“a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me”
What is the thorn in the flesh? Let’s get this out the way early on: basically, we don’t know. People have come up with lots of theories over the centuries, and I don’t expect to be the one to finally come up with the correct answer. If you want a debate about whether it was conjunctivitis or epilepsy, you can do that on your own time, but in this study I’m trying to avoid speculating about things that aren’t clear from the text. If Paul wanted us to know exactly what it was he was suffering from, he could easily have told us, but he chose not to, so let’s focus on what he did tell us, shall we?
Paul doesn’t tell us a lot about what it was that he suffered from, but whatever it was, it sounds painful. Whether that was physical, mental or emotional pain, I don’t know, but he describes it as a messenger of Satan, to – depending on which translation you’re using – “buffet me”, “harass me”, or “torment me”.
‘Buffet’ is not really a word we use very often, or not me anyway, so I looked up the definition and found that it means “A meal consisting of several dishes from which guests serve themselves” to “strike repeatedly and violently”.
I also found John Calvin helpful in understanding this. He says “to be buffeted is a severe kind of indignity… if anyone has had his face made black and blue, he does not, from a feeling of shame, venture to expose himself openly in the view of men.” So this buffeting was a humbling experience for Paul. In the same way that getting physically beaten up shows that you’ve come across someone stronger than you, Paul is saying whatever this messenger of Satan was, he wasn’t able to overcome it. It exposed his weakness.
That’s all I’ve got to say really about what the thorn in the flesh was, just that it was something that exposed Paul’s weakness. Now we’re going to move onto why Paul was given this thorn:
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