What was Paul's thorn in the flesh?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

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Shea S. Michael Houdmann Supporter Got Questions Ministries
Paul speaks of a "thorn in the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 12:7. He calls it "a messenger of Satan" that had a purpose of "torment." Many explanations have been put forward, but whether Paul is referri...

July 01 2013 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

Image41 Ezekiel Kimosop
What was Paul's thorn in the flesh? 

The Bible does not describe the nature of this peril or "thorn in the flesh" but it appears to have been a seriously troubling problem that was meant to humble the apostle but not to stand in the way of his ministry work. It was certainly unpleasant but God permitted it on him and confirmed thus when he declares in 2 Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."

Paul reacted to the word of Christ in submission, saying "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

2 Corinthians 12:10 does seem to provide a general description of some of perils that Paul suffered but this is a broad description given the specific nature of what he appears to allude to. Secondly we know that infirmities persecutions, reproaches, and distresses cannot all be attributed to Satan. 

Paul accepted to live with the circumstances of his pain and clearly understood the divine purposes for this affliction. This implies that there are trials that God may bring our way whose ultimate purposes He alone understands. 

The Lord declined to remove Paul's "thorn in the flesh" [a phrase metaphorically refering to some torment, affliction or suffering] despite the fact that Paul pleaded with Him over it three times.

Some have speculated that the "thorn" had to do with his poor eyesight which did not fully recover after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, or a bodily illness or other perils such as frequent imprisonments but this cannot be identified in Scripture. Some have also speculated that Christ may have disclosed to him the nature of death that he would ultimately suffer for the Lord as a martyr but Paul had pleaded that he be spared. This theory is not plausible because there is evidence in Scripture that Paul was prepared to die for the Faith.

We may never know for sure what this "thorn" may have been and the best we can do is to simply allow the matter to remain that way - mysterious as it does seem - rather than engage in a field of wild speculation. If the apostle was shy in disclosing the real torment, we should let it rest there. We shall discover it in heaven when we shall be united with him and all the saints of yore. 

This reminds us that God uses us as we are, deficient, weak, lacking in one or the other thing or even when the circumstances surrounding us are unfavorable to us. Glory be to God because by His grace He sustains us and accomplishes His divine purposes through weak vessels. 

We are at His disposal to deal with us as He deems fit, even amidst our pains and seasons of despair or troubles of various descriptions. Paul's case was God's way of reminding the apostle that He and not Paul was in control so that God is continually glorified in Paul's ministry. 

May this be true of us too who are in Christ that we may courageously face the pains of our calling, since we are confident that by God's grace we too shall overcome as Paul did (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

May 12 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

0c723b06 605e 4b74 af18 c7e95c334dc1 Ebar M
The phrase "thorn in the flesh" was not original with Paul. It was an Old Testament term that referred to the negative influence ungodly people had on righteous people. 

In Numbers 33:55 Moses said, "But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell”

Joshua 23:13 says, "Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you"

Judges 2:3 says, "Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you"

Paul drew on O.T. terminology to refer to the persecution he had suffered. We know that Paul did suffer at sometime with a physical infirmity but personally, I don't believe his thorn was an actual sickness. If you read 2 Cor 11:16 to the end of the chapter you'll see all that he had to endure (no sickness). Also, these days, if we use those “thorn in my flesh" or "pebble in my shoe" phrases, it's always in relation to slow internet, lots of traffic, an annoying person etc etc but never an actual sickness.

December 19 2014 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

My passport new Arun Kumar Engineer, Chennai, India
This refers to Paul’s suffering for Gospel and perhaps not a sickness in the body. The greek word for literally the body is “soma” or “somatos”. But here this word is not used. Rather, the word “sarki” is used. This may refer either to the body or the bodily life on earth. The same word is also used in 1 Cor 7:28 where, not the literal body is described, but the sufferings in the bodily life. 

Also, it is not proved how a bodily ailment can hinder a man from being proud, since ailment is a bodily phenomenon while pride is related to mind. Can it be concluded that people having bodily ailments do not have pride at all? Certainly not, atleast in most cases. 

But the explanation which seems to fit the context is, Paul having lot of glorious revelations from God is being able to perform a spendid ministry through which lot of people leave their ungodly faith and turn to God, i.e., start to follow the preaching of Paul, which implies Paul has lot of followers. This is can certainly make Paul proud about his minstry. In order to curb his pride, the same area which makes Paul proud should pose him crucial dangers which included his fear of death, 2 Cor 1:8 and other persecutions found in the book of Acts. Thus there is an equilibriium achieved. This keeps Paul from being proud of himself. And the “messenger of Satan” to whom Paul refers is none but the tribulations which are brought by Satan who was permitted by God to put Paul to trials and tribulations similar to how God allowed satan to torment Job, since God Himself never gives tributions to His faithful ones but allows satan to torment them sometimes. 

