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Bible Commentaries

Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures
2 Corinthians 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-4

Paul Describes His Divine Revelations - The third testimony of Paul's superiority to his accusers, whom he called "false apostles," were the many divine revelations and visitations that he experienced while serving the Lord. Thus, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 serves as his third witness that he was a true apostle of Jesus Christ. None of his adversaries could measure up to such qualifications. If we contrast this spiritual testimony to his previous mental testimony in 2 Corinthians 11:1-15 we find Paul referring to his "knowledge" in the mysteries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ ( 2 Corinthians 11:6). We know that this "knowledge" came through a number of divine revelations and visitations. He uses the word knowledge in 2 Corinthians 11:6 because of his emphasis in the mental realm of serving Christ as an apostle.

Extra-biblical References to Paul's Visions- We find a reference to Paul's heavenly vision referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 in one of the New Testament apocryphal books entitled The Revelation of Paul or The Vision of Paul. 88] In this ancient document Paul the apostle tells of his experience of being taken to Heaven, and then Hell, to see the promises and judgments of God upon men. In this story, many of the Old Testament saints had asked God to bring him to them because of the many wonderful testimonies they were hearing from those who were converted under his ministry. According to this writing, this was the purpose of him receiving this mighty heavenly vision.

88] The Vision of Paul, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 9, ed. Allan Menzies (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), 165.

Experiencing Heavenly Visitations- 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 tells us that Paul the apostle experienced a number of heavenly visions. Our nature is to want the same experience that Paul had. We even think that if we were close enough to the Lord that we would have the same amount of visions that Paul experienced. That is not God's perspective. When Jesse Duplantis was a young Christian, he began to pray and ask the Lord for a vision. One day while in bed he felt a mighty wind blow into his room and then heard the Lord tell him, "You asked to see Me. Turn around." Because Jesse was under the power of God he did not turn around until it was too late. Frustrated, Jesse got out of bed and made his way to the living room. While sitting on his couch he said to the Lord, "God, you came to me. I heard You with my physical ears, and I didn't even turn around!" He spoke these words to my spirit, "I'm glad you didn't. It's better that you not see Me and still believe." 89] However, there are times when God sees the need to grant heavenly visions to certain individuals. Paul was chosen to deliver the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures to the early Church. He did this in his epistles. He could not have understood the revelation given to him with the numerous visitations that he experienced. Kenneth Hagin experienced many supernatural visitations during his sixty-seven years in the fulltime ministry. 90] This was because God used him to bring much of the body of Christ into a fuller understanding of the Word of God in preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord. It seems that the purpose of visions and revelations is to bring believers into the fullness of Christ. It is not God's plan that every believer establishes their faith in God by experiencing such visions. They are, rather, to learn how to trust God at His Word in order to grow into maturity.

89] Jesse Duplantis, Heaven: Close Encounters of the God Kind (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Harrison House, 1996), 38-42.

90] See Kenneth Hagin, I Believe In Visions (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Faith Library Publications, c 1984, 1986).

2 Corinthians 12:1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 12:1 — "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory" - Comments- Paul pauses between his boasting to explain that his actions are not profitable, or beneficial, for him. ηe has been boasting in the previous chapter about his credentials as an apostle to the Gentiles, being divinely appointed by God and divinely place in authority over the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 12:1 he says that there is no advantage for him in continuing this boasting. Yet, for their sakes he will boast of one more qualification.

2 Corinthians 12:1 — "I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord" - Comments- What would be the content of this revelation that Paul was receiving from the Lord in his visions? Can we find something within his writings that would indicate such? If we look at the Pauline epistles, we realize that God gave to Paul the theology of the New Testament Church. In other words, the nine Pauline church epistles establish church doctrine and his pastoral epistles establish church order. Therefore, it is very likely that Paul received much revelation of church doctrine and church order during these visions which gave him the inspiration for writings his epistles.

2 Corinthians 12:1Comments- Is it not wonderful to know that no matter how close we get to the Lord and no matter how well we know God's Word and no matter how many experiences we have had with the Lord, there will always be much to learn and greater discoveries to be made as God takes us to deeper levels of understanding the heavenly realm.

We can look through the New Testament and find a number of references to Paul's visions and revelations. We see in Acts 9:1-6 where the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus Road bringing about his conversion, and in Acts 22:17-22 where Paul refers to his trance while in Jerusalem, and in Galatians 1:15-17 where Paul refers to his divine calling, and in Acts 16:8-10 when he received his Macedonian call, and in Acts 18:9-10 when the Lord spoke to Paul in a night vision while in Corinth, and in Acts 23:11 when the Lord stood by him on night when he was arrested in Jerusalem, and in Acts 27:22-25 when the angel appeared to him while at sea during a storm. Thus, Paul knew that others would come during his life and ministry.

2 Corinthians 12:2 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.

2 Corinthians 12:2"such an one caught up to the third heaven" - such an one caught up to the third heaven We read in Rick Joyner"s book The Final Quest that the first heaven refers to that which was before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the second heaven refers to the spiritual realm during the period of evil on the earth since the fall, and the third heaven will be the period on earth when Christ will reign and do away with the presence of evil upon the earth. This third heaven now exists in the Heavenly Kingdom, and that is why Paul was able to visit there. If this is the case, each of these heavens has a different glory. The second heaven, which we live in, has the glory of the sun. The third heaven will have the glory of the Father Himself. 91]

91] Rick Joyner, The Final Quest (Charlotte, North Carolina: Morning Star Publications, 1977), 44-45.

2 Corinthians 12:2Comments- At this point in 2 Corinthians 12:2 scholars generally agree that Paul excludes any references to himself in order to minimize the tendency for anyone to exalt him, so that the church would, rather, lift up his office as their spiritual father. The carnal Christian would not marvel at his first boasting of godly character, or at his second boasting of Jewish ancestry and hardships. They would marvel in a person who has had such divine encounters. Thus, this boast was not intended to benefit Paul, but the Corinthians. Although Paul does not mention the name of this individual he describes, scholars believe from the context of this Epistle that Paul is referring to himself.

Jim Goll believes that Paul was describing a vision in which he saw himself "participating in it as if from a third person perspective." 92] In other words, Paul was not sure whether he was actually seeing himself in his own body in Heaven while at the same time observing this event as a bystander. It was simply difficult to explain exactly how the vision took place. Thus, Paul does not even call the person that he observed in the vision himself.

92] Jim W. Goll, The Seer (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2004), 64.

2 Corinthians 12:3 And I knew such a Prayer of Manasseh , (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

2 Corinthians 12:4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

2 Corinthians 12:4 — "How that he was caught up into paradise" - Word Study on "paradise" - Strong says the Greek word παρά δεισος (G 3857) ("paradise") is of Oriental origin. BDAG says it is derived from the Old Persian language and meant, "enclosure." The Greek historian Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) uses the word παρά δεισος to describe beautiful Persian gardens and enclosures (Anabasis 127, 9; 1410; 2414). 93] The Jewish historian Josephus (A.D 37-100) uses it in the same context to describe the gardens of King David. 94] In the New Testament, it appears to be a synonym for Heaven. This Greek word is only used three times in the New Testament ( Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4, Revelation 2:7). All three uses describe a literal place, which we also call Heaven.

93] William Barrack, Lexicon to Xenophone's Anabasis for the Use of Schools (London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1872), 105.

94] Josephus writes, "Now Adonijah had prepared a supper out of the city, near the fountain that was in the king's paradise…" (Antiquities 7144)

Luke 23:43, "And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."

2 Corinthians 12:4, "How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."

Revelation 2:7, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."

2 Corinthians 12:4 — "and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" - Comments- The idea that many translations carry is that what Paul saw in Heaven was beyond the human vocabulary to describe, simply because there is nothing on earth to compare with its glory.

BWE, "This man heard things which cannot be told. No person on earth can speak them."

God'sWord, "was snatched away to paradise where he heard things that can"t be expressed in words, things that humans cannot put into words. I don"t know whether this happened to him physically or spiritually. Only God knows."

ISV, "was snatched away to Paradise and heard things that cannot be expressed in words, things that no human being has a right even to mention."


Verses 1-10

Paul's Boast of Divine Revelations and Sufferings: Spiritual Testimonies - In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 Paul makes his third boast to the Corinthians in the fact that he has experienced many divine revelations and miracles as a true apostle of Jesus Christ. The context of this passage of Scripture falls within the topic of Paul defending his apostolic authority over the Corinthian church against a certain group of Jewish emissaries. These "false apostles" ( 2 Corinthians 11:13) claim this same authority by attacking and belittling Paul personally. In response, Paul presents three areas of his life that qualify him as their apostolic leader, listing qualifications these Jews could not match. Paul first reminds the Corinthians of his godly character while living among them for eighteen months ( 2 Corinthians 11:1-15), reflecting Paul's mental qualifications. He then boasts in his Jewish ancestry and physical sufferings ( 2 Corinthians 11:16-33), reflecting Paul's physical qualifications as their spiritual leader. His final boast is in the divine revelations and miracles and have accompanied his apostleship ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-10), reflecting Paul's spiritual qualifications. Again, it is important to understand that none of Paul's opponents could equal Paul in any of these three areas of boastings.

In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 Paul will first reflect upon one particular revelation in which he was caught up into Heaven and heard things unspeakable and glorious ( 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). It is not a reference to the revelations cited in Acts 9:1-6 where the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus Road bringing about his conversion, or in Acts 22:17-22 where Paul refers to his trance while in Jerusalem, or in Galatians 1:15-17 where Paul refers to his divine calling, or in Acts 16:8-10 when he received his Macedonian call, or in Acts 18:9-10 when the Lord spoke to Paul in a night vision while in Corinth, or in Acts 23:11 when the Lord stood by him on night when he was arrested in Jerusalem, or in Acts 27:22-25 when the angel appeared to him while at sea during a storm. Instead, it is very likely that Paul is referring to one of his earliest and perhaps most glorious revelations that he had ever received of having been taken into Heaven itself. He would have chosen one of his more dramatic revelations not wanting to give his opponents any opportunity to match his boasting in the area of visions and revelations. Yet, there accompanied such glorious revelations some infirmities, which Paul will refer to as a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be exalted above measure by others ( 2 Corinthians 12:5-10). These revelations testify to Paul's apostleship from the perspective of the spiritual realm.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Paul Describes His Divine Revelations — 2 Corinthians 12:1-4

2. Paul Boasts in His Sufferings — 2 Corinthians 12:5-10

In Difficult Times We Experience More Revelations as We Seek God More- Paul did not write the Prison Epistles in a silver castle, nor while pastoring a large church in a big city with all of its prestige. Rather, he wrote them while serving on the front lines of the mission field as a seasoned warrior who was often facing persecutions and even death. It is in some of the most difficult times in our lives that God reveals Himself to us in the greatest measure, in the most spectacular ways. For example, God revealed His Majesty to Job during his great trial of affliction. Jacob saw the throne of God with angels ascending and descending while fleeing from his brother Esau. David wrote many Psalm while in exile. Isaiah the prophet saw the glory of God at a time when the king died and the future became uncertain. Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God while he was being stoned. In this passage, Paul says that he will go on to greater revelations as he endures his trials of affliction for Christ"s sake. It is in such positions that revelations come to us, when our flesh is subdued and our eyes are on Him, our Maker. This is what brings peace in the midst of the storm. It is the certainty that God is with us. It brings a peace that passes all understanding. It makes suffering secondary compared with the presence of God. Thus, Paul was able to say that he would take pleasure in these sufferings because God's strength is then magnified in his life ( 2 Corinthians 12:10). Rick Joyner adds insight into this passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 in his book The Final Quest.

"Paul did walk with Me as close as any man ever has. Even Song of Solomon , he was also beset by fears and weaknesses that were not from Me. I could have delivered him from these, and he did request it several times, but I had a reason for not delivering him. Paul's great wisdom was to embrace his weakness, understanding that if I had delivered him from them I would not have been able to trust him with the level of revelation and power that I did. Paul learned to distinguish between his own weaknesses and the revelation of the Spirit. He knew that when he was beset with weakness, or fears, that he was not seeing from My perspective, but from his own. This caused him to seek Me, and to depend on Me, even more. He was also careful not to attribute to Me that which arose from His own heart. Therefore I could trust him with revelations that I could not trust others with. Paul knew his own weaknesses, and he knew My anointing, and he distinguished between them. He did not confuse what came from his own mind and heart with My mind and heart." 87]

87] Rick Joyner, The Final Quest (Charlotte, North Carolina: Morning Star Publications, 1977), 139.

