2 Corinthians 12:7-10


In the Notes  for last Sunday's Epistle we mentioned that "grace" occurs with higher frequency in 2 Corinthians 8 than anywhere else in the New Testament. (The word "grace" occurs with highest frequency in Romans, so far as the entire book is concerned.) In verse 9 of today's pericope we have one of the best known instances of this word. It is quite similar to that found in 2 Corinthians 8:1 and 9, the saving, unmerited favor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

From the context we learn that the Corinthian Christians had compared Paul with the false teachers who had come to them. In comparison to them, they said, Paul was inferior. As in the case with the Galatian Christians, see Galatians 1-2, Paul defended his apostleship. He insists that he is not  inferior. In fact, he is superior to them. But he distinguishes "two persons" within himself. In verse 5 he says: "On behalf of such a man will I boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses." He could boast of extra-ordinary revelations granted to him. In that sense he is certainly not inferior to anyone. And yet he says that he can boast only in his weaknesses. This is a great paradox. This can be applied to all Christians. Our text is very well known and has been the source of great comfort to countless Christians through the centuries.

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

The reading of the first part of this verse is followed by none of our versions. "And because" in Greek is only translated in NIV: "And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself" etc. The sense is clear without making a judgment about the reading. Therefore we say no more about it.

Though Paul uses the word "revelation" in the plural, it is clear that he is speaking especially about his rapture to the third heaven in verse 2. Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations he was given a thorn either to or in his flesh.

Lenski: The man to whom the Lord had granted an actual visit to Paradise is the man to whom God gave a messenger of Satan to fisticuff him again and again.
Bengel: Having experienced the state of blessed angels, now he feels the power of an evil angel . . . . He had a revelation from heaven, a chastisement from hell.

All commentators draw a parallel between Job 2 and this instance.

It is now agreed that Paul had a "thorn" and not a "stake."

The point of comparison is the constant irritation. What this thorn physical,mental or spiritual? The first known opinion is that of Tertullian. He thought Paul suffered from severe headaches or ear aches. Chrysostom thought the thorn denoted persecution, mentioned often in Acts. The medieval monks thought it was sexual lust. Luther thought it was severe spiritual trials. And there have been many conjectures of a physical nature: epilepsy, eye-trouble, malaria, etc. etc. There are about 25 different hypotheses. We know nothing more about Paul's view of Paradise (verse 2) or of the thorn in the flesh (verse 7) than what we are told here.

The first is incomprehensible to us. And it is good that the Scriptures are silent on the second. If we would know precisely what Paul's malady was we would very likely not apply this text to our own thorns.

Hughes: There has been a discernible tendency for interpreters in different periods of the Church's history to see in the Apostles' temptation a more or less perfect reflection of the trials which beset their own lives.

That is evidently as God wants it. God wants us to apply this text to ourselves and our thorns.

Constant or a recurring buffeting is implied of the thorn. Boxers keep on hammering away at each other. The punches hurt. That's the picture in our text.

Bengel: The mind is vain and weak, which applauds itself on account of men's applause. How dangerous must self-exaltation be, when the apostle required so much restraint!
Tasker: There is nothing which tends to elate a Christian evangelist so much as the enjoyment of spiritual experiences.
That is true. Evangelists glory in the compliments showered upon them. Paul likely had the same problem. God sent him the thorn as a cross to humble him.

2 Corinthians 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

"Concerning this, three times I begged the Lord to have him (Satan) leave me alone." The meaning is clear. Satan was in the thorn. The two were inseparable.

We are reminded of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:44. He also asked the Lord three times to take the cup from Him. Hebrews 5:7 gives us a very graphic picture of that situation. And Hebrews 5:8 tells us that thus Jesus learned obedience. Likewise Paul. Paul begged the Lord three times to take the thorn from him. Evidently, like Jesus, he said: "Thy will, not mine, be done."

Hughes: The three occasions on which Paul besought the Lord for deliverance were most probably associated with three separate and severe assaults of this messenger of Satan . . . as with the Lord, all outward circumstances suggested that Satan was about to score a crushing triumph.

2 Corinthians 12:9 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.

We have direct, not indirect, discourse here. Evidently God wanted His very answer to Paul preserved for all time. The answer is a lasting one. It must have made a deep impression on Paul as it has millions of times since.

The word order of the answer is unusual: "Sufficient for you is my grace." TEV: "My grace is all you need."

Evidently Paul received his answer after he had prayed the third time.

"Grace" here is clearly God's unmerited favor in Christ Jesus. Paul's prayer was answered, as in Jesus' case, though not in the way that Paul wanted it. Christian prayers are always answered.

Now follows the explanatory clause introduced by "for." It reads literally: "For the strength is brought to its goal in weakness."

We agree with Lenski that "is made perfect" is not a good translation at this point. Better might be "is brought to it's goal" which means "does its work." God's power does its work under the circumstance of the weakness of the Christian.

Evidently Paul means either that he would rather boast than complain or that he would rather boast in his weaknesses than in his visions. However, some feel that "boast" modifies "weaknesses." In that case the translation of RSV and NIV is in order.

"I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses." This is followed by a purpose clause. "Rest on me" literally means "overtent."

What is Paul saying in this verse? He is simply talking about contrition and faith. The thorn in, or for, the flesh caused him to see his sin, he pride. Look at verses 5 and 6 again.

Kretzmann: He could make statement which would well serve as a basis for boasting.

When Paul boasted that the Lord had done great things for him his flesh might so very easily attribute some of this to itself. We have already mentioned that Tasker talks about the elation of an evangelist. It can so easily get the better of him. To be effective, pastors need to be humble. And to be humble, they need to be contrite about their sins. All of this is true for all Christians. The Lord sent Paul a messenger from hell, a very disconcerting messenger, to make himself see himself as he truly was. Only then could the Gospel mean something to him.

Luther: If you will not be weak, My power can do nothing in you.

Thank God for your thorn!

The Book of Concord, (Tappert 207.160): It is the will of God that our bodies should be sacrifices, to show our obedience but not to pay for eternal death; for this God has another price, the death of His Son.
And (Tappert 582.70) True and worthy communicants, on the other hand, are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, and who perceive their weakness in faith, deplore it, and heartily wish that they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience. This most venerable sacrament, the Lord's Supper, was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this as Christ says 'Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'

Among other references look at 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul is describing himself as a sinner who is pleading for mercy at the throne of God.

2 Corinthians 12:10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In view of the power of Christ resting on the one who boasts in his weaknesses. Now follow four phrases beginning with "in" and followed by one phrase beginning with "huper."

"I delight in" or "I am content with."

Lenski notes that the first "in" phrase is explained by the other four nouns. The insults, hardships, persecution and calamities cause him weakness. Satan and godless men bring these situations into Paul's life.

This verse reminds us of Matt 5:11-12. It is all for Jesus' sake. The world will treat Christ's people the way the world treated Christ.

The text ends with the words: "For whenever I am weak, then I am strong."

Hughes: Human weakness provides the opportunity for divine power.

So sinful and proud is natural, fallen man that he must first be made to see that in his own supposed strength he is nothing. Until he see that he is nothing, God cannot help him.

Kretzmann: Those very experiences which another person would regard as evidences of the wrath of God, Paul knows to be proofs of God's fatherly devotion.

The whole passage reminds us of Hebrews 12:4-11.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes Epistle Texts, Series B, Sundays after Pentecost,
by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 30-32

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index