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THE PHYSICAL AILMENT THEORY IN REGARD TO PAUL’S “THORN IN THE FLESH”
BY: BRIAN CHILTON
The apostle Paul wrote at least four letters to the church of Corinth, however only two survive. In what the modern church understands as 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote, albeit in third person, of a personal experience that he had in which he journeyed to heaven and “heard inexpressible things.” After describing this experience, Paul writes, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Many questions abound pertaining to this passage, but none more pressing than the identification of Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
Four theories exist that seek to identify Paul’s thorn. The physical ailment theory views the thorn as a physical sickness or malady. The mental ailment theory identifies the thorn as some form of mental illness. The spiritual affliction theory identifies the thorn as a spiritual or moral problem. This theory perceives the thorn as some form of demonic oppression. The final theory, the ministerial opposition theory, understands the thorn as persecution or resistance to Paul’s ministry. The adherents of the fourth viewpoint believe that Paul is addressing his many adversaries.
Although many theories exist pertaining to Paul’s thorn in the flesh metaphor used in 2 Corinthians 12:7, the best explanation of the metaphor is found in the physical ailment theory due to the Scriptural evidence of Paul’s ailments, Paul’s understanding of Christian suffering, and the early interpretations of the metaphor. Before the theory is defended, a further examination of the theories must be presented.
Understanding the Theories Pertaining to Paul’s “Thorn in the Flesh”
In order to understand Paul’s thorn in the flesh, it is important to understand the source of Paul’s point of reference. Paul writes,
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Debates have raged for two millennia regarding the identification of this thorn. For the purposes of this paper, four major theories will be addressed: the theory of physical ailments, the theory of mental ailments, the theory of spiritual ailments, and the theory of ministerial opposition.
Physical Ailment Theory
One of the more popular theories is that Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a reference to some form of physical ailment. Terence Mullins writes, “…Paul speaks of the skoloy th sarki ‘thorn in the flesh,’ which was given to him to keep him from exalting himself too much…Almost without exception today the thorn is assumed to represent some physical debility.” This theory is attractive and will be defended in this paper. Since this theory will be defended in the paper, only a brief identification will be given at this point. Before the theory is defended, the other alternatives will be listed.
Mental Ailment Theory
Some scholars suggest that Paul was accursed with a particular mental ailment. This is differentiated from the physical ailment theory due to the fact that adherents of this view mainly focus on supposed mental afflictions that Paul suffered. Landsborough, a proponent of the mental ailment theory, writes,
Numerous attempts have been made to identify the nature of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’, his possible amblyopia and a physical component in his conversion experience. Not much attention has been paid to the ecstatic vision described in his second letter to the Corinthian church. This experience resembles the pleasurable aura of TLE. Of the other ‘visions’ mentioned in Paul’s own writings and in the historical book of Acts, some were probably ictal, others were instances of spiritual conviction. The question of his having permanently defective vision does not appear relevant to the present argument.
Such interpretations are interesting and could have some link to Paul’s condition. However, a great danger exists with such an interpretation in that it seeks to potentially explain Paul’s conversion and spiritual experiences, in fact some would argue for all spiritual experiences, as a deformity of the mind instead of a real experience in space and time. In such cases, the skeptic could claim that Paul’s experiences, along with other Christian experiences, are the product of schizophrenia or a delusional mind. To counter such a notion, it should be noted that others experienced phenomena along with Paul on the Damascus road. The Christian historian Luke writes of Paul,
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.
The great problem for the mental ailment theory is that others heard the voice as well as Paul. Although the men traveling with Paul may not have understood all the words being spoken or the person speaking, they did experience a phenomenon with Paul, though Paul had the full experience. This does not present a good case for mental illness, but a real historical experience. It is possible that part of Paul’s physical condition involved some type of epilepsy; however even in such a case, the experiences of Paul on the Damascus road should not be considered such an episode. If such an episode held other eyewitnesses, then why should one expect the other ecstatic experiences of Paul to fit such a bill? While it is still possible that the experience of 2 Corinthians 12 could have been the result of an epileptic seizure, it is less likely considering the reality of the Damascus road experience. Therefore, this theory is rejected.