Observations- There are a number of observations that we can make about this passage in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.

(1) God Still Speaks Through Dreams and Visions- One obvious reflection out of 2 Corinthians 12:7 is that God has always given great men of the Bible dreams and visions and extraordinary experiences. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua , the Judges , all the prophets, many kings, and in the New Testament we see not only Jesus, but Peter, Paul, and John on Patmos receiving revelations from God. I find no scriptural evidence that this divine experience has ceased. In fact, many current testimonies from others and a few personal dreams and divine experiences have made me a believer that the Lord is still using this method to occasionally speak to His children.

(2) Satan Is Still Alive and At Work Against God's People- I also see in 2 Corinthians 12:7 the teaching that Satan was actively at work decades after Jesus defeated him at Calvary. Revelation 12:10 shows him as the accuser of the brethren. Paul makes other references to Satan"s involvement in his ministry ( Romans 1:13; Romans 15:22 and 1 Thessalonians 2:18). I believe we can conclude that Satan is alive and active today. We must confront him through faith in Jesus as several scriptural references attest to ( 2 Corinthians 11:14 and 1 Peter 5:8).

(3) Humility and Pride- We can also reflect upon the virtue of humility implied in this passage. Many great men of God have been used mightily and then fallen into moral decay through pride and arrogance. Paul was very aware of this fact as he humbly accepted the thorn as a means of abiding under God"s grace. God will not share His glory with man. He is a very jealous God. He knows man's tendency to be puffed up with pride, especially when praise comes from other men. Remember how the people of Lystra thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods that had come down to visit them ( Acts 14:8-18). Paul was quick to exalt God and praise Him.

Acts 14:11, "And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men."

(4) Persecutions are a Part of the Christian Life- We can learn from this passage that persecutions are a part of the Christian life. The epistles of 2Corinthians, Hebrews ,, James , and 1Peter all emphasize this divine truth. Obviously, not all of them are God"s will. I believe the greatest truth found in this passage is that every trial in life will be accompanied by an extra measure of God"s grace. Romans 5:1-2 says that we have access to this grace in which we stand. Many Christians fear what life may bring them as they watch others around them being overwhelmed. None of us had to endure as much as Paul the Apostle. He stands out as an example. Here we can learn that we no longer have to fear life. This passage shows us that in extraordinary times our Father will draw extraordinarily close to us. This has been my experience, and I see Paul having that same experience throughout the New Testament.

(5) Pray Should Be our Response to Trials- I see the teaching that prayer should always be a response to trials. Prayer may not change our situations the way we desire, but it can bring divine wisdom in learning how to cope with and overcome the situation ( James 1:5).

(6) God Confirms His Word and His Ministers Through Signs and Miracles- A final theological reflection I see in this passage is that God"s ministers are always confirmed as authentic through infallible proofs. Jesus testified to his ministry through the preaching of John the Baptist, through God"s voice speaking from heaven, through Scripture, through the miracle, which he wrought, and his own testimony. Here Paul spent chapters 11,12displaying the infallible proofs of his apostleship. God does not want us to be deceived by false teachers. We can use this passage and others in order to prove the validity of a man"s ministry.


Verses 5-10

Paul Boasts in His Sufferings - In 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 Paul has just given a testimony of a divine encounter he experiences many years earlier. This divine encounter serves as a testimony of his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 Paul will provide another event that testifies of his calling as an apostle, which places him in the earthly, demonic oppressions of this world. This second testimony stands in direct contrast to his heavenly vision. Paul's afflictions by the demonic realm are placed alongside his exaltation in the heavenly realm. He was exalted into heaven's majesty in the divine realm ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-4); but now he is humbled upon earth by the demonic realm ( 2 Corinthians 12:5-10). Both serve as testimonies from the spiritual realm of his apostolic calling.

The Reason Paul Chose to Boast in His Weaknesses- If Paul is going to have to boast in order to display his apostolic authority over the Corinthians, then he chooses wisely to boast in that which is humbling, which he calls a thorn in the flesh ( 2 Corinthians 12:5). If he chose to boast in those times of exaltation, then people tend to worship great leaders, and Paul wanted to avoid this happening in his ministry ( 2 Corinthians 12:6). We see an example of this in Paul's ministry in Acts 14:11-18 when the people of Lycaonia tried to worship him and Barnabas as Greek gods. In fact, the Lord spoke to Kenneth Hagin about this issue. He explained that many servants rise to great levels of anointings, but they cannot remain there because people would begin to over exalt them and worship them after a period of time. This is why the Lord does not allow most ministers to stay at these great levels of anointing during the life of their ministries. 95]

95] Billye Brim, interviewed by Gloria Copeland, Believer's Voice of Victory (Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Fort Worth, Texas), on Trinity Broadcasting Network (Santa Ana, California), television program.

I believe this thorn is figurative of his life of unusual hardships, such as imprisonment, beatings, ship wrecks, etc. ( 2 Corinthians 12:7). For example, if a minister of the Gospel visited a church and testified of a marvelous heavenly vision of such magnitude as Paul experiences, then the congregation would naturally accept this vision as a testimony of a calling in this minister's life. Or, if another minister came to this church and testified of his glorious opportunities to preach the Gospel in other nations, while being imprisoned, beaten, tortured, wearied from travels, all the while God miraculously delivering him from such dangers, then such amazing stories would equally serve as a testimony of this man's calling. If a man came to this church with an illness and testified how he served the Lord despite this illness, then we would respect this man's determination, while comparing his illness to those in the congregation; but, we would not take that illness as a sign of a divine calling. Thus, I believe Paul's thorn in the flesh was most likely referring to an unusual hardship matched with miraculous deliverances in each difficult situation he faced because of it. It is my suggestion that this particular hardship was not a lifetime of persecutions and hardship, but a particularly difficult issue, such as Alexander the coppersmith might present. He had been delivered from all other perils and dangers. He could not get rid of such a person who targeted Paul for a long period of his ministry. The fact that Paul writes this Epistle from Ephesus strengthens this view. Just as the testimony of his revelation was a particular event, so should his thorn in the flesh refer to a particular issue, rather than a lifetime of persecutions.

Now, Paul had asked God to deliver him from having to go through hardships on a number of occasions, but he found himself coming under another attack from the enemy before long ( 2 Corinthians 12:8). Each time God brought him through miraculously; from beatings, he walked away ( Acts 14:19), from imprisonment ( Acts 16:25-27), from ship wreck ( Acts 27-28), and from many other events not recorded in the New Testament. We would then see an example of God's law of grace at work in his life, which Paul describes as "God's grace is sufficient for us: for His strength is made perfect in our weakness," ( 2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, God will strengthen His servants to the degree that the world afflicts us. He will always measure His amount of outpoured grace by our degree of affliction from the world, which lies under the rule of the demonic realm. Therefore, we are destined to overcome each situation until the time it is God's will that some of His servants lay down their lives for Him, as Paul eventually did ( 2 Corinthians 12:10).

Finally, we can look back on Paul's opening statement in 2 Corinthians 12:1, "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord." In other words, Paul knows that the Law of Grace will take him to even great heights of glory in this life, if he is willing to pay the price of sacrifice and enduring sufferings for the Kingdom's sake. He will experience more visions and revelations from the Lord. He must keep himself walking in humility in the midst of these periods of exaltation, knowing that there will be additional times of humility by the afflictions of men caused by the demonic realm. For example, we see John the apostle taken to visions and revelation while suffering exile on the isle of Patmos. We see Paul later in Roman imprisonment, but writing four great Prison Epistles that were divinely inspired from the throne of God. Thus, our willingness to suffer for Christ gives us access to God's grace, which is an open door to experiences in the divine realm of encounters with God.

Avoiding Extreme Views of Paul's Thorn in the Flesh - In 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 Paul boasts by describing the infirmities that accompanied his life of divine revelations. In trying to understand what Paul's infirmities were, it is important to note that there are two interpretations of these infirmities that find themselves extreme on both sides of the road. Some scholars teach that Paul was referring in this passage to a physical sickness in his body when he used the word "infirmities" ( 2 Corinthians 12:5) and "a thorn in the flesh" ( 2 Corinthians 12:7). However, the term for physical sickness is never found throughout this entire Epistle; rather, emphasis is made throughout to the sacrifices and persecutions that Paul endured for Christ's sake. Therefore, the context of this Epistle suggests that Paul's thorn in the flesh was not a physical ailment, but rather the multitude of sacrifices and persecutions that he endured throughout his ministry. This is why he could describe them as "infirmities" in 2 Corinthians 12:5. We see Paul referring to his willingness to suffering such trials in his opening passage. In 2 Corinthians 1:6 he says, "And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation…" In other words, Paul had learned by experience that God would use these events to bring blessings to the body of Christ. Thus, he was willing to endure them.

A second group of scholars who believe in divine healing for today interpret this passage to say that Paul had a thorn in the flesh because of his lack of faith, and once he understood the Lord's reply to him, he took authority over this area of his life and got rid of the thorn. This teaching falls into the ditch on the other side of the road. It overlooks the sufferings that many children of God must endure in order to take the Gospel to all nations. We must be careful to keep a balanced view of Scriptures, not falling into the ditch on either side with extreme teachings which do not fit within the context of the Scriptures.

If we look at the context of the lengthy passage on Paul's boastings ( 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:13) it becomes clear that he is discussing his hardships as part of his qualifications as a true apostle of Christ Jesus. His mental maturity as an apostle of Jesus Christ is demonstrated by him choosing to deny himself the privilege of taking wages from them, but rather, robbed other churches ( 2 Corinthians 11:1-15). In his physical qualifications as an apostle of Jesus Christ he boasted in his Jewish ancestry, yet his maturity is seen in the physical realm when he endured persecutions and hardships ( 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). In his spiritual maturity of receiving an abundance of divine revelations he suffered the thorn in the flesh, which from a spiritual perspective is understood to be messengers of Satan to buffet him ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-3). Thus, Paul boasts in an area that his adversaries had not boasted, which was in the hardships and persecutions that accompany a true apostle of Christ. Thus, this suffering may have involved sickness or lack on occasions, but the emphasis of these chapters are on his suffering that resulted from persecutions and hardships that he chose in order to fulfill his ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. For example, Paul received persecution during most of his ministry from Judaizers. They followed him from city to city. Note:

Acts 9:23, "And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:"

Acts 13:50, "But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts."

Acts 14:19, "And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead."

Acts 17:13, "But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people."

Acts 24:17-18, "Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult."

Paul also suffered at the hands of the Greeks and Romans as well. He describes many of his sufferings when writing his second epistle to the Corinthians. He describes this "thorn in the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 1:8 by saying, "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:" Thus, the entire epistle of 2Corinthians discusses Paul's sufferings, which he sums up figuratively in 2 Corinthians 12:7 as "a thorn in the flesh". In this epistle, there is no mention of Paul suffering from sickness in his body, but rather he suffered persecutions from without. Song of Solomon , although we cannot entirely exclude sickness as a part of these sufferings, for many missionaries have experienced such attacks from the enemy, but his "thorn in the flesh" was a figurative phrase to refer to the hardships of an apostle of Jesus Christ as he chose to "fulfill the sufferings of Christ", a phrase he opens this very epistle with in 2 Corinthians 1:5, and which he uses later when he writes to the Colossians.

2 Corinthians 1:5, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."

Colossians 1:24, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body"s sake, which is the church:

In light of Christ's sufferings, which were a pattern that Paul walked in, we know that Jesus never suffered sickness nor disease in His physical body, although he body grew tired and weary and needed rest; yet, He endured much sufferings and persecutions at the hands of wicked men.

