In Its Previous Usage
If Scripture does not interpret itself in the verse
or in the context, then the interpretation is found in
its previous usage. In the first usage of a word,
expression or idea, the explanation is usually
complete enough to carry through in all other
references in the Bible. If God ever changed the
usage of a word or expression, He always explained
To see this great truth on how The Word interprets
itself in its previous usage observe II
Corinthians 12. II Corinthians 12 is the passage on
Paul’s thorn in the flesh which has been a problem
to many people. I have a collection in my library of
different things ministers and theologians have
through the years written to explain Paul’s thorn.
These men have come up with fourteen different
conclusions. The Word tells us what Paul’s thorn in
the flesh was and thus we do not rely on guesswork
and cannot, therefore, have fourteen contradictory
II Corinthians 12:7:
And lest I should be exalted above measure
through the abundance of the revelations, there
was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the
messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should
be exalted above measure.
Does that verse tell what Paul’s thorn in the flesh
was? No. But it tells who sent the thorn. The people
who teach that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was
sickness which was sent by the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ must have lied because this verse says
that it was sent by Satan. Why did Satan send it? To
hinder and obstruct Paul in his work.
II Corinthians 12:8–10:
For this thing [thorn in the flesh] I besought the
Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he [God] said unto me, My grace is
sufficient for thee: for my strength is made
perfect in weakness [or humility]. Most gladly
therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, [It does
not say sicknesses.] in reproaches, in necessities,
in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake;
for when I am weak [humble] , then am I strong.
The thorn in the flesh still has not been explained
though we know more about it. None of the
remaining New Testament explains the thorn in the
flesh. So what do we do? We have to turn in our
Bibles to the place at which the words “thorn in the
flesh” were used for the first time.
But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of
the land [unbelievers] from before you; then it
shall come to pass, that those which ye let
remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes,
and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in
the land wherein ye dwell.
The inhabitants, the people, shall be pricks in
their eyes and thorns in their side. Do you mean that
a Canaanite was hanging in one’s eye and another
Canaanite attached to one’s rib? What are “pricks in
your eyes and thorns in your side”? They are
figures of speech and are not to be taken literally.
This one verse alone, since it is the first usage of
the expression in the Bible, says that “pricks in your
eyes” and “thorns in your sides” are people.
Previous usage then explains Paul’s thorn in the
flesh. We do not need guesswork or private
interpretation. Satan sent Paul a thorn in the flesh to
hinder him in his work. What hindered Paul?
People. This verse in the book of Numbers interpreted
the figure of speech so that we can
understand II Corinthians 12:7. For good measure
let us check two more Scriptures to further clinch
the meaning of the thorn in the flesh.
Know for a certainty that the Lord your God
will no more drive out any of these nations
from before you; but they [nations, which are
made up of people] shall be snares and traps
unto you, and scourges in your sides, and
thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off
this good land which the Lord your God hath
Joshua shows the same truth because people
again were “snares and traps unto you, and scourges
in your sides, and thorns in your eyes.” Can you
imagine a nation of people like the Amorites being
in one fellow’s eye? That is not what it means. The
thorn in the flesh always represents people who are
pricking and trying to buffet and discourage.
Judges 2:3 witnesses to the same truth.
Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them
[people] out from before you; but they shall be
as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be
a snare unto you.
The people were to be as thorns in their sides.
Now reread II Corinthians 12:7
And lest I should be exalted above measure
through [because of] the abundance of the
revelations, there was given to me a thorn in
the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet
What was the thorn in the flesh? People.
Everywhere Paul went people constantly tried to
alter the gospel which Paul preached. These people
who followed him were thorns in his sides, pricks
in his eyes, thorns in the flesh. People were the
messengers of Satan sent to buffet, to obstruct his
ministry, to weaken his work.
Remember the record in Acts which tells that
after Paul finished preaching, people took him
outside the city, stoned him and left him as dead;
but the next morning Paul was preaching again.
Listen to another record of Paul.
II Corinthians 11:24:
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes
The Jews whipped Paul five times with an
instrument similar to our black snake whip. Who
beats people? People. If we had been Paul, I would
imagine by that time we would have been praying
too, “Lord, take this thorn out of my flesh, remove
II Corinthians 11:25:
Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I
stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and
a day I have been in the deep.
Three times Paul was beaten with rods, rods
being whips which had pieces of metal or bone at
the end of the thongs. Three times they beat him
with rods, thirty-nine lashes each time. I hear
people say, “Oh, we sacrifice for the Lord; we put
our dollar in the collection plate.” Look at the
Apostle Paul. Five times they whipped him; three
times they beat him with metal on the end of the
thongs; once they stoned him and left him for dead.
II Corinthians 11:26–28:
In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in
perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen,
in perils by the heathen, in perils in the
city, in perils by the wilderness, in perils in the
sea, in perils among false brethren:
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings
often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in
cold and nakedness.
Beside those things that are without, that which
cometh upon me daily, the care of all the
Who was responsible for all these happenings to
Paul? Satan, the Devil. He inspired and possessed
people who obstructed Paul. Satan inspired religious
as well as irreligious people to act as messengers for
him in hindering Paul.
No wonder Paul said in II Corinthians 12:8, “For
this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might
depart from me.” When Paul prayed, the Lord
answered, as recorded in verse 9, “And he said unto
me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength
is made perfect in weakness [your humility] .” In
other words the Lord said, “As long as you keep
your eyes upon Me, Paul, I will take care of the rest,
for My strength is made perfect in your being
challenged to handle the situation.”
“Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh” is a chapter in my
work entitled Studies in Abundant Living, Volume
I. There it is studied in more detail than we have
just examined. The key to be understood here is that
of interpretation in previous usage. This takes all
the guesswork out and all private interpretation.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy [not one
word of that which is foretold or forthtold in the
Word of God]...is of any private interpretation.” It
must interpret itself in its own verse or in the
context of the entire story or in its previous usage.
Those are the three major ways in which the Word
of God interprets itself.