Paul’s “Thorn In My Flesh”

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The opinions expressed by Larry the Lubber do not necessarily reflect the views of the crew — mostly because Larry is a pompous, sanctimonious authority on Scripture whose pontifications tend ter offend most everyone, even when he is right — which is ter often. – Staff

An Expanded View of How to Understand Paul’s Thorn

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God: I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness, but you are already putting up with a little foolishness.

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or you receive a different spirit from our Lord’s Holy Spirit, or you accept a different gospel from the gospel we preach, you prove that your minds are led astray.

I may not be a trained speaker like some, but I do have knowledge. Was I wrong to keep from being a burden to you? Was it a sin for me to lower myself in your eyes in order to cut the ground from under those false apostles and deceitful workmen who masquerade as apostles of Christ? Remember, Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, that Satan’s servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.

Let no one take me for a fool. My concern is for all the churches. Who among you is weak, and I do not myself feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I myself do not inwardly burn with sin?

I could boast of the surpassingly great revelations I saw, but instead I will gladly boast in my weakness for you in order that Christ’s power may rest on me. For I do not wish for anyone to think more highly of me than is warranted. Even if I should boast, I would be speaking the truth.

To keep me humble, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, an angel of Satan—a messenger of Satan to torment me.

My brothers, I remind you, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I know what is written in the Law and the Prophets and I remind you of how in the past others became “thorns in the flesh” to my people.

“Because you have disobeyed me, I will not drive out your enemies before you. They will be thorns in your sides. Their gods will be a snare to you.” (Judges 2:3) Are you not becoming ensnared by the lies of these false apostles?

“Because you allied yourself with the nations around you, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes.” (Joshua 23:13) Are you not even now blinded by those masquerading as light?

“Because you did not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allowed to remain became barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They gave you trouble.” (Numbers 33:55) Am I not now troubled by those deceitful workmen who preach the gospel for profit?

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take away the “thorn in my flesh.” But Christ said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness for you, in order that Christ’s power may rest on me. For the sake of my Lord, I delight in insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties, and yes, even in my weakness for all the churches.

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. With regard to the gospel, he and Hymenaeushave shipwreck their faith. I have handed both over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (2 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 1:19-20)

Since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me, on my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others. Chris is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.

If I have made a fool of myself, you drove me to it.
2 Corinthians 11-13, Acts 22:3

Twice Paul goes about healing others. Only once do we read of Paul suffering from an illness. Paul may have dealt with poor eyesight—getting hit in the head with rocks during a stoning could have that affect—but only in rare cases (blindness) is poor eyesight (Galatians 4:15, Galatians 6:11) called an affliction.

God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. (Acts 19:11-12)

“You know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.” (Galatians 4:13)

And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured. (Acts 28:8)

If Paul did, in fact, suffer in a physical sense, let’s examine the cause, symptoms, condition, and outcome of his affliction.

Cause: “To keep me from becoming conceited.”
Symptoms: “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties”
Condition: “torment”
Outcome: “delight, weakness”
Judge for yourself if you can identify a physical condition that is caused by a vain and proud attitude—one that results in significant difficulties, persecutions, hardships, insults, and weakness and leaves you feeling tormented. An affliction that, despite all of these negative effects, becomes a source of delight. Does this describe your sickness, affliction, condition? If not, perhaps it is time to consider that Paul used the phrase “thorn in my flesh” to reference how those who insult and ridicule us will always be in our midst and that in Christ we have enough grace to ignore their barbs without lashing out. Rather, let us pray for those who persecute us.

Use of the Word Angel in the New Testament

Only in 2 Corinthians 12:7 “a messenger of Satan” is ἄγγελος (angelos) translated “messenger.” In all other cases the word is translated as angel. Never in Scripture is ἄγγελος used to reference a physical affliction.

Matthew 1:20
Matthew 1:24
Matthew 2:13
Matthew 2:19
Matthew 28:2
Matthew 28:5
Luke 1:11
Luke 1:13
Luke 1:19
Luke 1:26
Luke 1:30
Luke 1:35
Luke 1:38
Luke 2:9
Luke 2:10
Luke 22:43
John 5:4
John 12:29
Acts 5:19
Acts 7:30
Acts 8:26
Acts 10:7
Acts 12:7
Acts 12:8
Acts 12:10
Acts 12:15
Acts 12:23
Acts 23:9
Acts 27:23
(Only in 2 Corinthians 12:7 is this word translated “messenger”)
GRK: τῇ σαρκί ἄγγελος Σατανᾶ ἵνα
NAS: in the flesh, a messenger of Satan
KJV: in the flesh, the messenger of Satan
INT: for the flesh a messenger of Satan that
Galatians 1:8
Galatians 4:14
Revelation 8:3
Revelation 8:5
Revelation 8:8
Revelation 8:10
Revelation 8:12
Revelation 9:1
Revelation 9:13
Revelation 10:5
Revelation 11:15
Revelation 14:8
Revelation 14:9
Revelation 14:15
Revelation 14:17
Revelation 14:18
Revelation 14:19
Revelation 17:7
Revelation 18:21

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