What was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?

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What was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?

29 May 2024 Hits:1375

Over the years, there has been much conjecture about what Paul called a thorn in his flesh, which he was given by a messenger of Satan. All kinds of assumptions have been made, and we’ll explore these before investigating the context of Paul’s statements.

Guesswork

Context is everything, but if it is ignored, we resort to speculation. For example, some have suggested Paul suffered from a chronic disease like epilepsy, even though there is no evidence for such a claim.

Others have proposed it was an eye disease based on Paul’s comments in Galatians: Although my illness was a trial to you…If you could have done so, I can testify that you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Some have interpreted this to mean that Paul had an awful eye disorder, but the original language does not support that interpretation. The word “illness” is not in the Greek manuscripts and has been added by the translators.

Investigating the book of Acts, we learn that Paul had been in Lystra, stoned by an angry mob, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. Lystra was in Galatia, which was a region and not a city. Because of the injuries resulting from being stoned, he remained in Galatia, where the Christians cared for him as he recovered.

Others have suggested the messenger of Satan had harmed Paul in some way while he was visiting the third heaven, but again, this is just pure conjecture and highly unlikely. Still, others say it was Paul’s anxiety or a specific opponent.

Investigation

With all that in mind, let’s investigate what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times, I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The term Thorn in the flesh is an Idiom, one of many that we find in Scripture and still used in everyday life like:

A leopard can’t change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23)

A little bird told me (Ecclesiastes 10:20)

Escaped by the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20)

Fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

Take someone under your wing (Psalms 91:4)

A thorn in one’s side is a continuous problem or annoyance that makes life difficult. It could be a person, thing, experience, or habit one can’t overcome. The word thorn refers to a bodily annoyance or disability. Paul experienced this in his body (flesh) as a human weakness. The messenger was an angel (in this case, a fallen one!). To torment means “to strike with the fist” and is the same word used for the treatment Jesus experienced before His crucifixion when he was beaten and punched.

Context

The above description is vital to our understanding of Paul’s thorn. Remember, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians as a letter without chapters and verses. Before speaking about the thorn, he had outlined the persecutions and sufferings he had endured for the gospel’s sake:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times, I was beaten with rods; once, I was pelted with stones; three times, I was shipwrecked; I spent a night and a day in the open sea.

Paul informs them that he is constantly travelling and faces multiple dangers. He often goes without sleep, food, drink, and sufficient clothing.

He summarises all this by confessing the weaknesses that result from his sufferings. Imagine the result of these experiences in this little man. The physical effects would have been severe, leaving his body scarred and disfigured.

And so, in chapter 12, Paul has had enough and asks God three times for things to change. God answers Paul’s prayer by offering grace, so Paul has to modify his attitude and expectation of God: Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There it is; the thorn is clearly outlined by Paul in those five words.

I believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh resulted from the harsh experiences, particularly the persecutions he endured for the gospel’s sake. Context is everything.

Paul’s experiences can teach us some extremely important lessons, which will be the subject of next week’s blog.

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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One reply on “What was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?”

Reasays:

Thanks Rob
Yes I agree…results of trauma leave thorns… These strengthen you when you live in Christ’s embrace… reminded of Who brought you through and continues to be with you as you deal with ongoing thorns… Bless you

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