There are in the New Testament a number of problems which, because of the inadequacy of the evidence available, are surrounded with uncertainty. One such is the question of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7. Over the centuries many solutions have been proposed, at times with excessive confidence; but in the nature of the case it is impossible to escape from the realm of conjecture. The apostle’s silence concerning such symptoms as would enable a diagnosis to be made may be taken as being in accord with the mind of God, for subsequent history would seem to indicate that it has been of more benefit to the Church to remain in ignorance on this matter than would have been the case had the nature of the infirmity been fully known. Had a particular affliction—epilepsy, for example—been designated, the great majority of Christians would have been inclined to dismiss the apostle’s problem as one remote from the reality of their own experience.
As things are, however, there has been a discernible tendency, as Lightfoot has pointed out, for interpreters in different periods of church history to see “in the apostle’s temptation a more or less perfect reflection of the trials which beset their own lives” (Commentary on Galatians, pp. 186 ff). This tendency, unconscious though it has been, is perfectly understandable. It has been an instinctive tendency, and there is no doubt that it has been a right tendency; for it is of the essence of Holy Scripture that it is profitable and applicable in a truly dynamic and existential manner to every circumstance and to every age of the Church. Is there a single servant of Christ who cannot point to some “thorn ...1
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