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Was Paul's Thorn Some Sickness?

Discussion in 'Non-denominational' started by Andrew, Aug 2, 2002.

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  1. Andrew

    Andrew Well-Known Member

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    What was Paul's thorn? Let the Bible tell us...

    2 Corinthians 12:7 -- 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.

    Many Christians use this verse to support their argument that God wants some of us to stay sick. They say that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was an eye disease, migraine or some other type of sickness, and that God refused to heal him. Well, let's see how the Bible itself interprets "thorn in the flesh".

    The expression "thorn in the flesh" is never used in the Bible to mean sickness. And every time the phrase is used in the Bible, it is specifically stated what the "thorn" is.

    Witness 1

    Before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, Moses told them:

    Numbers 33:55 -- 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.

    Here the scripture itself tells us plainly that the "pricks in your eyes" and "thorns in your sides" of the Israelites were the inhabitants of Canaan, and not eye disease or sickness. Moses was warning them that the Canaanites, if allowed to remain, would be a constant annoyance to them.

    Witness 2

    Many years later, Joshua said the same thing about the Canaanites:

    Joshua 23:13 -- 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.

    Again, it is clearly stated here what the "thorns" were, and it was certainly not eye disease or sickness.

    Witness 3

    In the book of Judges, the Lord told the children of Israel the same thing:

    Judges 2:3 -- 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.

    Here also, the "thorns" refer to people, not sickness.

    Witness 4

    Our fourth witness is David, who said:

    2 Samuel 23:6 -- But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands:

    In all four cases, the Bible makes it explicit what the "thorns" are, so there's no need for wild speculations. And in every case, the "thorns" refer to personalities, not sicknesses.

    Usage today

    Today, we still use the same expression. According to The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (New Edition), when we say that someone is "a thorn in one's flesh/side", we are saying that that person is "a continual cause of annoyance or problems". Similar expressions are "pain in the neck" and "pain in the [wash my mouth][wash my mouth][wash my mouth]".

    Paul's case is no different

    As with the first four cases presented, the apostle himself tells us plainly what the "thorn in the flesh" was -- "the messenger of Satan":

    2 Corinthians 12:7 -- 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.

    The original Greek word for "messenger" here is "angelos". According to Strong's Concordance, it means "a messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God".

    In Paul's case, it was an angel of Satan. So, Paul's thorn was a demonic spirit sent by Satan to torment him. Or, a person (or persons eg Judaizers) with that demonic spirit. It was certainly not eye disease, migraine or some sickness as many have wildly speculated.

    This Greek word "angelos" appears 186 times in the Bible, and is translated "angel" 179 times and "messenger" the other seven times. In all 186 cases, without exception, it refers to a person and not a thing or disease.

    It is also interesting to note that the Rotherham and Weymouth translations use the pronoun "he" to refer to Paul's "thorn" or "the messenger of Satan". In other words, they tell us that Paul's thorn was a satanic personality and not a disease.

    Nature of Paul's thorn

    Paul not only tells us that his "thorn" was an angel of Satan, but he also tells us what the angel came to do: "to buffet me".

    The word "buffet" means "to strike repeatedly" or "blow after blow". If Paul's thorn was sickness, then it would mean that Paul was continuously sick. But we don't see a sickly Paul in the Bible. And how could the apostle travel great distances, preaching boldly and healing the sick if he was so sickly? The sick would have laughed at him for preaching about God's healing power!

    What we do find, however, is a Paul who was frequently persecuted by people, not sicknesses. Paul enumerates his sufferings or "buffetings" in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 and 2 Timothy 3:10-12. Not one time does he mention sickness. (See Sufferings we can expect.)

    Did God say "no" to Paul?

    2 Corinthians 12:
    8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
    9 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.
    10 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.


    Many Christians think that God's reply to Paul's thrice repeated prayer to be rid of the satanic messenger was, "nope, I want you to stay sick".

    Our Lord never said that, only the traditions of man! And we have already established that Paul's thorn was an angel of Satan and not some illness.

