2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

//These three verses have long been the topic of speculation among Bible readers. What is the “weakness” which torments Paul? There have been many speculations, and one that seems common among other Liberal Christians, is the idea that Paul was a repressed gay. But that simply makes no sense to me. Whatever the weakness was, it was presented as a qualification for apostleship, a weakness to boast about. He doesn’t say what it is, but he clearly expects his audience to know what he’s talking about. It doesn’t sound like he repressed anything.

Instead, probably the most common assumption among Bible scholars is merely that Paul’s eyes were failing. This is not wild speculation; this guess is supported by a couple things Paul writes to the Galatians:

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! –Galatians 6:11

Paul presents big letters as sort of his “signature style,” as if to say, “see, this is how you know it is really me writing, because I have to write very large.” In another place, he writes:

Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. –Galatians 4:15

That’s a strange thing to do for someone … to tear out your eyes and give them away. It probably indicates that the Galatians were sympathetic to Paul’s eye problems.

So, I’m happy to write this mystery off as a probable case of bad eyesight.

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