Spiritual Affliction Theory
Another theory exists that postulates that Paul’s thorn in the flesh consists of spiritual oppression. In such a theory, Paul is opposed by demonic influence which plagues Paul with doubts or temptations. Some would view that the demonic oppression leads to other ends, such as a physical ailment or opposition. Reid writes, “In fact, Paul maintains, they are ministers of Satan (2 Cor 11:15). Another metaphorical use of angelos occurs in 2 Corinthians 12:7 where Paul speaks of his ‘thorn in the flesh’—perhaps a physical disability or illness—as an angelos Satana, an ‘angel’ or ‘minister’ of Satan.” The demonic presence torments by illnesses and stirs up opposition against the ministry of God’s elect. In such case, this theory is viable.
However, this theory is often presented as only a spiritual attack. In such a case, the spiritual problems may only be a demonic spiritual assault upon Paul, perhaps even in the vision itself. Price writes,
Reconstructing the heavenly scenario, we may imagine this to have been the sequence of events: Paul finds himself caught up to heaven. There he is treated to ineffable revelations. Waxing proud over his enviable position, Paul suddenly finds himself the object of attack by a punishing demon or angel. Paul appeals thrice to the exalted Lord on the heavenly throne before him, who finally declares that Paul must learn his lesson; i.e., ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness.’ It is a lesson that Paul learned well, carrying it with him through subsequent, earthly trials (II Corinthians 12:10). This picture may seem to some readers a bit too outlandish to be plausible, but let the reader keep in mind that he is already dealing with the story of a man who claims to have visited heaven one day! Given a camel of this size, why strain at the mere gnat proposed here?
Mullins’ view holds a great problem in this writer’s estimation. Mullins is arguing for an undocumented theory in the midst of a documented event and arguing for the theory’s probability in light of the event’s probability. Yet, Mullins’ interpretation is a possibility if one considers that the demonic attack took physical forms. It could be that the demonic attack brought forth physical afflictions or ministerial opposition. While it could be that the demonic oppression led to physical ailments, the theory is too limited in scope when considering the thorn in the flesh and is, therefore, rejected.
Ministerial Opposition Theory
It could be argued that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was nothing more than mere human opposition to Paul’s ministry. Paul was certainly met with opposition in Corinth. Kohlenberger and Barker write,
…Paul or his representative was personally insulted by some individual at Corinth in an open act of defiance by which all the Corinthians were to some extent pained—if not at the actual time, at least later on (2:5-11; 7:12). So Paul sent Titus to Corinth after considerable persuasion (7:14) as his personal envoy to deliver the ‘severe letter’…and to organize the collection (8:6a).
Paul certainly met opposition in his ministry. Terence Mullins believes that this opposition best answers the thorn in the flesh conundrum. Mullins writes,
The fact that the OT speaks of people—of enemies—as ‘a briar to prick or a thorn to hurt,’ as ‘pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides,’ and as ‘a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes.’ This provides the literary pattern for Paul’s phrase ‘thorn in the flesh.’ The clear interpretation of Paul’s use is, therefore, as referring to a person, an enemy.
However, it is difficult to see how this opposition fits with Paul’s statement about weakness. Paul writes, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” According to Paul’s statement, it seems that the thorn was something internal. The metaphor seems to suggest an internal battle as Paul differentiates between the weakness of his thorn and persecution in 2 Corinthians 12:10. Although the ministerial opposition is a strong theory and holds many valid points, this viewpoint is rejected in this paper due to the internal nature of the thorn. If Paul was referring to a person or movement, it is likely that Paul would have referred to such individuals.
The Physical Ailment Theory Works Best Because of Scriptural Evidence of Paul’s Sufferings
If the physical ailment theory pertaining to Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a tenable position, then there should be evidence of the apostle suffering from physical issues within the apostle’s writings. In this regard, there is an abundant amount of resources concerning the apostle’s physical distress.
First, there is the classic issue of Paul’s eyesight. The letter to the Galatians is considered one of the apostle’s earlier works. Lea and Black write, “If we accept a South Galatian destination, the letter can be dated as early as A.D. 49-50.” Although the evidence is stronger for the recipients of the letter being southern Galatians, even a northern destination would not place the letter much later. Lea and Black write, “If we accept a North Galatian destination, then we cannot date Galatians until during or after Paul’s second missionary journey, A.D. 50-52.” Even still, Galatians must be considered one of the earlier works of Paul.
