All who have suffered prolonged illness and have been seeking divine healing have at one point been
baffled by Paul’s thorn in the flesh as mentioned in 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.”
It is commonly assumed that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical sickness or disease. This is a common
conclusion or even interpretation. But keep in mind, that “no prophecy (miraculous knowledge beyond human
sagacity or conjecture) of scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20). By a careful study of the
preceding passages, starting from 2 Corinthians, chapter 11 and other related passages, we can understand
what Paul actually suffered from.
Let us consider these facts about Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
The phrase ”thorn in the flesh” does not appear for the first time in the Bible in
2 Corinthians 12:7. It has also been used several times in the Old Testament.
Numbers 33:55 says, “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.”
Every time the phrase “thorn in the flesh” or similar words have been used previously in the Bible, it refers to
the enemies of God and of Israel and not to any physical disease.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:7, calls the thorn in the flesh, a messenger from satan.
The original Greek word used was “Angelos” which means messenger and refers to a personality and not
to a thing. The thorn in the flesh therefore was a demonic personality used by satan to buffet Paul and not a thing such as a disease
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 Paul enumerates the buffetings that he underwent in his ministry – whippings,
beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, weariness, perils, toils, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness.
In all the sufferings that Paul enumerates, sickness is never mentioned.
Paul was working to fulfill an apostolic responsibility of establishing churches. This involved journeys to
many distant places and would have laid a heavy physical drain on Paul: and many times, the people to
whom Paul ministered and who should have taken care of him, did not do so properly (See, Philippians 2:30
& 1 Timothy 5:17).
Paul labored more abundantly for the Lord than all the other apostles (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Could he have done this if he was a sick man?
When Paul pleaded with God that the thorn may depart (2 Corinthians 12:8), God told Paul that His
strength was made perfect in weakness (not sickness). Weakness and strength are opposites. God
was telling Paul that His grace was sufficient to move him from weakness to strength and not to remain
in his weakness. Therefore, when Paul was weak, due to buffetings from the messengers and
instruments of satan, then, He became strong with the Lord’s strength.
Paul was a man who practiced healing on himself. When he was stoned and left for dead, he
suddenly got up and walked away by the power of God working in his body. (Acts 14;19,20) When
Paul was bitten by a viper, he shook the venomous snake off and suffered no harm (Acts 28:5)
We must remember that though Paul had an abundance of revelations, he was still pressing on
for their complete manifestation. (See Philippians 3: 8-14)
Finally, Paul never taught that sickness was a blessing from God. When writing to the Corinthians,
Paul warns them that sickness and premature death was caused by a lack of discerning the Body of
Christ (1 Cor 11:29,30) If Paul himself had been sick, the Corinthians would have questioned him
about the cause of his sickness.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh, therefore, was not sickness, but a messenger from satan, sent to attack him.
Two other aspects must be considered when talking about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. How did the devil
penetrate the protective armor of God, which Paul himself describes in Ephesians 6? Why could he not
use the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the enemy?
Paul and Barnabas were an evangelistic team put together directly by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2). Later,
Paul and Barnabas disagreed on the matter of John Mark (Acts 15: 37-40). The contention became so
sharp, that Paul and Barnabas parted ways.
James 3:16 says , “where strife and envying is, there is confusion and every evil work.” Paul, by permitting
strife, had laid himself open to the attacks of the devil.
Also, Paul had demonstrated a lack of love in refusing to forgive John Mark. Faith works by love
(Galatians 5:6): and where there is no faith, we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11:6) It took some
time for Paul to overcome this problem, but he later accepts John Mark in ministry (See 2 Timothy 4:11).
Lucifer used his favorite and most powerful weapon against Paul and managed to succeed
for a while. Proverbs 13:10 says, “Only by pride cometh contention”. In 2 Corinthians 12:7,
Paul admits that the thorn in the flesh was given to prevent him from being exalted beyond measure
due to the great revelations he had received. Possibility of pride creeping in was Paul’s weakness
which the devil took advantage of, to buffet him.
Although, the thorn in the flesh weakened Paul, he did not remain weak. God’s grace was sufficient
to remove the thorn (2 Cor 12: 8-10). When the Lord said that His grace was sufficient, most tend to
conclude immediately, that the grace of God was given to endure a sickness. Grace was sufficient to
move Paul from weakness to strength. The words “weak” and “strong” are opposites. “Let the weak
say, I am strong!”, cried the prophet Joel (Joel 3:10). Therefore, Paul triumphantly experiences strength.
and declares, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Weakness may come, but it need not overcome!
In closing this chapter, we would again exhort you to consider Paul’s condition in the light of the life,
ministry and finished atoning work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
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