This is the grandfather of all objections to divine healing. The whole objection generally goes like this:
PAUL'S THORN IN THE FLESH: SICKNESS by Dr. David Duntz, PhD, DoDo
The church fathers agreed that Paul's thorn was a disease. God gave Paul a disease so that he would not get puffed up in pride. Paul called this his thorn in the flesh. We know it wasn't a spiritual thing because Paul specifically said that this thorn was "in the flesh." This was what he meant when he said that he preached in Galatia because of an illness, which he plainly said in Galatians 4:13. We can safely assume that this was a painful eye disease, because Paul talked about what an awful trial was in his flesh (Gal 4:14) and that the Galatians would have plucked their eyes out and given them to him (Gal 4:16). This disease ruined Paul's vision so that he had to write in big letters (Gal 6:11). In fact, he had Tertius write down Romans for him (Rom 16:22)! His outer man was truly perishing (2 Cor 4:16). No wonder Paul took a doctor (Luke) with him (Acts 20:6, 20:13, etc., Col 4:14)! His bodily presence was weak (2 Cor 10:10). Paul begged God three times to take away this disease, but God told Paul that he was better off being sick, because God's strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Moreover, the Greek word used for weakness in this verse is the same word translated sickness in John 11:4, diseases in Acts 28:9, and infirmity or infirmities meaning sickness in Matthew 8:17 (that verse so often quoted by faith-maniacs), Luke 5:15, Luke 8:2, Luke 13:11, Luke 13:12, John 5:5, and one of my favourite verses, 1 Tim 5:23! So we know that Paul meant sickness. Sickness is even on Paul's list of sufferings in 2 Cor 11:23-27, despite what the faith teachers say. Paul listed painfulness as one of his afflictions! Having studied Greek extensively in college, I know that one of the leading Greek lexicons says that the term "messenger of Satan" can be used figuratively of an illness. Then Paul said that he would glory in this sickness so that the power of Christ might rest upon him (2 Cor 12:9). Furthermore, he even said that he took pleasure in being sick (2 Cor 12:10). You can plainly see that Paul could not plainly see. If the great apostle Paul took pleasure in his sickness, so should you. When God chooses not to remove your sickness, you should rejoice in your weakness, knowing that you are strong in God. God will give you "sufficient grace" (2 Cor 12:9) to deal with your illness, and you can even, with Paul, take pleasure in your sickness.
The argument above is very convincing if you don't bother studying the Scriptures carefully. It sounds so Biblical that many fine Christians have swallowed this dogma, to their own hurt. There are plenty of Scripture references, right? So what if there is nowhere else in the Bible where God was unwilling to heal someone who was right with him? Maybe this is the exception we've been looking for, that blows the idea of divine healing conclusively out the window. Maybe we should believe Dr.Duntz, stay sick, and write nice testimony letters to him. e.g. ("Dr. David -- I was on the verge of believing God and getting healed, when I read your wonderful book. I want you to know that I have given up on being healed and am determined to glory in my sickness just like Paul. Thank you so much. Love, Steve")
This is a very important objection, so I have devoted a disproportionate amount of my webspace to it. If you believe this reasoning about Paul's thorn, you will have doubts in your mind even as you read Scriptures about healing. Your faith will be hindered until you settle in your heart that the "Paul's thorn" argument for accepting sickness is unscriptural nonsense.
The argument sounds rock solid, but it's full of holes. Once you see what Paul really said, you will never again struggle with doubts that either Paul or you could ever have a disease that God would not heal.
I will keep referring to the main "proof text" used, which is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
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.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.
What was Paul's thorn in the flesh?
Paul states in unmistakable terms exactly what his "thorn in the flesh" was. His thorn in the flesh was the messenger of Satan. It would be impossible to refer to a sickness as a messenger. Yet, to believe in the Paul's-thorn-was-sickness deception, you must consider sickness to be that "messenger." The only "way out" here would be an Isaiah 53:4-type problem where the translators picked the wrong word. Was messenger really the right word to use here? Let's see:
The Greek word translated messenger in 2 Cor 10:7, aggelos, appears 186 times in the New Testament. (There is at least one case where a derivative is used; I'm only counting the main word.) In 179 of these cases, it is translated angel. In 7 cases, it is translated messenger. It is never translated as anything else.
