A Skolops Sent By An Angel of Satan To Torment Paul
Jesus mentions sometimes ailments are that "Satan has bound" someone for years. Luke 13:16. Jesus gladly freed people from Satan's torments when requested.
Did Satan afflict Paul physically for years?
And did Paul ask the one whom Paul thought was Jesus for release from Satan's affliction but that Jesus refused? If so, how could the true Savior who promised the true 11 apostles that anything they ask in "my name I will do" (John 14:13) actually refuse Paul to be released from Satan?
And why and for what purpose did Satan inflict a stinger on Paul? And is there anything about that purpose that is incongruous, betraying that Paul never met the true Jesus?
For in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul says he is afflicted by a "stinger" - often translated as "thorn" (a skolops) in his flesh from an Angel / messenger of Satan so Satan would keep him humble. Why would Satan want -- I emphasize WANT -- to keep Paul from sin?
Paulinists know the problem. This verse can be read so "his apostolic mission [is cast] under suspicion." (C. Fred Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian (Crossway, 1989) at 120.)
Other Pauline scholars lament without explaining themselves that "12:7 is notoriously difficult, prompting Barrett to write 'it can hardly be in the form Paul intended it...." (David L. Barr, The Reality of the Apocalypse (Society of Biblical Lit, 2006) at 105.) Thus, Pauline scholars often try to suggest Paul dictated this, and it got garbled somehow in the writing. So you will see that the Paulinists' favorite apostle is always ignored when his words prove embarrassing, such as in this case.
For reasons explained below, 2 Cor. 12:7 corroborates our view that Jesus was prophesying about Paul in Matthew 24:24-27. Jesus intended to identify Paul's encounter with a bright-light saying "I am Jesus" as something we are not to believe involved the true Jesus. When someone says 'I am Jesus' on a wilderness road (such as near Damascus), it is not Jesus by definition because not every eye on earth saw that Jesus figure. Jesus thus intends us to know such a person who appeared on earth to Paul is an imposter Jesus (See our webpage discussing these points from Matthew 24 in detail.) What Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:7 corroborates our view of Matt 24:24-27.
Second Corinthians 12:7 Examined Carefully
So let's translate 2 Corinthians with reference to the Greek words to get the fullest meaning. In this passage, Paul claimed that his pride was held in check by Satan. Paul says: "Because of the surpassing revelations so that I would not thereby become exalted (hyper-aromai), I was given a sharp pointed prod (skolops – such as a scorpion’s stinger) in the flesh by an angel (angelos / Biblos.com , noun masculine) of Satan in order that he would torment me (kolofizh - "torment" / buffet) in order that I not become overly conceited / exalted (hyper-aromai)." (2 Corinthians 12:6-7) Cf. Luther Bible 'Angel of Satan' / Satan Engel; Wycliff "Angel of Satan."
The Young's Literal translation is similar:
and that by the exceeding greatness of the revelations I might not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of the Adversary, that he might buffet me, that I might not be exalted overmuch. (see link)
In context, Paul led into this by saying he has 'reason to boast.'
"Even if I should choose to boast (kauch?sasthai = boast) I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say." (NIV 12:6.)
Thus, we know the correct translation of hyper-aromai in 12:7 is "overly conceited." As Strong's says, it literally means "to raise oneself over" but it figuratively means "to become haughty." (Strong's G5229 in Strong's at 1679.) A more modern term is "conceited."
Why are you not familiar with the way this truly reads? Well, while the NIV does get right that the SKOLOPS is to keep Paul from excessive conceit, it cuts out that "he" (Satan) intends Paul to not be overly conceited. This is clearer when we see the original Greek says this a second time at the end of the sentence. After "Angelos of Satan" is referenced, Paul uses a verb to identify Satan as the "he" who intends the result of keeping Paul humble. Others note this glaring difference in the NIV:
Note the NIV does not have the third clause which repeats the sense of the first. "In order that I not be conceited, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of satan, in order that he might beat me, in order that I should not be conceited." (Lectionary Studies.)
We will explain below the erroneous reason the NIV drops out the third clause - "in order that I should not be conceited."