Why is the dating of Galatians important? It is important to establish the fact of Paul’s early physical ailments. At the end of the letter, Paul writes, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” R. Alan Cole does not see the text as evidence of Paul’s bad eyesight. Cole writes, “It could refer to the style of writing, for instance. Those who see Paul’s recurrent illness as ophthalmia will point to the large letters often written by the half-blind. But half-literate people also normally use large lettering, and nobody has yet accused Paul of falling into that category.” While Cole is correct in the assessment given, it must be noted that there is other evidence for Paul’s bad eyesight. For instance, when one considers Paul’s conversion experience, one will note that Paul had scale-like elements fall from his eyes. Luke records, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.” It would at least seem rational that Paul would have some lingering effects from such an episode. Even if Paul’s eyesight was not the physical malady that plagued the apostle, one could claim that Paul could have easily suffered from other physical maladies.
Second, Paul suffered physical persecution which would have led to physical problems. As mentioned earlier, the letter to the Galatians was one of Paul’s earliest letters. In the letter, Paul gives some indication that he had suffered physical persecution already. Paul writes, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” Paul’s suffering is evident in the letter of 2 Corinthians. Before the apostle speaks of his thorn in the flesh, Paul mentions the many physical sufferings he has endured. Paul writes,
…I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Having read Paul’s testimony, how could one not consider that Paul had some form of physical malady? One must consider that the flogging that Paul endured left Paul with serious injuries. This does not even consider the stoning and the shipwreck that Paul underwent. One must consider the tremendous toil that such suffering must have left upon the frame of the apostle. While this does not necessarily prove that the thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment, it does show the great potential for the thorn being some form of physical problem. Whether the malady was eyesight problems is moot in this case. The more important theme for this paper is showing the potentiality of the thorn being some form of physical ailment. Considering the previous passages, such a viewpoint is supported by a good amount of Scriptural evidence.
The Physical Ailment Theory Works Best Because of Paul’s Understanding of Physical Suffering
Did Paul’s thorn in the flesh indicate a physical ailment? In order to answer this question, one must examine the apostle’s understanding of suffering in the context of the thorn in the flesh. The apostle Paul believed that physical suffering has a positive end. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In the text of 2 Corinthians, Paul seems to indicate that this thorn that was being endured was some form of weakness. Paul writes in the eleventh chapter, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” In chapter twelve, after presenting the fact that the apostle was suffering a thorn in the flesh, Paul writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In Paul’s eyes, the endurance of weaknesses was an avenue that God used to show forth God’s strength. In such manner, God’s power would be displayed instead of the person’s strength.
This is not an unusual stance for a Jewish individual. Satan was viewed as existing under the authority of God. Ailments that Satan intended for evil could be used for great good by God. Schmidt writes,
For several reasons, however, a penitential discipline is untenable: it makes Satan an agent for positive ethical change, it overlooks the unmistakable parallel in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 to illness…and death…as judgments for disobedience, and it misses the allusion to the exceptional circumstances of Job 2:6, where Satan is allowed to visit physical affliction on an individual as God permits…Paul demonstrates his understanding of this in 2 Corinthians 12:7, where his ‘thorn in the flesh’ is a ‘messenger of Satan’; an evil work which ultimately serves God’s purpose (cf. Deut 28:15-68).
If such a parallel is to be made, then it is more probable than not that the thorn in the flesh was a physical malady of some sort. In fact, it would appear that the physical sufferings of Paul were offensive to the Corinthians, who probably admired physical strength and athletic prowess due to the elevation of athletic events such as the Isthmian Games. Yet, Paul believed that the endurance of such physical maladies was suffered for the cause of Christ and for the betterment of the church. Kar Young Lim writes,
This is supported by clear indications that his scars, carrying the notion of shame and dishonour, have not been well received. The charge that Paul’s bodily presence is weak (10.10), seen as a direct reference to his scars of dishonour, should not be discounted. As such, it would be difficult to believe that Paul’s offensive scars escaped the close scrutiny of both the opponents and the Corinthians. How does boasting of his beatings contribute to Paul’s argument in 2 Cor. 10-13? These scars tell the story of weakness; but, more importantly, they tell the story of Jesus. This is the clearest evidence of Paul not only carrying in his body the nekrwsiV tou Ihsou (4.10; cf. 13.4) but also the stigmata tou Ihsou (Gal. 6.17).
