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Paul’s Thorn Revisited

plankIn a previous post, I discussed Paul’s Thorn and how a careful reading shows that it has nothing to do with sickness.  Instead, Paul was referring to persecution he faced again and again as he sought to fulfill his calling to preach the gospel to the gentiles.  Let’s take another look at the text, in 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.

From my earlier post about righteousness, it is not surprising that much of the church’s interpretation of this passage is negative i.e., “Paul had a thorn (sickness) so I’m in good company if I have one too.” It is interesting that Christians seek the most negative interpretations of scripture even when these interpretations do not square up with the rest of the Word.  Let’s look at a few scriptures again:

Joshua 23:13 … “then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you.”

Numbers 33:55…” ‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.”

Matthew 7:3  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

When Joshua talked about the ‘thorns in your sides’ and Jesus warned about the ‘plank in your eye’, we took them all to be metaphorical, not literal.  Joshua did not mean the physical, literal side of your body or your eyes.  Neither did Jesus mean a real plank in your actual eye.  These are metaphors, aren’t they?  But to give the worst possible interpretation, we have mixed the literal with the metaphorical.  So when Paul says:

there was given me a thorn in my flesh,

we translate ‘thorn’ as a metaphor for sickness but keep flesh as our actual, physical body.  Wrong! Completely inappropriate.  Jesus, in speaking of a plank in the eye meant this as a complete metaphor and so did Paul here.  He meant harassment, just as Israel was harassed, as Joshua predicted.

Why we seek out the most negative in the church is still a mystery to me.  I once thought it was our past programming from the world, but now I doubt it. Some of the most naturally optimistic people I have met have been non-Christians. As I mentioned in a previous post, the world will hold telethons to “fight the enemy, cancer” and “fight the killer, malaria“.  Many Christians, on the other hand, will wax lyrical about how God is teaching them something or blessing them by “giving them” a disease.  We have created church myth to satisfy false humility.

I’m not asking that you misinterpret the Bible to “be positive”.  The Bible is positive enough.  ‘Gospel’ actually means “good news”, not bad. Just read the gospels again and see how positive Jesus was – he healed everyone who came to Him.

I now think that much of what we believe in evangelical and even pentecostal circles is church myth or tradition – things that are just not so. May we interpret the Word correctly to see the great hope to which He has called us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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