Out of these 186 cases, there is not one single case where the context could apply to something other than a sentient being. I would encourage you to browse through them a little even if you don't think I'm lying. It will reinforce the point to you that this messenger was a living being, not a thing or a disease.
But what about Dr. Duntz's Greek lexicon? It is true that one of the leading
Greek lexicons states that the term "messenger of Satan" can be used
symbolically of an illness. However, this work compares the usage of words in
the New Testament to other early Christian literature to get clearer insights
into them. Guess what?
It can't produce a single other Greek work that uses the phrase "messenger of Satan" to refer to an illness. The only reference it cites is 2 Corinthians 12! What happened here, lamentably, is that the author started with an incorrect conclusion, and then said that the Greek words must mean what this dead tradition of men says it does. (Of course, that's not quite how he put it.) I used to wonder why people who go to colleges and study Greek could ever reach the silly conclusions they do and be so out of harmony with the Bible and God's character. Now I know why. They read books like this one of Dr. Duntz and just accept them as gospel truth, assuming that the scholars who wrote them must have known what they were doing. I would encourage you to do your own mini-Greek study and draw your own unbiased conclusions about what "messenger" means. The famous ‘Greek lexicon’ is just plainly wrong on this point. You can't just assume a traditional conclusion and then say, "The Greek says it."
Just to point out to you how "clear" this Greek scholar's book is on Paul's thorn in the flesh, it lists the conditions which scholars have come up with as possibilities for Paul's "disease": Epilepsy, hysteria, periodic depressions, headaches, severe eye trouble, malaria, leprosy and a speech impediment. That's just crystal clear, isn't it? Even the "scholars" who think it was an illness can't even agree on what it was. It doesn't sound like they have any convincing proof; otherwise, there wouldn't be so many silly theories. (I think eye trouble is the current favourite.)
Paul sought the Lord that it would depart from him, not that he would be healed of it. Anyone who says Paul prayed to be healed is reading something into this passage that is simply not there. God said that his strength was made perfect in weakness, not in sickness. And since we know that the thorn was a messenger of Satan, we know from the context that Paul prayed that the angelic messenger of Satan would depart from him. The word depart is the same Greek word used in Acts 12:10 to describe the fact that an angel (same word translated messenger in 2 Cor 12:7) departed from Peter. Why should angel and depart mean one thing in 2 Cor 12:7 and another thing in Acts 12:10?
Paul said that in his infirmities, the power of Christ would rest upon him. We know that the power of Christ heals the sick; you can find many New Testament references to power coming out of Jesus and healing the sick. It is hard to picture an eye disease lasting very long in someone on whom the power of Christ rests!
As far as I'm concerned, we have already killed the idea that Paul's thorn was sickness. But let's just beat it into the ground from some other angles, since so many people are caught up with it.
Thorns in the flesh in Scripture
There are three places in the Bible other than 2 Corinthians 12 where there is a figurative "thorn in the flesh." (There is also a case in Proverbs 26:9 comparing a literal thorn going into the hand of a drunkard to a parable in the mouth of fools.) Read these and you will see that in these cases, the "thorns" are sentient beings and not diseases or any other things, including literal thorns:
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.
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.
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.
If we are going to say that Paul's thorn was literally "in his flesh," we should also take these statements literally. The only problem with this reasoning is that the inhabitants of the land were giants, and it would be difficult to fit them into your sides, much less your eyes.
No, "thorns in your sides" and "thorns in your eyes" are obviously figures of speech used to describe living beings (in this case the Canaanites), not diseases. Paul is saying that this messenger of Satan was irritating, not that it was literally "in his flesh." A modern-day equivalent would be, "People who make dead, traditional statements about Paul's thorn, and fight you on healing can be a pain in the neck." This does not mean that you experience neck pain whenever you meet such a person. It is a figurative expression, although not a very nice one, just as "thorn in the flesh" is a figurative expression.
If you take in and flesh literally, you must conclude that Paul had a demon, because he would have a messenger of Satan in his body. That is clearly not the case, because the messenger buffeted him, which is act that must take place from the outside, never the inside. (More on this shortly.)
People have made a big deal about the words 'in' and 'flesh', but if that is fair, I demand an equal right to make a big deal about the words 'thorn' and 'the'!
