Thorn in the flesh is a phrase of New Testament origin used to describe a chronic infirmity, annoyance, or trouble in one's life, drawn from Paul the Apostle's use of the phrase in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians 12:7–9:
The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first part being the Old Testament, based on the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture. The New Testament has frequently accompanied the spread of Christianity around the world. It reflects and serves as a source for Christian theology and morality. Extended readings and phrases directly from the New Testament are incorporated into the various Christian liturgies. The New Testament has influenced religious, philosophical, and political movements in Christendom and left an indelible mark on literature, art, and music.
Paul the Apostle, commonly known as Saint Paul and also known by his Jewish name Saul of Tarsus, was an apostle who taught the gospel of Christ to the first-century world. Paul is generally considered one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age and in the mid-30s to the mid-50s AD he founded several churches in Asia Minor and Europe. He took advantage of his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to minister to both Jewish and Roman audiences.
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, often written as 2nd Corinthians, is a Pauline epistle and the eighth book of the New Testament of the Bible. Paul the Apostle and "Timothy our brother" wrote this epistle to "the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia".
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. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (KJV)
Other biblical passages where "thorn" is used as a metaphor are:
The Hebrew Bible, also called the Tanakh or Mikra, is the canonical collection of Jewish texts, which is also the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. These texts are composed mainly in Biblical Hebrew, with some passages in Biblical Aramaic. The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text (MT), and is divided into 24 books, while the Protestant Bible translations divide the same material into 39 books.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two ideas. Antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy and simile are all types of metaphor. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature is the "All the world's a stage" monologue from As You Like It:
Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out [any of] these nations from before you; but they 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 given you.— Joshua 23:13
And there shall be no more a pricking briar unto the house of Israel, nor [any] grieving thorn of all [that are] round about them, that despised them; and they shall know that I [am] the Lord GOD.— Ezekiel 28:24
The standard English translation was popularised by the 1611 King James Version of the Bible.Among earlier translations, the 1526 Tyndale Bible uses "vnquyetnes" ("unquietness") rather than "thorn," and the 1557 Geneva Bible refers to a "pricke in the fleshe."
The King James Version (KJV), also known as the King James Bible (KJB) or simply the Authorized Version (AV), is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, begun in 1604 and completed as well as published in 1611 under the sponsorship of King James I of England. The books of the King James Version include the 39 books of the Old Testament, an intertestamental section containing 14 books of the Apocrypha, and the 27 books of the New Testament. The translation is noted for its "majesty of style", and has been described as one of the most important books in English culture and a driving force in the shaping of the English-speaking world.
The Tyndale Bible generally refers to the body of biblical translations by William Tyndale. Tyndale's Bible is credited with being the first English translation to work directly from Hebrew and Greek texts. Furthermore, it was the first English biblical translation that was mass-produced as a result of new advances in the art of printing.
The Geneva Bible is one of the most historically significant translations of the Bible into English, preceding the King James Version by 51 years. It was the primary Bible of 16th-century English Protestantism and was used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, John Donne, and John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress (1678). It was one of the Bibles taken to America on the Mayflower. The Geneva Bible was used by many English Dissenters, and it was still respected by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers at the time of the English Civil War, in the booklet "Cromwell's Soldiers' Pocket Bible".
Paul mentions what the "thorn in his flesh" was in II Corinthians 12: 6-7 when he said (Verse 6) "...lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. (Verse 7) And lest I should be exalted above measure through 'the abundance of revelations,' there was given to me 'a thorn in the flesh'..." from "the abundance of revelations" and how people perceived him or "...man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me."
Paul does not specify the nature of his "thorn," and his other epistles do not directly address the topic. Throughout church history, there has been a significant amount of speculation about what Paul was referring to, although scholars such as Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, F. F. Bruce and Ralph P. Martin conclude that definite identification of the thorn is impossible with the evidence available.
