Paul's Thorn


                                   By


                              Phil Scovell





                          Copyright (C) 1997/2003

                            By Phil Scovell

                          All Rights Reserved



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                              PAUL'S THORN



                                   By


                              Phil Scovell




               The  word "flesh"  used  by  Paul in  II  Corinthians 12  in
          reference to his "thorn in the  flesh" is used some 150 times  in
          the  King James.  146 usages as  "flesh," twice as "carnal," once
          as "carnally," and once as "all flesh."  Of course not all usages
          of "flesh"  are literal.   Obviously referring to  something more
          than physiology, Jesus said of the marriage that husband and wife
          are one flesh (Matt. 19:5-6).  "All flesh shall see the salvation
          of  God"  (Luke  3:6)  -  meaning "flesh"  in  the  sense  of all
          humanity/mankind I.E.  the human  race.   The Jews  were confused
          when Jesus said  believers would  have to  eat of  his flesh  and
          drink of His blood (John 4:51-52).  Of course  this was symbolic;
          He  wasn't referring  to His  literal  "flesh."   Then Paul  also
          referred  to   the   "flesh"   in  Romans   8:6:   "For   to   be
          (carnally/flesh) minded is  death."  This is the  only time where
          "flesh"  is rendered  "carnally."   This  is a  reference to  the
          mental and emotional  nature and not  the literal physical  body.
          Then, of course, there are many references where "flesh" actually
          means the physical body which I won't take the  time to list.  In
          short,  "flesh"  is often  used,  and  I  have only  mentioned  a
          fraction  of   the  verses,   in  reference   to  the   physical,
          occasionally  as  the  spiritual, sometimes  the  emotional,  and
          frequently as the psychological aspect of our nature.

          It has been  mentioned by some, when discussing  this topic, that
          Paul's infirmity was a  messenger of Satan sent to buffet him and
          that such was to keep him  from being puffed up, that is,  proud.
          This is  exactly  what he  confessed  (I  Cor. 12:7.    There  is
          evidence,  however,  that  his   "infirmity"  was  eradicated  in
          Galatians 4:13-15.  "You know  how through infirmity of the flesh
          I preached the gospel  unto you at the first."  I  am not a Greek
          scholar but it would appear that this statement may mean that his
          infirmity was absent later in his ministry.   The next verse also
          sheds light on this subject.  "And my temptation which was  in my
          flesh you  desired not, nor  rejected."  We know  that temptation
          doesn't come  from God but is a result of man's unregenerate soul
          according to  James 1:13-14.   It would appear by  this statement
          that Paul is  not referring to the  physical.  Why would  he call
          loss of vision a "temptation?"  I've been totally blind since age
          eleven  and  I  cannot  see  in anyway  how  blindness  could  be
          considered a  temptation or,  any physical  disability, for  that
          matter.  The next verse, on the  other hand,  would seem to imply
          differently.  He said the  Galatians would have plucked out their
          own  eyes for him.  In short,  there seems to be evidence on both
          sides  of the issue to indicate  Paul had a visual impairment or,
          at the very least, a physical disability of some kind.  

          According  to II Corinthians 12:8, Paul requested this temptation
          [thorn in the flesh]  be removed and he did so  on at least three
          occasions.  God, however, only  replied that His grace was enough
          for Paul.   Why, I ask, would  God not remove this  affliction at
          Paul's request?  Paul said, as already mentioned, that because of
          the abundance of the spiritual revelations he was receiving  that
          such a thorn would keep him humble.  This in itself suggests that
          Paul, as would anyone, had a problem with pride of  some sort.  I
          honestly believe this means that such a thorn, even if of  Satan,
          would remind  him of his  human nature.   In light of  the events
          recorded in the four gospels and those which followed in the Acts
          of the apostles, I think it highly unlikely that Paul's infirmity
          was  physical I.E. a  disability of the physical  body.  Even the
          Galatians's  statement that they  would pluck out  their own eyes
          doesn't really prove Paul had  vision problems but in my opinion,
          it does give  insight to what I believe Paul's thorn really might
          have been.  I'll get to that shortly.

               Let me  first suggest, however,  that God  cannot honor  all
          requests which come before  Him.  God  the Father did not  answer
          Paul's prayer that he be freed from this temptation in the flesh.
          That is  what he, Paul, called it in Galatians 4:14.  God can, of
          course,   do anything so  why wouldn't  He, if it  were physical,
          free Paul from bondage?  I believe  God couldn't.  Not because He
          was powerless but because Paul was asking the impossible.