Interpreting Paul's Thorn in the Flesh: A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, December 2006 - In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul uses the metaphorical statement, "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me," as a way to describe his suffering while serving the Lord. Scholars and laymen alike throughout the centuries have held many different interpretations regarding this statement in an attempt to understand the suffering of the Christian life. J. B. Lightfoot 96] and Plummer suggest that the reason for so many differences of opinion regarding this phrase is because people in each era of church history have tended to adapt their interpretation of this passage to their particular circumstances. 97] For example, Plummer notes how many Church fathers who were being persecuted by the Roman emperors adopted the view that Paul's thorn referred to his adversaries who persecuted him. The later Catholic fathers, who practiced asceticism and celibacy, felt that Paul was suffering from sexual temptations of the flesh. Philip Hughes calls this type of interpretative analysis of the Scriptures an instinctive tendency that is justifiable regarding this particular passage. 98] Two of the more popular views held today suggest that Paul's thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment that afflicted the Apostle during the course of his ministry to the Gentile churches, or that it refers to his adversaries who inflicted undue hardships and persecutions upon him. Did Paul the Apostle purposely keep this a secret, or did he intend on revealing it to his readers? Perhaps it was something that the Corinthians, to whom he wrote, understood enough not to need mentioning, or maybe there is biblical evidence within this passage of Scripture that helps us identify this thorn in the flesh. This paper seeks to evaluate the weight of evidence for these two popular views today and to show that the testimony of one of these views outweighs the other. Significantly, by evaluating the underlying message of 2Corinthians, which emphasizes the necessary hardships that Paul endured as an apostle of Jesus Christ in order to comfort other believers with the comfort, or divine grace, which he received, one sees how the interpretation of persecutions lines up more accurately with the context of his statement about his thorn. With such an interpretation, we can better understand the hardships that many of us endure as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ and learn to look to God's grace to bear them as Paul chose to do.

96] J. B. Lightfoot says, "Diverse answers have been given to this question, shaped in many instances by the circumstances of the interpreters themselves, who saw in the Apostle"s temptation a more or less perfect reflexion of the trials which beset their own lives." See J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (London: MacMillan and Co, 1910), 186.

97] Alfred Plummer says, "In each case men supposed that St Paul's special affliction was akin to what was a special trouble to themselves." See Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, 1915, last impression 1985), 350.

98] P. E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1962), 442.

History- The debate as to the identity of Paul's thorn in the flesh is not new. In fact, we find an interesting historical summary of the Church's views regarding Paul's thorn in the flesh in the comments of scholars such as Hughes and Plummer.

Early Church Fathers. The earliest reference we have of scholarly speculation on Paul's thorn in the flesh comes from Tertullian (A.D 160 to 225), who suggests that it was an earache or a headache. 99] This view was later mentioned by John Chrysostom, Pelagius, Primasius and Jerome. 100] John Chrysostom does not accept the idea of a physical ailment. Hebrews , instead, interprets the word "Satan" in the general Hebrew sense as an "adversary," and suggests that this adversarial messenger was actually Alexander the coppersmith, the party of Hymeneus and Philetas, and all others who contended with Paul and persecuted him for the Gospel's sake. 101] This suggestion of Paul's thorn referring persecutions had the support of Augustine, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, Photius, and Theophylact. However, Augustine's frequent references to this phrase allows for the broadest interpretation possible of the thorn as meaning any demonic affliction, whether persecutions or physical illness, that Isaiah , it refers to any difficulties imposed upon mortal men. When he does refer to Paul's thorn, he always does so with a literal interpretation of the phrase "the messengers of Satan" meaning actual demonic spirits to buffet Paul's body. 102] Jerome seemed to follow this broader definition also. In his defensive argument that the thorn was an illness, Plummer notes how Jerome refers to Paul's thorn within the context of a physical illness 103] (see Letters of St. Jerome 392). 104] We can read where Jerome as well uses Paul's words in this passage of Scripture within the context of persecutions for righteousness sake (see Letters of St. Jerome 10818). 105] Plummer makes an overall observation about this early period of Church history by saying that various Greek fathers and one or two Latin fathers supported the idea of persecutions 106]. We must recognize the fact that different views existed then as they do today. Plummer believes that this popular view in the early Church of persecutions was fostered by the intense persecutions that came upon it during its early years. 107]

99] Tertullian, De Pudicitia 1317.

100] P. E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1962), 443.

101] John Chrysostom, Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Homily 25 on 2Corinthians (NPF 1 12).

102] A study of the writings of St. Augustine reveals his frequent use of Paul's thorn in the flesh to explain various aspects of the hardships that are imposed upon men of God in this mortal life. He clearly equates it to persecutions at times and illness at other times. See Letters of St. Augustine (letter 932, letter 1301425-26), Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 2220, The Seven Books of Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, on Baptism, Against the Donatist 47, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 318, A Treatise On Nature and Grace, Against Pelagius, Addressed to Timasius and Jacobus 31, A Treatise on the Grace of Christ and On Original Sin, 1, A Treatise On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and On the Baptism of Infants 224, A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin 413, A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter 66, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament 267, Lectures on the Gospel According to St. John 7134-5112,621326-311, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John 6:6-7, On the Psalm 5455,59423and 90110,9875)

103] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, 1915, last impression 1985), 351.

104] Jerome writes, "Am I sick? In this case, too, I praise God's will. For ‘when I am weak, then am I strong;' and the strength of the spirit is made perfect in the weakness of the flesh. Even an apostle must bear what he dislikes, that ailment for the removal of which he besought the Lord thrice." (The Letters of St. Jerome 392) (NPF 2 6)

105] Jerome writes within the context of persecutions, "In her frequent sicknesses and infirmities she used to say, ‘when I am weak, then am I strong…'" (The Letters of St. Jerome 10818) (NPF 2 6)

106] Ibid, 350.

107] Ibid, 350.

Middle Ages. As the Greek language diminished in the West the Latin Vulgate became the leading text of scholars. Although Jerome held to the view that Paul's thorn included bodily pain, his Latin translation of this phrase into stimulus carnis opened the door for a new interpretation. 108] Thus, a view that became popular during the medieval period and was continued by Roman Catholic writers was to say that Paul was afflicted with impure, spiritual temptations of the flesh. Arthur Custance goes so far as to say, "This opinion seems to have been reflected in the writings of Jerome, of Augustine, Gregory the Great, and it was repeated by Bede, Aquinas, Bellarime, and others, and it has become almost a stereotyped element in Roman Catholic exegesis." 109] Plummer believes that the cause of this popular medieval view was again the environment of the Church during this period of history, with the popular practice of monasticism accentuated the danger of fleshly desires. 110]

108] The Clementine Vulgate reads, "Et ne magnitudo revelationum extollat me, datus est mihi stimulus carnis me angelus Satan, qui me colaphizet." (VgClem 2 Corinthians 12:7)

109] Arthur Custance, Man In Adam and In Christ, The Doorway Papers, vol 3. [on-line]; accessed 26 August 2006; available from http://custance.org/old/man/5ch 3.html; Internet.

110] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 350.

The Reformation Years. During the years of the Reformation we see scholars such as Luther, Calvin and others strongly objecting to the Roman Catholic view that Paul was tempted by lust. Luther discarded this idea, suggesting that the Vulgate's rendering "spur (or goad) of the flesh" (stimulus carnis) may have given rise to this tradition. 111] Luther, in his comments on Galatians 4:13, interprets the thorn in the flesh to be the various temptations and persecutions to which the Apostle was regularly subjected to. Calvin also held this view of outward persecution. Calvin writes, "Those act a ridiculous part, who think that Paul was tempted to lust," and he took the broad view of Augustine that Paul's thorn in the flesh "comprehended every kind of temptation, with which Paul was exercised." 112] He argues that nothing confirms our acceptance by God more than a divine encounter, and nothing works against the ego more than rejection and persecutions by men.

111] Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 443.

112] John Calvin, "The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol 2 ," in Calvin"s Commentaries, trans. J. P. Elgin. The Calvin Translation Society ed. [on-line]. Accessed 23September 2006. Available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom 40.html; Internet.

Post-Reformation and Modern. There have arisen new interpretations of Paul's thorn in the flesh since the Reformation. One view suggests that Paul suffered spiritual trials, such as temptations towards unbelief or despair. 113] Others say that it could have been emotional stress of being rejected by his Jewish nation. The most widely accepted view in modern times is to identify Paul's thorn as some kind of physical ailment, which was first mentioned by Tertullian. As a result, modern commentators give much attention to various aspects of this argument by speculating on what type of infirmity actually troubled Paul. However, with the expansion of mass media today's scholarship is not limited to the commentaries and pulpit. Many modern Charismatic teachers, such as Kenneth Copeland, Andrew Wommack, Charles Capps and others 114], use television, radio and the internet to proclaim the Pentecostal message that strongly objects to the view of Paul's thorn being an illness, and argue for the interpretation of physical persecutions. This message has captured a wide scope of listeners because of its broad coverage. F. F. Bosworth's classic Christ the Healer reflects the theology behind these arguments by explaining how illness is not a normal part of the Christian life, but rather, an abnormal ingredient that believes walk in through lack of faith and holiness. With these contending views it is no wonder why Christians find themselves pulled in many different directions by their conservative biblical scholars.

113] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 350.

114] Kenneth Copeland, "What About Paul's Thorn in the Flesh?" [on-line]; accessed 26 August 2006; available from http://www.kcm.org/studycenter/articles/health_healing/thorn.php; Internet, and Andrew Wommack, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh" [on-line]; accessed 26 August 2006; available from http:// www.awmi.net/extra/article/pauls_thorn; Internet, and Charles Capps, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh" [on-line]; accessed 23September 2006; available from http://charlescapps.com/cc_thorn_inthe_flesh 04.html; Internet.

Literary Context- Before presenting these two leading interpretations regarding Paul's thorn in the flesh, it would be helpful to first look at the context of the passage in which Paul mentions his thorn. Harris tells us that the epistle of 2Corinthians falls into three clearly discernible sections: (1) chapters 1to 7, which contain Paul"s explanation of his conduct and apostolic ministry, are primarily apologetic; (2) chapters 8,9, which deal with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, are hortatory; and (3) chapters 10 to 13, which form Paul"s vindication of his apostolic authority, are polemical. 115] Most, if not all, scholars will agree that this third division consisting of chapters 10 to 13, in which we find the phrase "thorn in the flesh," are an uninterrupted, four-chapter vindication of Paul"s apostleship. In this section, the Apostle attempts to defend his office and authority over the church at Corinth against his opponents who have claimed their authority over this same congregation. It is for this reason that these chapters contain probably the most emotional passage delivered by Paul in any of his epistles. Russell notes that the decision as to whether 2Corinthians is a unified composition or a collection of letters ( 2 Corinthians 1-9; 2 Corinthians 10-13; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1) has no bearing on the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, the passage in which Paul makes his statement about the thorn. It is within this polemical context that Paul's boast of a thorn in the flesh is used to give credibility to his claim as a genuine apostle of Jesus Christ.

115] Murray Harris, 2Corinthians, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelien, J. D. Douglas, Dick Polcyn, in Zondervan Reference Software, v 28 [CD_ROM] (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corp, 1989-2001), introduction, section 9 on structure.

A brief summary of Paul's vindication of his apostleship in 2Corinthians will show more particularly when and why Paul makes the statement about his thorn in the flesh. In chapter 10, the Apostle responds to charges that he was a coward who walked in carnality and weakness. In this passage Paul assured the Corinthians that he can be very bold, powerful, and quick to exercise his apostolic authority, if necessary, against such opponents. In chapters 11,12, Paul begins to boast "foolishly," as he describes it, concerning his apostleship. Russell refers to 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:13 as the "fool's speech" because it is characterized by the words "fool, foolish, foolishness" ( 2 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:16-17; 2 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 11:21; 2 Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 12:11). 116] In his boasting Paul wants the Corinthians to see that the office of a true apostle of Jesus Christ has a number of infallible proofs that cannot be matched by his opponents. Paul lays down three testimonies that prove his apostleship over the Corinthians: (1) he had preached the gospel to them without charge ( 2 Corinthians 11:1-15), (2) he describes the extraordinary amount of suffering and persecutions he endured for the Gospel's sake ( 2 Corinthians 11:16-33), and (3) he notes the abundance of Revelation , signs, and miracles in his ministry ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). After a final plea for his vindication ( 2 Corinthians 12:11-13), Paul finishes the epistle by discussing issues regarding his forthcoming visit and warning the readers that he will deal with any sins in the church when he arrives ( 2 Corinthians 12:20 to 2 Corinthians 13:10).

116] Ronald Russell, "Redemptive Suffering and Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," JETG39 (Dec 1996): 559-570; accessed 21August 2006; available from http://www.firstsearch.oclc.org/WebZ Internet.

The thrust of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where Paul refers to his thorn in the flesh, is that Paul's spiritual strength, or anointing, comes through his realization of his physical weaknesses and his willingness to yield to God's will in his life. 117] In the preceding section ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-6) Paul humbly uses the third person in order to avoid being exalted by others as he refers to an extraordinary vision which serves as one testimony of his divine calling as an apostle of Christ. Paul's humbling description of his thorn in the flesh naturally follows a reference to his vision as he explains how God keeps him humble in the midst of these experiences so that divine grace and power can continue to work in Paul's life and ministry. We read in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 :

117] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary, vol 40 (Waco: Word Books, 1986), 390; H. J. Bernard, 2 Corinthians , in The Expositor's Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1897), 111.