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–1990) was an Anglican clergyman and New Testament scholar whose life spanned four continents: Australia, where he was born; South Africa, where he spent his formative years; England, where he was ordained; and the United States, where he died in 1990, aged 75.
Frederick Fyvie Bruce, usually cited as F. F. Bruce, was a biblical scholar who supported the historical reliability of the New Testament. His first book, New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (1943), was voted by the American evangelical periodical Christianity Today in 2006 as one of the top 50 books "which had shaped evangelicals".
Ralph Philip Martin was a British New Testament scholar.
The "thorn" is most commonly interpreted as a reference to some form of serious physical infirmity that hindered his work.This is also the earliest known Christian interpretation, mentioned in the early third century in Tertullian's On Modesty , where it is understood as a reference to ear or head pain. One proposal is that Paul's ailment was a defect of sight, acute ophthalmia, possibly caused by the dazzling light at his conversion. This interpretation is partly based on Paul's reference to a weakness of the flesh in Galatians 4:13-14, for which the Galatians would have been willing to pluck out their eyes to give to him. It is also argued that this would account for Paul's large handwriting (Gal 6:11), his failure to recognise the high priest in Acts 23:5, and his tendency to use an amanuensis. Other proposed ailments include epilepsy and malarial fever.
Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. Of Berber origin, he was the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology."
Ophthalmia is inflammation of the eye. It is a medical sign which may be indicative of various conditions, including sympathetic ophthalmia, gonococcal ophthalmia, trachoma or "Egyptian" ophthalmia, ophthalmia neonatorum, photophthalmia and actinic conjunctivitis, and others.
An amanuensis is a person employed to write or type what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another, and also refers to a person who signs a document on behalf of another under the latter's authority.
Alternatively, the thorn has been seen as a physical impediment that made Paul the object of ridicule, without necessarily making him physically weak. Peter Marshall suggests a "social debilitating disease or disfigurement" that would undermine his visionary claims.Others propose a speech impediment, which might explain the Corinthian accusation that he was forceful in writing but unimpressive in person (2 Cor 10:9-11).
Other interpretations include:
The phrase "thorn in the flesh" continues to be used as a metaphor for "a source of continual annoyance or trouble."It is synonymous with the phrase "thorn in the side," which is also of biblical origin, based on the description in Numbers 33:55. As an example usage, the Oxford English Dictionary cites E. M. Forster's 1924 novel A Passage to India, in which Nawab Bahadur says, "I can be a thorn in Mr. Turton's flesh, and if he asks me I accept the invitation."
The Epistle to the Ephesians, also called the Letter to the Ephesians and often shortened to Ephesians, is the tenth book of the New Testament. Its authorship has traditionally been attributed to Paul the Apostle but starting in 1792, this has been challenged as Deutero-Pauline, that is, written in Paul's name by a later author strongly influenced by Paul's thought, probably "by a loyal disciple to sum up Paul’s teaching and to apply it to a new situation fifteen to twenty-five years after the Apostle’s death.
The Epistle to the Galatians, often shortened to Galatians, is the ninth book of the New Testament. It is a letter from Paul the Apostle to a number of Early Christian communities in Galatia. Scholars have suggested that this is either the Roman province of Galatia in southern Anatolia, or a large region defined by an ethnic group of Celtic people in central Anatolia.
The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, often referred to simply as Philippians, is the eleventh book in the New Testament. Paul and Silas first visited Philippi in Greece during Paul's second missionary journey, which occurred between approximately 49 and 51 AD. Philippi was the location of the first Christian community established in Europe.
The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, often referred to simply as Colossians, is the twelfth book of the New Testament. It was written, according to the text, by Paul the Apostle and Timothy to the Church in Colossae, a small Phrygian city near Laodicea and approximately 100 miles (160 km) from Ephesus in Asia Minor.
The Epistle of Paul to Titus, usually referred to simply as Titus, is one of the three Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament, historically attributed to Paul the Apostle. It is addressed to Saint Titus and describes the requirements and duties of elders and bishops.