So rather than my translation or that of the Young's Literal, you get this much truncated and different verse in the NIV:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Cor. 12:7 NIV.)
Modifications Necessary to NIV Translation
But first we must see that the NIV does not fully translate the passage, and deletes original words to deflect that Satan's intention is to constrain Paul, and why.
First, the verb for "torment" means "he would torment me," i.e., Satan who sent the Angelos would torment Paul. The NIV obscures the subject of the verb is he, Satan. For the meaning of each Greek term in this verse exactly how it is used, go to the Greek tab at http://biblos.com/2_corinthians/12-7.htm
This is important because after it says "he torments me" it then continues and says "hina" -- that / for the purpose "I might not be conceited." Again, please verify this at the Greek tab at http://biblos.com/2_corinthians/12-7.htm This means the sentence begins explaining the purpose is to prevent conceit, and ends a second time saying the intention of Satan in using the stinger is to prevent excessive conceit in Paul.
Incidentally, some Greek manuscripts omit the second statement of "that I might not be conceited," and the NIV reflects that manuscript strain. However, the "hina" (meaning "that," or "so") makes it clear Paul intended its use at the end of the sentence to emphasize the intention of Satan behind the stinging prod in his flesh. All scholars I found reject the NIV approach, agreeing instead "that I might not be conceited" appears at the end based upon the earliest manuscripts and even earlier church leaders' quotes. Cooke says some later copyists were "not appreciating the repetition" was intended for emphasis, and thus wrongly deleted the second "that I might not be conceited." (Cooke, The Holy Bible (1881) Vol. 9 at 469.) Bloomfield explains in more depth. He says the omitted phrase "rightly belongs" for two reasons: (1) because it "represents no tautology but conveys an emphasis;" and (2) it appears in the earliest commentators, including Origen ca. 230 AD, Cyprian ca 258 AD, Chrysostum, Macar, and "I find them in all the Lamb. and Mus. copies." (S.T. Bloomfield, The Greek New Testament for Theological Students and Ministers (1855) at 325.)
For example, Cyprian who died in 258 AD in On the Mortality VII. 13 wrote Paul was "given a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me that I should not be lifted up." Similarly, Tertullian in 205 AD, On Modesty XIII paraphrases a bit but still you can see the second part was originally present. He says of Paul: “But withal himself says that ‘a stake was given him, an angel of Satan,’ by which he was to be buffeted, lest he should exalt himself.”
Thus, the NIV is in error deleting "that I might not be conceited" in the second part of the sentence of 2 Cor. 12:7.
So when you string the words correctly in the right word order Paul says a "skolops (sharp prod / stinger) was given to me, an Angel / messenger of Satan, so he [i..e., Satan] would torment me that I might not be conceited." The NIV deleted the repetition which has the effect of making it less apparent what was Satan's intention behind this messenger / Angel of torment -- the skolops / stinger / prod. It was to keep Paul humble, which even in the NIV still appears stated in the first part of the sentence. The second usage "so I would not be overly conceited" should remain, allowing Paul to emphasize his understanding of the purpose of Satan behind the messenger stinger.
As we shall see, these subtle differences in the NIV serve an obvious design to lead you away from recognizing a problem which this passage exposes about Paul. Now that you can read the verse correctly, what does it signify?
The Problem for Paulinists
The problem is obvious. Paul teaches here that Satan chastises a "believer" with the aim of stopping them from sinning.
This is not a misconstruction of Paul. It is not only Paul's true grammatical meaning here, but also Paul twice teaches elsewhere that he hands over others / church members to Satan's dominion so Satan will chastise them to stop them from "blaspheming" and "incest." 1 Tim 1:20 and 1 Cor. 5:5. (See further discussion under "Study Notes" below.)
So why would Satan want to keep Paul (or anyone) from sin / excessive conceit? If this stinger-chastisement were an affliction from Satan, Satan would want Paul to sin -- to behave with pride and conceit. By contrast, Satan always wants the opposite of what God wants.
