Ask The Chaplain

Ask The Chaplain

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Was Paul's Thorn in The Flesh?

Paul’s explanation of what his splinter in the flesh really was is quite clear:

"Wherefore also, lest I should be lifted up by the transcendence of the revelations, there was given me a splinter in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, that he may be buffeting me, lest I may be lifted up"

"For this I entreat the Lord thrice, that it should withdraw from me. And He protested to me, ‘Sufficient for you is My grace, for My power in Infirmity is being perfected" (II Cor. 12:7-9).

Notice, "...there was given me a splinter in the flesh, a messenger of Satan..." The "splinter" is the "messenger." It is exactly the same as "...there is one God, the Father..." The "Father" IS the "one God." The splinter IS the messenger. But wait; there’s more.

So the "messenger" is the "splinter." What was the messenger to do to Paul? Answer: "...that he may be buffeting me..." (Ver. 8).

"Buffeting" comes from the Greek word kol aph iz’o = CHASTEN-FROM. It means: "to rap with the fist" (Strong’s Greek Dictionary p. 43. Webster’s, buffet, (bufit) n. a blow. "A blow." Now where have we seen that before?

II Cor. 11:23--" blows inordinately..."

Again, Webster’s New World Dictionary, blow n. 1 a hard hit, as with the fist 2 a sudden attack 3 a sudden calamity; shock.

Webster’s Twenteth-Century Dictionary gives us an even broader definition: buffeting, n. 1. A striking with the hands. 2. A succession of blows; strife; opposition; adversity.

So now we have a good idea of the meaning of this word "buffet"--A hard hit (especially to the face), sudden attack, sudden calamity, shock, succession of blows, strife, opposition, and adversity. Why would Paul call all this pain and calamity "a splinter"? A splinter seems rather mild compared to the miseries that define buffet. That’s because Paul is not speaking of intensity when he speaks of a "splinter," but rather the incessantness of a splinter. The pain and aggravation is constant. It never goes away. It plagues one with every move, until the splinter is removed.

The idiomatic expression "a splinter in my flesh" is still in popular usage. We alter it slightly to "a thorn in my flesh" or "a thorn in my side." We say things like: "Jack as been a thorn in my side ever since he came to work here."

The pain that Paul suffered from his hundreds of trials was obviously very intense. However, an analogy of a "splinter in the flesh" is not a description of intensity, but rather of its uninterrupted, nonstop, persistence. Paul suffered by buffeting for fourteen years prior to his writing II Corinthians, and probably another eleven years after writing II Corinthians, seeing that God never did remove it from him ("Sufficient for you is My grace...").

Imagine twenty-five years of such suffering by being buffeted by a messenger of Satan. Why so much? Why so severe? Why so long?

Remember, Paul’s revelations were transcendent. It is, therefore, necessary that his humiliation must be in accord with his exaltation. Is there a negative word that answers, in kind, to the word "transcendence"? Yes. It’s the word "inordinately"!

Let’s first look at the positive: Webster’s, transcend, 1. To go beyond the limits of; exceed 2. To surpass; excel. This is the positive side of [h]uperbole.

Now the negative: I like Webster’s New World Student’s Dictionary: inordinate, adj. too many or too much; excessive.

How revealing these words are. Paul’s privilege in revelations was so high (maybe almost too high) that God had to answer this exaltation with the opposite of "transcendence." Something that will humble him. Something "excessive." Something that is almost "too much." Inordinately!

God’s answer and remedy to "transcendence" is "inordinately."

Here’s proof: The word "transcendence" and the word "inordinately" are both translated from the same Greek word, "[h]uper bal’lo"!

Paul’s splinter was a messenger of Satan. His purpose was to buffet Paul. Buffeting was the category that Paul said happened to him inordinately, which answers in kind to Paul’s transcendence in revelations. So Paul lived for twenty-five years, being "hit hard," "suddenly," constantly and incessantly (like an aggravating "splinter in the flesh").

We have to understand that Paul could not live normally, by just expecting a setback or trial from time to time as circumstances would allow. No. Paul traveled in foreign lands for years, fully conscious of the fact that this appointed messenger of Satan was always there, like a sniper in the dark, ready to suddenly pounce on Paul with blows of every description and severity of pain and agony. And how often did these things happen to Paul? Almost too often, and too much--INORDINATELY!