What was Paul’s “Thorn in the Flesh?”

(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

by Tony Warren

I. What is the Biblical Definition of a Thorn?    Many of the theologians of our day have made the assumption that the thorn in the flesh that Paul referenced in 2nd Corinthians was likely some physical ailment. What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? The theories are that it was probably stammering speech, arthritis, malaria, bad eyesight or some other physical illness or malignity. Others believe that we can’t really know from the scriptures what this thorn in the flesh was. One would wonder if biblical hermeneutics have digressed so far that “comparing scripture with scripture” is now not even considered an option? Even the use of the common concordance would reveal much of the truth of this idiom used here. One of the first principles of sound biblical interpretation is that the scripture is its own interpreter. In other words, the Bible is not subject to our own personal opinions or private interpretations. Therefore, before we can assign a meaning to any passage, we must search both the context of the passage in question, as well as the whole Bible itself, to see how the word is used throughout scripture. In this system we take care to note if there are any other words or passages that might somehow relate. And in this way, we surrender to God (via His infallible harmonic word) as the interpreter of His own word. We cannot arbitrarily assume or guess at anything in discerning difficult passages. In the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, simply looking up the word thorn throughout the Bible and examining how “God” uses it, what it represents, and the context in which the word is found, I believe would reveal what his thorn represented. For the scriptures (both the Old and the New Testament), are replete with examples. The “thorn” in scripture is a common word that is frequently used very figuratively, as the Apostle Paul was using it. And of course he was very familiar with the Old Testament scriptures, so I believe that he surely used this term in the same way that it is used throughout scripture. Indeed, God is the true author of these scriptures, and so we would “expect” there to be harmony and consistency in the use of the word in similar situations. For example:

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.”


God is not using this language of a scourge (piercing or pricks) in their sides and thorns in their eyes to denote some bodily disorder as some might assume today. Rather, God is using these terms to signify the people of these other nations will be entanglements for the Lord’s people to vex them or cause spiritual affliction. They are represented as “scourges and thorns” to signify that they will trouble them and cause them not to see clearly. In other words, these foreigners will be their nemesis to frustrate them in serving the Lord. Likewise, in the book of Numbers, God uses this same type idiom, declaring these wicked people will be pricks or scourges in their eyes and thorns in their sides.


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.” continue reading http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/bible/thorn.html


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s