If you're going to take flesh literally, it seems to me that you must also take thorn literally. This would explain Paul's thorn: Paul's thorn in the flesh was a thorn in the flesh! He sat down in a briar patch or leant against a cactus somewhere and got a thorn in his flesh. He couldn't get rid of it, and God wouldn't remove it for him. Timothy couldn't help him because he didn't have any tweezers with him. Sound reasonable? No, that would hardly be "the messenger of Satan."
Paul did not say that he had a thorn in his flesh. He said it was a thorn in the flesh. Therefore, you cannot take the word flesh as proof that the "thorn" was "in" Paul's flesh. If you were sick, would you way, "I have a pain in the stomach," or "The head hurts?" No, you would refer to "my stomach" and "my head," wouldn't you? Why should you assume that a "thorn in the flesh" means a "thorn in my flesh" when that isn't what Paul said?
Paul said that Epaphroditus and Trophimus were sick, but he never attributes that to a thorn in the flesh. When Paul meant sick, he said sick; he didn't couch it in spiritual terms. He never used either "thorn in the flesh" or "the messenger of Satan" to refer to anyone else's sickness.
What Paul's thorn did to him
Paul said that the messenger (angel) of Satan was sent to buffet him. The Greek word used (Strong's dictionary #2852, kolaphizo) means "to rap with the fist" (by implication, dealing repeated blows). This is consistent with Paul's experience, as he was frequently beaten up and tortured in various ways for preaching the gospel. The idea is that this demonic being was behind the incidents where crowds were stirred up to stone Paul, and when mobs travelled from city to city to harm him physically. You would not say that a disease "buffets" someone, since by definition buffeting takes place from the outside, not the inside. Have you ever heard someone say, "This eye disease is really buffeting me? My uncle is being buffeted with cancer." Of course not. Here are the other places in the New Testament where this same Greek word is used:
"Then they did spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands" -- Matthew 26:67.
"And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say to him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands" -- Mark 14:65.
"Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace" -- 1 Cor 4:11.
"For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." -- 1 Peter 2:20.
Buffeting in the New Testament clearly relates to being abused for preaching the gospel, not being sick.
Paul explicitly enumerates his "infirmities." This word can and does refer to bodily sickness in the New Testament, but it is also used to describe weakness that does not necessarily have to do with sickness. Let's look at what Paul said in context so that we can dismiss the notion that Paul was glorying in and taking pleasure in his diseases.
Paul lists his trials, which do NOT include illnesses, in 2 Cor 11:23-27. If this thorn in the flesh were a terrible illness that he had begged God to take away, surely he would have listed it among his sufferings. He mentions just about everything else you can think of, but there is no reference to illness.
But what about painfulness, which is included in his list of sufferings? Couldn't that be from a sickness? No, it couldn't. The word translated painfulness is Strong's #3449, defined as toil or sadness (by implication). It does not mean physical pain. This should be clear from the other places where the same Greek word was used in the New Testament (word itself bold italicized below):
"For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." -- 1 Thess 2:9.
"Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:" -- 2 Thess 3:8.
The word simply does not mean physical pain, illness or sickness. No way. Forget it.
Now let's see how he continues in 2 Cor 11:28-33:
Beside those things that are without [Paul said all those trials came from the outside. A disease would come from the inside!], that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.
Here Paul is glorying in his infirmities. His example is how he had to be let out of a city in a basket. It does not say that Paul was a basket case; it says he was lowered in a basket. He went through a window, not through this year's flu strain. He is referring to his human weakness and inability, not a disease.
From the context in verse 10 (infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions and distresses), it would seem that Paul's problems were coming from the outside, not the inside, and that they were related to preaching the gospel. Paul had just spent a good deal of space enumerating his suffering for the gospel in Chapter 11, and he nowhere mentioned sickness.
It is a fact that the same Greek word Paul used for weakness (Strong's #769) is translated sickness in John 11:4, diseases in Acts 28:9 and infirmity or infirmities in a few others. (Dr. Duntz mentioned them all, of course.) But this does not prove that Paul was talking about sickness, because that word, and others derived from the same root, are actually translated weak (or a related word) more often than sick (or a related word). I have included a table of their usage in the next section to prove this. You may refer to Strong's Concordance to verify my claims. Moral: Don't base your convictions on someone's interpretation of Greek until you study it for yourself! Dr. Duntz's Greek argument sounded pretty impressive until you read this, didn't it?
But what about Paul in Galatia?
