Was the thorn in Paul’s flesh a literal sickness? Some scholars believe the thorn Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 12:7, was an eye disease. This conclusion is based on circumstantial evidence found in Galatians 4, Paul reminds the Galatians “it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.” Two verses later, he says “if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” The close proximity of the mention of an illness and the mention of his eyes suggests that his illness could have been in his eyes. Later in the same letter, Paul says, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11). If Paul did have problems with his eyes, he would have written big letters. However, all this evidence is nothing but guesswork.
Paul never actually says the thorn is a sickness. In fact, he calls it “a messenger from Satan.” The Greek word for messenger is angelos which is found in the New Testament over one hundred times. The word is translated “messenger” a total of seven times, but not once is it used to mean “sickness.” Nowhere else in the Bible is a sickness called a “messenger from Satan.” In Numbers 33:55, the inhabitants of the land of Canaan are called “thorns in your sides,” and in Joshua 23:13 the inhabitants of Canaan are called “thorns in your eyes.” In both these cases, “thorns” are personalities. I think this “thorn” was a demon or a person who plagued Paul. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose Paul’s thorn was a sickness.
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