"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the Revelation , 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."

The Argument- Plummer notes three questions concerning the phrase σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί. One question deals with the proper translation of the word σκόλοψ. Another question concerns the force of the dative τῇ σαρκί. Finally, there is the question of interpreting the meaning of the thorn in the flesh. 118]

118] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 348-349.

Translating σκόλοψ. The New Testament Greek word σκόλοψ has been translated into at least three words by modern English versions: "stake," "thorn," and "cross." The translation for σκόλοψ in Classical Greek is commonly "stake." 119] The term "stake" refers to a instrument used for torture or execution in ancient times and would suggest an impaling that brought about intense suffering. 120] Martin says that such stakes were used in ancient military battles as well as being used to torture one's enemy by impaling them, causing them to die slowly. 121] Stanley adopts this translation of σκόλοψ based upon Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ." 122] Others adopt this translation based on the argument that such a continual acute and intense pain implies that Paul was helplessly controlled by his problem. For example, Hughes believes that Paul is describing himself in 2 Corinthians 12:7 as transfixed, painfully held down and humiliated in order to prevent him from being exalted. 123] A second possible translation of σκόλοψ would be "thorn" or "splinter." Many scholars believe that the four uses of σκόλοψ in the LXX ( Numbers 33:55, Ezekiel 28:24, Hosea 2:8, Sirach 43:19) are best rendered "thorn" or "splinter." Some argue that the translation "thorn" would be more appropriate in 2 Corinthians 12:7 because it describes something that was distressing for Paul's flesh, but able to be tolerated over a period of time. Martin notes that this translation would better support the idea that the Apostle had accepted this problem so that the power of God could continually rest upon him. 124] Bernard adds that it also suggests that Paul's problem was more similar to a troublesome irritation of a thorn rather than agonizing and fatal torture by impalement on a cross. 125] Harris suggests that the LXX usage should be regarded as regulative in the translation of 2 Corinthians 12:7. 126] A third possible translation for σκόλοψ is to apply the figurative meaning of a "cross." This is based upon the fact that the idea of impalement was made equivalent to the cross of Christ by some of the early Church fathers. 127] However, this word would be inappropriate in the case of 2 Corinthians 12:7 because this translation was not applied to σκόλοψ until the time of Origen, which was almost two hundred years after Paul wrote his epistles. 128] Harris notes that most commentators prefer the word "thorn" in 2 Corinthians 12:7, although a few opt for "stake" or "splinter." 129]

119] Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 854.

120] C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Harper"s New Testament Commentaries, 1st ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 315.

121] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7; David M. Park, "Paul's σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί: Thorn or Stake? (2Cor. XII 7)," Novum Testamentum 22 (1980)L 180-81; [on-line]; accessed 18 September 2006; available from http://www.firstsearch.oclc.org/WebZ Internet.

122] H. J. Bernard, II Corinthians, in The Expositor's Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1897), 110.

123] Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 446.

124] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

125] Bernard, II Corinthians, 111.

126] Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 854.

127] For example, Origen writes, "…while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross [ σκόλοψ], when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness?" (Against Celsus 255) (PG 11, Colossians 884B)

128] Park, "Paul's σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί: Thorn or Stake?," 180.

129] Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 854.

The Force of the Dative τῇ σαρκί. A second question that Plummer tells us must be addressed regarding Paul's thorn in the flesh is the phrase τῇ σαρκί. According to Robertson, it can be translated either "in the flesh" (locative case) or "for the flesh" (dative of advantage). 130] Martin describes the two possible cases as a locative dative or dative of disadvantage. 131] Martin, Bruce, Barrett, and most translators support the locative case, understanding the word σαρκί v to be a reference to the physical body, and render the phrase "in the flesh." Park tells us that the word σαρκί is generally understood in the New Testament in its literal sense to mean Paul's physical body and, thus, tells us the sphere in which this affliction resides. 132] However, the dative of (dis)advantage is possible if σαρκί is intended to refer to the corrupt human nature, or "the part of the soul which is not regenerate," as Calvin says. 133] Thus, the translation in 2 Corinthians 12:7 could be rendered "for (the inconvenience of) the flesh," and would view Paul's thorn in the flesh as God's method of helping him to curb evil desires and prevent the "lower nature" from becoming aggressive. 134] Plummer agrees with this alternate view and supports the translation "for the flesh" as a reference to man's lower nature. Plummer and McCant argue that the writer would have used ἐν with the phrase if the locative "in the flesh" was intended. 135] Harris explains that as with the word σκόλοψ, scholarship has been divided over this phrase through the years, although the most common rendering has been "in the flesh," which may be the safest to follow. 136]

130] A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934), 538.

131] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

132] Park, "Paul's σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί: Thorn or Stake?", 179.

133] F. F. Bruce, I & II Corinthians, in The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 248; John Calvin, "The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol 2," in Calvin"s Commentaries, trans. J. P. Elgin; The Calvin Translation Society ed. [on-line]; accessed 23September 2006; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom 40.html; Internet.

134] Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 854.

135] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 348; Jerry McCant, "Paul's Thorn of Rejected Apostleship," New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 564.

136] Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 854.

The Meaning of "Thorn in the Flesh". By far the biggest debate takes place over the meaning of the phrase σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί. The two most popular views in modern times are to interpret Paul's "thorn in the flesh" as a physical ailment or as persecutions that Paul's opponents inflicted upon him during his ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Two additional views are often mentioned by commentators, which are the suggestion that Paul suffered spiritual temptation towards immorality, or that he suffered from severe emotional stress for a number of reasons. However, these two views share far less popularity among scholars today than the idea of an illness or persecutions.

Spiritual Torment- The idea that Paul suffered from spiritual torment first came to light in the Middle Ages, during a period when monasticism and celibacy held strong traditions within the Roman Catholic church. Its scholars suggested the thorn to be the torment of sexual temptations that Paul suffered with. A somewhat more modified and rather recent version of this view defines Paul's thorn more generally as spiritual weakness towards the temptation to sin. However, Plummer finds evidence to contradict the view that Apostle struggled with such impure temptations by referring to Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, in which he received grace from God for his life of celibacy. 137] Russell adds 1 Corinthians 9:27 in support of this divine grace that allowed Paul to keep his body in subjection to a celibate life. 138] Plummer mentions a second objection to this view by saying that Paul would certainly not have been told by God to cease to pray against such evil desires. 139]

137] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 350.

138] Russell, "Redemptive Suffering and Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," 566.

139] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 350.

Emotional Stress and Anxiety- Another relatively recent view of what Paul's thorn may have been can be described as emotional stress and anxiety. P. H. Menoud suggests that Paul's thorn in the flesh was not physical at all, but rather, the great sorrow and pain that he carried because of the unbelief of his fellow Jewish countrymen ( Romans 9:1-3). 140] He defends his argument by saying that sickness never disrupts his plans as he busies himself with missionary activity and unceasing journeys, that Paul viewed illness as punishment from God upon unworthy believers ( 1 Corinthians 11:30), and that since all missionaries are exposed to perils and persecutions, Paul alone carried the added weigh of rejection by his own countrymen. One objection to Menoud's view says it requires a very specialized interpretation of Romans 9:1-3. Plummer suggests that this view does not fit well at all with Paul's infirmity in the flesh referred to in Galatians 4:13-14. Nowhere in his writings does he hint at such emotional problems. Plummer believes that Paul would certainly not have been told by God to cease to pray against such stress and unbelief.

140] Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 446.

Physical Ailment- Perhaps the more popular of the two views held by scholars today is to interpret Paul's thorn in the flesh as a physical ailment. We find the earliest reference to Paul's thorn in the flesh in the writings of Tertullian (A.D 160 to 225), who says that it was being interpreted in his day as an earache or a headache. 141] Its frequent recognition in modern times has caused a number of modern English translators to simply assume that it is the only reputable interpretation: "a bitter physical affliction" (Goodspeed), 142] "a sharp physical pain" (NEB), "a painful physical ailment" (GNB). 143] A number of dictionaries and word studies have also adopted this view. For example, Thayer paraphrases these words in 2 Corinthians 12:7 to read "a grievous bodily malady sent by Satan." 144] BDAG defines Paul's σκόλοψ as an allusion to his illness and his buffeting to mean "painful attacks of an illness, described as a physical beating by a messenger of Satan." 145] Robertson interprets σκόλοψ as "some physical malady." 146]

141] Tertullian writes, "Which (elation of soul) was being restrained in the apostle by ‘buffets', if you will, by means [as they say] of pain in the ear or head?" De Pudicitia 1317. (See also Against Marcion 512) Thus, Tertullian is not necessarily agreeing with this view, but rather noting how this phrase was being interpreted during his day.

142] Edgar J. Goodspeed, The New Testament: An American Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1923), 351.

143] Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 854.

144] Joseph H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981), s.v. " ἄγγελος."

145] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, ed. and trans. William F. Arndt, F. Wilber Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker [BDAG], 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. " σκόλοψ" and " κολαφίζ ω."

146] A. T. Robertson, in Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931) in P.C. Study Bible, v 31 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc, 1993-2000), s.v. " 1 Corinthians 12:7."

The strongest single argument in supporting the view that Paul's thorn is a malady lies in the attempt to associate this proposed sickness in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 with the one mentioned in Galatians 4:13-15, in which Paul tells the Galatians how "through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel. .. and my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not." Many scholars believe that both passages describe the same physical ailment. J. B. Lightfoot says, "These passages so closely resemble each other that it is not unnatural to suppose the allusion to be the same in both." 147] He then builds a case for his argument by suggesting other allusions in the New Testament to this illness, saying that Paul's statement of Satan hindering him is a likely reference to his malady ( 1 Thessalonians 2:18), as well as the description of his bodily presence being weak and his speech contemptible ( 2 Corinthians 10:10). Lightfoot and Furnish offer a second argument for the view of an illness by evaluating the context of the passage in which Paul mentions his thorn. They argue that a careful analysis of the passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 reveals that Paul was describing his physical pain as acute, that his malady was humiliating and could not be concealed from others, that it served as a great trial of his resolve and consistency to preach the Gospel, and that it was recurring. A third argument is mentioned by Bruce, who uses the example of Job to show that God allows illness to come upon His servants. 148] He refers to the phrase "a messenger of Satan" ( 2 Corinthians 12:7) as a description of how Satan's agent was used in afflicting sickness in a Christian's body for his spiritual good, as was the case with Job. Furnish offers a fourth argument by referring to the widespread ancient belief that illness was caused by demons, and especially Satan. 149] Furnish gives us a fifth argument which is proposed by Betz, who states that there is a general, formal similarity between the accounts in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and Hellenistic stories of miraculous cures. 150]

147] J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (London: MacMillan and Co, 1910), 186.

148] Bruce, I & II Corinthians, 248.

149] Victor Furnish, II Corinthians, in The Anchor Bible, vol 32A (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co, 1984), 549.

150] Ibid.

Because this view of an infirmity is one of the most popular views among scholars today, much speculation has been offered to identify the particular illness that afflicted Paul. Plummer describes it as an acute malady that hindered the work of the Apostle and was sent by God to keep him from spiritual pride. Thus, he believes that some possible diseases which fit the descriptions in Galatians 4:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 12:7 are epilepsy, acute ophthalmia, malarial fever, and some form of hysteria. 151] F. F. Bruce also gives a list of views that best fit what we know of Paul's life and ministry: a pain in the ear (Tertullian), epilepsy (M. Krenkel, J. Klausner), convulsive attacks (M. Dibelius), ophthalmia (J. T. Brown, in Horae Subsecivae 1858]), malaria (W. M. Ramsay, e. B. Allo), as well as attacks of depression after periods of exaltation (H. Clavier). 152] He concludes that the variety of suggestions shows that certainty is unattainable, though some are more probable than others. Barrett cautions that these ailments are guesses and nothing more. 153] Nevertheless, it is worth noting some of these views because of its emphasis in this paper.

151] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 352.

152] Bruce, I & II Corinthians, 248.

153] Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 315.

