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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 12 - Verse 2
Verse 2. I knew a man in Christ. I was acquainted with a Christian; the phrase, "in Christ," meaning nothing more than that he was united to Christ, or was a Christian. See Ro 16:7. The reason why Paul did not speak of this directly as a vision which he had himself seen, was probably that he was accused of boasting, and he had admitted that it did not become him to glory. But though it did not become him to boast directly, yet he could tell them of a man concerning whom there would be no impropriety evidently in boasting. It is not uncommon, moreover, for a man to speak of himself in the third person. Thus Caesar in his Commentaries uniformly speaks of himself. And so John in his Gospel speaks of himself, Joh 13:23,24; 19:26; 21:20.
John did it on account of his modesty, because he would not appear to put himself forward, and because the mention of his own name, as connected with the friendship of the Saviour in the remarkable manner in which he enjoyed it, might have savoured of pride. For a similar reason Paul may have been unwilling to mention his own name here; and he may have abstained from referring to this occurrence elsewhere because it might savour of pride, and might also excite the envy or ill-will of others. Those who have been most favoured with spiritual enjoyments will not be the most ready to proclaim it. They will cherish the remembrance in order to excite gratitude in their own hearts, and support them in trial; they will not blazon it abroad as if they were more the favourites of Heaven than others are. That this refers to Paul himself is evident for the following reasons:
(1) His argument required that he should mention something that had occurred to himself. Anything that had occurred to another would not have been pertinent.
(2.) He applies it directly to himself, (
@Co 12:7, ) when he says that God took effectual measures that he should not be unduly exalted in view of the abundant revelations bestowed on him.
About fourteen years ago. On what occasion, or where this occurred, or why he concealed the remarkable fact so long, and why there is no other allusion to it, is unknown; and conjecture is useless. If this epistle was written, as is commonly supposed, about the year 58, then this occurrence must have happened about the year 44. This was several years after his conversion, and of course this does not refer to the trance mentioned in Ac 9:9, at the time when he was converted. Dr. Benson supposes that this vision was made to him when he was praying in the temple after his return to Jerusalem, when he was directed to go from Jerusalem to the Gentiles, (Ac 22:17,) and that it was intended to support him in the trials which he was about to endure. There can be little danger of error in supposing that its object was to support him in those remarkable trials, and that God designed to impart to him such views of heaven and its glory, and of the certainty that he would soon be admitted there, as to support him in his sufferings, and make him willing to bear all that should be laid upon him. God often gives to his people some clear and elevated spiritual comforts before they enter into trials, as well as while in them; he prepares them for them before they come. This vision Paul had kept secret for fourteen years. He had doubtless often thought of it; and the remembrance of that glorious hour was doubtless one of the reasons why he bore trials so patiently, and was willing to endure so much. But before this he had had no occasion to mention it. He had other proofs in abundance that he was called to the work of an apostle; and to mention this would savour of pride and ostentation. It was only when he was compelled to refer to the evidences of his apostolic mission that he refers to it here.
Whether in the body, I cannot tell. That is, I do not pretend to explain it. I do not know how it occurred. With the fact he was acquainted; but how it was brought about he did not know. Whether the body was caught up to heaven; whether the soul was for a time separated from the body; or whether the scene passed before the mind in a vision, so that he seemed to have been caught up to heaven, he does not pretend to know. The evident idea is, that at the time he was in a state of insensibility in regard to surrounding objects, and was unconscious of what was occurring, as if he had been dead. Where Paul confesses his own ignorance of what occurred to himself, it would be vain for us to inquire; and the question how this was done is immaterial. No one can doubt that God had power, if he chose, to transport the body to heaven; or that he had power for a time to separate the soul from the body; or that he had power to represent to the mind so clearly the view of the heavenly world, that he would appear to see it. See Ac 7:56. It is clear only that he lost all consciousness of anything about him at that time, and that he saw only the things in heaven. It may be added here, however, that Paul evidently supposed that his soul might be taken to heaven without the body, and that it might have separate consciousness, and a separate existence. He was not, therefore, a materialist, and he did not believe that the existence and consciousness of the soul was dependent on the body.
God knoweth. With the mode in which it was done, God only could be acquainted. Paul did not attempt to explain that. That was to him of comparatively little consequence, and he did not lose his time in a vain attempt to explain it. How happy would it be if all theologians were as ready to be satisfied with the knowledge of a fact, and to leave the mode of explaining it with God, as this prince of theologians was. Many a man would have busied himself with a vain speculation about the way in which it was done; Paul was contented with the fact that it had occurred.
Such an one caught up. The word which is here used (arpazw) means, to seize upon, to snatch away as wolves do their prey, (Joh 10:12;) or to seize with avidity or eagerness, Mt 11:12; or to carry away, to hurry off by force, or involuntarily. See Joh 6:15; Ac 8:39; 23:10.
In the case before us there is implied the idea that Paul was conveyed by a foreign force; or that he was suddenly seized and snatched up to heaven. The word expresses the suddenness and the rapidity with which it was done. Probably it was instantaneous, so that he appeared, at once to be in heaven. Of the mode in which it was done, Paul has given no explanations; and conjecture would be useless.
To the third heaven. The Jews sometimes speak of seven heavens, and Mohammed has borrowed this idea from the Jews. But the Bible speaks of but three heavens; and among the Jews in the apostolic ages, also, the heavens were divided into three:
(1.) The aerial, including the clouds and the atmosphere, the heavens above us, until we come to the stars.
(2.) The starry heavens—the heavens in which the sun, moon, and stars appear to be situated.
(3.) The heavens beyond the stars. That heaven was supposed to be the residence of God, of angels, and of holy spirits. It was this upper heaven, the dwelling-place of God, to which Paul was taken, and whose wonders he was permitted to behold—this region where God dwelt, where Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father, and where the spirits of the just were assembled. The fanciful opinions of the Jews about seven heavens may be seen detailed in Schoettgen or in Wetstein, by whom the principal passages from the Jewish writings relating to the subject have been collected. As their opinions throw no light on this passage, it is unnecessary to detail them here.
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