Lim’s assessment certainly holds biblical support. Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”Paul even seemed to think that physical suffering was part of the apostolic job. Hafemann writes,
Hence, rather than questioning the legitimacy of his apostleship because of his suffering, Paul considered suffering to be a characteristic mark of his apostolic ministry (Gal 6:17; 1 Cor 2:1-5; 2 Cor 11:23-29; Phil 1:30; 2 Tim 1:11-12; 2:9; etc.), and an aspect of his own mortal life concerning which he was content, in which he rejoiced and about which he could appropriately ‘boast’ (2 Cor 11:30; 12:10; Phil 1:19-26).
Therefore, Paul indicated that suffering was part of the apostolic call. Just as Jesus had suffered for the apostles and the church, the apostles would likely be called to suffer for Christ. With Paul’s image of apostolic suffering for Christ set in place, the view that the thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment becomes a rational, if not certain, conclusion.
Not only did Paul see his suffering as being endured for the good of Christ, but the apostle also saw his suffering as holding benefits for the church. F. F. Bruce writes,
He seems to have held that the more of these sufferings he personally absorbed, the less would remain for his fellow-Christians to endure. ‘I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,’ he writes to the Colossians, ‘and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church’ (Colossians 1:24). To the same effect he tells his friends in Corinth that ‘if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation’ (2 Corinthians 1:6). As Jesus had offered up to God as an atonement ‘for many’ the injuries inflicted on him, so Paul accepted his injuries and trials the more readily in the hope that thus his converts and other fellow-believers would be spared the like. ‘So, then’, he says, ‘death is at work in us [that is, ‘in me’], but life in you’ (2 Corinthians 4:12).
Bruce demonstrates the selflessness of the apostle. Paul felt that the suffering that he endured would lessen the sufferings of the church. Like a father working long hours for the betterment of one’s family, so Paul took on these sufferings with gladness in hope that the churches would not have to suffer the same.
Concerning the apostle’s scars and the emphasis on the apostle’s suffering for the good of Christ and the church, it would make little sense if the thorn in the flesh was anything other than some form of physical malady. It is certainly possible that the thorn incorporated Paul’s persecution brought forth by Satan. However, even in such a case, the thorn would speak to the results of such opposition which were the physical maladies that came from such persecution. Therefore, the thorn in the flesh would make far more sense if it referred to a physical ailment of some sort.
The Physical Ailment Theory Works Best Due to Early Interpretations
Early interpretations can be useful as they can assist the interpreter understand the mindset of the time nearest the author. When it comes to the thorn in the flesh, early interpreters tended to accept that the thorn was a physical ailment. Russell writes, “The earliest tradition understood the phrase to refer to a physical malady that kept Paul from being too elated by the abundance of revelations. This view was held by Latin fathers (Tertullian, Jerome) and has had its modern proponents, some of whom relate the thorn to specific illness…” Not only do early interpreters favor the thorn’s identification with a physical ailment, according to Twelftree the majority of early interpreters tend to favor the theory. Twelftree writes, “The majority of interpreters, from Tertullian onward (Pud. 13), take the thorn to be some form of physical illness. In favor of this view is the metaphor of a thorn, the connection in ancient times between demonic manifestations and physical illness, and the structure of the 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 passage imitating the narratives of a healing miracle.” The popularity of the viewpoint has not drifted with time. Kruse writes of the thorn, “Most modern interpreters prefer to see it as some sort of physical ailment, and the fact that Paul calls it a thorn in the flesh offers some support for this.”It would seem that the strength of the theory has carried over throughout the millennia. Although early interpretations do not necessarily prove that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical ailment. It does lay the groundwork in understanding how Paul’s metaphor was received early in the history of the church. If the understanding is strong in favor of one interpretation, it does make that interpretation more likely. For example, if General George Washington wrote something that could be taken as literal or allegorical, one would desire to know how those nearest to the time of Washington perceived the statement. If individuals nearest to the time of Washington perceived the statement as literal and individuals centuries removed understood it as allegorical, the earlier interpretation would be stronger than the latter. Therefore, the physical ailment theory holds greater validity than the alternative interpretations due to the fact that earlier interpreters understood the thorn as a physical ailment.
