St. Paul’s visions: Temporal lobe epilepsy?

In the Bible, we learn that Saint Paul had many ecstatic visions. He’s not the only one who had visions, or seizures, or other symptoms of neurological disease, you’ll see below.

D. Landsborough proposes that Paul suffered from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, and examines the Biblical evidence in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry:

Neurological disease is recorded in the Bible. Examples are grand mal seizures (Luke 9:37-42), aphasia (Luke 1:21-23, 62-65) and concussion (Acts 20:9-12).

A tentative diagnosis may be made in the case of subarachnoid haemorrhage (2 Kings 4:17-37), paraplegia (Mark 2:3-12), poliomyelitis (Luke 6:6-11), cerebral palsy (Acts 3:1-8) and hysterical paralysis (Acts 9:33-35). The terrifying aspects of the psychoses (Luke 8:26-39) and of epilepsy were interpreted as manifestations of demoniacal possession. Some of the above conditions are portrayed in stained glass windows on the first floor of the National Hospital, Queen Square, London.

St Paul (Paul of Tarsus), in a letter to the Church in Corinth, describes an ecstatic personal experience in which he felt “caught up to paradise”, and mentions other “visions”. In relation to these he writes of a “thorn in the flesh”, a metaphor for an unpleasant infirmity which periodically racked him. It is postulated that Paul was subject to episodes of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) or complex partial seizures, some of which progressed to generalised convulsions.

Much has been written about the nature of Paul’s illness, and many theories propounded. The evidence upon which a diagnosis can be made is meagre, yet the description of his ecstatic experience is perhaps the most important index.

Read the full article, including Landsborough’s analysis of Paul’s letters, context from the period, and more HERE.