Where or when did the saying physician heal thyself originate?

One Answer

"Jesus said it."

Another Answer

According to the English translation of the Bible, Jesus did utter these words as a proverb. But Jesus could not have expressed this in English. In about 1523 a Catholic priest named William Tyndale, apparently aggrieved at the Church's magisterium regarding who was permitted to interpret the Bible, decided to translate the Bible into English. His motive was to have a Bible that every Englishman, even a peasant, could read or hear read aloud in their own language. Tyndale mainly used Greek manuscripts and only consulted older translations of the Bible for source material in his translation of the New Testament, printed in 1526. Unfortunately, Tyndale was executed and burned at the stake for these 'heresies' in 1536. I believe (but I do not know for certain) that the English words "Physician heal thyself" were initially Tyndale's.

The following is from Tyndale's translation of Luke's Gospel: "And he said unto them: Ye may very well say unto me this proverb. Physician, heal thyself. Whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do the same likewise in thine own country. And he said: Verily I say unto you: No prophet is accepted in his own country." Here we find two proverbs for the price of one. But throughout I have bolded the words in question.

The Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (NT first published 1582, but this from the Challoner Revision, c. 1749) has this as Luke, Chapter 4 Verses 23-24:

"23 And he said to them: Doubtless you will say to me this similitude: Physician, heal thyself: as great things as we have heard done in Capharnaum, do also here in thy own country. 24 And he said: Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country."

The Protestant King James 'Authorized' Version (1611) has this in the same place, as do a number of later revisions:

"23 And he said unto them: Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. 24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country."

So you will see that William Tyndale was very influential with his translations. However Tyndale's work IS translation. Indeed it is at least a translation of a translation, because the original writer of Luke seems to have written in Greek, which was then translated by St Jerome in the fifth century into Latin (the Vulgate, which despite its name, was never made available to the common people) and then into English by Tyndale.

While the English words might be due to Tyndale, the idea is much older. Luke is said to have been a physician, so although he was apparently reporting what Jesus had said, perhaps referring to the casting out of a devil in Capernaum by Jesus ('get thee behind me, Satan'), there may be some degree of self-reference here. However, if it was truly a 'proverb' at that time, it would certainly not have been in English. Its origin, and original language, is almost certainly lost in prehistory.