Paul was stoned and left for dead at Lystra, Galatia. The disciples gathered around him, and he got up! However, we can assume that his body was in less than perfect condition after such an incident. Paul does indeed say that he preached in Galatia at the first "through infirmity of the flesh." But he never mentioned preaching through "infirmity of the flesh" anywhere else, including Galatia when he returned there later. This proves that God healed Paul of whatever physical problem he had in Galatia the first time.
Another proof is in Gal 4:14: "And the temptation which was in my flesh...." If it was in his flesh, it was not still in his flesh when he wrote this letter, so Paul was not having eye trouble or any other kind of trouble when he wrote to the Galatians. Thus, his problem could not have been a chronic, ongoing thing throughout his ministry as his "thorn in the flesh" was.
Also, it is going out on of a limb to claim that Paul said he preached because of a disease. The word infirmity is also used to denote weakness or incapacity not related to disease, and Paul was probably weak after his stoning. One would suspect this shade of meaning because Paul said that he preached through infirmity of the flesh, not through an infirmity of the flesh. In fact, the word through used here does not often indicate a causal relationship, although there are some verses where it does. Paul did not say that he preached because of infirmity of the flesh, although "infirmity of the flesh" is something he went "through" in Galatia. You can't make an open-and-shut case out of the Greek words in this verse, but you should be aware that there are other shades of meaning that would be consistent with usage elsewhere in the New Testament. In other words, Paul may well have been saying, "I preached to you in weakness," not "I preached to you because of weakness."
The Greek word translated infirmity is also used in the verses below. It is used to describe illnesses in other places, but the point is that it can refer to weakness instead of illness:
"For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity..." -- Heb 7:28. Surely there was no law requiring high priests to be sick, since there was one requiring them not to be sick (Leviticus 21:16-23)!
"For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity." -- Heb 5:1-2. This did not mean that all high priests had to have high fevers.
"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak..." -- Rom 15:1. (This word is closely related, but not identical, to the main Greek word in question.) Paul was not saying that we should bear weak Christians' colds for them!
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." -- Heb 4:15. Jesus is touched with our inability to stay out of sin without God's help, having been human himself.
"The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself [himself] maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" -- Rom 8:26. The Spirit helps us with our inability to pray right, not our sicknesses, although he will help you overcome your sicknesses by leading you into the truth about healing.
"I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness." -- Rom 6:19. Paul did not speak as he did because of the sickness of their flesh.
Here is a count of how many times this and related Greek words are translated certain ways. The words in question are Strong's #769 through #772 -- astheneia, astheneo, asthenema, and asthenes.
Weak, weaker, weakness 35
Without strength 1
TOTAL "WEAK" 37
Sick, sickness 26
Diseases, diseased 2
TOTAL "SICK" 31
TOTAL INFIRM, INFIRMITIES
(Only 7 of these clearly signify sickness) 18
Therefore, although the word could mean sickness, you cannot prove that Paul meant sickness. He could simply have been saying that he preached in weakness.
What does "exalted above measure" mean?
This phrase, used twice in 2 Corinthians 12:7, could be taken two ways. Either way, it leads to another argument against your sickness being Paul's thorn in the flesh. I personally believe that there is only one correct way to interpret the phrase. It comes from a Greek compound word that literally means, "over-lifted." Some have interpreted it to mean that Satan did not want Paul's ministry to be exalted, while others have interpreted it to mean that God did not want Paul to become conceited.
The ambiguity comes from Paul's use of the passive phrase, "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh," together with the reason, "lest I be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations." Was Satan trying to stop Paul's ministry from being exalted, or was God permitting Satan to buffet Paul to prevent him from becoming conceited because he knew so much? I don't think you can prove either interpretation from the Greek word alone. However, given what the balance of Scripture says about humility, it would be inconsistent for this passage to say that God wanted Paul to be buffeted so that he would stay humble. God tells us to humble ourselves. He never says to let him humble us. He never even offers to humble us! Surely God is a better parent than you are. Would you physically abuse your children to keep them humble?
The Scriptural perspective on both humility and exaltation is found in these verses:
1 Peter 5:6:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.
Luke 14:11 and Luke 18:14:
He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
God wants you to be exalted as long as you do things his way! "Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land" (Psalm 37:24). Therefore, we must conclude that God wanted Paul to be exalted in that sense. It would be Satan, not God, who would not want Paul's ministry to be exalted. Surely you cannot think that God wants to put preachers in jail. God did miracles to get preachers out of jail! Jesus said that it was Satan, not God, who would throw some believers into prison in Revelation 2:10.
