When used as a figure of speech, a thorn in the flesh always refers to irritating or bothersome people.
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As a convert to Christianity from Hinduism, Bishop K.C. Pillai came to the Western world on a singular mission: to teach the Eastern culture of the Bible. Although Christianity is generally considered a western religion, the Bible itself was written and set in the Orient, and it must be viewed through the light of that eastern window. The Bible is filled with passages that perplex the Western mind, and yet they were readily understood by the Easterner. When the reader becomes knowledgeable of the oriental idioms, customs, and traditions of the Biblical setting, these Scriptures become clear. God called Bishop K.C. Pillai to reveal these Biblical truths he called Orientalisms. At the time of the Bishop’s early life, his native India had remained an isolated country for thousands of years. Therefore, the customs and manners of the people were still aligned with the Eastern, Biblical culture. For over twenty years, Bishop Pillai taught these Orientalisms, bringing great enlightenment to the Christian world. His crusade of imparting this light of the Eastern Culture carried him to numerous universities and seminaries, as well as every major denomination throughout the United States, England and Canada. Still today, his teachings remain the foremost authority on the rare gems of Biblical customs and culture. Bishop K.C. Pillai’s conversion to Christianity is a witness of God’s heart, as well as a lesson in one of the most significant Eastern customs found in the Bible. The Bishop was raised as a Hindu. When a Hindu child of the ruling class is born, a little salt is rubbed on the baby who is then wrapped in swaddling cloth. This custom invoked one of the oldest and strongest covenants in the Eastern world, the “salt covenant.” In this particular instance, the child was salted for a lifetime of dedication to the Hindu religion. The “salt covenant” is used in like manner throughout the Bible to seal the deepest commitment. As a result of the salt covenant it is difficult for Hindus to convert to Christianity. When they do, their family actually conducts a funeral service to symbolize that the individual is dead to their family, the community and Hinduism. Their family will carry a portrait of the “deceased” to the cemetery and bury it. Many times Bishop spoke of his “burial day” when he was disinherited by becoming a Christian; the only Hindu willing to break that covenant of salt in his community during that time. K.C. Pillai answered God’s call and served as Bishop of North Madras in the Indian Orthodox Church. Sent on a special mission to the United States, he spent the last twenty years of his life acquainting Christians with the Orientalisms of the Bible. The interest Bishop Pillai generated in the field has led to numerous further studies by other scholars in the field of manners and customs in the Bible, as well. His books and teachings continue to illuminate and inspire students of the Bible throughout the world. A solid understanding of Orientalisms is essential to “rightly dividing” the Word of truth, and Bishop K.C. Pillai’s works remain an indispensable reference.
Thorn in the Flesh
Orientals are largely agricultural people, therefore there are many figures of speech relating to life on the land, which may be found in the Scriptures. Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (II Corinthians 12:7) also has an agricultural origin. The plowsman walks across the land with bare feet, and occasionally he will get a thorn in his foot. Lacking modern sterilization methods, it is far safer to leave the thorn in his foot than it is to pull it out. He must limp about for a couple of weeks until a thick layer skin is formed over and around it, and then he may take his knife and cut it out safely. When used as a figure of speech, however, a thorn in the flesh always refers to irritating or bothersome people. I know that some wild guesses have been published about Paul's thorn: bad eyesight, a speech impediment, etc. But as this saying is used in the East, it always refers to people and in fact is so used in the Bible itself. For instance:
But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come to pass, that those which you let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides
Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you, but they shall be snares and traps unto you and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.
Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you, but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.
Bishop K.C. Pillai, D.D.