Re: 2 Cor.12:7,8: The Thorn

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 17 1999 - 07:40:25 EDT

At 5:41 PM -0400 8/16/99, Theodore H Mann wrote:
>Although I wasn't too clear in my first post, my interest here is whether
>or not the grammar allows for the possibility that Paul's "thorn in the
>flesh" refers to a person, or being, perhaps as follows:
>(v7) And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this
>reason, lest I should be too exalted, there was given to me a thorn in
>the flesh, a messenger (AGGELOS: [?] messenger, angel,
>being, person [?] ) of Satan, that he (the thorn?) might beat (buffet)
>me, lest I should be too exalted. (v8) Concerning this
>(one) I entreated the Lord three times that he might depart from me.
>KOLAFIZNi and APOSTHi are both third-person-singular, and can, I assume,
>be translated "he." This could, I suppose, refer to Satan, but the thorn
>sent from Satan seems to be the focus here. It is the thorn Paul wants
>Is this a grammatically possible reading? Many thanks.

Yes, that is a grammatically possible reading, but as you say with regard
to KOLAFIZHi AND APOSTHi, the reference really seems to be back to SKOLOY,
and this ought rather to be seen as the primary subject of those
subjunctives. For my part, I think the grammar permits the appositive
(AGGELOS SATANA) to be understood of a person, but those subjunctive forms
do NOT indicate or give any clue as to who or what the SKOLOY might be.
There certainly have been numerous interpretations of this passage; I've
made no effort to investigate them all, but all the ones I've seen appear
to me to be speculative and to depend upon suppositions that are not
clearly demonstrable on the basis of the Greek. My own feeling about this
passage is that Paul is not at all concerned to reveal to his
reader/listeners exactly what the SKOLOY is so much as he is to underscore
the response he received: ARKEI SOI hH CARIS, hH GAR DUNAMIS EN ASQENEIAi
TELEITAI. That suggests the SKOLOY is a kind of ASQENEIA, but Paul doesn't
seem at all concerned to be more specific than that; either there is a
shared understanding between writer and audience that makes greater
specificity superfluous, or else the precise nature of the affliction or
ASQENEIA has no real bearing on the primary point which the writer is
concerned with. Under such circumstances, my own personal preference is to
refrain from speculation about what can't be clearly known.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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