Thus, the only consistent interpretation of this word is similar to the King James rendering, exalted above measure, where exaltation is a positive thing, not a negative thing.
However, if you still insist on interpreting it the other way, it makes an equally compelling argument why you do not have a "thorn in the flesh." If Paul needed it to stay humble despite his great revelations, you must have great revelations to qualify for a thorn in the flesh. Have you had any great revelations? I doubt it. If you really had the revelations that Paul did, you would be out doing what Paul did. Like Paul, you would be getting healed yourself and going out and getting lots of other people healed!
Who gave Paul his thorn in the flesh?
It was Satan's idea, not God's, to give Paul a thorn in the flesh. Satan was the one who sent Paul's thorn in the flesh, as is clear from Paul's words. Satan certainly did not send it to keep Paul humble! Why would Satan do something to help keep Paul out of pride? He would have wanted Paul to get into pride!
Paul did not beg the Lord three times to remove something that he thought the Lord had put on him. Paul begged the Lord that it would depart from him. There is a difference! It is true that God allowed it. He does allow persecutions on the earth. You are not redeemed from persecution for righteousness' sake; you are guaranteed it! But if Paul were convinced that his thorn were from God, he would not have asked God to have it depart from him. Would you want anything that is of God to depart from you, given that all good things come from God?
This leads to another question. If Satan gave Paul his thorn, and Paul taught that we reign in life, seated with Jesus in the heavenlies far above Satan, why didn't Paul take authority over Satan and make him stop the persecution? Again, the servant is not above his master. Jesus was persecuted. He did not "believe away" or "confess away" his persecution. God protected him from those who wanted to kill him, but Jesus did not make the devil stop sending people to criticize and harass him and even try to kill him. The devil has a right to be here, and God will permit people to speak their minds even when their minds are full of garbage.
The bottom line is that God's grace was sufficient for Paul. God's grace allowed Paul to finish his course with joy. God's grace enabled Paul to fulfil his ministry despite what Satan did through his messenger. You should expect God's grace to be sufficient for you, too. If sickness cuts you down in mid-life, you cannot finish your course, and you have not partaken of this grace that is sufficient to give you victory in every trial. Paul had more trials than many of us put together, yet because of the grace that was sufficient for him, he was able to report in the same book (in 2 Corinthians 2:14) that God always caused him to triumph in Christ! God's grace was always greater than Satan's attacks, so Paul lived in victory. He did not go through life defeated by a "thorn in the flesh," so neither should you.
Paul preached healing!
We know that Paul preached that healing was available because of the account in Acts 14:7-10. Paul did not heal the man. The man received faith to be healed listening to Paul preach the gospel, and Paul just told him to act on his faith. Since faith comes by hearing God's Word, Paul must have preached healing to the man. It was not Paul's doctrine at Lystra that sickness is a thorn in the flesh to be patiently endured. So it was certainly not his doctrine later.
Paul did not tell the multitudes who were healed when handkerchiefs were brought from his body that sickness was a thorn in the flesh. He did not tell all the sick people on the island in Acts 28 that they had to endure sickness as a thorn in the flesh -- he got them all healed. You can be sure that Paul's doctrine did not include being sick to stay humble. How would these people have been healed if Paul told them that he himself was sick for some purpose? That would not build faith in anyone. The minute you tell someone that God makes exceptions to healing (wrong), people will assume that they are in that exceptional category. The flesh will receive unbelief more readily than truth, and if you give people an excuse, they will generally take it.
Would the same Paul who taught that healing was in the Atonement, that the same price paid at Calvary bought both our body and our Spirit, and that our body belongs to God (1 Cor 6:19-20), believe that his own body was exempt from this? Would the same Paul who said that the Lord was for the body (1 Cor 6:13) conclude that the Lord was against his own body?
