Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Paul's Thorn

NOTE:  An updated version of this post is available at my new website:

I imagine that most people who spend time studying the subject of divine healing will eventually encounter the following question:  ”What about Paul’s thorn?”
Before you continue to read this post, I strongly encourage you to read the passage in context for yourself.
There were people in Corinth that were spreading false teachings.  In this passage, Paul is listing some of his experiences as a Christian to show that his “resume” qualifies him to speak with authority when he comes against the false teachers.  This is an oversimplification, but I provide it here as a brief background to give context.
In the passage, he spends nearly all of his time talking about the persecution he has faced.  He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, lost at sea, hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked (and the list goes on).  (Notice that physical disease is not mentioned anywhere as part of this list of persecutions.  That should be kept in mind as you read the passage where he gives more detail regarding his “thorn.”)
Next, he talks about “surpassingly great revelations” that he received.  We know of no man that ever lived that received more revelation concerning the gospel of grace than Paul.  God showed him things that he was not even allowed to talk about.
That brings us to the passage that contains the thorn.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
According to Paul, the thorn in his flesh is actually a messenger from Satan.  Satan’s messengers are also called demons, evil spirits, or unclean spirits.  Paul is saying that there was a demon that was causing problems for him.

So, Paul's thorn was a demon.  That brings up another question, though.  What was this demon doing?
There are many possibilities, but I believe the three choices below provide a general summary of the main explanations I have come across in my studies.
The demon was either…
  1. …causing a physical sickness or disease in his body
  2. …attacking Paul’s conscience by accusing him of his past persecutions of Christians
  3. …stirring up severe persecution in the places Paul visited
If we limit our view to the immediate context of the entire passage, the option that appears to be the best fit is number 3.  Paul has been talking at great length about the persecutions and troubles he has been facing, but he says nothing about having diseases or deformities, and he says nothing about having a guilty conscience.  The messenger from Satan was probably inciting resistance to Paul’s ministry, which often led to him being physically mistreated.   This doesn’t mean that the other two options are not possible, just that they are less likely, if we are to base our opinion solely on the immediate context.
If we are to look outside of the immediate context, we must remember the fact that Paul had authority over demons.  He exercised this authority on several occasions in Acts, and he taught on this authority in his letters to the churches.  He exercised his authority in such a way that his reputation became well known even among the demons themselves.  (See Acts 19:13-16)
I find it very unlikely that Paul would permit a demon to operate continually in his body or in his conscience.  However, the idea that a demon or a group of demons would go around stirring up trouble for him is not difficult to imagine.
If it is true that the demon was stirring up persecution, then Paul would have been praying for Jesus to remove the persecution he was facing.  However, Jesus has warned all of His followers that persecution is part of the journey, and the fact that he said “no” to Paul’s request should not be surprising.  However, for Jesus to say no to a request for physical healing would go against the many examples he set forth when he walked the earth as detailed in the four gospels.
For these reasons, it is my strong belief that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a physical ailment, but spiritual warfare that was manifested in persecution.

Divine healing, trials, and persecution

NOTE:  The updated version of this post is located at my new website:

Jesus warned his followers that there would be persecution and hard times for them (John 16:33). He walked this earth as a living example of enduring persecution. He suffered persecution, and so did those around him. When he encountered persecution, he endured it.

He was slandered, shunned, and hated by his enemies, and he was eventually beaten and executed. He warned his disciples that that they too would encounter many trials, and we know from the bible and from history that this is indeed what happened. Many disciples were treated in the same way, including beatings, imprisonments, and executions.

It is important to note, however, that the persecution and hard times were not physical ailments in his body.  Jesus did not endure sickness and disease as part of his ministry, nor did he instruct his followers to do so. In fact, when Jesus encountered sickness and disease, he ministered healing to those that needed it.

Acts 10:38“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

During his earthly ministry, Jesus encountered many people with health problems. When people came to him that were in need of healing, he healed them. This is the case in every example that we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

There is not a single example of someone coming to him for healing and going away with their condition unchanged. Rather, we see the exact opposite. From the examples we have available for us to read, Jesus was always willing to minister healing.

We also see that every time he sent out anyone to represent him, he instructed them them to function in the same way.

He did this when he sent out the 12:

Luke 9:1 – “Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.”

He did this when we sent out the 70:

Luke 10:1,9 – “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go……And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

He did this when he sent out everyone else(including you and me) at what we call “the great commission”

Mark 16:15-18 “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…And these signs will follow those who believe...they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

If we want to be followers and imitators of Christ, then it appears that He wants us to have the same attitude towards sickness that He did. If we are to act as His representatives, then we would be wise not to misrepresent Him by saying things that contradict the life He lived.