Barrett tells us that an impediment of speech allows for the fact that Paul made a very bad impression to the Galatians ( Galatians 4:13 f). 154] He says that this particular illness also explains why he was judged by the Corinthians as being poor in presence and in speech, though impressive in letters ( 2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Corinthians 10:9-11; 2 Corinthians 11:6). In objection to this possible disease, Barrett says that an argument can be made that in Acts 14:12, Luke describes Paul as the "chief speaker," which weakens the suggestion that Paul's thorn was a speech impediment. However, he explains how this thorn in the flesh may have been given to Paul on a specific occasion after his visit to Lystra where he played the role of chief speaker.

154] Ibid, 315.

Another theory favored by J. B. Lightfoot is that Paul suffered from some form of epilepsy as other famous men of history did, such as Julius Caesar, the first Napoleon, Mohammad, King Alfred, and Peter the Great. His reason is that the description of Paul's malady closely parallels that of King Alfred. 155] One objection against the view of epilepsy suggests that this particular disease produces mental deterioration, and no one can deny Paul's mental acuteness during the later part of his life. As Denny wisely notes, after fourteen years his mental faculties would not have been the same as in the beginning. 156] Another objection suggests that such epileptic attacks are not acutely painful, as Paul's thorn in the flesh seems to imply. 157]

155] J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (London: MacMillan and Co, 1910), 191.

156] James Denny, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The Expositor's Bible, ed. William R. Nicoll and Oscar L. Joseph, in Ages Digital Library, v 10 [CD-ROM] (Rio, WI: Ages Software, Inc, 2001), chapter 26.

157] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 351.

William Ramsay argues at length that Paul suffered from a form of recurrent malarial fever known in the Eastern Mediterranean as Malta fever. He bases his argument upon the belief that the symptoms of this particular ailment fit all of the New Testament descriptions of Paul's infirmities. He explains how "malarial fever tends to recur in very distressing and prostrating paroxysms, whenever one"s energies are taxed for a great effort." 158] He explains how it leaves the person incapacitated, weak, and helplessly shaking, and how such attacks cause the person to loathe himself.

158] William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, in Online Bible Edition, v 20 [CD-ROM] (Dordrecht, Nederland: Online Bible Foundation, 1992-2005), 52 [the thorn in the flesh].

Perhaps the strongest and most popular argument to identify a particular ailment that Paul may have suffered with is the suggestion that he had a disease of the eyes called ophthalmia. In defense of this view scholars note where Paul, having just mentioned his infirmity of the flesh ( Galatians 4:13), tells the Galatians that they would have plucked out their eyes for him. Another supporting argument commonly made by scholars notes that in Paul's closing statement to the Galatians , he wrote in large letters, which suggests poor eyesight ( Galatians 6:11). Supporters of this view also note how in Acts 23:5 Paul failed to recognize the high priest, and in Acts 9:9; Acts 9:18, scales formed over Paul's eyes on the Damascus Road and lasted for three days, which could have been caused by an eye disease called ophthalmia, in which secretions are formed in the eyes. Custance goes to lengthy detail to support his view that Luke the physician was summoned to Paul's side the three times that this eye disease became overbearing. 159] Thus, we can understand why this is the most popular view, since its arguments appear to have a stronger basis than the others. In objection to this view of an eye disease, Hughes suggests that Paul was speaking metaphorically in Galatians 4:15, meaning that the Galatians would have done anything for him at that time. 160] He believes that the phrase "if possible" in 2 Corinthians 4:15 lends itself to such an interpretation. Wommack and others also object by suggesting that the comment in Galatians 6:11 was a reference to the length of the epistle, rather than to the size of the letters written on the page. 161] Scholars give a final objection that if Paul indeed suffered from this disfiguring disease of his face, why would not some reference be made to this problem in the ancient writings that give us a few, brief physical descriptions of Paul the apostle. 162]

159] Arthur Custance, "Man In Adam and In Christ," The Doorway Papers, vol 3. [on-line]; accessed 26 August 2006; available from http://www.custance.org/
Library/Volume 3/Part_V/chapter 3.html; Internet.

160] Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 444.

161] Andrew Wommack, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh" [on-line]: accessed 26 August 2006; available from http://www.awmi.net/extra/article/pauls_thorn; Internet.

162] We do find a physical description of Paul the apostle in several ancient sources. Philip Schaff tells us the oldest extant picture of Paul is found on "a large bronze medallion" unearthed in the cemetery of Domitilla, a member of the Flavian family, and dated back to the late first century or early second century. He says this artifact portrays Paul "with apparently diseased eyes, open mouth, bald head and short thick beard, but thoughtful, solemn, and dignified." See Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), 295. The ancient New Testament apocryphal writing called The Acts of Paul and Thecla also gives us a description of Paul's appearance, "And he saw Paul coming, a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace. For sometimes he seemed like a Prayer of Manasseh , and sometimes he had the countenance of an angel." (The Acts of Paul and Thecla, paragraph 2) (ANF 8) A spurious document of the fourth century entitled the Philopatris and once ascribed to Lucian, describes Paul as "the bald-headed, hooked-nosed Galilaean who trod the air into the third heaven, and learnt the most beautiful things." (Philopatris 12) John Malala of Antioch (late 6th c.) describes the apostle, saying, "Paul was in person round-shouldered with a sprinkling of grey on his head and beard, with an aquiline nose, greyish eyes, meeting eyebrows, with a mixture of pale and red in his complexion, and an ample beard. With a genial expression of countenance, he was sensible, earnest, easily accessible, sweet, and inspired with the Holy Spirit." (Farrar) (Chronographia 10) (PG 97 Colossians 389) We have a similar description from Nicephorus of the fifteenth century, saying, "Paul was short, and dwarfish in stature, and, as it were, crooked in person and slightly bent. His face was pale, his aspect winning. He was bald-headed, and his eyes were bright. His nose was prominent and aquiline, his beard thick and tolerably long, and both this and his head were sprinkled with white hairs." (Farrar) (Historia Ecclesiastica 237) (PG 145 Colossians 853C-D) See F. W. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1879), 628.

In opposition to the popular view that Paul's thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment, Mullins and McCant use the Greek text to argue that there is a difference between the descriptions of the illness of Galatians 4:13-15 and that mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7. They list a number of dissimilarities between the phrases σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί ( 2 Corinthians 12:7) and ἀσθένειαν τῆς σαρκὸς.. . ἐν τῇ σαρκί ( Galatians 4:13-14). McCant points out these dissimilarities by saying that (1) the passage in Galatians has ἐν and the personal possessive pronoun μου, while 2Corinthians has neither; (2) in Galatians the problem is temporary, while in 2Corinthians the present subjunctives point to a chronic condition; (3) in Galatians his infirmity opens the way for him to preach, while in 2Corinthians it is understood as a hindrance; (4) in 2Corinthians Paul's thorn is related to his rapture to paradise, while in Galatians it is not; (5) the only similarity of the two passages is in their use of the word σάρξ, but the word is used in different syntactical cases. 163] Wommack adds the objection that the temporal phrase "at the first" ( Galatians 4:13) suggests that Paul's later ministry to the Galatians did not involve an infirmity of the flesh as when he first preached to them. 164] Mullins calls the association between 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and Galatians 4:13-15 quite improper unless one has demonstrated that these two passages do in fact refer to the same thing, and there is no such proof. 165]

163] McCant, "Paul's Thorn of Rejected Apostleship," 564.

164] Wommack, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh."

165] Terence Y. Mullins, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh." Journal of Biblical Literature 76 (1957): 300-1.

A second argument against the view that Paul suffered from an illness is based upon the appositional phrase "a messenger of Satan to buffet me." Mullins argues that this verb always refers to a personal entity in Paul's writings and never to an object. 166] Barrett offers a third argument by saying, "The plain fact is that Paul's physical health must on the whole have been very good, or he could never have survived the hardships and perils described in xi 23-33." 167] However, Furnish counters this statement by saying that Paul's illness need not be debilitating, only aggravating. 168] Finally, if we equate Job's illness to Paul's thorn in the flesh, as does Bruce, we must point out the difference that God healed Job of his infirmity, but Paul remained ill. Mullins summarizes these four objections by saying that it is tempting to associate the phrase τῇ σαρκί with some sort of illness, and the overwhelming testimony of scholars who support this view does cause one to hesitate before considering any other interpretation. However, he says that the context of this passage in 2Corinthians points in another direction. 169]

166] Russell, "Redemptive Suffering and Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," 566.

167] Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 314.

168] Furnish, II Corinthians, 450.

169] Mullins, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," 350.

Sufferings from Persecutions- A commonly held view since the time of the early Church fathers is to say that Paul's thorn in the flesh refers to the hardships and sufferings caused by his adversaries. Chrysostom rejected the ancient view that Paul's thorn was an earache or a headache. 170] Instead, he interprets the word "Satan" in the general Hebrew sense of the word to mean an "adversary," and suggests that this adversarial messenger was actually Alexander the coppersmith, the party of Hymeneus and Philetas, 171] and all others who contended with Paul and persecuted him for the sake of the Gospel. The suggestion that this phrase refers to persecutions had the support of Augustine, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, Photius, and Theophylact. However, an evaluation of Augustine's frequent references to this phrase allows for a broader interpretation, meaning that he understood it to include any demonic affliction, whether persecution or physical illness, that Isaiah , any difficulty imposed upon mortal men. When Augustine does refer to Paul's thorn, he always does so with a literal interpretation of the appositional phrase "the messengers of Satan," which he believes were actual demonic spirits sent to buffet Paul's body. 172] Jerome seemed to follow this broader definition given by Augustine. In his defensive argument that the thorn was an illness, Plummer notes how Jerome refers to Paul's thorn within the context of a physical illness (see Letters of St. Jerome 392). 173] However, we also see that Jerome used this phrase within the context of persecutions for the sake of righteousness in another place (see Letters of St. Jerome 10818). Plummer makes an overall observation about this early period of church history by saying that various Greek fathers and one or two Latin fathers supported the idea of persecutions. Plummer attempts to explain the popularity of this view by the early Church by saying that this interpretation was fostered by the climate of intense persecutions that came upon the Church during its early years. 174] However, we must realize that different views existed then as they do today. 175]

170] John Chrysostom Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Homily 25 on 2Corinthians (NPF 1 12); Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 443.

171] We find within this same epistle to the Corinthians a statement from Paul regarding the intensity of persecutions he experienced in Asia: "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life" ( 2 Corinthians 1:8). This verse describes of one of Paul's most despairing times in his ministry and places him in Asia where Alexander the coppersmith and other serious adversaries lived. Thus, we should not count Chrysostom's comments as farfetched or out of context.

172] A study of the writings of Augustine reveals his frequent use of Paul's thorn in the flesh to explain various aspects of the hardships that are imposed upon men of God in this mortal life. He clearly equates it to persecutions at times and an illness at other times. See Letters of St. Augustine (letter 932, letter 1301425-26), Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 2220, The Seven Books of Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, on Baptism, Against the Donatist 47, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 318, A Treatise On Nature and Grace, Against Pelagius, Addressed to Timasius and Jacobus 31, A Treatise on the Grace of Christ and On Original Sin, 1, A Treatise On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and On the Baptism of Infants 224, A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin 413, A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter 66, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament 267, Lectures on the Gospel According to St. John 7134-5112,621326-311, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John 6:6-7, On the Psalm 5455,59423and 90110,9875.

173] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 351.

174] Ibid.

175] Ibid, 350.

The view that Paul's thorn refers to his persecutions has been held by scholars since the time of the early Church, but was reemphasized during the Reformation. During the years of the Reformation we see scholars such as Luther, Calvin, and others strongly objecting to the Roman Catholic view mentioned above that Paul was tempted by lust. Luther discarded this long-held view, suggesting that the Vulgate's rendering "spur [or goad] of the flesh" (stimulus carnis) may have given rise to this Catholic tradition. 176] Luther, in his comments on Galatians 4:13, interprets the thorn in the flesh to be the various temptations and persecutions to which the Apostle was regularly subjected. Calvin also rejects the traditional Catholic view by stating, "Those act a ridiculous part, who think that Paul was tempted to lust," and he took the broad view of Augustine that Paul's thorn in the flesh "comprehended every kind of temptation, with which Paul was exercised." 177] He argues that nothing confirms our acceptance by God more than a divine encounter, and nothing works against the ego more than rejection and persecutions by men.

176] Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 443.

177] John Calvin, "The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol 2 ," in Calvin"s Commentaries, trans. J. P. Elgin, The Calvin Translation Society ed. [on-line]; accessed 23September 2006; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/
calcom 40.html; Internet.

