2 Corinthians 12:7 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

2 Corinthians 12:7, NIV: or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

2 Corinthians 12:7, ESV: So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

2 Corinthians 12:7, KJV: 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.

2 Corinthians 12:7, NASB: Because of the extraordinary greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!

2 Corinthians 12:7, NLT: even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

2 Corinthians 12:7, CSB: especially because of the extraordinary revelations. Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so that I would not exalt myself.

What does 2 Corinthians 12:7 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

In an extraordinary experience, Paul was taken to the third heaven or paradise. This is the dwelling place of God. There, he was shown things he was not allowed to reveal on earth. The experience was so intense that Paul doesn't know whether he travelled in his physical body or outside of it. He insists, though, that it actually happened and God knows the details of how it came to be (2 Corinthians 12:1–6).

Now Paul adds that what God showed him were "surpassing great" revelations. It's possible that Paul saw what eternity would be like, and now knew things the rest of humanity could never know. Such an unmeasurable gift would have given Paul seemingly limitless confidence to keep preaching, despite terrible suffering. It also gave him the perspective that such suffering in this life was not worth comparing to the glory of eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17).

However, God understood that such knowledge also had the potential to make Paul proud, arrogant, and conceited. God wanted Paul to be Christlike in his humility instead of seeing himself as being above those he served. To guarantee this, God gave to Paul a "thorn in the flesh." The word for thorn here is the Greek skolops. The term most literally defines a pointy piece of wood, and might be better translated into English as "a stake." The imagery Paul creates here is that of a sharp object stabbed into his body, unable to be removed, bringing chronic pain and discomfort.

Paul describes this stake, or thorn, or splinter in his body as a "messenger from Satan." That phrasing has invited considerable debate. Paul attributes certain consequences to Satan elsewhere (1 Corinthians 5:5; 10:10). Since this malady was given by God, though, its constant harassment served the purpose of keeping Paul humble and dependent on Christ for his strength. Paul's meaning, then, would not be that this was literally something sent by or invented by Satan. Rather, this was something allowed by God for His own purposes.

Even more debate has surrounded the exact identity of this "thorn in the flesh." Some think it might have been a problem with Paul's eyesight (Galatians 6:11). It might have been a physical weakness or tremor (1 Corinthians 2:3). Perhaps it was something that disrupted Paul's speech (2 Corinthians 10:10). It might have been a multiple-symptom condition such as multiple sclerosis or the aftereffects of a stroke. Paul's thorn could possibly have been something emotional, such as depression (2 Corinthians 1:8). It may have been aggressive discouragement or conflict with another person (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 4:14). Perhaps Paul faced a persistent temptation to some sin (Romans 7:22–25).

Scripture never tells us what this terrible burden was. The fact that Scripture does not reveal the exact nature of Paul's "thorn" seems deliberate. Vagueness, rather than specifics, allows his experience to reveal important truths, applicable to all believers. If we knew with 100% certainty what his condition was, it would become easy to miss the greater points.

Three lessons stand out. First, humility in His servants is enormously important to God. Second, God is willing to allow Satan a limited level of power to create helpful weakness in His children. As Paul shows in the following verses, God's power is made perfect in a believer's weakness, not in our strength. Third, spiritual strength is no guarantee of health, wealth, or prosperity—as Paul's reference to his own prayer makes clear (2 Corinthians 12:8–9).