Thus, if Paul served the true Lord Jesus, wouldn't Satan instead want conceit to manifest itself to destroy Paul's credibility to non-believers as well as ruin Paul spiritually? Only if Paul was unwittingly serving a false Jesus since Paul's wilderness experience outside Damascus would Satan have a self-interest to keep Paul humble. Satan's efforts would be rewarded because then Paul's now humble message would be tolerable to people seeking a wholesome message.
To deflect this, Paul-protecting scholars have tried throwing out at us all kinds of interpretations other than the correct one. As Barnes, Notes on the Bible, unwittingly says:
Every one who has become familiar with commentaries knows that almost every expositor has had his own opinion about this, and also that no one has been able to give any good reason for his own. Most of them have been fanciful; and many of them eminently ridiculous. ("Parallel Commentaries," http://bible.cc/2_corinthians/12-7.htm.)
Why Would God Not Release Paul From Subjugation To Satan?
There are even more textual problems from the next two verses which highlight the problem in 12:7.
Paul next explains that he asked the person He assumed was the Lord to take the SKOLOPS away. But this Lord refused. "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:8-9.)
How does this further undermine Paul?
First, let's start with the skolops from which Paul asked relief.
Skolops means "anything pointed." (Umberto Quattrocchi, CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names (Taylor & Francis, 1999) at 2436.)
This is how one would identify a scorpion's stinger. The word for thorn was different, e.g., skolos and akantha. (See our webpage.) A skolops represents "some injurious foreign body." (Arndt & Gingrich, at 763.)
God could send the stinger of scorpions as chastisement to keep one from sinning. In III Kings 3:11 (Septuagint chaptering), the advice given by young men to Solomon on how to deal with backsliders was to tell them "I will chastise you with scorpions" -- in Greek, skorpios.
However, here rather than this SKOLOPS being a chastisement by God for sin to keep Paul humble, it was a chastisement sent by SATAN (angelos satanas) --- his messenger -- to keep Paul humble.
Oddity of Jesus Refusing a Prayer
So why would Jesus refuse, had Paul asked in the name of Jesus, for release from Satan's stinger / thorn? The true Jesus had promised the apostles "whatsoever you ask in my name, that will I do." John 14:13. If Paul were a true apostle of Jesus, and truly inspired at all times, as most Paulinists assume, Paul could not have asked for something that God had not already willed, right? So doesn't that prove Paul was not a true apostle, and is not inspired at all times because Paul should have known spiritually not even to ask?
Now even if a Paulinist would respond that Paul is not always inspired, and thus could wrongly ask something from Jesus, still why would the true Jesus say NO to this particular request? But that is what Paul says, that when he "asked the Lord" for release, he was told "my grace is sufficient for thee" -- whatever that was supposed to mean. See 2 Cor. 12:9. (Incidentally, wouldn't the true Jesus have given a real explanation?)
Even being rebuffed, Paul had one more recourse. After all, Paul understands this is Satan afflicting Paul (so Paul says). Why did Paul not seek to enlist others to help with persistent prayer for release from Satan, as Jesus said mere mortals can be persistent in prayer, and God may eventually answer, as Jesus' parable of the persistent widow proves. Jesus also responded negatively at first to the persistent woman from Canaan who asked for healing of her daughter, and then due to her persistence, Jesus gave in. So had Paul full knowledge of Jesus' principles, and even asked the Lord three times for relief. Yet, why did Paul not take the next persistent step which Jesus promised to honor: "If two or three agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in Heaven." (Matt 18:19.) But Paul oddly did not ask for others to agree that Paul should receive a release from Satan, and then resubmit the request in Jesus's name to the Lord Father, Yahweh. Did Paul truly know all of Jesus' teachings about prayer?
In sum, these questions about why would the true Jesus ever have refused Paul's totally wholesome and proper prayer raise insurmountable barriers to the belief that Paul knew the true Jesus or that Paul was inspired, or both.
Explaining the Affliction of Satan Away
All commentators ignore that Jesus refused Paul's prayer except one claims God "could not" remove the thorn.