The view that Paul's thorn refers to persecutions from his adversaries continues to be upheld today in some scholarly circles with solid arguments. While the strength of the argument that Paul's thorn was an infirmity lies in its association with passages outside the epistle of 2Corinthians, the strength of the argument that the thorn refers to persecutions lies primarily within the context of the epistle of 2Corinthians. Scholars who interpret Paul's thorn as an illness rely primarily upon Galatians 4:13-15 by declaring them "twin references to the malady." 178] Other passages referred to, but with less weight, would be Galatians 6:11, Acts 9:9; Acts 9:18, and perhaps the story of Job. In contrast, Martin and Mullins list four reasons to support the view that the thorn refers to Paul's persecutors. 179] The first argument looks at the use of σκόλοψ in the LXX. Martin argues that this Greek word is used in the LXX as an idiom for personal enemies of God's people rather than things. One example is when the Lord told Moses that "the inhabitants of the land. .. (that remain). .. shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell" ( Numbers 33:55). Joshua told the elders of Israel how ".. . these nations. .. shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes. . ." ( Joshua 23:12). Also, David's last words indicated that "the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away" ( 2 Samuel 23:6). In all of these cases the Greek word σκόλοψ is used to refer to people rather than things. 180] Therefore, it is more likely that Paul uses the phrase σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί within the context of his familiarity with its Old Testament usage rather than by an unusual, non-personal application. Russell acknowledges that the usage of σκόλοψ in the Old Testament often carries a human reference, but cautions that it does not function this way exclusively, and he refers to several literal uses of σκόλοψ within and outside the Scriptures to support this statement ( Sirach 43:19, Hosea 2:10). 181] Furnish adds to Russell's caution by arguing that the imagery of "a thorn in the flesh" should require us to think of a particular affliction that was more directly personal to Paul than the idea of persecutions in general, which sufferings Paul shared with the whole church. 182]

178] Mullins, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh", 300.

179] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

180] F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1948), 195.

181] Russell, "Redemptive Suffering and Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," 567.

182] Furnish, II Corinthians, 549-50.

A second argument made by Martin and Mullins for the view supporting persecutions comes from an analysis of the phrase ἄγγελος σατανᾶ. The importance of this phrase is that it stands in apposition to the thorn in the flesh for the purpose of further describing its character. Bosworth tells us that the Greek word ἄγγελος appears 188 times in the Bible, being translated "angel" 181times and "messenger" 7 times, and in every case it refers to a person and not a thing, such as illness. 183] Martin says the word ἄγγελος normally refers to a person in the New Testament, and this is how Paul uses it throughout his writings. 184] Mullins says that within the context of this epistle, Paul views himself as an apostle of Christ and his opponents as representatives of Satan, describing the Devil as an "angel of light" ( 2 Corinthians 11:5-15). 185] Harris notes that the genitive σατανᾶ ` may be possessive ("belonging to Satan") or better, subjective ("sent by Satan"). 186] Thus, we can stay within proper hermeneutical boundaries by understanding ἄγγελος σατανᾶ` to refer to these messengers, who were either demons from Satan or the false apostles used by Satan to inflict hardships upon Paul. 187] If the word ἄγγελος always refers to a person in the New Testament, then the use of the term σκόλοψ should not refer to an illness, but to a person also, since these two words stand in apposition to one another. 188] Thus, the most practical interpretation is to understand that this "messenger of Satan" refers to Paul's opponents. In objection to this literal view, some argue that Satan is also often identified with the infliction of illness ( Job 1-2, Luke 13:16), which allows for the view that the thorn was a sickness. 189] Furnish adds the objection that the phrase "an angel of Satan" does not sound like a reference to a group of persons, and he notes that in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, Satan is referred to as the angel and his demons are called "ministers," not angels. 190]

183] Bosworth, Christ the Healer, 196.

184] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

185] Mullins, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh", 302.

186] Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 855.

187] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

188] One unique interpretation of when and how such demons buffeted Paul comes from Price, who uses stories from extra-biblical literature to support his view that this buffeting took place in Paradise while Paul was standing in the presence of the Lord. This story comes across as a bit of a stretch of the imagination, especially since he has to ignore the evidence of biblical context and rely upon extra-biblical writings to prove his point, and since there is no scholarly support for such a view. Robert M. Price, Punished In Paradise, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 7 (1980): 37-38; [on-line]; accessed 21August 2006; available from http://www.firstsearch.oclc.org/WebZ Internet.

189] Russell, "Redemptive Suffering and Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," 567.

190] Furnish, II Corinthians, 549.

Martin and Mullins provide a third argument for the view of persecutions by looking at the verb κολαφίζω found in 2 Corinthians 12:7. This Greek verb literally means "to beat or to strike with the fist," or "to give one a blow with the fist," and it carries the figurative and wider meaning, "to maltreat, treat with violence and contumely." Martin says that this verb "speaks of one who is beaten or battered about, especially by blows to the head." 191] We find κολαφίζω used five times within the New Testament ( Matthew 26:67, Mark 14:67, 1 Corinthians 4:11, 2 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Peter 2:20). In its four other uses it clearly refers to people who were persecuting the people of God. 192] The present tense of the Greek verb κολαφίζω in this passage means that he was continually being buffeted, blow after blow. If this was an illness, it would mean that Paul was continually suffering from many different diseases or from the same disease on many occasions. When we admit that Paul's life of ministry required much physical exertion, Barrett finds such an extreme view of chronic illness unlikely, and many would say physically impossible. 193] Thus, this definition leads to the conclusion by some scholars that the word σκόλοψ refers specifically to a person or persons, namely Paul's opponents. 194] However, Baur understands this use of κολαφίζω in 2 Corinthians 12:7 to be a unique figurative use, and should be understood as "painful attacks of an illness." 195]

191] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

192] Furnish notes that Paul's other uses of this verb in 1Corinthians also referred to his hardships as an apostle of Christ. Furnish, II Corinthians, 549.

193] Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthian, 314.

194] Martin, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

195] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. " κολαφίζω."

A fourth argument can be made by scholars like Plummer, as well as Martin and Hughes, who say that the Greek verb j φίστημι used in the phrase ἵνα ἀποστῇ ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ ( 2 Corinthians 12:8) always refers to people throughout the New Testament, and is never used as a reference to things (neuter). 196] Plummer notes that in this passage Paul continues to personify the noun "thorn," which is grammatically connected to the phrase "the messenger of Satan." This personification more easily supports the view that Paul's thorn was his adversaries, who were people, rather than a disease, which is a thing.

196] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 353.

A fifth and perhaps the strongest argument is made by Martin and Mullins, who evaluate the overall context of 2Corinthians 10-13. If we interpret 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 within the context of 10-13in which Paul is confronting his opponents, we must agree that he is not fighting against any physical ailment, but rather people who were causing him much discomfort and hardship, which we know was commonplace throughout his apostolic ministry. Thus, the context of this epistle supports the idea of persecutions by opponents much better than a physical illness. R. Kent Hughes highlights how the "strength in weakness" motif is woven throughout this epistle. 197] Paul opens his letter by describing his weakness as being "pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" ( 2 Corinthians 1:8-9). This weakness in his flesh was caused by the trouble that beset him in Asia ( 2 Corinthians 1:8), which is better understood as opponents rather than sickness. Hughes notes how Paul used this weakness motif again in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 when he compares the fleshly body to an earthen vessel carrying a heavenly treasure, and compares the persecutions he endures in his body to the dying of the Lord Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest. He again identifies this theme of "power in weakness" in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 :

197] R. Kent Hughes, 2Corinthians: Power in Weakness, Preaching the Word, 213-14 [on-line]: accessed 2February 2006; available from http://www.gnpcb.org/
product/1581347634/browse; Internet.

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Hughes believes that this motif of strength in weakness reaches its peak in 2 Corinthians 12:9 with the Lord's reply to Paul's prayer for deliverance and Paul's acceptance of his infirmities: "‘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." Thus, Hughes argues that the motif of power in weakness runs as a thread throughout this entire Epistle. He goes on to explain the meaning of weakness as a reflection of crucifixion with Christ so that Paul was able to experience the ongoing resurrection power of Christ. 198] Thus, Hughes argues that the context of 2Corinthians shows that physical illness was not Paul's main focus in 2 Corinthians 12:7-12, but rather, his hardships that are being discussed throughout the epistle. No one can argue against the possibility of Paul getting an occasional illness, since the life of a missionary puts much stress upon the physical body. This would be a more appropriate interpretation for Paul's reference to an infirmity in Galatians 4:13-15. However, not one single time does Paul mention physical sickness within the epistle of 2Corinthians as one of his hardships that he endured. Thus, Paul's sufferings can best be defined within this Epistle as the "sufferings of Christ," taken from Paul's opening statement in 2 Corinthians 1:4-5. We also know that the sufferings that Christ endured in the Gospels never involved physical illness, but rather persecutions. The opening statement in 2Corinthians reflects the underlying theme of the epistle, which is that our willingness to suffer and make sacrifices for Christ are indicative of the mature level of sanctification that Paul the apostle achieved in order to stand in the office as an apostle to the Gentiles with the power of Christ manifesting itself in him, and in particular, over the church of Corinth. Within this context of the theme of power in weakness as a part of our Christian maturity we can refer to the story of Paul's conversion when the Lord said to Ananias, "For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name"s sake" ( Acts 9:16), which should be generally understood as a reference to a life of hardships and persecutions, rather than sickness, that Paul would have to endure as a part of his divine commission to the Gentiles.

198] Ibid, 214.

One of the challenges to interpreting 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is that we have few examples within Scripture with which to compare. Perhaps the closest comparison to this theme of strength in weakness can be found in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When Paul tells us that he prayed three times for this thorn to depart from him ( 2 Corinthians 12:8), we are reminded of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when He also prayed thrice for His cup of suffering to depart. In this prayer of consecration our Savior found it necessary to drink of this bitter cup for the sake of man's redemption, as it says in Hebrews 5:7, "Though he were a Song of Solomon , yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." We can also identify others in the Scriptures whose sufferings were necessary in order to bring about God's work of redemption to Prayer of Manasseh , such as the prophets Jeremiah , Isaiah and Ezekiel. In the same way that it was necessary for Paul's predecessors to sacrifice their lives in order to establish God's redemptive plan upon earth, so too did God call Paul the apostle to a life of greater sacrifice and hardship than the average Christian so that the foundation of the church could be laid, and so that we could enjoy the blessings of being a part of this establishment.

Therefore, as with our Lord and Savior, I understand Paul's thorn to be interpreted as a similar hardship that Jesus had to face. To say Paul's thorn was an illness would be to take Paul's statement out of context from its passage. Augustine's broader description that includes all hardships and illnesses that are inflicted upon God's people would be much closer to Paul's intended statement in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 than simply an illness; but I believe Paul was referring to a single event, and not a series of events. Paul's suffering from a thorn in the flesh had a redemptive purpose in God's divine plan for his life. I do not think that every believer is afflicted with a personal thorn in the flesh, in contrast to Kendall who states, "If you are a Christian worth your salt, you probably have a thorn in the flesh." 199] He goes on to explain that this phrase is not talking about the general trials and tribulations that beset every Christian, but rather, to a crushing blow so definite and lasting that one knows that "thorn in the flesh" is the best explanation for it.

199] R. T. Kendall, The Thorn in the Flesh (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2004), 9.

One objection to the view of persecutions comes from Russell, who refers to the temporal phrase "fourteen years ago" ( 2 Corinthians 12:2) to argue that it dates the thorn as coming shortly after Paul's revelation experience. 200] He reasons that since this experience should be dated during Paul's silent years, which were before his persecutions actually began, Paul's thorn must also predate his persecutions, and should refer to something else. However, it is impossible to place Paul's "revelation" experience and "thorn" experience into such a narrow time frame without the commentator placing his own temporal limits upon these events; for, when Paul explains that this thorn was given to him "through the abundance of the revelations" ( 2 Corinthians 12:7), it implies that a period of time elapsed between his first revelation and the thorn. In other words, Paul is saying that there were many other revelations that preceded this thorn coming into his life.

200] Russell, "Redemptive Suffering and Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," 567. See also R. T. Kendall, The Thorn in the Flesh, 5.