This “thorn in flesh” is given another name in verse 9 as “weakness” and “infirmity” which is Paul’s inability to prevent/avoid the dangers happening to him which made him pray to God to remove such dangers, which was not God’s will for His followers since He had promised that His followers. 

We are sure that Paul had some physical ailment when he preached the Galatians (Galatians 4:13,14) but it is least possible that it could be the same here. 

Verse 10 gives a very clear picture of what Paul means saying “thorn in flesh” in vrs 7, “weakness” and “infirmities” in vrs 9. Paul expands what these words “weaknesses- astheneiais” (which can also mean a bodily ailment, but it is not the idea meant here), “insults- hybresin”, “hardships- anankais”, “persecutions- diōgmois”, “difficulties- stenochōriais” were in vrs 10. The possible greek words for “disease” and “sickness” are “noson”, “malakian” & “astheneiais”of which only “astheneiais” (which may also mean bodily ailment, since it has been used with others types of sufferings, it is least possible that it may mean a bodily ailment, also because it is used in plural, which we can be quite certain that Paul was not suffering from multiple diseases at the same time) is being used in this verse, which clearly means Paul is not speaking of a bodily ailment but his tribulations or atleast his bodily ailment is not the primary thought here.

January 21 2015 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Anonymous
I'm of the opinion it had somerhing to do with the eyes. Gal 4:13-15

July 19 2013 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini Billy P Eldred
This answer probably does not deserve to be listed as Mr. Houdmann has done a good job of explaining why the correct answer is “We don’t know”. However there are many conjectures of what it might have been and as I don’t see this one listed, I thought I would share it.

I wrote a song some time back. This is the chorus of the song: 

‘Take this thorn from my flesh, Oh Lord, Help me to forget! The memory of those haunting eyes burn within me yet. I stood by and held his clothes while at my bidding they stoned that young man. I know that I am forgiven Lord but I ask you this again. Take this thorn from my flesh, help me to forget. And You said, My Grace is sufficient!’

At the end of the song, the Lord tells Paul that “the thorn” was kept in his flesh to motivate him to be able to withstand the trials and tribulations he would face and told there was more that he must do. Paul then ask the Lord to Keep the thorn in his flesh and acknowledged that His GRACE IS sufficient.

In the song, the thorn was the memory Paul suffered and his part in the stoning of Stephen in Acts chapter 7.

Was that the thorn? Probably not but it could have been.

December 09 2019 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Mini James Kraft 74 year old retired pipeline worker
I think the key to Paul's thorn was the fact of remaining sin in His life. When He said he did not do what he should, and did the things he should not. He called himself a wretched sinner I believe because God allowed Him to look in to his own heart and see himself the way God really sees all of us.

It is not our sin that sends us to Hell, it is because we are sinners. The bible says that if we have committed one sin, we are just as guilty of all sin. We are no better than murderers, rapist, and every other sin you can name. Just because we do not do them, does not change anything. It is the fact that we have all of those things in us.

Paul had the thorn of seeing himself as God sees all of us. And He let Satan continually chide him over it. But through that thorn Paul leaned that through His weakness he would become stronger in the faith. It is our sin that brings us to Christ. We confess that we are awful, and we need a savior worse than anyone else.

We all have a thorn in the flesh. We continue to sin against a Holy God every day and we do not even know it.

December 10 2016 3 responses Vote Up Share Report

My picture Jack Gutknecht ABC/DTS graduate, guitar music ministry Baptist church
We do not know what Paul’s thorn (σκόλοψ, 1 occurrence) in the flesh was. The word translated “thorn” means “a sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone.” It was a physical affliction of some kind that brought pain and distress to Paul. Some Bible students think that Paul had an eye affliction (see Gal. 6:11), but we cannot know for sure. It is a good thing that we do not know because no matter what our sufferings may be, we can apply the lessons Paul learned and get encouragement. 

In my opinion, Paul's ailment was a defect of sight, acute ophthalmia, possibly caused by the dazzling light at his conversion. This interpretation is partly based on Paul's reference to a weakness of the flesh in Galatians 4:13-14, for which the Galatians would have been willing to pluck out their eyes to give to him. 

See Anonymous in this article: 
Mini Anonymous
I'm of the opinion it had something to do with the eyes. Gal 4:13-15

It is also argued that this would account for Paul's large handwriting (Gal 6:11), his failure to recognize the high priest in Acts 23:5, and his tendency to use an amanuensis.

November 08 2019 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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