Summary: The issue of the Apostle Paul's thorn-in-the-flesh has been hotly debated for centuries.
"And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure" (2 Cor 12:7 NKJV)
Some have held that this "thorn" was an eye disease that God "allowed" so that Paul would stay humble. In light of what the Bible teaches about humility, God would not "allow" Paul to be buffeted so that he would stay humble because God doesn't humble people; they must humble themselves! (James 4:10) In the Apostle Paul's list of trials, there is no mention of sickness or disease (2 Cor 11:23-27).
Paul asked God to take it away, not heal it because it wasn't a sickness or disease, nor cast it out because it was a demon. If this “thorn” was a demon or a sickness he would have been considered unclean and people would have stayed away from him and avoided touching anything that Paul had touched, such as the handkerchiefs used for healing (Acts 19:11-12).
Others have said that satan was trying to stop Paul's ministry from being exalted. The word “exalted” comes from the Greek word 'huperairó' which mean to arrogantly lift oneself up over another and is why it is often translated as ‘conceited’ and ‘haughty.’ The enemy was the one who sent Paul's thorn in the flesh. The adversary didn't send his messenger to keep Paul from being proud. The enemy is terrified of humility because those who walk in it are a direct reflection of Jesus and diametrically opposite of him.
The Bible says that this thorn (Gk: ‘skolops’ [used only one time] = a tent stake or splinter was a “messenger” of satan (Greek: ‘angelos’ or angel), a living being, not a thing or a disease, sent to "buffet" him (Gk: ‘kolaphizo’- [also translated “beating” in 1 Peter 2:20] = to strike against someone or something with the fist repeatedly). The word is used when Jesus was being scourged and to show the connection that every Born-Again Christian will share in the suffering of Jesus when they are abused for preaching the Gospel (Matt 26; Mark 14; 1 Cor 4:11; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Pet 2:20). A demonic spirit was sent to constantly oppose Paul’s life and ministry. The buffeting attack was from the outside, and Paul sought for it to be kept away, not cast out. He was frequently beaten up and tortured in various ways for speaking the truth of God's Word.
Statements such as "thorn in your side" or "thorn in your eye" are figures of speech used to describe living beings and not diseases. The messenger of satan was an irritation and not literally "in his flesh" otherwise the “thorn” must be taken literally. The fact is that Paul did not say that he had a thorn in his flesh. He said it was a thorn in the flesh.
Paul called the buffeting a thorn in THE (Gk: ho, hé) flesh, not a thorn in MY flesh. The Greek word ‘emos’ for "my" is not used in this verse. Sickness is not, and never has been, a "thorn in the flesh" that God will not remove!
Paul identified physical weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, lashings (39 times), beatings (5 times), ship wrecks (3 times), getting stoned and left for dead, as being some of the specific techniques of buffeting used against him.
When Matthew described how they treated Jesus before the crucifixion, he said they buffeted Him with their fists (Matt 26:67). The painful and brutal treatment which Paul endured for the sake of the Gospel is what the Bible calls buffeting. The word is also translated as “beatings” (1 Peter 2:20).
How Paul Pulled the Thorn
In the midst of this trial, Paul earnestly sought God on the matter three times for it to be removed (GK: ‘aphistémi’ = to lead away, to stand off, cause to withdraw, to remove; literally to "Keep away from him") (2 Cor 12:8). God refused Paul and said His grace was sufficient. The result was that Paul learned to depend on God in his weakness, reproach, or distress.
Paul did not passively resign himself to it as if it were God's will because He "allowed" it. He sought the Lord so that a messenger of satan, and not a disease, would depart from him. The word “depart” is the same Greek word used in Acts 12:10 to describe the fact that an angel departed from Peter.
God’s answer to Paul showed Him that he had already given him the weapon to use for his deliverance. God gave Paul a clear and succinct answer to his prayer. He said that His grace was sufficient because His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Nowhere in the Bible does it directly say or even insinuate that God makes a person strong while at the same time making them weak with sickness so that His strength can make them strong in their weakness!