    Essentially, God's reply to Paul is that He fights for Paul best when Paul is totally helpless, weak and dependent on Him. This is God's grace in action -- God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

    All our self-efforts to fight the enemy must be put aside if God is to have full control over the situation. God works best without our interference and our efforts to "help" Him.

    And when we see the victory, we will know that it is all by God's grace. That is why God told Paul that His grace was all that Paul needed to overcome the constant attacks of the messenger of Satan.

    When Paul realised that this was God's way of doing things -- by grace --, it is no wonder he said that he would gladly "glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" and that "when I am weak, then am I strong [in and through Christ]".

    So, did God answer Paul's prayer and show Him the solution? Yes! Certainly, God did not give Paul and negative answer and leave him weak and defeated. After all, how can it be true that Christ's strength was made perfect in Paul's weakness (verse 9) if he was left weak. No, I believe Paul was an actual partaker of Christ's strength, which would remove the weakness, whether it was physical or spiritual.

    Trophimus left sick

    2 Timothy 4:20 -- Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.


    Christians have also used Trophimus' case to argue that God chastens with sicknesses and that He sometimes refuses to heal.

    But the verse only says that Paul left Trophimus in Miletum because he was sick. To then say that this proves that God chastens with sicknesses and that He sometimes refuses to heal is to jump to wild conclusions!

    Suppose I met you in church and told you, "John couldn't come with me to the meeting tonight because he's down with a flu and he's resting at home". Does this mean that God made John sick and that He refuses to heal him?

    Likewise, when we read in Acts that Festus and King Agrippa (Acts 26:24,28) did not believe that Jesus was Lord when Paul preached the Gospel to them, do we then conclude that God's refuses to save some people? Or that His will is for some folks to burn in hell?

    The verse simply means that Trophimus was sick. Is that so unusual? Many Christians in the Corinthian church were sick and some even died prematurely (1 Corinthians 11:30). The same thing still happens today in the church. But just as the existence of the unbelieving does not negate God's Word and will to save, neither does the existence of sick people negate God's Word and will to heal.
     
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  2. SavedByGrace3

    SavedByGrace3 Whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved Supporter

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    Very Nicely done. Well thought out and logically presented. :clap:

     It is a wonder that anyone could read these things and still insist that this passage refers to some sort of eye disease! :(
     
  3. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    I've always thought that the thorn, the messenger of satan, was probably some kind of temptation that would sometimes plague him. I can picture a devil constantly putting that temptation in front of Paul, trying to distract him from preaching the gospel, hoping to make him so distressed that he would give up his ministry to pursue the sin. And the reason that God didn't take away the devil was to remind Paul that even though he was a great, famous man, he was still human and still needed his Savior!

    Your exposition above certainly would support that!
     
  4. Reformationist

    Reformationist Non nobis domine sed tuo nomine da gloriam

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    Nice post Andrew.  Throughout the history of the church no agreement has been reached among hundreds of commentators regarding the true nature of "the thorn."  Some of the more notable theories are a physical ailment of some sort ("in the flesh"), a harrassing demon ("a messenger of Satan"), or the constant harrasment of Jewish persecutors.  As it stands, the "thorn" of Paul's experiences is readily applied to a variety of trials faced in this life.  Few of God's servants have been free from at least some kind of hindrance, weakness, or opposition.

    God bless.
     
  5. Andrew

    Andrew Well-Known Member

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    thanks for the positive comments, much of it came from FF Bosworth's classic book Christ the Healer. He has a whole chapter on Paul's thorn and deals with it much more in detail. :)
     
  6. Julie

    Julie ONLY JESUS CHRIST SAVES

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    Andrew, I say bad eyesight was the thorn in his flesh.
     
  7. Andrew

    Andrew Well-Known Member

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    Julie,

    You want to go with the traditions of men, or by the Word of God? Perhaps you didnt read the first post carefully. Also, can you give scripture proof?

    How does "an angel of Satan" = bad eyesight ???
     
  8. Julie

    Julie ONLY JESUS CHRIST SAVES

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    Andrew, I did not read your post so I assume that you believe his thorn was something else.
    "an angel of Satan"? , do you mean "a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me" That verse says the thorn is the messenger and it is in his flesh.
     