Fred Meyer says God "was not able to remove the thorn in the flesh...." (Frederick Brotherton Meyer,Saved and Kept: Counsels to Young Believers (Fleming H. Revell, 1897) at 124.)
What kind of God does Meyer worship? A God less powerful than Satan? That is certainly a poor explanation, yet it shows you how problematic this passage is to believe our beloved Jesus said three times to Paul he would not remove Satan's stinger afflicting Paul.
Others focus upon solely whether this was truly Satan afflicting Paul, and try to draw Christians to think it was otherwise.
In fact, this is the most worked over passage by commentators, exhausting their ingenuity to dismiss a problem by limitless explanations of this passage. And they handle the fact their arguments are untenable by claiming their interpretations are beyond doubt. For example, some suggest that Paul was beset by a competing messenger of another gospel, and this was the SKOLOPS. Clarke in his commentary directly affirms this as fact, and says it "admits" of no other explanation:
It is almost impossible to mistake the apostle's meaning and reference. Jesus Christ sent Paul to proclaim his truth, and found a Church at Corinth. Satan, the adversary of God's truth, sent a man to preach lies at the same place, and turn the Church of God into his own synagogue; and by his teaching lies and calumnies the apostle was severely buffeted. We need seek no other sense for these expressions. (See http://bible.cc/2_corinthians/12-7.htm.)
However, the literal words of Paul betray all these explanations. Paul clearly intends us to understand an Angel of Satan used a "skolops" in the "sarki" = flesh. It was something physical that was employed by an Angel of Satan upon Paul. It was not some competing message / gospel. Otherwise, why did Paul say it was a stinger in his flesh? Clarke's notion of a competing messenger with a competing gospel is thus an untenable gloss to avoid this problem. There is nothing about this stinger / thorn that it was merely in his mind or conscience. As one scholar noted, "I am astonished how many pious and judicious commentators should think this thorn in the flesh was a thorn in the conscience." (Illustrations of the Holy Scriptures (1839) at 631.)
Others ignore the problem about Satan's intention, and affirm simply "Paul's thorn in the flesh was a means adopted by God to keep the mind humble." (The Sunday At Home (The Religious Tract Society, 1891) Vol. 38 at 211.) But Paul did not say that. He said that was Satan's intention. The "Lord" (whom Paul assumed was Jesus) merely said when Paul asked for relief that the Lord's "grace" was sufficient for Paul, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Others deftly skirt the issue: "Paul knew it was allowed by God, even though instigated by Satan." (C. Fred Dickason, Demon Possession and the Christian (1989) at 120.) But this ignores what Paul said was Satan's intention.
If Paulinists cannot find an escape, they distract the reader's attention by debating red herring issues, such as whether Paul had in mind an eye infirmity. This indeed is suggested by Galatians 4:15. But it is a convenient digression away from addressing the real problem in this passage. For an example of almost endless pages of exposition on just that question regarding 2 Cor. 12:7, see George Bush, ed., Illustrations of the Holy Scriptures (Brattleboro Typographic Company, 1839) at 631.
The problem Clarke, Bush and all Paulinists are struggling against is self-evident.
The Problem That Cannot Be Explained Away
If Paul knew the true Jesus, why didn't that Jesus liberate Paul from Satan's dominion over Paul? Why did the true Jesus promise the apostles their prayers would be answered in John 14:13, but the Jesus Paul knew refuses Paul's request in 2 Cor. 12:9? Why would the true Jesus refuse to release a true apostle from a Satanic affliction? It certainly could not be against God's will to do so. The Jesus of Paul seems to act and answer prayers completely opposite of the way the TRUE Jesus promised He would answer prayer and operate.
Of course, if it is a false Jesus whom Paul met in the wilderness of Damascus (remember Matt 24:24-27 warned us), this explains alot.
First, we can see why Satan would keep Paul humble. A Paul with excessive pride would be a true turn-off to any audience, let alone a spiritually attentive audience as Paul frequently visited in synagogues. In court, a witness must not come off cocky or otherwise no one will believe him or her. Hence, if Paul met a false Christ coming in Jesus' name near Damascus, Satan would have a self-interested motive that Paul remain humble so the message funnelled unwittingly by Paul from Satan would be more acceptable.
