and to communicate it to those in need.
When Paul says, "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" it is in the context of circumcision. Circumcision was a physical sign that a Jew belonged to God, and so when the Gentiles were being saved, some of the Jews started thinking the Gentiles should be circumcised. Paul said that circumcision no longer counted for anything (Galatians 6:15) because we are new creations in Christ. Then he says "from now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." It is more likely that he is contrasting the symbolic circumcision with the very real scars and wounds on his flesh (and on the flesh of many Gentile believers) that were caused by persecution endured while spreading the gospel.
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