Advancing the Revelation of Truth


Paul's Thorn in The Flesh.


The apostle Paul had an affliction, which he referred to as 'a thorn in the flesh'. Although  he partitioned The Lord to remove it, he was told that the favour that God showed to him must suffice. He describes the circumstance to the Corinthian ekklesia as follows:

It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.  And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)  How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.  

Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.  For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.  

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.  

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.   [1Cor. 12:7]

This Greek noun, used only once in the N.T. is skolops. [4647], which Thayer defines as......withered at the front i.e. a point or prickle (fig. a bodily annoyance or disability), a thorn.  Its associated adjective is skolios. [4646] meaning ......warped, winding. perverse, crooked, froward, untoward.  The latter is found four other times in the N.T in Luke 3:5, Acts 2:40, Phil 2:15, 1 Peter 2:18. In each case, either symbolically or directly, it describes the mind of man. 

With this thought in mind, we might ask ourselves, 'Did Paul have a family relation[in the flesh] who caused him a lot of trouble ?'  Paul certainly had a brother to whom he refers in his letter to the ekklesia in Rome:

Salute Rufus chosen in The Lord, and his mother and mine.

This man was a fellow Christian and although we can imagine the difficulty that fellow Christians cause one another, it is doubtful that Paul would have applied 'thorn in the flesh' to him.  However, the reference to his mother is curious: 'his mother and mine'.  Why does Paul not say: 'Our mother' and why does Paul not say 'my brother'? In other words, why does Paul not say:

Salute my brother Rufus, chosen in The Lord, and our mother.

Does not the restraint shown in Paul's form of address imply that although Rufus and Paul had the same mother, they were half brothers, having different fathers?

With this meaning in mind. Could there have been any other relations of Paul ?

In the three synoptic gospels, we are told of a man who carried the cross for The Christ:

And as they led Christ away, they laid hold upon one Simon a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. [Mark 15:21 Luke 23:26 & Mat.27:32]

However, we are given additional information in Mark's gospel concerning this man Simon:

Simon..........the father of Alexander and Rufus  [Mark 15:21]

So, if Rufus was Paul's half-brother, Alexander was also his half-brother since Rufus and Alexander had the same father.   This is clear since Alexander was not the son of Paul's mother,  but was the son of another woman who had married Simon of Cirene. This would make Alexander to be Paul's half-brother by another marriage of his mother.

Alexander is referred to six times in the N.T.  Once, as above in the gospel of Mark, thrice in Acts and twice by Paul when writing to Timothy. Here is a summary of the remaining five references:

1. Acts 4:6  Alexander is described as being a relation of the High Priest, Annas. 

2.  Acts 19:33 [2]  In Ephesus, Alexander the Jew is put forward by the Jews in defence against the preaching of Paul, the results of which were described as 'so mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed'. However the Ephesians prevented Alexander by crying out 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians.'   

3. 1Tim 1:20  Paul accuses Alexander of losing faith and a good conscience causing Paul to deliver him to  Satan, that he may learn not to blaspheme.

4. 2Tim 4:14,   Paul tells Timothy that Alexander, being a coppersmith, did him much evil, stating that The Lord would reward him according to his works.  He goes on to tell Timothy to beware of him because 'he hath greatly withstood our words'. The fact that Alexander had a trade was not unusual.....even Paul made his living by tentmaking.

It is known that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrian  Was it a coincidence that Alexander's living as a metalworker,  had brought him to Ephesus at the time of Paul's visit ?  Demetrius, the rabble-rouser, was also a metalworker. These trades were probably associated with the worship of Diana. 

Reading between the lines of this short history, we can almost grasp the vitriol which motivated Alexander towards the Gospel of Jesus Christ and towards Paul his half brother.. He was certainly not 'chosen in the Lord'. However, this relationship would cast a different light upon Paul's statement to the Corinthians:

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.   [2Cor.12:7]

Perhaps when referring to 'my flesh' Paul meant it literally, as a family relation. The term 'flesh' refers to a physical relationship in :

Maybe the 'messenger' was literal and not a reference to the poor condition of his eyesight, as suggested by others [Galations 6:11]. The Greek word angelos [messenger] is used to describe men as well as angels. The word 'thorn' is often used to describe a characteristic of men.

A message carrying servant of Satan is a good description of Alexander.

gtm  August 2005

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