Another objection comes from Plummer, who disagrees with the view that Paul's thorn refers to persecutions on the basis that many other Christians throughout the ages have suffered from such persecutions, and he believes, rather, that "the thorn was something uniquely bestowed upon Paul by God for his personal benefit to counteract temptations that might be provoked by the special revelations." 201] Plummer does not believe that Paul would have prayed to be delivered from such persecutions that many other believers were also enduring. He believes that this interpretation of the thorn being persecutions may have been fostered by the early Church fathers because they lived during the Diocletian persecutions. He supports this statement by noting that the popular medieval view understood Paul's thorn to be immoral temptations, which was fostered during a time when monasticism accentuated the danger of fleshly desires. Thus, he understands that the events of a particular Christian era tend to shape one's interpretation of Paul's thorn. Plummer's insight is perhaps at the heart of the argument that has transpired throughout the centuries. I believe he is right in his observation. If Paul's were referring to a life of persecutions, he would have used an Old Testament metaphor such as "thorns in his sides" ( Numbers 33:55) or "thorns in his eyes" ( Joshua 23:12). Instead, Paul uses the singular "thorn in the flesh". If his preceding testimony of being caught up into the third heaven is being contrasted with his testimony of a thorn in the flesh, then logically both testimonies would refer to individual events. In light of Plummer's observation, it is my suggestion that Paul was referring to one particular hardship, which could have been the series of persecutions caused to him by Alexander the coppersmith. The fact that Paul was writing from the city of Ephesus where this opponent lived adds strength to this possibility. This was Chrysostom's conclusion also, and an extensive evaluation tends to support his view. However, Paul added that this "messenger of Satan" continually buffeted him, meaning that it was a particular issue that continually happened in his life. This would lead scholars to suggest the characteristics of an infirmity, but I believe it could describe the many times when Alexander the coppersmith opposed and persecuted Paul.

201] Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 350.

Conclusion- When we evaluate the weight of evidence supporting these two leading interpretations we have to be careful not to be misled by the volume of argument, but rather rely upon the strengths of these arguments. Furnish concludes that the weight of the testimonies favors the view that Paul's thorn was an illness, but I disagree because this view is based largely upon the association of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 with Galatians 4:13-15. 202] In fact, those who take this view believe that these two passages refer to the same illness. However, if these two passages are not associated with one another, then all of the other supporting arguments for this popular view carry very little weight. In contrast, the arguments supporting the view of persecutions are largely based upon the immediate context of 2Corinthians, unlike the view of an illness, which leans upon distant passages of Scripture for support. Thus, despite the large amount of discussion regarding an illness, I conclude that interpreting Paul's thorn in the flesh as his persecutors has a stronger argument because they are based upon the immediately context of the passage, and because each supporting testimony can stand upon its own separately, and is not dependent upon the other.

202] Furnish, II Corinthians, 549.

Barrett takes the view that Paul's thorn refers to persecutions, but concludes that "the precise meaning of the thorn and angel are anyone's guess." 203] Hughes explains that the proposals that have been made to identify Paul's thorn in the flesh cannot escape from the realm of conjecture, which is by its nature the realm of inconclusiveness and that, based upon available evidence, it must remain unanswered. 204] Hughes and Harris conclude that the exact identification of the thorn in the flesh remains hidden, and the purpose for it remaining hidden is that it is of more benefit to the church to remain in ignorance in this matter. If the church could identify the thorn as a particular ailment, then subsequent generations of Christians would be inclined to dismiss the Apostle's problem as remote from their own experience. 205] Although we will continue to argue the evidence for Paul's thorn, we can safely conclude that this passage teaches us that human weakness and divine grace were designed by God to go hand in hand together.

203] Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 315.

204] Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 442.

205] Harris, 2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 12:7.

2 Corinthians 12:5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

2 Corinthians 12:6 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.

2 Corinthians 12:6Comments- In other words, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:6 that he could go on to great boastings of spiritual experiences in the Lord. Lest he be exalted by men, he will only boast in what the Corinthians physically know of him. Thus, he will tell them in 2 Corinthians 12:12, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds." They were all wrought through Paul because God's strength was being manifested through his weakness. What that weakness is has been a matter of speculation for centuries. However, we do know that it involved much physical discomfort.

2 Corinthians 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the Revelation , there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

2 Corinthians 12:7 — "And lest I should be exalted above measure" - Word Study on "exalted" - Strong says the Greek word "exalted" ( ὑπεραίρομαι) (G 5229) means, "to raise oneself over, to become haughty," This Greek verb is used only once more in the New Testament in reference to "the man of lawlessness" exalting himself against God ( 2 Thessalonians 2:4).

2 Thessalonians 2:4, "Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God."

Comments- Interestingly, the phrase "lest I should be exalted above measure" in 2 Corinthians 12:7 occurs at the very end of this verse in the original Greek text. In the KJV it is brought to the front in order to smooth out the English translation.

In this statement Paul is giving the Corinthians the reason why he has no place for boasting, so that he would not be placed on a pedestal by anyone. This same clause repeats itself in this verse for emphasis. Some scholars and translations omit this second clause as a scribal error, an example being found in the NIV.

2 Corinthians 12:7, "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great Revelation , there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me." (NIV)

2 Corinthians 12:7 — "through the abundance of the revelations" - Word Study on "abundance" - The word "abundance" can be translated as: (1) "excess" emphasizing quantity, which refers to the number of revelations that Paul received, or (2) the word "extraordinary" is an alternative giving emphasis to the quality of those revelations.

Comments (1) - The word "revelations" literally means, "to uncover or unveil." Alfred Plummer says the plural form here refers to the revelations that Paul has just mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, as well as others records throughout the New Testament. 206] This raises the question of how important a role did revelations have in his ministry? We read in Acts 16:6-10; Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23 of four visions where an angel or Jesus spoke to Paul. In Ephesians 3:3 and Galatians 1:12, Paul spoke of receiving the Gospel by revelation. In Galatians 2:1, he went up to Jerusalem by revelation.

206] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 347.

Comments (2) - The Greek text places the phrase "and through the abundance of the revelations" at the beginning of 2 Corinthians 12:7. Scholars have long disputed over how to punctuate this phrase, mostly due to a variant reading. They divide themselves into at least four views. (1) Lachmann attaches it to verse 5. 207] (2) Martin, 208] WH, 209] and UBS3 attach it to verse 6. (3) Most modern translations place this phrase with verse 7 and drop the conjunction. (4) The NASB and Plummer 210] make the exception by giving it a rough translation in verse 7 with the conjunction included.

207] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 347.

208] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

209] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 347.

210] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 347.

2 Corinthians 12:7 — "(wherefore)" - Comments- It is important to note that the conjunction διó (wherefore), which follows the phrase "through the abundance of the Revelation ," is omitted from most modern translations, including the KJV, NIV, RSV, YLT. However, the word διó is included in the UBS3 text. The ASV recognizes it by giving an alternate rendering that includes διó; but the verse reads smoother when omitted.

2 Corinthians 12:7, "And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the Revelation --wherefore, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch." (ASV)

2 Corinthians 12:7 — "there was given to me" - Comments- Paul's statement, "there was given to me," is an acknowledgement that this thorn was of a supernatural origin. He does not specify the source of this affliction, but he does realize that it was a spiritual battle. Regarding the agent behind the giving, scholars note that it is either God or Satan. Because this thorn in the flesh wrought good out of something bad, (it humbled Paul by inflicting suffering), Murray Harris suggests that God was behind the giving, and call this verb a "theological passive," with God as the implied agent. 211] We find comments by Job , David and Eli, the high priest, where they, too, acknowledged God's hand at work during a time of affliction. In other words, if I could paraphrase Job 5:6, "This affliction did not just happen by chance."

211] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), comments on 2Corinthians .

Job 5:6, "Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground;"

Psalm 39:9, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it."

1 Samuel 3:18, "And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good."

2 Corinthians 12:7 — "a thorn in the flesh" - Word Study on "a thorn" - Strong says the Greek word "thorn" "skolops" ( σκόλοψ) (G 4647) literally means, "withered at the front, i.e. a point or prickle," and figuratively, "a bodily annoyance or disability." BDAG says it means, "stake, thorn, splinter." This word is only used one time in the New Testament.

Comments- The word has been translated as "a thorn" (ASV, KJV, RSV, YLT), "a stake" (ASV) and even equated with the cross. Most scholars agree that "thorn" fits the context better, as most modern translations testify. The word "stake" is a popular classical Greek translation and has a military concept. Stakes were commonly used for building fences to slow down the enemy. They were also used for execution, hence, a synonym for a "cross."

Alfred Plummer tells us that the word σκόλοψ is used four times in the LXX ( Numbers 33:55, Ezekiel 28:24, Hosea 2:6, Sirach 43:19)

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."

Ezekiel 28:24, "And there shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor any grieving thorn of all that are round about them, that despised them; and they shall know that I am the Lord GOD."

Hosea 2:6, "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths."

Sirach 43:19, "The hoar frost also he poureth on the earth as salt; And when it is congealed, it is as points of thorns."

Alfred Plummer suggests that in all four passages the word "thorn" or "splinter" fits best. 212]

212] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 349.

The word "thorn" has been personified in this context, as it is modified by the phrase "a messenger of Satan."

Word Study on "in the flesh" - The phrase "in the flesh" can be rendered two ways. The locative case uses the word to refer to the physical body, being translated "in the flesh." Others translate this as a dative of disadvantage, rendering the phrase "for the flesh." In this case, flesh would refer to man"s lower corrupt human nature as contrasted to the spirit. An unlikely option is to translate it "to my flesh," modifying the phrase "to me." 213]

213] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), comments on 2Corinthians ; Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 348.

Comments- Since this is the only time in the New Testament the phrase "thorn in the flesh" is used, we look in the Old Testament for a similar phrase to help us interpret this verse. In his book Christ the Healer F. F. Bosworth takes a chapter to explain that in all instances that a similar phrase using the word "thorn" is used in the Old Testament, it is personified as those people who were troubling and persecuting Israel. 214] Moses uses the phrase "pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides" to describe the persecutions that problems that their wicked neighbours would bring upon the children of Israel.

214] F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer, 9th edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen, c 1924, 2000), 192-208.

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."

Thus, we see Moses personifying the phrase to refer to the Canaanites who would constantly trouble the children of Israel. A few years later, Joshua , the servant of Moses, uses a similar phrase "thorns in your eyes" to refer to the same group of Canaanites who would trouble the Israelites as long as they were in the land.

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."

David also used the word "thorns" as a personification of the sons of Belial.

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:"

Plummer tells us that it is not impossible that Numbers 33:55 is the source of Paul's expression. 215] Thus, it is very possible that Paul took this phrase "a thorn in the flesh" from its context in the Old Testament of those wicked people who troubled and persecuted God's people, and used it to describe those who troubled his ministry.

215] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 349.

Illustration- During the first week of September 1988 I put a thorn into my rights thumb while working as a carpenter. This thorn stayed in my thumb for the next six months making my thumb irritated and sore. Many times I dug down in this wound to try and get out this thorn, but to no avail. Finally, on March 5, 1989 it worked its way to the surface enough so that I would pull it out. Complete healing came to my flesh afterwards.

2 Corinthians 12:7 — "a messenger of Satan to buffet me" - Word Study on "to buffet" - Strong says the Greek word "buffet" "kolaphizo" ( κολαφίζω) (2852) means, "to rap with the fist." BDAG says it means, "to strike with the fist, beat, cuff." The Enhanced Strong says this word is used 5 times in the New Testament, being translated in the KJV as, "buffet 5." The other four uses refer to the righteous being physically persecuted by wicked men.

Matthew 26:67, "Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,"

Mark 14:65, "And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands."

1 Corinthians 4:11, "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;"

1 Peter 2:20, "For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God."

Comments- If Paul's thorn in the flesh were a sickness, then he would have used the phrase "into captivity" ( Job 42:10), or "to bring me into bondage" ( Luke 13:16), or "oppressed" ( Acts 10:38).

Job 42:10, "And the LORD turned the captivity of Job , when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before."

Luke 13:16, "And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?"

Acts 10:38, "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him."

Instead, he uses the word "buffet" to imply physical abuse. Song of Solomon , note where Paul describes his experiences of being buffeted, and not bound, in the preceding passage of 2 Corinthians 11:24-25.

2 Corinthians 11:24-25, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;"

Comments- The phrase "a messenger of Satan to buffet me" stands in apposition to "a thorn in the flesh." The Jews believed in Satan"s angels, thus rendering a literal translation of an angel of Satan. The present tense of the verb implies that this was a continual process in Paul"s life, and not just a single event.

In addition, some scholars place Satan as the author and source of his thorn in the flesh. Others reject this view because Paul usually uses the verb "there was given" in speaking of God"s bestowing divine favor upon a person. These scholars thus regard Satan as an instrument for affecting the divine purpose of God, an example of "passivum divinum." 216]

216] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), comments on 2Corinthians .

