8. Paul defends his ministry, 10:1-12:18
vi] Paul's thorn in the flesh
If Paul was to boast of his strength, he has much to be proud of, but his boast is of his weakness. In 12:7-10 Paul speaks of his weakness and identifies it as the source of his power. There is no better path in life than to identify with Christ's weakness, for a life aligned to the humiliation of Christ's death is a life aligned to the power of Christ's resurrection. So, Paul boasts of his humiliation, rather than his glory (particularly, his mystical visions referred to in 12:2-4). For Paul, his humiliation powerfully witnesses to the authenticity of his apostleship. It is this witness that should quieten his "spiritual" critics in the Corinthian church; they glory in their "gifts", while Paul glories in his "thorn". Of course, Paul has much to boast of for in v1-6 he tells us of a man who was caught up into heaven and who witnessed and heard things he is unable to speak of. Such a man could boast and that man is Paul, but he refrains from boasting so that theology does the convicting, rather than signs and wonders.
Therefore, in order that I should not be conceited, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, in order that he might buffet me, (in order that I not become) lest I become conceited.
th/ uperbolh/ (h) "these surpassingly great" - The word can be qualitative as in the NIV, "extraordinary", or it can be quantitative, "excess". Qualitative seems best. Note that the phrase "surpassingly great revelations" is most likely the conclusion of the sentence beginning in v6b. Paul refrains from boasting about anything so that people will not think more of him than can be determined by his teaching and the evidence of his life, "and that goes for (even) the wondrous revelations" which he has just alluded to. "But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations", NAB.
dio "-" - therefore. The new paragraph begins with "therefore". Therefore, the reason Paul is not going to get into boasting is as follows:
skoloy (oy opoV) "a thorn" - "Thorn" seems best, but Bruce goes for "splinter", while some others argue for "stake", in the sense that Paul is impaled and therefore immobilized. The "thorn" doesn't seem to immobilize Paul, but rather removes any opportunity for him to be placed on a pedestal. There are numerous theories as to the meaning of the thorn: i] human opponents, eg. the judaizers, possibly even Satan, or a demon, or possibly temptations, particularly sexual; ii] some particular ailment: poor eyesight, cf. Gal.4:13-15, epilepsy (Lightfoot), malaria (Ramsay), poor nerves. Some physical ailment seems best, but an ailment which does not limit him physically, but rather socially. Something like a speech defect, or squinting eyes would fit. "I was given a physical handicap", Phillips.
iJna + subj. "-" - so that, in order that. Three purpose clauses follow in v7 explaining why Paul is not going to get into boasting about spiritual qualifications. To undermine any conceit Paul was given by God a "thorn" in his flesh, a visit from a satanic messenger, in order to buffet him, in order that he might not be conceited. Note the NIV does not have the third clause which repeats the sense of the first. "In order that I not be conceited, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of satan, in order that he might beat me, in order that I should not be conceited."
uJperairwmai (uJperairw) subj. mid. "conceited" - lift up. In the middle voice "exalt oneself", "become conceited" ....
th/ sarki (x koV) dat. "in my flesh" - in the flesh. Often referring to one's lower nature, but here most likely referring to the physical body. The dative may be either of disadvantage, "for my flesh", explanatory of the personal pronoun, "given to me, that is, to my flesh", or locative, "in my flesh." Locative is preferred by most commentators.
aggeloV Satana "a messenger of Satan" - The thorn is evil, something to weaken and buffet him, yet in God's hands it has a good purpose.
kolofizh/ (kolafizw) subj. "torment" - buffet, batter, strike or beat with the fist. "To batter me", Barclay; "harass", Phillips; "rack me", Moffatt; "buffet", REB.
Concerning this I prayed to the Lord three times to take it away from me.
uper toutou "-" - as to this. The verse begins "concerning this." The "this" refers to the "messenger of Satan" since the verb "take it away" is used in the NT of persons. None-the-less, the "messenger of Satan" is in apposition to (adding to or explaining) "thorn in the flesh", so Paul is asking for the thorn ("it") to be taken away.
triV "three times" - three. Why three times? There are numerous suggestions: urgency, symbolism (note the many threes in the Bible), three separate attacks of the malady. The incident serves as an example of unanswered prayer made initially without the benefit of God's revealed will, which will is later revealed.
parekalesa (parakalew) aor. "pleaded with" - ask, entreat. "Pleaded with" is very strong and a word like "sought" is far better than "begged", CEV. "Three times over I prayed the Lord to relieve me", Moffatt.
