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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Thorn in the Flesh

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thôrn ( σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί , skólops tḗ sarkı́ ): Paul thus characterizes some bodily ailment which afflicted him and impaired his usefulness ( 2 Corinthians 12:7 ). The data are insufficient to enable us to ascertain its real nature, and all the speculations on the point are therefore inconclusive. All that we are told is that it was a messenger of Satan; that thereby he was beaten as with a fist, which might be figurative or actual; that it rendered his bodily presence unattractive. It appears that the infirmity recurred, for thrice he sought deliverance; but, by the help of God, he was able to glory in it. Sir W. Ramsay sees in it some form of recurring malarial fever. It was something that disabled him (Galatians 4:12-15 ); hence, Farrar supposes that it was ophthalmia, from the reference to his eyes, from his inability to recognize the high priest (Acts 23:5 ), from his employing amanuenses to write his epistles, and his writing the Galatian letter in large characters with his own hand (Galatians 6:11 ). Krenkel has at great length argued that it was epilepsy, and thereby endeavors to account for his trances and his falling to the earth on his way to Damascus, but his work is essentially a special pleading for a foregone conclusion, and Paul would not have called his visions "a messenger of Satan." It is also beside the question to heap up instances of other distinguished epileptics. On the whole Farrar's theory is the most probable.

It is probably only a coincidence that "pricks in your eyes" Septuagint skólopes ) are mentioned in Numbers 33:55 . Any pedestrian in Palestine must be familiar with the ubiquitous and troublesome thorny shrubs and thistles which abound there.


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Thorn in the Flesh'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/t/thorn-in-the-flesh.html. 1915.

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