Paul preached that sickness can be judgment for sin
Paul talked about homosexuals receiving just recompense in their bodies for their sin in Romans 1. Illness is obviously implied but not stated. So Paul's theology is that sickness is a curse, not a normal part of Christian life. Paul said that many in Corinth were weak and sickly and many were prematurely dead because of bad attitudes toward the things of God and the body of Christ. We must conclude that Paul taught, along with the rest of Scripture, that sickness is a curse and a consequence of sin, not a normal part of Christian life. He said the Corinthians were sick and dying for a cause -- because of their sin. Paul was not mistreating his brothers and sisters in the Lord or treating the Lord's ordinances lightly. He had no cause to be weak, sick, or prematurely dead. If Paul were sick, how would the Corinthians (to whom he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians!) take him seriously when he said they were sick for a reason? They would have wondered what Paul did to get sick himself!
A pipe carrying water gets wet!
When you are used as a channel of blessing to others, that very blessing will manifest in your life. It is inconsistent with the gospel that everyone else would be healed, but that the man "sowing" healing would have to remain sick and not "reap" healing himself! This would contradict Galatians 6:7 ("Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap") and Ephesians 6:8 ("Whatsoever good any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord"), to say nothing of 2 Timothy 2:6 ("The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits") and Deuteronomy 25:4 ("Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn"). According to this principle, if you are providing benefits for others, you are entitled to enjoy some of that harvest yourself. Paul, labouring in God's harvest and bringing healing to multitudes, could not be excluded from being healed himself because of this principle. As some like to say, a pipe carrying water gets wet!
What about all those Scriptures proving that Paul had an eye disease?
What Scriptures? There is not a single verse in the Bible that proves that Paul had an eye disease. And there are many good reasons to believe he didn't. This is a myth that arose from making unwarranted conclusions from a few verses.
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.
From the Greek words for large and letter, this could either mean, "See what big print I used" or "See what a long letter I wrote to you." The latter would seem to fit the context better, although you cannot conclusively prove one translation or another by reading the Greek. At least one Greek manuscript has letters in the plural, and at least one puts it in the singular. It appears that the King James Version was translated from one that put it in the singular. (This raises an important point to consider when people tell you that the original Greek says something. There are different Greek versions in circulation based on different manuscripts, just as there are different English editions.)
The Greek word for letter can mean either a letter of the alphabet or a letter written to someone. It is used both ways in the New Testament, so there is no conclusive proof either way based on this word. The word for how large is also inconclusive given its other New Testament use in Hebrews 7:4, where it talks about how great Melchisedec was. Based on the words alone, "how large a letter" could mean either how long the epistle was or how large the letters were. Of course, if you use certain Greek manuscripts, you would have to go with the second option. It is beyond the scope of this book to get into why certain manuscripts have been preferred over others. (I have read Greek "proofs" that the word for large must refer to the epistle and not the letters, but I am not convinced. Size is the issue whether it is the size of the epistle or the size of the letters. Perhaps you Greek experts out there can make a case proving that Paul meant the size of the letters. I can't prove it, and I'm not going to parrot someone else's argument that I cannot prove myself.)
One commentator points out that all Greek writing of the day was fairly large, and if Paul had to write any larger than that, he would probably have been blind. I was not around then and cannot vouch for that, but it is an interesting point.
I would not claim conclusive proof either way, but I would lean toward the "long letter to the Galatians" interpretation because it can fit into the context in a way that the "big letters" interpretation cannot. In the verses that follow, Paul compares himself to the fake apostles who just want to make a show in the flesh. You could read the "long letter" interpretation in context to mean, "Look how much I care for you, as shown by the effort I put into writing you this long letter myself with my own hand. Some preachers don't care about your well-being at all, but just want to glory in your flesh." That would at least flow into the next verses, while I can't find a reasonable way that "Look at the big letters I used when I handwrote this letter" would flow into the next verses.
If you want to weigh this one yourself, the next verses are: "As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world."
I am not claiming conclusive proof for either interpretation; I don't believe that there is firm proof either way. Given that this is the case, opponents of healing cannot use this as a "proof text" that Paul used big letters. I believe that the evidence leans the other way.
Even if Paul did use big letters, that still does not prove that he did so because he had an eye problem!
Now what about the fact that Paul dictated letters (as he dictated Romans to Tertius)? That does not prove that he could not see straight. If the chairman of a big corporation dictates a letter to his secretary, is that proof that he can't see straight? It is probable that Paul dictated most of his letters, given Gal 6:11 above. He may have had to. Paul spent a lot of time in jail. I don't know how jailers then felt about giving Paul a pen and paper to write notes to his friends, but it is possible that the jailers did not want Paul to write escape plans or use a pen as a weapon to make an escape.
