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Examining Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’

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Paul was chosen by Jesus to be an apostle, not while Jesus was yet on earth but several years afterward when the Lord’s church was growing and being severely persecuted by the Jews. He was chosen because of his extreme desire to follow the word of God, his ability and dedication. He was, at the time, persecuting the church, thinking it was pleasing to God.

It was a requirement in order for one to become an apostle, that he must have been an eyewitness to Jesus while and that he must have been taught by him. Paul had neither of these experiences. Therefore, after he was chosen and was baptized into Christ, he was later taken up into heaven where he was allowed to see and hear Jesus, the risen savior.

In Paul’s second epistle to the Christians meeting in Corinth, he informs them of this trip into the third heaven. Here is the portion of that which includes the ‘thorn in the flesh” which he was given. It would be well for the student to read the full chapter 12, to be able to fully grasp what Paul is saying. Click here.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:1-10 KJV)

Much discussion and suppositions have been put forth concerning just what the ‘thorn’ given to Paul might have been. Let us examine the scriptures which may, or may not, be pertinent to this subject.

About the only things which possible be considered are few and quite inconclusive. But we will examine them anyway to see what we might deduce. Perhaps it would be best to begin with the first mention of any recorded problem he had.

On the road to Damascus, Paul and his entourage were out in the desert when a sudden strong, brilliant light appeared, and Jesus spoke to Paul from that light. Once again the student is encouraged to read the entire chapter of Acts 9, which is worthy of helping one understand, yet we list here the most pertinent ones concerning our subject.

“And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.” (Acts 9:8-9 KJV)

Now, after Paul spent 3 days of fasting and praying, Jesus spoke to a disciple in Damascus name Ananias and told him to go to Paul. Here is the scripture:

“And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus.” (Acts 9:17-19 KJV)

Keep in mind that the brilliant light blinded Paul and after Ananias put his hands on him and he rose, his sight was restored. Nothing further is mentioned in scripture to indicate his vision was damaged or that it grew dim. However, in man’s eagerness to find some reason for his ‘thorn’, they have made an assumption from another statement Paul made later on.

“Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” (Galatians 4:12-15 KJV)

This is the only passage which has any reference to Paul’s eyes or vision after those above. There is some room for consideration here, however, as far as being conclusive, it is far from it. He does speak of a fleshly infirmity and then referred to their eyes. The phrase, “And my temptation which was in my flesh, ye despised not…”, could mean several things.

One biblical scholar has ventured that the ‘thorn’ in Paul’s flesh was not a physical problem but rather was a messenger from Satan, as Paul describes it in the quote from the Corinthians letter above. He gives the reference to Job 2:6 where God gave Job over to Satan to do as he would except take his life.

The rest of his article is well written and with a good deal of thought, although it remains a supposition in this author’s mind. If you care to read the article by Kenneth Copeland, Click here.

Certain things in God’s word does arouse one’s curiosity, however, where it is not specifically explained, we may best assume that it was not God’s intent that we know. Curiosity, they say, killed the cat. To become too absorbed in ambiguity can hinder one’s learning other things.

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