2 Corinthians 12:7Comments- Ralph Martin says the emphasis of 2 Corinthians 12:7 is not Paul"s thorn, but rather the fact that he was weakened and humbled by it and, therefore, had no reason to exalt himself above others. 217] This is why there was no need to identity what the thorn was, except to describe it from the spiritual point of view as "messengers of Satan to buffet him."

217] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

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

2 Corinthians 12:8 — "For this thing. .. that it might depart from me" - Comments- Martin 218] and Plummer 219] agree that the verb ( ἀ φί στημι) (G 868) is always used in reference to people throughout the New Testament, and is not a reference to things (neuter). Here, Paul continues to personify the noun. The aorist tense of this Greek verb means that Paul has ceased praying for this request.

218] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

219] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 353.

2 Corinthians 12:8 — "I besought the Lord thrice" - Comments- This prayer is directed to Jesus and not to God. While some call "three" a figurative expression referring to many prayers, others take it literally. It could possibly refer to the Jewish practice of praying three times a day. Most likely, it denotes the earnest with which Paul prayed for deliverance from this affliction.

We cannot help but reminisce upon the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He also prayed to the Father thrice that His cup of suffering might be avoided, but also being given a similar answer that Paul was given. Thus, we can understand that Paul's prayer was a prayer of consecration to God rather than a prayer of faith in a promise from God.

We may find a hint in 2 Corinthians 1:8 as to the occasion when Paul prayed most earnestly for this tribulation, this thorn in the flesh, to be removed. He tells us that because of his troubles in Asia he and his co-workers were "pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." This was perhaps the most difficult period in his missionary journeys. It may refer primarily to his adversaries, namely Alexander the coppersmith and Hymenaeus ( Acts 19:33, 1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Timothy 4:14-15), Jews of Asia who greatly resisted Paul's ministry in Asia.

2 Corinthians 1:8, "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:"

Acts 19:33, "And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people."

1 Timothy 1:20, "Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme."

2 Timothy 4:14-15, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words."

2 Corinthians 12:9 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.

2 Corinthians 12:9 — "And he said to me" - Comments- Martin notes that Paul"s prayer came in the form of a "divine oracle." The perfect tense implies that the words are final but are still echoing in Paul"s heart. The aorist in verse 8 and the perfect tense here imply that after Paul had ceased his petition, God"s words were still very meaningful in his life. 220]

220] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

2 Corinthians 12:9 — "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" - Comments- This divine grace will mean a greater manifestation of the Spirit of God in Paul"s life. This why it is associated with a passage on divine revelations from heaven. When our sufferings intensify, the presence of God becomes much more real in our lives, as it did in the life of Paul. With afflictions comes divine revelations.

The greatest place to live in order to walk in God"s miracle-working power is to partake of Christ"s sufferings.

The question is raised as to the focus of grace. Is this only referring to a special grace given to Paul for his ministry, or is this the kind of grace made available to all believers. We see this divine grace and strength manifested when Paul was delivered out of each of his trials and sufferings. When he was stoned, God raised him up. When he was imprisoned, God brought him out. Every time he needed God, He was faithful to work supernaturally and deliver him. Paul learned to trust in this grace.

Hughes calls this phrase in 2 Corinthians 12:9 the summit of the epistle, 221] and Martin calls it the main focus of the passage. 222] Here is the thought that Paul wants to impress upon his readers. Furnish notes that Paul does not try to transcend his weakness nor does he try to claim self-sufficiency. 223] Paul"s ministry was commissioned by a grace that will carry him through his greatest trials.

221] P. E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1962), comments on 2Corinthians .

222] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

223] Victor P. Furnish, 2Corinthians, in The Anchor Bible, vol 32A, eds. William F. Albright and David N. Freeman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co, Inc, 1984), 550.

The word "sufficient" carries with it the idea of "being enough." A divine truth can be seen in this verse. As one acknowledges his human frailty and yields to the Holy Spirit, God"s grace will always be there to sustain him. The word "strength" refers to the power of Christ. This fullness of God"s power comes not through visions and Revelation , but a yielding of one"s self to God"s will. In Christ"s suffering, God"s power was made complete in him through the resurrection.

2 Corinthians 12:9 — "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" - Comments- "therefore" - The conjunction implies that Paul has made a conclusion. Having been assured that this thorn will not overcome his ministry, Paul chooses to rejoice in God"s grace. He now realizes that this grace is evidence to his apostolic ministry. Bultmann sees the truth that total surrender and not struggles is the way to live the Christian life. 224]

224] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

"that the power of Christ" - The question is raised as to the source of power. If it is from within, then in weakness God"s power becomes, not more real, but more evident. If it comes from without, then Paul"s weakness is a precondition for Christ"s power to enter him. 225]

225] Alfred Plummer, The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, eds. Charles A. Briggs, Samuel R. Driver, and Alfred Plummer (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, Ltd, c 1915, 1985), 354.

"might rest upon me" - The verb ἐ πισκηνό ω (G 1981) is only used once in the New Testament, but frequently in the Old Testament. It is a metaphor from the Old Testament concept of the presence of God abiding in the tabernacle. It literally means "to take up residence," or, "to dwell." Martin believes that this truth of Christ"s power resting upon Paul is not a historical particularity, but is available for all believers. 226]

226] Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians , in Word Biblical Commentary: 58 Volumes on CD-Rom, vol 40, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Inc, 2002), in Libronix Digital Library System, v 30b [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp, 2004), comments on 2Corinthians .

Paul glories in his infirmities as a result of his buffeting ( 2 Corinthians 11:23-30). He is made weak so that he may be strong in the Lord with the power of Christ resting upon him ( 2 Corinthians 12:9). Note in Acts 9:16 that the Lord said Paul must suffer for Christ's sakes.

Acts 9:16, "For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name"s sake."

Paul has learned not to regret his trials, but to use them. Our greatest forms of worship and our greatest expressions of faith come in the midst of our greatest trials. 227] God gives the most grace and His greatest presence in our lives during the darkest times. Note how Paul describes the outcome of these difficult experiences:

227] Rick Joyner, The Call (Charlotte, North Carolina: Morning Star Publications, 1999), 205.

2 Corinthians 4:11, "For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus" sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."

2 Corinthians 12:10 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.

2 Corinthians 12:10 — "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ"s sake" - Comments- In 2 Corinthians 12:10 Paul decides to change his way of dealing with pain and discomfort in the ministry. As a result of his trial with a thorn in the flesh, he chose to rejoice in God in the midst of difficult circumstances. Job made a similar decision to rejoice in the Lord, saying "And said, Naked came I out of my mother"s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." ( Job 1:21) Paul delights because this special grace is available to him in every trial he faces. The word "reproaches" means "insults" and is a reference to those who oppose him at Corinth. The word not only implies verbal abuse, but also includes the idea of physical mistreatment and injuries. The word "necessities" literally means "times of stress". It implies hardships of which there is no avoiding. The "persecutions" refer to religious persecution. The word "distresses" is akin to a root word meaning "a narrow place where there is no way out." The verb means to crush, and the passive means to be hard pressed. This view of apostolic life has constantly been repeated throughout this epistle ( 2 Corinthians 8:4-10, 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, 2 Corinthians 12:10).

2 Corinthians 12:10 — "For when I am weak, then am I strong" - Comments- The conjunction used here introduces the idea of the indefinite, i.e. a truth that will always remain true throughout time. Paul shows that his concern is for the ministry, and not for the thorn. In this climax to the passage, Paul offers the Corinthians a proof to his the apostolic ministry, a proof which his opponents cannot deny.


Verses 11-13

Paul's Final Plea - In 2 Corinthians 12:11-13 Paul makes a final plea for the Corinthians to accept his apostleship. He summarizes the qualifications of the office on an apostle of Jesus Christ by saying, "the signs of an apostle were wrought (through Paul) among (the Corinthians) in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds," ( 2 Corinthians 12:12).

2 Corinthians 12:11 I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.

2 Corinthians 12:11 — "I am become a fool in glorying" - Comments- In 2 Corinthians 12:11 there is a pause as Paul reflects upon what he has been saying. Having evaluated his recent statements, he concludes that he has most certainly become a fool because of his boastings.

"ye have compelled me" - Comments- He immediately rolled the blame upon the Corinthians. This next statement is emphatic in the Greek, "You (yourselves) have compelled me."

"for I ought to have been commended of you" - Comments- Paul supports this accusation by explain that the Corinthians should have never tolerated the negative remarks towards him made by the Judaizers in their midst. They should have stood up and defended their leader against such discredit. The word "ought" ( ὀ φεί λω) (G 3784) implies a debt that was owed him by the Corinthians. It means, "to owe (pecuniarily)," and figuratively, "to be under obligation." (Strong) They should have recognized their obligation to defend him, but they had not done so. For this reason, Paul had to defend himself. Again, the Greek is emphatic, "for I (myself) ought to have been commended by all of you."

"for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles" - Comments- Paul recognizes the fact that his calling is equal in importance to the leading apostles of the Church. The phrase "in nothing" is emphatic because it opens this statement. Thus, Paul is saying, "For in no single thing can you find me less qualified than the leading apostles: (I was called by Christ Himself, as the Twelve were called; I was sent out by the Church as they were; I operate in the gifts of the Spirit and miracles as they do; I am persecuted and suffer hardship as they do; I preach the same Gospel that they preach.)" In fact, the next verse ( 2 Corinthians 12:12) will refer to the miracles in his ministry that justify this statement that he is equal to the chief apostles.

"though I be nothing" - Comments- Despite his high calling, Paul recognizes that he is nothing apart from Christ. We find Paul making a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Another place where Paul refers to his humble status is in Ephesians 3:8, "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;" Paul recognized that everything he has achieved was by the grace of God. He gives no credit to himself. Yet, he recognizes that Christ has called him into an office and ministry that equals in importance the calling of the apostles in Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

2 Corinthians 12:12Comments- Paul has just said that he does not come behind the chiefest apostles in anything ( 2 Corinthians 12:11). He now supports this statement by referring to the greatest single testimony of his high calling, which is the many signs and miracles accompanying his ministry. Paul refers to these miracles in his ministry among the Corinthians earlier in 1 Corinthians 2:4 by saying that he preached "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." This is the same reference as 2 Corinthians 12:12, where his preaching served as a witness to Paul's office as an apostle.

1 Corinthians 2:4, "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man"s Wisdom of Solomon , but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:"

2 Corinthians 12:13 For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.


Verse 14

Paul Executes His Authority - In 2 Corinthians 12:14 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 Paul executes the authority of his office as an apostle to the Gentiles. Having boasted enough in his credentials ( 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:21) Paul now turns the topic to his upcoming visit in which exercise whatever divine authority was necessary to put things in order. He promises not to become a financial burden to them, but rather, to edify them ( 2 Corinthians 12:14-19). On this trip he expects those who have sinned to have repented, lest he use the power that the Lord entrusted him with for destruction rather than edification ( 2 Corinthians 12:20 to 2 Corinthians 13:10).

2 Corinthians 13:4Scripture Reference- Note a similar verse:

Romans 6:4, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

2 Corinthians 13:5Comments- The entire context of this second epistle to the church at Corinth was to prove Paul's apostleship. He told of his sufferings for Christ as proof and of the signs of an apostle that were wrought in him ( 2 Corinthians 12:12). He now says that the real test is for the members of the Corinthian to examine themselves to see if they are genuine. Goodspeed brings out this contrast well:

Goodspeed, "It is yourselves you must test, to see whether you are holding to the faith. It is yourselves you must examine. Do you not know that Jesus Christ is within you? Unless you fail to stand the test!"

Since Paul has boasted that he has passed the test of a true apostle, in sufferings and working of miracles, it is left to the believers at Corinth to now pass their test. Their test is to determine if Christ is dwelling within them.

2 Corinthians 13:9-10Comments- The Purpose of Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians - In 2 Corinthians 13:9-10 Paul tells the Corinthians the reason why he is writing to them. He wants them to be made perfect. The theme of this epistle is mature sanctification, which is the office of the Holy Spirit. It is Paul's desire that they reach this maturity, which he describes as perfection in 2 Corinthians 13:9 and 2 Corinthians 13:11. He has given them an example of Christian maturity has he narratives his lifestyle of sacrifice and suffering for Christ, and the grace of God imparted into his life.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are copyrighted by the author, Gary Everett. Used by Permission.
No distribution beyond personal use without permission.

Bibliography Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:4". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghe/2-corinthians-12.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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