“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
What was the “thorn in the flesh” that Paul the Apostle mentioned here? Many commentators believe this phrase refers to some sort of physical affliction. For instance, Paul may have contracted a disease like malaria or perhaps he may have suffered from epilepsy, chronic pain, or some other type of debilitating condition.
However, it is widely believed that Paul suffered from some kind of eye disease. In fact, some feel Paul’s condition was so severe that he may have been legally blind. For instance, consider the following portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “If you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (Galatians 4:15). He later added this handwritten note to the end of that letter: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11).
Another clue to suggest that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” referred to a physical condition is found in the New Testament book of Acts. In portions of that book, the author uses terms like “we” and “us” to describe Paul’s missionary journeys, thus indicating his personal involvement in the events that occurred. Why is that significant? Well, the book of Acts was authored by Luke, a man who is identified as a physician in Colossians 4:14. If Paul’s thorn in the flesh was related to a physical ailment that required medical attention, that may help explain why Luke was there.
In any event, this thorn in the flesh was not like the annoying little protrusions that we might encounter on the stem of a flowering plant. In reality, the word translated “thorn” refers to a pointed object that might be suitable for use as a tent stake. (1) When used in a figurative manner, one source reports that this word refers to “something which frustrates and causes trouble in the lives of those afflicted.” (2)
Finally, another commentary explains why the exact nature of this “thorn” remains unknown and why God may allow similar thorns to enter our lives today: “…’The precise nature of it has been concealed perhaps that all afflicted ones may be encouraged and helped by Paul’s unnamed yet painful experience.’ Our trials may be very different from Paul’s, but they should produce the same exercise and fruits.” (3)
(1) G4647 skolops Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4647
(2) David Guzik, 2 Corinthians 12 – The Strength of Grace in Weakness © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-corinthians-12/
(3) William Moorehead, quoted in William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (2 Corinthians 12:7)