The Epistle to the Romans or Letter to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the longest of the Pauline epistles.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, usually referred to simply as First Corinthians and often written 1 Corinthians, is one of the Pauline epistles of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The epistle says that Paul the Apostle and "Sosthenes our brother" wrote it to "the church of God which is at Corinth" 1 Cor.1:1–2 although the scholarly consensus holds that Sosthenes was the amanuensis who wrote down the text of the letter at Paul's direction.
Saint Onesimus, also called Onesimus of Byzantium and The Holy Apostle Onesimus in some Eastern Orthodox churches, was probably a slave to Philemon of Colossae, a man of Christian faith. He may also be the same Onesimus named by Ignatius of Antioch as bishop in Ephesus which would put Onesimus's death closer to 95 A.D. Regardless, Onesimus went from slave to brother to Bishop.
The Pauline epistles, Epistles of Paul, or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen books of the New Testament, composed of letters which are largely attributed to Paul the Apostle, although authorship of some is in dispute. Among these letters are some of the earliest extant Christian documents. They provide an insight into the beliefs and controversies of early Christianity and as part of the canon of the New Testament they are foundational texts for both Christian theology and ethics. The Epistle to the Hebrews, although it does not bear his name, was traditionally considered Pauline for a thousand years, but from the 16th century onwards opinion steadily moved against Pauline authorship and few scholars now ascribe it to Paul, mostly because it does not read like any of his other epistles in style and content. Most scholars agree that Paul really wrote seven of the Pauline epistles, but that four of the epistles in Paul's name are pseudepigraphic ; scholars are divided on the authenticity of two of the epistles.
Gordon Donald Fee is an American-Canadian Christian theologian and an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God (USA). He currently serves as Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
1 Corinthians 14 is the fourteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is authored by Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes in Ephesus. In this chapter, Paul writes about the gift of prophesy and about speaking in tongues. Biblical scholar F. Dale Bruner states that "edification becomes the theme of this chapter: in Paul's thought, the ultimate criterion for a gift of the Spirit is this: Does it upbuild the church?"
The Bride of Christ or the bride, the Lamb's wife is a term used in reference to a group of related verses in the Bible, in the Gospels, Revelation, the Epistles and related verses in the Old Testament. Sometimes, the Bride is implied by calling Jesus a Bridegroom. For over 1500 years, the Church was identified as the bride betrothed to Christ. However, there are instances of the interpretation of the usage varying from church to church. Most believe that it always refers to the church.
In Christian theology, good works, or simply works, are a person's (exterior) actions or deeds, in contrast to inner qualities such as grace or faith. In Judaism, good works are also known in Hebrew as a mitzvah, and refers to a moral deed performed within a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an individual act of human kindness in keeping with the law. The expression includes a sense of heartfelt sentiment beyond mere legal duty, as "you shall love your neighbor as yourself". Islam holds that salvation is a combination of the grace of Allah and the works performed by the individual. On the Day of Judgment, if an individuals bad deeds are outweighed by their good works, and it is inshallah they will be forgiven of all sin and then enter into Jannah.
David E. Garland served as the interim president of Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. His term began in June 2016 amid the Baylor sexual assault scandal and resignation of former president Ken Starr. Garland's term concluded May 31, 2017.
1 Corinthians 1 is the first chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It was sent by Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes from Ephesus to the church in Corinth.
Thomas R. Schreiner is an American New Testament scholar. He is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Bethel Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific University. He is also co-chairman of the Christian Standard Bible's Translation Oversight Committee.
2 Corinthians 3 is the third chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is authored by Paul the Apostle and Saint Timothy. Biblical commentator Heinrich Meyer emphasises that the use of the plural 'we' in 2 Corinthians 3:2 and 3:6 includes Timothy in the writing of the letter.
2 Corinthians 12 is the twelfth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is authored by Paul the Apostle and Saint Timothy.
Murray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He was for a time warden of Tyndale House at Cambridge University. He gained his PhD from the University of Manchester, studying under F. F. Bruce.