When one has to undergo targeted radiation treatments for cancer, there are several things that happen. First, they lay you on a table and create a cast of your body so that you lie in the same position every time. Then they do a scan of the infected area to determine the exact location where the radiation needs to be targeted. Finally, they mark some x’s on your body as reference points, again to make sure they irradiate the exact location. These marks have to stay through the entire treatment, in my case about three months. They renew the marks periodically, and may even put tape over them to prevent them being washed off. I even joked with my technician once that I might get the marks tattooed on my body after the course of treatment just as a reminder. Paul didn’t go through modern radiation treatments, but he understood about marks.
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Gal 6:17)
Paul may not have undergone radiation treatment for cancer, but he had received treatment for the greatest of all cancers—sin. He does not specify what marks he bears. He had not been crucified, so it could not be marks in the hands and feet. Perhaps he meant the things that he mentioned to the Corinthians.
In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23-28)
Even those things are not likely what he meant, however. This statement comes at the end of a letter urging gentile Christians not to be led into Jewish legalism. In particular, it is part of a section that Paul wrote in his own hand rather than through dictation. In this section he speaks of those who glory in the physical mark of circumcision. In contrast, he says he bears even greater marks. These are not physical marks of legalism. Rather they are marks that merit an even greater boasting. They may be the marks of the beatings and cold and hunger. But they may also include the less visible mark of immersion in order to die to sin. They are not marks of legalism but of submission.
I doubt that I will make permanent the marks I bear of treatment for cancer. There are many people who bear the marks of what they have endured, permanently inked in numbers on their arm while in the German camps. Those are marks that they often try to hide, not from shame but because it represents something very private and very real. Paul did not like to boast about his marks, either. But he would boast about them if it caused someone to listen to the gospel. He did bear the mark of circumcision, but he spoke of even greater marks. The marks of the seal of Jesus Christ, showing that he belonged to the Lord.