This paper has evaluated the various theories pertaining to Paul’s metaphor of his thorn in the flesh. Four theories exist that seek to explain the identity of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. The mental ailment theory suggests that Paul’s problem consisted of some mental health issue such as conditions that could cause hallucinations. This theory was rejected due to Scriptural evidence that suggests that others experienced phenomena during the Damascus road event. Another theory suggests that the thorn in the flesh is some form of spiritual oppression. While this theory is a possibility, it was shown that the end result would have been a physical affliction which the paper defends. A third theory suggests that Paul’s ailment was ministerial opposition. While there is a great amount of evidence that indicates that Paul experienced numerous adversaries during Paul’s ministry, the tone and internal nature of the thorn suggests something more than just opposition. This paper has defended the physical ailment theory.
The physical ailment theory has been defended due to Scriptural evidence that suggests that Paul suffered physical problems during his ministry. Also, this paper has shown that Paul’s understanding of suffering in relation to 2 Corinthians 12 indicates that the thorn was a physical ailment. Finally, this paper demonstrated that early interpreters, as well as a great number of modern interpreters, understand the thorn as a physical ailment. For the reasons presented, the physical ailment theory is preferred. However, one final note needs to be made before concluding the paper. Although a physical ailment is determined as the most likely interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, it is not suggested that one seeks to specify the particular illness of Paul. There simply is not enough evidence to pinpoint the ailment as opthalmia, malaria, epilepsy, or any other particular disease. One can speculate, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, to identify the illness without further information. Therefore, while this paper suggests a physical ailment as the answer to Paul’s metaphor, it is highly suggested that one leaves the issue at that point.
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
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Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977.
Cole, R. Alan. Galatians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996.
Hafemann, S. J. “Suffering,” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993.
Kruse, Colin. 2 Corinthians. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Edited by Leon Morris. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Landsborough, D. “St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 50 (June, 1987): 659-664.
Lea, Thomas D. and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Ed. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003.
Lim, Kar Young. The Sufferings of Christ Are Abundant in Us: A Narrative Dynamics Investigation of Paul’s Sufferings in 2 Corinthians. New York: T&T Clark International, 2009.
Mullins, Terence Y. “Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 76, no. 4 (December, 1957): 299-303. Accessed November 9, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3261900.
Price, Robert M. “Punished in paradise (An exegetical theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).” Journal For the Study of The New Testament, 7 (April 1980): 33-40. ATLASerials, EBSCOhost. Accessed November 19, 2013.
Ramsay, William Mitchell. St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1907.
Reid, D. G. “Angels, Archangels.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993.
Russell, Ronald. “Redemptive Suffering and Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh.” Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 39, 4 (December 1996): 559-570. ATLASerials, EBSCOhost. Accessed November 19, 2013.
Schmidt, T. E. “Discipline.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993.
Twelftree, G. H. “Healing, Illness.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993.
2 Corinthians 12:4.
 2 Corinthians 12:7b-9a.
 2 Corinthians 12:7–9.
 Terence Y. Mullins, “Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh,” Journal of Biblical Literature. 76, no. 4 (December, 1957): 299.
 D. Landsborough, “St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 50 (June, 1987): 663.
 Acts 9:3-7.
 Reid, D. G. “Angels, Archangels,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 22.
 Terence Y. Mullins, “Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 76, no. 4 (December, 1957): 303.
 Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament, Abridged Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 661.
 Mullins, “Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 303.
 2 Corinthians 12:9b.
 Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003), 368.
 R. Alan Cole, Galatians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), 233.
 Acts 9:17-18.
 Galatians 6:17.
2 Corinthians 11:23b-27.
 Romans 8:28.
 2 Corinthians 11:30.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10.
T. E. Schmidt, “Discipline,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 217.
Kar Young Lim, The Sufferings of Christ Are Abundant in Us: A Narrative Dynamics Investigation of Paul’s Sufferings in 2 Corinthians (New York: T&T Clark International, 2009), 179.
S. J. Hafemann, “Suffering,” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 919.
F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977), 139-140.
Ronald Russell, “Redemptive Suffering and Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 39, 4 (December 1996): 565.
 Twelftree, G. H. “Healing, Illness.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993.
Colin Kruse, 2 Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 206.