eirhken (legw) perf. "he said" - say. The perfect tense indicates a past action (the communication of God's revealed will on the issue of Paul's "thorn") with present ramifications (he no longer prays for the removal of the thorn due to God's revealed will on the matter). Does this have something to say to the exercise of the healing ministry in today's church?
hJ cariV (iV itoV) "grace" - In the NT the word primarily refers to the covenant mercy of God, but of course this mercy expresses intself in numerous ways. For example, Paul even uses the word in relation to God's appointing him an apostle, a man who once persecuted the chruch. In relation to the present passage "grace" assures us that no trouble can take us from Christ, Rom.8:38. Here we could translate "grace" with a word like "kindness", but something like "unbounded mercy" probably best carries the sense. "Grace", in the sense of God's unmerited favour toward us in Christ for now and eternity, is a concept well able to carry us through the barbs of life.
arkei (arkew) pres. "is sufficient" - is adequate, sufficient, enough. Some suggest that the word here carries a "stoic" sense of resignation, but Paul is not resigned to his situation in the sense of rolling over and giving up. For him it is onward and upward, despite his thorn. "My grace is all you need", Barclay.
hJ dunamiV (iV ewV) "power" - the power, authority. The "my" is not in the text, but obviously it is Christ's power. It seems best to assume that "power" is a synonym for "grace". If this is the case, then "power" here is the power of God's unmerited favour, his covenant mercy, operative through the risen Christ, a power to eternally save.
teleitai (telew) pres. pas. "is made perfect" - is completed, perfected. Both meanings are possible, but "completed" is better than "perfected", given that the revelation does not deal with moral issues. "My power is strongest when you are weak", CEV
asqeneia/ (a) "[in] weakness" - weakness, sickness. "Weakness" is imaged in the crucifixion of Christ, just as power is imaged in the resurrection of Christ. Paul often speaks of his weakness in terms of persecution.
hJdista (hJdew) sup. adv. "all the more gladly" - gladly. Superlative, "most gladly." Given this revelation, Paul will all the more gladly boast of his weakness rather than get into asking the Lord to take the thorn away.
mallon adv. "-" more, rather. Possibly used to strengthen "gladly" - "much more gladly", but "rather" seems better. Paul boasts of his suffering "rather" than visions and esoteric manifestations (understood).
kauchsomai (kaucaomai) fut. "I will boast" - I will glory, boast. "Will boast" does not mean he has yet to boast. Paul boasts in his suffering already, the true badge of an apostle of Christ.
iJna + subj. "so that [Christ's power may rest ....]" - in order that [Christ's power may shelter, reside, dwell, abide over/on me]. This hina clause is subject to some debate. It does seem best to take it as introducing a consecutive (consequence, result) clause. None-the-less, it is often taken as a final (purpose) clause. If a purpose clause, does Paul affirm his weakness in order that he can access the grace/power of God already abiding in him through his faith in Christ, or does he affirm his weakness in order that he will receive the gift of, or a greater portion of, God's grace/power? The second possible meaning certainly does not sit with Pauline theology since it leads to mysticism. Bultmann and others, who argue for the revelatory function of weakness, of divine encounter in surrender, of power drawn from weakness, are more into flagellation than revelation. The verb "rest on" is best understood as "abide" in the same sense as God in Christ dwells among us. This idea images the shechinah glory, God's radiant presence in the temple. So, Paul's identification with the suffering Christ, expressed physically in his own suffering (in particular the thorn), serves, as a consequence/result, to accentuate the grace/power of God that already abides in him, which suffering authenticates his apostleship. "Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean (result in) a deeper experience of the power of Christ", Phillips.
dio eudokw "this is why [for Christ's sake] I delight ....." - therefore / for this reason, I am content, take pleasure. "So conscious is Paul of the all-sufficient grace of Christ, that he takes pleasure in any affliction he is called upon to endure", Tasker.
otan gar asqenw "for when I am weak" - for whenever I am weak. The temporal particle "when" has a sense of the indefinite and therefore means "whenever." Weakness, as above, is imaged in the weakness of Christ, a weakness particularly evident in the cross. For Paul, this weakness is focused on the "thorn", as well as the troubles of ministry (which may be the "thorn"!). Yet, the weakness is not the troubles themselves, but rather humility, a brokenness before God that accepts the human condition of loss while at the same time looking to the surpassing grace of God to eternally transcend that loss.
dunatoV adj. "strong" - powerful, strong. "Powerful" in the sense of God's might, ie. his sovereign grace operative in human frailty. "For my very weakness makes me strong in him", Phillips.
2 Corinthians Introduction