on 2-corinthians 12 :2
I knew a man in Christ - I knew a Christian, or a Christian man; for to such alone God now revealed himself, for vision and prophecy had been shut up from the Jews.
Fourteen years ago - On what occasion or in what place this transaction took place we cannot tell; there are many conjectures among learned men concerning it, but of what utility can they be when every thing is so palpably uncertain? Allowing this epistle to have been written some time in the year 57, fourteen years counted backward will lead this transaction to the year 42 or 43, which was about the time that Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch, Acts 11:25, Acts 11:26, and when he and Paul were sent by the Church of Antioch with alms to the poor Christians at Jerusalem. It is very possible that, on this journey, or while in Jerusalem, he had this vision, which was intended to be the means of establishing him in the faith, and supporting him in the many trials and difficulties through which he was to pass. This vision the apostle had kept secret for fourteen years.
Whether in the body I cannot tell - That the apostle was in an ecstasy or trance, something like that of Peter, Acts 10:9, etc., there is reason to believe; but we know that being carried literally into heaven was possible to the Almighty. But as he could not decide himself, it would be ridiculous in us to attempt it.
Caught up to the third heaven - He appeared to have been carried up to this place; but whether bodily he could not tell, or whether the spirit were not separated for the time, and taken up to the third heaven, he could not tell.
The third heaven - The Jews talk of seven heavens, and Mohammed has received the same from them; but these are not only fabulous but absurd. I shall enumerate those of the Jews.
1. The Velum, or curtain, וילון - "Which in the morning is folded up, and in the evening stretched out." Isaiah 40:22 : He stretcheth out the heavens as a Curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.
2. The firmament, or Expanse, רקיע - "In which the sun, moon, stars, and constellations are fixed." Genesis 1:17 : And God placed them in the Firmament of heaven.
3. The Clouds, or Ether, שקים - "Where the mill-stones are which grind the manna for the righteous." Psalm 78:23, etc.: Though he had commended the Clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna, etc.
4. The Habitation, זבול - "Where Jerusalem, and the temple, and the altar, were constructed and where Michael the great prince stands and offers sacrifices." 1 Kings 8:13 : I have surely built thee a House To Dwell In, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever. "But where is heaven so called?" Answer: In Isaiah 63:15 : Look down from Heaven, and behold from the Habitation, מזבול, of thy holiness.
5. The Dwelling-Place, מעון - "Where the troops of angels sing throughout the night, but are silent in the day time, because of the glory of the Israelites." Psalm 42:8 : The Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me. "But how is it proved that this means heaven? "Answer: From Deuteronomy 26:15. Look down from thy holy habitation, ממעון, the Dwelling-Place of thy holiness; and from heaven, השמים, and bless thy people Israel.
6. The Fixed Residence, מבון - "Where are the treasures of snow and hail, the repository of noxious dews, of drops, and whirlwinds; the grotto of exhalations," etc. "But where are the heavens thus denominated?" Answer: In 1 Kings 8:39, 1 Kings 8:49, etc.: Then hear thou in Heaven thy Dwelling - Place, מכון שבת, thy Fixed Residence.
7. The Araboth, ערבות - "Where are justice, judgment, mercy, the treasures of life; peace and blessedness; the souls of the righteous, the souls and spirits which are reserved for the bodies yet to be formed, and the dew by which God is to vivify the dead." Psalm 89:14, Isaiah 59:17; Psalm 36:9, Judges 6:24; Psalm 24:4; 1 Samuel 25:29; Isaiah 57:20 : All of which are termed Araboth, Psalm 68:4. Extol him who rideth on the heavens, בערבות ba Araboth, by his name Jah.
All this is sufficiently unphilosophical, and in several cases ridiculous.
In the sacred writings three heavens only are mentioned. The first is the atmosphere, what appears to be intended by רקיע rekia, the firmament or expansion, Genesis 1:6. The second, the starry heaven; where are the sun, moon, planets, and stars; but these two are often expressed under the one term שמים shamayim, the two heavens, or expansions, and in Genesis 1:17, they appear to be both expressed by רקיע השמים rekia hashshamayim, the firmament of heaven. And, thirdly, the place of the blessed, or the throne of the Divine glory, probably expressed by the words שמי השמים shemei hashshamayim, the heavens of heavens. But on these subjects the Scripture affords us but little light; and on this distinction the reader is not desired to rely.
on 2-corinthians 12 :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 Romans 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, John 13:23-24; John 19:26; John 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 savored 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 savor of pride, and might also excite the envy or ill-will of others. Those who have been most favored 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 emblazon it abroad as if they were more the favorites 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 2 Corinthians 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 a.d., then this occurrence must have happened about the year 44 ad. This was several years after his conversion, and of course this does not refer to the trance mentioned in Acts 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 Acts 22:17, and that it was intended to support him in the trials which he was about to endure. There can belittle 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 savor 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 front 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 Acts 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 used here (ἁρπάζω harpazō) means, to seize upon, to snatch away, as wolves do their prey (John 12:10); or to seize with avidity or eagerness Matthew 11:12; or to carry away, to hurry off by force or involuntarily; see John 6:15; Acts 7:39; Acts 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 Muhammed 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.
on 2-corinthians 12 :2
12:2 I knew a man in Christ - That is, a Christian. It is plain from 2Cor 12:6,7, that he means himself, though in modesty he speaks as of a third person. Whether in the body or out of the body I know not - It is equally possible with God to present distant things to the imagination in the body, as if the soul were absent from it, and present with them; or to transport both soul and body for what time he pleases to heaven; or to transport the soul only thither for a season, and in the mean time to preserve the body fit for its re - entrance. But since the apostle himself did not know whether his soul was in the body, or whether one or both were actually in heaven, it would be vain curiosity for us to attempt determining it. The third heaven - Where God is; far above the aerial and the starry heaven. Some suppose it was here the apostle was let into the mystery of the future state of the church; and received his orders to turn from the Jews and go to the gentiles.