  9. Andrew

    Andrew Well-Known Member

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    No it doesnt mean that Julie. Its a whole phrase "thorn in the flesh".

    eg" If I say John is a "pain in the neck" I certainly do not mean John is somehow literally embedded in my neck. It means he's a constant annoyance to me.

    Please read the first post carefully and I'm sure things will become clear. :)
     
  10. Caedmon

    Caedmon kawaii Supporter

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    I cannot be sure what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was exactly. The text does not give a definitive answer, therefore I am limited to speculation, ie temptation, physical malady, etc.
     
  11. SavedByGrace3

    SavedByGrace3 Whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved Supporter

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    Well... yea it does say exactly. It says "a messenger from satan". It could nnot be any more exact if Paul had drawn a picture in the letter.
     
  12. Caedmon

    Caedmon kawaii Supporter

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    No it does not. It does not define what "a messenger of satan" is... a picture of what??? :confused:
     
  13. Julie

    Julie ONLY JESUS CHRIST SAVES

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    OK, read it, I still say eyesight,  sorry just my opinion.
     
  14. SavedByGrace3

    SavedByGrace3 Whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved Supporter

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    I dunno Quaffie? What more can we say?

    Julie and HJ, it says what it says. As pointed out the greek word for messanger here is the same that is used for angel. The personal pronouns "he" and "him" are used in a number of translations:

    (WNT) As for this, three times have I besought the Lord to rid me of him;


     Robertson in his definitive book word pictures says:

    2Co 12:8 -

    Concerning this thing (huper toutou). More likely, "concerning this messenger of Satan."

    That it might depart from me (hina apostēi aph' emou). Second aorist active (intransitive) subjunctive of aphistēmi in final clause, "that he stand off from me for good."


    and Gills commentary:

    that it, or rather, "he might"

    and Vincent's Word Studies:

    2Co 12:8 -
    For this thing :
    Rev., concerning this thing. But it is better to refer this to messenger: concerning this or whom. For, of A.V., is ambiguous.



    Unless an eye problem can suddenly become an angel and a "he", then I would have problems trying to go that route.
     
  15. Julie

    Julie ONLY JESUS CHRIST SAVES

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    You lost my attention when you said "Greek word".
    Stick with the English, thats the world language. Otherwise us common
    folk would have to go to you educatied ones for all our knowledge of God.
     
  16. ZiSunka

    ZiSunka It means 'yellow dog'

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    Julie, can you explain your belief that Paul's thorn had to be an eye problem? What basis do you have for that positive ascertion, other than, "someone told me"?

    If you can explain your belief, we might learn something.
     
  17. LouisBooth

    LouisBooth Well-Known Member

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    Well can a physical aliment be a messenger of satan? I think the book of Job says yes.
     
  18. eldermike

    eldermike Pray Supporter

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    I have heard the term "thorn in the flesh" used for everything from wives to foot problems. I like your post Andrew. I believe that the fact that Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" is important in itself. Be it temptation, bad eyesight, whatever it was it humbled Him, He accepted the "no" answer and went on to finish His race.

    Blessings
     
  19. Andrew

    Andrew Well-Known Member

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    Firstly, it was not a physical ailment. Where in the book of Job does it say angel of Satan = physical illness?

    Secondly, God did not say "no" to Paul. It's not recorded in the passage. Let's be accurate and stick to the passage, or it becomes a free-for-all thing.

    Thirdly, it does matter what the thorn was. We cant say "well, whether its bad eyesight or a demon who cares..." becos then we end up with all sorts of doctrines like God wants some of us sick.

    again, lets stick to the passage and what it says, not what traditions of men say.
     
  20. Julie

    Julie ONLY JESUS CHRIST SAVES

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    2 Corinthians 12
    1   It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
    2   I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
    3   And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
    4   How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
    5   Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
    6   For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
    7   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.
    8   For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
    9   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.
    10   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.

    God had shown Paul quite a bit in that vision of heaven ("the abudance of the revelations," vs7), and to keep him from being puffed up with pride about the thing, the Lord turned the Devil loose on Paul and let him knock him around a while ("the messenger of Satan to buffet me") .  God's purpose for doing this was to keep Paul humble.
     
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