Thorn in the flesh
Thorn in the flesh is a colloquialism used to describe a chronic infirmity, annoyance, or trouble in one's life. It is most commonly used by Christians. The source of this Bible expression is Paul the Apostle, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians 12:7–9:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (KJV)
Other passages where "thorn" is used as a metaphor:
And there shall be no more a pricking briar 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.—Ezekiel 28:24
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.—Joshua 23:13
Paul does not mention the nature of his thorn, and his other epistles do not address the topic directly. Through the centuries Christians have speculated about what Paul referred to:
- One interpretation is that the thorn describes the persecutions and unfortunate accidents that characterized Paul's life after his conversion to Christianity; as laid out in the preceding chapter 11 of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
- Some Roman Catholic writers think that it denotes suggestions to impiety.
- Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers interpret the expression as denoting temptation to unbelief.
- Others suppose the expression refers to "a pain in the ear or head," epileptic fits, or, in general, to some severe physical infirmity, which was a hindrance to the apostle in his work (comp. 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 10:10; 11:30; Gal. 4:13, 14; 6:17).
- It has been suggested that his malady was a defect of sight, acute ophthalmia, caused by the dazzling light that shone around him at his conversion. This would account for the statements in Gal. 4:14; 2 Cor. 10:10; also Acts 23:5, and for his generally making use of the help of an amanuensis (comp. Rom. 16:22, etc.).
- Another view which has been maintained is that this "thorn" consisted in an infirmity of temper, to which he occasionally gave way, and which interfered with his success (comp. Acts 15:39; 23:2-5). If we consider the fact, "which the experience of God's saints in all ages has conclusively established, of the difficulty of subduing an infirmity of temper, as well as the pain, remorse, and humiliation such an infirmity is wont to cause to those who groan under it, we may be inclined to believe that not the least probable hypothesis concerning the 'thorn' or 'stake' in the flesh is that the loving heart of the apostle bewailed as his sorest trial the misfortune that, by impatience in word, he had often wounded those for whom he would willingly have given his life" (Lias's Second Cor., Introd.).
- John Shelby Spong suggested that it refers to repressed homosexual desires. Paul strongly condemned acting on such desires in his other writings. (Romans 1:26–27, 1Corinthians 6:9, and 1Timothy 1:10)
- 2 Corinthians 12:7–9 – multi-version compare
- Ezekiel 28:24 – Joshua 23:13
- 2Cor.12:7 Parallel Commentaries
- Easton, Matthew George (1897). "Thorn in the flesh". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.
- Spong, John Shelby (2009). Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. HarperCollins. pp. 116–119. ISBN 9780061753190.