But what about Gal 4:15, where the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to Paul? This is possibly nothing more than a simple statement of affection. Even if Paul had temporary eye trouble at the first from his stoning (also very possible), he surely did not keep it. Since the trouble Paul had in Galatia was only "at the first" and not ongoing, we know that this definitely could not have been a lingering eye problem that was a "thorn in the flesh" to Paul.
But why did Paul take Doctor Luke with him? To help him preach the gospel, of course. Luke may have been a doctor, but his authorship of Luke and the book of Acts demonstrates that he was no mere hired nurse to take care of Paul's medical problems!
What about Paul talking about the outward man perishing? He means that our bodies are mortal. We will all die eventually unless Jesus comes back soon. Paul could not have meant that a disease was killing him before he could finish his course for God, because Paul did finish his course. Although the Bible does not state it explicitly, historical tradition is that Paul was martyred. He did not die of any kind of illness.
What about his bodily presence being weak? Paul was simply saying that he was accused of not being much of a Hollywood act when he was ministering; his appearance and speech were unimpressive. See the next section for a good rebuttal of the idea that Paul was physically weak.
If Paul had eye trouble, why did he "set his eyes on" the sorcerer in Acts 13 while saying something fairly lengthy? How could he "stedfastly behold" the man at Lystra? Why would the man at Lystra get faith to be healed looking at someone who was suffering from a terrible eye disease? For that matter, why would anyone else in Paul's ministry receive faith to be healed while listening to a man with an obvious, chronic problem?
If Paul's eyes were so bad, then why, near the end of his life, did he ask Timothy to bring him books and parchments? I don't imagine that they had special large-print editions of everything back then. Paul would not have asked for things that he couldn't read!
If Paul's eyes were bad, wouldn't it be ironic that he was used to heal all the sick people on an island, but had to stay sick himself? (The Greek word translated others in the phrase, "Others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed," means the remaining ones in Greek, not simply some other people.) Why would people throng to a visibly sick man and expect healing? If they saw Publius well and Paul sick, they probably would have figured they had a 50/50 chance of being healed. Also notice that Paul didn't tell anyone to keep his illness because it was a thorn in the flesh. They all were healed.
The anointing on Paul was so strong at Ephesus that handkerchiefs that had
touched his body caused diseases to depart from those they touched (Acts 19:11-12).
So it would be doubtful that an illness would have survived in Paul's body.
Besides, if he had an eye infection or some other obvious disease, the people
would have avoided touching anything that had touched Paul, rather than touching
others with items that had been on Paul's body! In fact, people should have
been bringing anointed cloths to HIM if he had a disease. Of course, Paul could
simply have taken one of the anointed cloths and laid it on himself if he were
If Paul were sick, he could not have said to Agrippa, "I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains" (Acts 26:29). It is obvious that Paul did not want anyone sick, as he kept getting the sick healed in his ministry. If Paul were chronically ill, he would have had to tell Agrippa, "I wish you were all like me, except for these chains and this darned disease that God won't take away because it's my thorn in the flesh."
If Paul was sick, why did he tell the Romans, "And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:29)? It was common knowledge that Paul brought healing when he preached the gospel and that this was part of the gospel of Christ. When Christ himself came and preached the gospel, healing was a notable part of it. In fact, the Bible pattern is that this part of the gospel should attract the attention of sinners. If Paul were sick, he would not be coming in the fullness of the gospel as it was known then. How sad that anyone today could think that "the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" does not include physical healing now as it did then!
The Bible does not even insinuate that the apostle Paul had an incurable eye disease, or any other ongoing disease, for that matter.
Compare your health to Paul's!
If you think Paul was sick, read 2 Corinthians and compare what his body endured to what you think you could endure. He walked all over the map to preach the gospel. He was often poorly clothed, poorly fed and cold during his journeys. He was often sleepless and fasting. He was lashed 39 times on 5 different occasions, beaten with rods 3 times, stoned and left for dead once, and shipwrecked 3 times. This man was amazing! How do you think you would have held up under these circumstances? Would people today who think they have to endure a thorn in the flesh be able to keep up with Paul in his travels, and "faint not" (2 Cor 4:1)? Why do people think they have to live with their illness instead of expecting that "the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body...the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:10-11), as Paul did?