Another way to examine this is to flip the issue over: why did Satan want to help Paul become a more humble and believable witness for the true Christ? He would not. Yet, Paul clearly said this was Satan's purpose in giving Paul this chastisement in the flesh. Hence, Paul did not think it through enough (but we can): if what Paul is saying is true about Satan's purpose, then Paul could not conceivably be serving the true Jesus. Paul had to be serving a false Jesus. However, he obviously did so unknowingly.
Second, a false Jesus explains also why the Lord whom Paul besought by prayer to release him from Satan turned him down. The true Jesus would certainly have done so. A false Jesus would not.
These points prove that Paul did not actually know the true Christ. He unwittingly was serving someone saying "I am Jesus" to Paul who was not the true Jesus. This corroborates that we applied Matthew 24:24-27 properly to Paul. Jesus warned us that someone saying "I am Jesus" in the wilderness that not every eye would see, once Jesus ascended, could not be the true Jesus. For more on that discussion, see this link.
Study Questions / Notes
Is It Truly Advantageous To God To Turn People Over to Satan?
Another problem in Paul's experience with the SKOLOPS is, as a result, Paul thought it good to "deliver over" people to Satan, not to God, for their chastisement. "For the apostle likewise delivered Phygellus and Hermogenes over to Satan that by chastening they might be taught not to blaspheme." (Tertullian 205 AD, De Fuga in Persecutione at 2.) See 2 Tim. 1:15 and 1 Tim. 1:20. In 1 Tim 1:20, Paul states:
Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Please remember God did not authorize Satan to test Job as chastisement to cure sinful tendencies. Rather, God did so to prove to Satan that Job would not sin. But look how incongruous Paul's approach is: can someone turned over / abandoned to Satan truly learn not to blaspheme? Really? Wouldn't that instead reinforce that sinful tendency because under Satan's dominion, Satan would keep the sinner sinning?
Also, Paul turned another "over to Satan" when a churchgoer was still in an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law. In 1 Cor. 5:5, we read:
hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (NIV)
But the cure for blasphemy and incest cannot be truly to turn people over to Satan for chastisement. Why would Satan chastise evil behavior?
But obviously Paul "learned" (so he thought) differently from his own experience with the thorn / skolops / stinger. Paul's "Lord" --- the one Paul thought was the Lord Jesus -- enlightened Paul that Satan's intentions include chastising us from committing sin. Thus Paul bizarrly thought he likewise could give people over to Satan for Satan to reign in sin.
Who but Satan himself could be planting these backwards / reverse-from-truth ideas in Paul's head?
And now we know how Satan planted these wrong-headed beliefs in Paul's head. Satan pretended to be the Lord Jesus answering Paul's plea for liberation. It was that "Lord" who must have told Paul Satan's intentions were to keep Paul humble. Thus Paul must endure the SKOLOPS / stinger. This "Lord's" message is what led Paul to do the worst thing possible - hand over other people to Satan whom Paul thought were sinners / in error. Thus, we can conclude Paul justified turning people over to Satan in 1 Tim. 1:20 and 1 Cor. 5:5 because Paul was misled by the imposter "Lord" per 2 Cor. 12 that "Paul was delivered over to Satan, given a messenger of Satan a thorn in the flesh" to keep him humble. (See a pro-Paul article entitled "Delivered to Satan, Part 2," 1985.)
Church Turned Supposed Blasphemers Over To Satan As Burned Them To Death
Based upon Paul's words, when John Hus in 1415 and Servetus in 1553 AD were burned at the stake by Catholic and Protestant authorities, respectively, the parting words to each was that the church was "turning you over to Satan." See our article "Turning over Believers to Satan."
Benjamite Saul Comparison
Some draw parallels between the Benjamite Paul and the Benjamite King Saul. The king was afflicted by an evil spirit often, e.g., 1 Sam. 10:20-23; 1 Saml. 16:14; and 1 Sam. 19:9. See "The Angel of Satan in Paul," 2012 at 4:16. This may deserve further investigation.