What if the Apostle Paul was an alcoholic?

What if the Apostle Paul was an alcoholic? January 27, 2022

2 Corinthians 12:

7 Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant.  I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.

What was the “Thorn in the Flesh?”

There is much debate about what the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was that Paul dealt with throughout his ministry and his life. It seems as though Paul sees whatever was inhibiting to him as “God-Given” to keep him humble. It could have been a physical ailment. Maybe it was a mental ailment, an illness that caused him great consternation. Possibly, it was a continued sin that he struggled to keep under control. We aren’t exactly sure what the issue was that is known as the thorn, but one thing we do know, it was inhibiting enough that he mentions it has a way to keep him from arrogance.

Prior to recognizing that I was an alcoholic, I read this passage as Paul struggling with a sin, a choice against God, that he couldn’t overcome by himself. But as I have gone through my own recovery from addiction, I realize that this thorn in the flesh may actually be something that is not a choice. It may be an inflicted wound of some sort that would not allow Paul to do all that he thought he could do on his own.

What if?

Since learning that I was an alcoholic, I have wondered, “What if Paul was an alcoholic? What if the thorn in the flesh was that Paul couldn’t resist the strong drink that was most certainly offered to him in cities that he traveled to?”

Imagine for a moment, an itinerant Preacher making his rounds in the Middle East and southern Asia minor in the brutal heat of the desert, and coming upon a city or town where the first thing that was offered was wine. You would drink it. It would be  welcomed relief to quench thirst and find camaraderie with the local people that were there. While Paul writes against getting drunk in every letter that he writes, he also talks about the medicinal value of alcohol in alternate writings. I wonder if this was Paul trying to negotiate his way to a drink. I’m sure Paul experienced great stresses as he traveled the globe for the gospel. I’m sure he experienced fear when he was being chased for his life on the road. Having a drink from time to time, would have given him a moment of tranquility that I’m sure was appreciated and needed.

The First Time Paul was Drunk.

But I wonder, if maybe, there was that one time when Paul had too much to drink as he arrived into town. He overdid it just a little bit and got pretty toasted. He may have made a fool of himself in front of the local people. He may have simply gone to bed and felt like a fool in the morning. And it kept happening. He would arrive, and not mean to drink to much but it always seemed to happen. He would find himself completely humbled with the ‘choice’ of drinking too much. I wonder if that is why he writes harshly against drunkenness.

As an alcoholic, if I have one drink, I won’t be able to stop. It’s not necessarily a choice that I have the ability to make once I start drinking. Mayo Clinic pretty clearly calls alcoholism a disease of the mind and body with multiple symptoms of it’s demise. But the inability to stop drinking is one of those symptoms. I know that alcoholism kept me from being arrogant, especially in the recovery process. I have lived in shame, guilt and defeat for years, since recovering from the daily vice of alcohol consumed me. There hasn’t a day that has gone by that I wasn’t humbled by my own choices and vices.

I can remember the first time that I was drunk to the point of not being able to remember what happened. It was humbling, humiliating, and yet, I could not stop the vicious cycle that consumed me.

Maybe it wasn’t Alcohol.

It could have been something else I suppose. It could have been mental illness, or any other infirmity that caused him consternation. But regardless, for those of us who are addicts, I think Paul gives real hope in these verses. God tells Paul, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”



Browse Our Archives