A Second Common Objection

It is often said, “Paul had a thorn in the flesh, and God didn’t heal him.”

The idea that Paul’s thorn was sickness, however, is simply a bad theological theory in light of the fact that Paul told us exactly what His thorn was—an angel of Satan:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor. 12:7-9, emphasis added).

The word translated messenger is the Greek word “aggelos,”* which is translated angel or angels in over 160 places where it is found in the New Testament. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was an angel of Satan sent to buffet him; it was not a sickness or disease.

Notice also that there is no mention of Paul’s praying to be healed nor is there any indication that God refused to heal him. On three occasions, Paul simply asked God if He would remove the buffeting angel, and God said that His grace was sufficient.

Who is the one who gave Paul this thorn? Some believe it was Satan, since the thorn was called an “angel of Satan.” Others believe it was God because the thorn was apparently given so Paul wouldn’t be lifted up in pride. Paul himself said, “To keep me from exalting myself.”

The King James version translates these verses a little differently. Rather than saying, “to keep me from exalting myself,” it says, “lest I should be exalted above measure.” This is an important difference because God is not opposed to our being exalted. In fact, He promises to exalt us if we will humble ourselves. So it is quite possible that God was the one doing the exalting and Satan was trying to stop Paul’s exaltation by assigning a specific buffeting angel to stir up trouble wherever Paul traveled. Yet God said He would use the circumstances for His glory because His power could be manifested more in Paul’s life as a result of his weaknesses.

Regardless, to say that Paul was sick and that God refused to heal him is a gross distortion of what the Bible actually states. In the passage about his thorn in the flesh, Paul never mentioned any sickness, and there is nothing resembling a refusal on God’s part to heal him of his supposed sickness. If an honest person will read through Paul’s listing of all his trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30, he will not find sickness or disease even mentioned once.