          There are  some prayers  that God won't  answer.  Not  because He
          can't but because He won't.  For example, I have been dieting for
          just under four months and have lost more than forty pounds.   Do
          you think God would honor my  request if I begged Him  to  remove
          my  desire for  food in order  that I  might loose weight?   Such
          would be physically unnatural and  it is unlikely God would honor
          my  prayer.    If a  teenager  was  trying to  gain  victory over
          listening to heavy  metal rock music and ask the Lord to make him
          deaf, would God consider such a request?  Of course not.  What if
          a person had trouble going to the  wrong places as a Christian so
          he begged God to remove his feet in order that he might  not have
          the ability to  walk to those sinful  places?  Absurd.   Try this
          one.  One of my first counseling experiences years ago was with a
          Christian  man who  was homosexual  and was  trying to  get free.
          What, if in his desire to be free, he requested that God give him
          a hatred for men in order that he might have victory.   Would God
          answer that prayer?   Unlikely.  I have  likewise counselled with
          those women who have had abortions.  If in their grief  and guilt
          they  asked God  to bring  back their  aborted child,  would God?
          Could He?  Sure!   He's God and can do anything; He can raise the
          dead.  I had a man call me once and wake me from sleep at 1:00 in
          the morning to pray.   His father had died suddenly  and wasn't a
          Christian.   My  friend on the  phone asked  me to pray  that his
          father would revive  in order that he might be  born again before
          he past away.   Would God answer that prayer?   Remember the rich
          man in Hell  made such a request  in order that Lazarus  might go
          and witness to he,  the rich man's, family.  In short, I can name
          many prayers which God  will not answer; not because He can't but
          because He won't.  Why?  There are natural laws.

               Let me  suggest two  possibilities concerning  Paul's thorn.
          Remember that Paul was a  murderer.  Many Christians had perished
          at his hand as he  tried to rid the land of all  Christians.  Try
          and tell  me that Paul's conscience  didn't bother him.   Sure he
          was forgiven  as are we.  Do past  sins ever return to haunt you?
          They  do me.   Are we forgiven?   Yes!   Emotional guilt, though,
          often invades  our relationship with  Christ.  The price  for sin
          was once paid  by our Lord Christ  but the emotions have  not yet
          been sanctified  and must  be governed by  the Word  according to
          James 1:21.   Such is the  nature of God's perpetual  and eternal
          grace.   I believe it  is possible Paul suffered  from depression
          over his past life as he warred against the Church.  If you think
          that a  Godly  man  such as  Paul  would never  succumb  to  such
          emotions, I would caution you of ever putting a man, even a Godly
          man, on a pedestal.  Those who do are always disappointed.

          There is  one  other  possibility  which I  personally  think  is
          credible.  If, and I  am saying if, Paul's thorn in the flesh was
          relating to the psychological rather than the physical, I believe
          Paul's thorn could have been sexual in nature.  Some believe Paul
          had been  married but was  a widower  during his ministry  has an
          apostle.   He  was  certainly  young in  his  early ministry  and
          probably died, according to some, in his early sixties.  Since he
          confessed his  thorn was a  "temptation" which was in  his flesh,
          (Gal.  4:14), and  since  the  "lust of  the  eyes" is  certainly
          temptation, and because Paul admonished us so much on the lust of
          the flesh throughout  his writings, is it not  possible that Paul
          was asking God to remove natural sexual desires from him in order
          that he might more  fully serve the Lord?   It's only a  guess of
          course but it is certainly possible.  In this case, or in that of
          the  former,  God would  not  answer his  prayers  concerning the
          removal of the natural tendencies of remorse and sexuality.

          As you  read this, I'm  sure some are thinking  differently about
          such  a possibility while others are  laughing at the suggestion.
          I personally believe that there is Scriptural evidence to support
          my view  and evidence to  support those who believe  Paul's thorn
          was physical.   Those who  believe it  was physical  often do  so
          because then  it can be used as an  example that God strikes some
          with physical infirmities in order to keep them in line.  If this
          is true, it  is the only  such record  I can think  of where  God
          employed   physical punishment  with one of  his own  children in
          order to maintain submission and humility.  Such is the result of
          God's judgement of sin.  I don't personally  subscribe to such an
          interpretation which reduces God to an ogre but others apparently
          do.


                            End Of Document
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