In his commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, JB Lightfoot ran through the possible meanings of ta sitgmata, the “brand marks of Christ” that Paul says he bore (Galatians 6:17).
Stigmata marked “domestic slaves. With these, however, branding was not usual, at least among Greeks and Romans, except to mark such as had attempted to escape, or had otherwise misconducted themselves . . . and such brands were held a badge of disgrace” (305). Paul glories in the shame: Typical Paul.
Brands also attached slaves to temples or marked persons devoted to certain gods. Captives were sometimes, rarely, branded, and “solders sometimes branded the name of their commander on some part of their body.”
Lightfoot is right to say that “the brands of which the apostle speaks were doubtless the permanent marks which he bore of persecutions undergone in the service of Christ,” the scars of his scourgings, stonings, and other beatings.
No doubt the beatings and whippings were intended to detach Paul from Jesus, to persuade him that following this Messiah was too painful, too costly. For Paul, they had the opposite effect, as they always do for faithful witnesses: The more Paul was bruised and scarred, the more his body displayed the marks of Christ. The beatings didn’t separate him from Christ; each wound he suffered for the Lord bound him closer to the Lord who was wounded.
As always, martyrdom is indefeasible.