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What was Paul's splinter in the flesh?

13-09-2013 - Posted by Andre Piet


Wherefore also, lest I should be lifted up by the transcendence of the revelations, there was given to me a splinter in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, that he may be buffeting me, lest I may be lifted up. -2Corinthians 12:7-

There has been much speculation about the above question. All kinds of ailments or disabilities that can afflict mankind have, in the course of time, been suggested, even to epilepsy and homosexuality. All these speculations are unnecessary, since Paul himself provides the answer in that well-known Bible verse, itself. Let me begin with showing the English language Interlinear (ISA) of 2Cor.12:7 :  

IN the flesh

In the first place, it should be noted that the preposition “in” is not in the original. There is no question of a splinter (thorn) IN the flesh. The grammatical case in which the definite article “the” is used, can best be displayed with “a thorn for the flesh”. “IN the flesh” gives too much the suggestion of a physical condition, while that is not in the expression.


Secondly, the word “angel” is quite suggestive. Involuntarily, we then think of a celestial being, while the underlying “aggelos” indicates a messenger, whether or not of a heavenly origin. The spies, for example, whom Rahab, the prostitute, received into her home are called “aggelos”, i.e., messengers (Jam.2:25). Rahab took no angels into her home, but messengers.

Paul’s own clarification

There is no reason to guess about Paul’s “splinter (thorn) in the flesh”, as he immediately explains the metaphor, itself: it is a messenger of Satan! In the context of 2Corinthians, chapters 10-12, that is very logical, as well. Paul, in these chapters, elaborately writes about the opponents of his message, who had gotten a foothold in the Ecclesia in Corinth. He calls them false apostles and fraudulent workers and compares them to Satan, who masquerade as a messenger of light (11:13,14). These men preached “another Jesus” and “another evangel” (11:4 cf Gal.1:9). He describes them as workers who enslaved Corinthians, putting demands on them and lashing them in the face (11:20). 2Cor. Ch. 10-12 shows a Paul who, as if stung, responds to the allegations and insinuations of one of them. These were no less than a slap in his face. That is the splinter (thorn) for Paul’s flesh: a messenger of Satan whom as it were, hit him with fists.

splinter (thorn)

The word for “splinter” {thorn} (“skolops”; Str.4647), we also know from the Greek translation of the OT. Do we also involve the use of this word in our study, we see the above perfectly confirmed.

And there is no more to the house of Israel a pricking brier, and paining thorn, Of all round about them–despising them, -Ezekiel 28:24-

Yet if you should not evict the dwellers of the land from your presence, then those whom you are leaving of them will become barbs in your eyes and pricks in your sides, and they will distress you in the land in which you are dwelling. -Numbers 33:55-

Opponents among the people, those who oppress or cause pain, are called “thorns” or “splinters”. Paul uses this well-known manner of speaking in 2Cor.12:7. Consequently, he is not referring to any physical ailment or a mental disorder. No, Paul speaks of an unnamed opponent, whose distorting allegations were a slap in his face. Three times Paul prayed that this messenger might depart from him, but he was told, “Sufficient for you is My grace, for My power in infirmity is being perfected.” (12:9).