by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer
Because of the extraordinary revelations the apostle Paul received, he writes, “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself” (2 Cor 12:7).
The apostle here employs a ἵνα clause to introduce the purpose of the messenger of Satan, ἵνα με κολαφίζῃ (“to torment me”). The verb translated “torment” is the present active subjunctive third person singular of κολαφίζω. One noted commentator remarks on κολαφίζῃ, “The use of the present tense seems to imply that ‘the thorn in the flesh’ was a permanent affliction under which the apostle continued to suffer” (Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 285-86). Hodge seems to indicate that, conversely, if Paul had chosen the aorist tense (the only other real option for this subjunctive clause), then the “torment” Paul described would have been limited in duration or already past. In fact, while Hodge may be right in his conclusion (i.e., Paul suffered for the remainder of his life), the basis for his argument is invalid. By employing the present tense-form in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul chooses to present his torment in progressive fashion, but does not indicate the time limit (or lack thereof) of that progressive depiction. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find such unguarded statements about tense and time in biblical commentaries.