2 Cor. 5:8
2 Cor. 12:2-4
1 Thess. 4:17
2 Peter 3:10
- 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
- "Caught up to the third heaven . . . caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
- This passage is pressed into service by Evangelicals for the following reasons:
- Since Paul's friend could exist without body, this proves that the real person is not the body, but the immortal soul within the body.
- Since Paul's friend was taken to be with his Lord in paradise (heaven), this implies that all the saved go to be with their Lord at death.
- Paul said that he wasn't sure if the man he knew was in the body or out of the body. (vs. 2,3). If the inspired Apostle didn't know for certain, how can this reference be cited to prove that one can, in fact, exist outside his body?
- Two assumptions advanced in the problem require proof. These are as follows:
- It is assumed that the man Paul knew died; the passage does not say so.1 Until it is proven that he did die, there is no warrant for the sweeping generalization that the souls of any righteous dead persons go to heaven.
- It is assumed that to be in the third heaven is to be "with the Lord". Until it is proven that to be in the third heaven is to be with the Lord, there is no warrant for asserting that the man Paul knew, or any, go "to be with their Lord" at the instant of death.
- The contextual evidence strongly suggests that the man Paul knew was none other than Paul himself. Consider the evidence:
- The Apostle says, "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." (vs. 7). If the visions and revelations which occupy the preceding verses were those of the man Paul knew (and not Paul himself) why should the Apostle be chastened lest he be exalted above measure? Surely the concern ought to be for the recipient of the visions and revelations.
- The Apostle Paul claims: "I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing." (vs 11). Such a comment is entirely appropriate if the subject of the glorying (vs. 1) has been Paul. It is difficult to see how such a comment follows from a consideration of the glory of a person other than Paul.
- Paul's authority was being undermined in Corinth. (2 Cor. 10:10, 11; 11:4, 12-15). Even the ecclesia had demanded proof that Christ was speaking in him. (2 Cor. 13:3). The Apostle vindicates his rightful position in the following ways:
- By an open attack on the adversaries. (2 Cor. 10:11,12; 11:4-5,13).
- By challenging the ecclesia to demonstrate his lack of integrity. (2 Cor. 11:7).
- By becoming a "fool" (2 Cor. 11:1,17; 12:11) in boasting of his accomplishments as a disciple. (2 Cor. 11:21-29).
- By citing personal acts of divine favour. (2 Cor. 11:30-33).
- By recounting his personal privilege and glory in receiving visions and revelations. (2 Cor. 12:1-4).
It can be seen that if the man Paul knew was none other than Paul himself, then the appeal to visions and revelations is an integral part of the Apostle's argument. It is difficult to see how the experiences of glory of any other person would complement Paul's argument vindicating his authority in the Corinthian ecclesia.
- "Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth." (vs. 2,3). Various interpretations of these words have been proposed. The following one has the advantage of fitting the context: Paul did not know for certain whether he was transported to participate objectively in the visions and revelations, as did Daniel (Dan. 10), or whether his experience was subjective, as was Peter's vision of the sheet let down from heaven. (Acts 10:10,11,17). Later, when Peter was led out of prison by an angel he "wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision." (Acts 12:9). Peter thought his objective experience might only be subjective - that what was actually occurring might only be transpiring in his mind. When Peter was "come to himself, he said, Now I know for a surety . . ." (Acts 12:11). Similarly, Paul was unable to know for certain whether he was in the body (actually participating) or out of the body (whether the events transpired only in a vision in the mind).
- The Greek verb "harpazo" translated "caught up", does not denote direction. It can be translated, "caught away".2
- Paradise3 is descriptive, not of a place in heaven, but on the earth. The following passages show this:
- Luke 23:43 - the thief requested a place in the kingdom. (Luke 23:42). But the kingdom is to be on the earth. (Dan. 2:44; 7:27).
- Rev. 2:7 - A symbolic allusion to the garden of Eden.
- The Septuagint translation uses the word "paradeisos" for the garden of Eden. See Gen. 2:8; cf. also Ezek. 28:13; 36:35.
Since Paul says that the man he knew was caught away to the third heaven (vs. 2) and caught away to paradise (vs. 4) it can be inferred that the two locations are synonymous. Since it is known that paradise refers either to the Garden of Eden or to paradise-like conditions on the earth, by implication it is also known that the third heaven refers to the same thing. The word "heavens" is used figuratively elsewhere in Scripture. See 2 Pet. 3:13 cf. Isa. 65:17.
- Some Evangelicals, like the Gospel Hall, teach that the man Paul knew was Paul himself, but they speculate that the visions were received when he died by stoning at Lystra. The record in Acts does not state that Paul actually died - "having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead." (Acts 14:19). If the apostle were the victim of stoning to death, then it is certain that he did not receive any visions at this time since the "dead know not anything." (Ecc. 9:5 cf. Psa. 146:3,4). Return
- "Harpazo", the verb translated "caught up", means to "snatch away". Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible, 8th ed., (London: Lutterworth Press, 1965). Bullinger comments: "In 2 Cor. 12:4 the verb is . . . 'catch away', not, 'up'." Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, 8th ed., (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd., 1957), p. 569. See the use of the same verb, "to pluck", for example, in Jn. 10:28,29. Return
- This conclusion is further borne out by the meaning of the word "paradise". "Paradeisos", the Greek word translated "paradise", means "a park, garden ground". Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible, 8th ed., (London: Lutterworth Press, 1965). Return