The Thorn in the Flesh and
its Modern Counterpart

by Dr. Ken Matto

(2 Cor 12:7-9 KJV) 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.
 
Verse 7 has been one of the most misinterpreted passages of Scripture. It seems the majority of pastors and theologians attribute Paul’s thorn in the flesh to some type of eye disease based on the following text.
 
(Gal 6:11 KJV) Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
 
So taking this passage out of context, the theologians once again take two passages of unrelated Scripture and force a meaning on it. They base their conclusions on the two highlighted words in verse 9, "infirmities" and "weakness." Both of these are from the same root Greek word "astheneo" which means "one who is without strength." So instantly it must interpreted as a sickness. Wrong! The same word is found in James 5:14:
 
(James 5:14 KJV) Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
 
Now if a person is sick, why call for the elders of the church? Why not call for a physician? We call for the elders of the church because this passage reveals a person who is spiritually weak not one who is physically weak. The elders deal with spiritual problems in the church not physical healing.
 
Now that is what the theologians say, let us see what the Scriptures reveal about the thorn in the flesh. First, it must be noted that in 2 Cor. 12:7, the thorn in the flesh is described as a messenger of Satan. Right at the outset, we see that it cannot be speaking of a disease since diseases are not messengers. Messengers are someone who brings a message from someone to someone.
 
What would a messenger of Satan bring? Why would he bring a disease if Paul states that he will glory in his infirmities? Satan is not going to bring anything to God’s people which will give glory to God. Satan is the outright enemy of God and His true church. What then will Satan bring to the church or the true believer? We can find the answer to that in the following passages:
 
(2 Cor 11:13-15 KJV) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. {14} And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. {15} Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
 
Satan brings deceit into the church when he transforms himself and his ministers as true believers. Now we saw in 2 Cor 12:8 that Paul had sought the Lord 3 times that this thorn would be removed. Yet, the Lord’s answer was that His grace was sufficient for Paul. Now let us search the Bible at this point to see if we can gain some insight as to what a thorn in the flesh is.
 
(Num 33:50-55 KJV) And the LORD spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, {51} Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; {52} Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places: {53} And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it. {54} And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit. {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.
 
Here we see the Israelites were ready to pass over to the promised land but once they were there, they were commanded by God to drive out the Canaanites because they would infect Israel with false gods and false religion and thus pervert the whole nation. Unfortunately, Israel did not drive out the inhabitants completely and they became "thorns in their sides" for many years to come. They finally, infected the Israelites with their false religion and finally God had to send judgments on the nation of Israel to bring them back to Him.
 
(Josh 23:8-13 KJV) But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day. {9} For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day. {10} One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you. {11} Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God. {12} Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you: {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.
 
Here God gives Joshua a strict warning that they must drive out the inhabitants and if they choose to mingle with them, then God will allow them to become thorns in their eyes. God will not drive them out and they will become a snare and trap to the people of God by means of their false religions.
 
(Judg 2:1-3 KJV) And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. {2} And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? {3} Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.
 
Here is another warning which God gave to Israel not to mingle with the false religions and their false gods. Since Israel chose to be disobedient, God did not drive out the false inhabitants and therefore they became thorns in the side of Israel to the point that God carried them away in judgment.
 
(2 Sam 23:5-6 KJV) Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow. {6} But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands:
 
These are verses from the last words of David and here he tells us that the Sons of Belial, the unbelievers, will be as thorns which are thrust away.
 
We have seen in quite a number of verses that God uses thorns as a symbol of the unbeliever as we saw that God called the unbelieving Canaanites thorns in the sides of Israel. Now armed with this understanding, can we apply this same principle to the Apostle Paul and his ministry? The answer is a resounding yes. Who were the ones that were causing Paul the most problems? Let us look at a few passages of Scripture which will help us in the understanding of Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
 
(Gal 3:1-5 KJV) O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? {2} This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? {3} Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? {4} Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. {5} He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
 
(Gal 6:13 KJV) For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
 
We may see clearly that the Thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan were those who were following Paul and trying to pervert the grace of God by adding works to it. The messengers of Satan followed Paul and tried to undo all the work he accomplished in the churches by means of getting the early believers to go back under the bondage of the law.
 
In 2 Cor. 12, Paul was not complaining about some disease which he had. Here is a man who suffered much for the sake of Christ. All one has to do is read Paul’s tribulations in 2 Cor. 11 and see what he suffered for the sake of Christ. Why then would he ask the Lord to remove a disease from him when adversity was his way of life? Not only does the disease interpretation fall short of good exegesis it makes no logical sense knowing the life Paul led after salvation. It would be like someone having a terminal disease, then catching a cold and asking the Lord to remove the cold.
 
THE MODERN THORNS
God went through much in the Bible to teach us the symbol of thorns. Thorns then are the unbelievers who pursue the true gospel to pervert it to their way of thinking. We saw this in both the Old and New Testament. So as we approach the end of the world, is there a modern counterpart to the thorns in the flesh in the modern church? The answer is a resounding yes! Well, then what is it? It is the Charismatics!
 
Have you ever gone to a church where there is not at least one in the church who brings in the poison of tongues? There are many churches out there who are not officially charismatic, yet there are small groups of people in those churches who believe in this false gospel and begin to propagate the false teachings to other Christians in the church.
 
Toleration of this movement is the biggest mistake church leaders make. When we looked at the thorns in the Old Testament, did God say to the Israelites, well we must be tolerant of their religious beliefs and we don’t want to hurt their feelings? No, God strictly commanded them to drive them out of the new land and have nothing to do with their teachings or religion. The modern church must follow this same command. If you are not a charismatic church and someone comes into your assembly who believes in this false movement, you must "drive them out." It only takes a little poison to start infecting the rest of the congregation. If you do not stop it when it is small, then Satan will send in another and then another and pretty soon you will have your own thorn in the flesh. They add to the word, they speak lying prophecies, they bring in false teachings about health and wealth, etc. Recently I heard Creflo Dollar, one of their "anointed preachers" say on his TV program that we can command angels. Doesn’t Creflo know that God is the Lord of Hosts and not him?
 
A Charismatic in a regular church will be like the Judaizers were to Paul, as they perverted the true Gospel of grace with their keeping of the law, the Charismatics pervert the Gospel of Grace with their signs, wonders, and tongues and they always seem to gain ascendancy in all the churches they infect. Once they become entrenched in your church, it is too late. Heed the warnings now, or you may be on the outside looking in, sooner than you think. The Charismatic movement is the underlying element of the world wide ecumenical movement. It is just plain spiritual poison. Drive it out from your church as soon as it is discovered.

Back