Paul’s enigmatic “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians has baffled interpreters for centuries. Many offer suggestions as to the identity of Satan’s messenger; others despair that the puzzle is unsolvable. In Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh: New Clues for an Old Problem, Kenneth Berding reopens the case. He follows a trail of clues that includes ancient beliefs about curses, hints in Paul’s letters, similarities with Jesus’s suffering, and the attempts of the earliest Christian interpreters. Berding offers twenty criteria—some familiar, others neglected—that any proposals must explain. While the usual suspects fall short, Berding suggests a new solution—one that satisfies all the evidence and gives us a fuller view of Paul. Far from an abstract puzzle, Paul’s own suffering is relevant to Christians today, including Berding’s own health struggles.
Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh is an accessible study that casts new light on Pauline studies, first-century background, and theological and pastoral concerns.
Dr. Berding has written an absorbing book about Paul's thorn in the flesh that not only assists readers in understanding a contested New Testament passage but also prompts us to have a fuller, more human understanding of the great apostle whose life experiences may have been strikingly similar to those of contemporary Christians who suffer from chronic illnesses.
—Eckhard J. Schnabel, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
The discussion about what was Paul’s thorn in the flesh has been a pain (pun intended), full of all kinds of suggestions and few answers. With all kinds of interesting detail, Ken Berding’s look at the options and his proposed set of solutions are the most thorough examination of the issue of which I am aware. The lessons that emerge from understanding the type of suffering involved are instructive for all of us.
—Darrell L. Bock, senior research professor, New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
You are holding a landmark—a new standard against which all further treatment will be measured. Professor Berding has gifted church, academy, and healthcare with a fascinating, definitive treatment of Saint Paul’s unsolved ‘thorn in the flesh,’ one of Pauline studies’ most elusive and understudied enigmas. In the dazzling light of this breakthrough study, no disciple of Jesus Christ will be able to view bodily affliction of any kind as outside the purposeful reach of God’s saving power.
—Richard Deibert, MD; associate medical director, Tidewell Hospice, Sarasota, Florida; author of Second Corinthians and Paul’s Gospel of Human Mortality
Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh is a careful and comprehensive study that judiciously tackles a problem whose answer has consistently eluded scholars. Kenneth Berding presents an intriguing solution based on Paul’s life and theology, his cultural environment, and the literary and linguistic context of 2 Corinthians. This is an important work for those of us who have long wondered what Paul’s ‘thorn’ could have been. Even more significantly, it challenges us to know more deeply the implications of the apostle’s sharing in the sufferings of his Savior.
—Michelle Lee-Barnewall, senior affiliate professor of New Testament, Talbot School of Theology
Kenneth Berding is professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology.