WAS PAUL CAUGHT UP TO PARADISE?
The passage to be discussed in this paper is II Cor. 12:2-5. That passage reads, “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth:) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities”.
I am told that most of the commentaries say that it was Paul, speaking in the third person, who was caught up into paradise. I believe that it was not Paul, but the apostle John who was caught up to paradise. Let us search the Scriptures for the answer to this disagreement.
We must understand the context of this passage. II Cor. 10:1 begins the argument that is central to the discussion of chapters 10 through 12. We read in 10:1, “Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you”. We see the same theme in 10:8-10, “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, (which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction,) I should not be ashamed: that I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible” (i.e. of no account). Note also 10:18, “for not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth”.
It seems that there were some in the Corinthian church who were saying that Paul was not what they wanted in an apostle. These three chapters (chapters 10-12) then are committed to Paul having to do that which he did not want to do. i.e. boast about his apostleship. We read in 11:16, “I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little”. And verse 23, “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prison more frequent, in deaths oft”.
“I KNEW A MAN”
Having considered the context, we are now ready to consider 12:2-5 more closely. The KJV of verse 2 reads , “I knew a man…..”. But the NIV and the NASB both read, “I know a man…who“. In other words, the KJV translated the verb in the past tense and did not include the word “who”, which is not in the Greek. But the note in the Companion Bible tells us that the verb has “the sense of the present tense“. So the most accurate translation, and the one that is favored by most of the commentaries is, “I know a man in Christ who….”.
What does the phrase “in Christ” tell us? Let us consider some very pertinent verses which speak of those who are in Christ.
Rom. 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those which are in Christ Jesus….”.
I Cor. 15:2, “in Christ shall all be made alive“.
II Cor. 5:17, “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature“.
I think we may conclude that to be in Christ means that one is saved, and awaiting resurrection.
If Paul were speaking of himself in the third person in II Cor. 12:2, why would he have to explain that he was in Christ? There was never any question that Paul was saved. On the other hand, if Paul were speaking of someone else, he would have to explain that that person was a child of God or Paul could not have written in verse 5, “of such an one will I glory”. That is to say, no matter what one does, if he is not a child of God, there can be no glorying in him. But let us continue our study.
We read in verse 2 of “such an one caught up to the third heaven”. The Greek word translated “caught up” is “harpazo”. It is the same Greek word that is used in I Thess. 4:17 of the rapture. Does that tell us that the one about whom Paul wrote in II Cor. 12:2 was raptured? The same Greek word is also used in Acts 8:39. Let us examine that passage.
Acts 8:26-40 tells of Philip going to a eunuch of Ethiopia. This man was reading Isaiah 53 and Philip explained that passage to him. The eunuch understood and believed in Christ (vs, 37) and the eunuch was then baptized in water. We read in verse 39, “and when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away (Gr, “harpazo”) Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more….”. Then in verse 40 we read, But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities”.
Obviously Philip was not raptured even though the same Greek word is used of the rapture in I Thess. . We must not then assume that the one about whom Paul wrote was raptured. The use of the Greek word in II Cor. 12 used of the rapture in I Thess. 4 does not, in and of itself, prove that the one about whom Paul wrote was was raptured. He was simply caught up and taken to another place, the same as Philip.
“THE THIRD HEAVEN” AND “PARADISE”
We read in verse 2 that this man was caught up to the third heaven. Most assume that the “third heaven” refers to the third in position, i.e. the heaven above the second heaven. But I believe that it refers to the third heaven in time, i.e. the third heaven to be created. Let us examine carefully the truth that the Bible speaks of three heavens created at three different times.
We read in Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. That is, of course, the first heaven to be created. Then we read in Gen. 1:6, “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters….”. And in verse 8 we read that “God called the firmament ‘heaven'”. This then, is the second heaven to be created. And then in Rev. 21:1 we read, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth”. This, of course, is the third heaven to be created.
How can we tell if Paul was saying that this man about whom he wrote was caught up to the third heaven in position, (height) or in time (i.e. the third to be created)? In verse 2 we read that “such an man was caught up to the third heaven”. Then in verse 4 Paul goes on, “How that this man was caught up into paradise”. My point is that with these two verses, Paul connects the third heaven to paradise.
By comparing Rev. 2:7 with 22:14 we will see that paradise is the new Jerusalem that will come “down from God out of heaven” to the new earth. Rev. 2:7 reads, “…..To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”. And we read in Rev. 22:14, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city”, i.e. the new Jerusalem, which is the topic of this passage.
Coming back to II Cor. 12, in verse two we see that this man about whom Paul wrote was caught up to the third heaven and in verse 4 he was caught up into paradise, which, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, we see is the new Jerusalem. In my opinion, that connects us to the new heaven of Rev. 21. Let me put this in other terms for clarity.
We read in Rev. 1:10-11 of John, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘…….what thou seest write in a book and send it to the seven churches…..'”. In other words, John had been carried away by the spirit to observe and record all the things we read in the book of Revelation.
Let us consider what John had seen as recorded in Rev. 21:1-2, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away: and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven…..”.
John had seen the new heaven (i.e. the third heaven to be created). And he saw the new Jerusalem coming from heaven. In other words, John had seen Paradise in the third heaven and then saw it coming out of heaven.
Because we have direct scriptural evidence as to who it was that had been in the third heaven I believe that the man about whom Paul wrote in II Cor. 12 was John.
“OF SUCH AN ONE WILL I GLORY”
We read in verse 5, “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities”. Here Paul is contrasting one about whom he will glory, with himself, about whom he will glory only in his infirmities. If Paul is referring to himself in this passage he is contrasting himself with himself. That makes no sense. But if we see this passage as concerning John, then this verse makes perfect sense.
Some have suggested that he was glorying in himself but wanted to disguise it by speaking in the third person. I do not believe that Paul was ever that devious. Also, in point of fact, in this very epistle Paul does, albeit reluctantly, “glory” in himself by way of saying that he had every right to speak to them as the apostle he was. We read in 11:16, “I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself“. In verses 21-30 we read of Paul boasting and then glorying in his infirmities.”I speak as concerning reproach as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep: In journeyings often, in peril of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among brethren: In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities”.
There are four reasons for my belief that it was not Paul writing in the third person of himself in II Cor. 12:2, it was John about whom he was writing.
1) Paul would not have explained that he himself was “in Christ”. Everyone knew that Paul was a saved child of God. But it was indeed necessary to explain that someone else was “in Christ” or there would have been absolutely no cause for “glorying” in a man who was not in Christ.
2) There is no evidence that Paul was caught up to Paradise, but John writes of that very experience in Revelation.
3) There was no reason for Paul to write in the third person of himself, except to hide the fact that he was boasting. I do not believe that there is any evidence that Paul was ever deceptive with his churches.
4) Verse 5 makes a contrast between the one about whom Paul will glory and himself about whom he will glory only in his infirmities. It makes no sense to say that Paul was contrasting himself with himself.
THE ARGUMENTS THAT IT WAS PAUL WHO WAS CAUGHT UP TO PARADISE
It has been argued that this entire passage from the beginning of chapter 10 is about Paul and therefore, 12:2-5 must also be about Paul. But I have tried to show that there are at least four reasons to believe that it was not Paul, but John who was caught up to paradise. But let us consider that argument.
It is clear that Paul’s writing style included many parenthetical statements and often a parenthetical statement within a parenthetical statement. (I will not give the many examples of this because I believe it is universally agreed.) With that style in mind let us consider II Cor. 12:1, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory”. Let us for the sake of argument skip for the moment from there to verse 6, “For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool………”. It is clear that verse six flows perfectly from verse 1a. By seeing verses 1b-5 as a parenthetical statement, we are then able to interpret the rest of this passage in its most obvious sense, and at the same time answer the argument of the context being about Paul.
Many in the mid-Acts community believe that Paul was caught up to paradise and it was then that he was given the mystery that had been hid in God. They believe that it was the mystery that constituted the “unspeakable words”. But there are two reasons I cannot agree with that belief.
1) We are never told that Paul was ever caught up to paradise, and we are told that John was. By interpreting Scripture with Scripture, I conclude that it was not Paul, but John who was caught up to paradise.
2) As pointed out above, by comparing Scripture with Scripture we see that paradise is the new Jerusalem. It makes no sense to me that Paul would be caught up to the future home of the faithful of Israel, i.e. the new Jerusalem, to be told about the church which is His body which has absolutely nothing to do with the new Jerusalem.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org