I was reading my BSF notes while savoring a hot cup of my good friend joe. The topic was John’s vision of the throne room and everything was fine.
“The Bible speaks of other believers who received visions of God’s transcendent nature and character,” a new paragraph began, and it mentioned Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Good, good, good and good.
“The apostle Paul was ‘caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.’”
Whoa! What? When was Paul “caught up to paradise”? I checked the footnote to see what Scripture they based that statement upon.
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 2 Corinthians 12:1-7
How does Paul saying he knew a man who was caught up to the third heaven translate to HIM being caught up to paradise?
I was too comfy and too lazy to get out from under the cozy afghan on my cozy sofa to brave the 22 chilly steps (44 round trip) to my library to grab The Bible Knowledge Commentary, so I stayed put and checked an online commentary.
Matthew Henry: “for doubtless [Paul] himself is the man in Christ of whom he speaks.”
Doubtless? I’m in doubt.
Mr. Henry proceeded to commend Paul for his humility in not referring to himself directly. Paul’s humility? Since when? In that very same chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote:
I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! 2 Corinthians 12:11-13
Those defensive and accusatory remarks don’t sound like the model of humility to me.
Even his self-deprecating remarks come off as humble brags. Take this one, for example:
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Philippians 3:3-6
And then there are all the I, I, I’s of 1 Timothy 2: I urge, I was appointed, I am telling the truth, I am not lying, I want, I also want, I do not permit.
John often referred to himself indirectly as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and it was well within his personality to do so, he did so consistently and there are verifiable incidents that tie that descriptor to him.
But indirectly and humbly referring to himself in the third person was NOT within Paul’s personality and no where else was it his m.o.
So let’s get logical: In the context of 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 – where Paul is arguing that he is equal to the apostles who actually walked with Jesus – a humble, indirect statement just doesn’t make sense. If ever there is a time to speak boldly and directly it is when arguing a case or asserting one’s credentials.
Perhaps it is due to Matthew Henry’s impressive and exhaustive work that this doubtful interpretation has been promulgated in commentaries ever since. Even by my beloved BSF – who taught me to read the Scriptures for myself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
When I read, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven,” for myself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I hear Paul saying that he knew someone who had been given a vision. And that person may have shared it with him. Or that person may have told him he couldn’t share it with him.
And I wonder whether that person was John, because John and Paul may have very likely crossed paths – especially in Ephesus.
Or perhaps it was someone else altogether.
All I know for sure is that Paul DID NOT say that HE was “caught up to paradise.”
So why does the church twist Scripture and logic and temporarily change Paul’s personality in order to say he did?
Perhaps, when it comes to the church’s love affair with Paul, the lover is blind to its beloved’s blemishes.