If anything, Paul's physical survival despite these tortures and problems is a testimony to the ability of the Holy Spirit to "quicken our mortal body," as Paul wrote (Romans 8:11).
Paul told Timothy that he had finished his course (2 Tim 4:7), so his "thorn" did not shorten his life. How could Paul have laboured more abundantly than the other alleged apostles at Corinth (2 Cor 11:23) if he was such a sick, weak man? Paul worked day and night in secular labour to pay for his preaching expenses at Thessalonica (2 Thess 3:8), and then preached on top of that! Not bad for someone who was quite likely stoned to death and raised to life at Lystra! He says in 1 Cor 15:32 that he fought with beasts at Ephesus. (It does not seem that this would refer to people, since the disciples would not let Paul into the theatre when there was an uproar, and there is no account in Acts 19 that Paul actually got into fights with anyone at Ephesus; he avoided fights with men there.) How would you like to fight with wild animals while in perfect health?
Can you see the utter stupidity of thinking that cancer that confines you to a sickbed in pain could possibly be your "thorn in the flesh?" Would you be able to live as Paul did with his thorn in the flesh? No! Then what you have is not what Paul called his thorn in the flesh! If you cannot "labour abundantly" as Paul did for the Gospel's sake, your condition has nothing on earth to do with Paul's thorn, since Paul's thorn didn't stop him from finishing his course and doing everything God wanted him to do.
Strength in weakness
Does God make you strong while he makes you weak with sickness? Is God some kind of schizoid wacko who makes you weak so that his strength can make you strong in your weakness? That's confusing, isn't it?
The fact that God strengthened Paul in his weakness should show you that God is into strengthening his saints, not weakening them. It was the people who beat Paul who weakened him, not God. God is our strength, not our weakness!
Paul rejoiced because of the strength of God that manifested itself in his weakness. How can anyone who has nothing but weakness in his body think that he is in Paul's condition? If God's strength is not manifesting itself in you, you aren't like Paul. Paul was made strong in his weakness. This is yet more proof that God is the Healer and not the Sickener. If you aren't made strong in your weakness, you certainly aren't in Paul's position.
Sufficient, not insufficient, grace
God said that his grace was sufficient for Paul. How can people stay sick and think that that they have Paul's thorn in the flesh? They must think that God's grace is insufficient for their healing. God kept Paul alive until he had accomplished all that God wanted him to do. God healed Paul every time his persecutors beat him up. Compare this to alleged "thorns in the flesh" that cut good men down in the prime of life, leaving the will of God in their lives largely undone.
If the church fathers believed Paul's thorn was a disease, they were wrong
Many great historical church figures did not know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit or many other things that we take for granted today. We can admire them for the work they did. But the only valid test of doctrine is Scripture itself, not the opinions of church leaders. It does not matter if all great figures in church history believed that Paul's thorn was an illness. If they did, they were wrong. Paul said it was a messenger of Satan, not an illness. Luther and Calvin, to name two, did not believe that Paul's thorn was a sickness, so it is an overgeneralization to say that "all" historical teachers taught that.
Paul's thorn didn't stop anyone else from getting healed through his ministry
As a famous healing minister asked a long time ago, if Paul's thorn in the flesh didn't stop anyone from getting healed in his ministry, why should it stop anyone TODAY from being healed? Think about it. Given Paul's success in healing the sick, he couldn't possibly have been preaching the "God wouldn't heal me," "Put-up-with-your-sickness-through-God's-strength" version of 2 Cor 12:7-10 cited so often by critics of divine healing. If Paul really believed himself what unenlightened Christians say today, that God lets some people be sick as a thorn in the flesh, Paul surely would have made some exceptions instead of healing all the sick people on the island of Melita. Paul did not practice what some people accuse him of saying in 2 Cor 12:7-10.
God didn't heal Paul's thorn in the flesh because it was not an illness! It was an angel of Satan sent to get Paul beaten up everywhere he went. Although we are redeemed from sickness, we are not redeemed from persecution for the gospel's sake. If you are being tortured for your faith, we might listen to you talk about a thorn in the flesh buffeting you. If you are simply sick, your condition has nothing to do with what Paul was discussing. Sickness is not, and never has been, a "thorn in the flesh" that God will not remove! God could not legally require you to endure something that Jesus bore for you and redeemed you from!