Was it Paul or a man in Christ who was caught up in Third Heaven?

I was reading 2 Corinthians 12:2 (vv.1-7) the other day and noticed that the New Living Translation (NLTse) was the only major translation that rendered it the way it did–quite different from the other translations. The NLT made a big change in how it interprets this verse. In other translations, the one who went to the third heaven was the man in Christ whom Paul knew for 14 years. But in the NLT, Paul is now speaking about himself who went to the third heaven. Moreover, the NLT translators had to change the rendering of the rest of the passage in order to make it it sound uniform; otherwise, there would be a glaring difference. I only posted v.2 but you should also read vv.1-10 to see the recomposition between various translations.

I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. (NLTse)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a man was caught up to the third heaven. (NASB)

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. (TNIV)

I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. (CSB)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. (ESV)

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. (NRSV)

οιδα ανθρωπον εν χριστω προ ετων δεκατεσσαρων ειτε εν σωματι ουκ οιδα ειτε εκτος του σωματος ουκ οιδα ο θεος οιδεν αρπαγεντα τον τοιουτον εως τριτου ουρανου (NT Greek)

This brings up a lot of questions in my mind:

  • in the Greek, ουκ οιδα means “do not know.” When Paul says that he doesn’t know if this man was in the body or out of the body, it could still be Paul himself.
  • What is the justification for making Paul the person who went to the third heaven?
  • One could say that the “thorn” was given to Paul because of the revelation. Does it make sense that Paul should boast about the vision of this man?
  • Paul said he heard things that cannot be expressed and it should be kept secret. Could Paul be this same man who heard secret things? And if so, then, why would Paul say “I know this man” when he is the man?
  • And why would Paul say: “I will boast about a man but will not boast about myself”?
  • Was it simply because Paul wished to remain humble by not boasting about himself?
  • In reading Paul’s words in this context, it does makes sense that this man was Paul himself.
  • If the NLT’s translation is correct, should the translation in this passage be adjusted to such an extent in order to make the entire passage fit this unconventional interpretation?

In reading Paul’s words in this very different context, it also seems to make sense that this man could also have been Paul himself. But if the NLT’s translation is correct, should the rendering of this whole passage be adjusted to such an extent just to make it fit the new interpretation?

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

10 thoughts on “Was it Paul or a man in Christ who was caught up in Third Heaven?”

  1. Kevin, I’m no expert on this, but it’s my understanding that the correct translation is “a man in Christ”, but that it is a figure of speech in the Greek, and that it is traditionally understood that Paul is speaking about himself.

    Just judging from the fact that all the other translations have it the way they do, I would be a little concerned that maybe the NLTse translators have overstepped their bounds and translated the interpretation rather than the actual meaning of the Greek.

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  2. Gary, this is my concern too. Even if their take on this passage is correct, they may have gone a bit too far to change the rendering so completely that it doesn’t even remotely represent the meaning of the Greek.

    The way I understand it is that “a man in Christ” may be a way for him to talk about himself in a nameless or anonymous way is the most humble way he knows how. This way he doesn’t have to brag about his spiritual experience of having been in heaven. This might explain vv.6-7:

    “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.”

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  3. Kevin,

    The NLTse is too interpretive here. The translators have made a choice with an otherwise difficult passage. I believe they should have left it up to the reader.

    Having said that, I believe Paul is referring to himself, when we consider v.7. V.7 begins with the connective kai and marks a natural connection with what Paul has been saying.

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  4. tc, thanks for your comment and visiting my blog. Yes, kai does seem to make a connection to what he was saying before. Moreover, he talks about the revelations he had been having. “The” is in the possessive so it seems to suggest that he is referring to his own revelations.

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  5. Daniel a book of warning …

    “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end….”

    And John was told, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand!”

    At hand as in near in time, or will be happening very soon!

    Is it not more than interesting, that which Paul said, “I know a man in Christ, who, fourteen years ago, whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not, God, knoweth, such a one as this, caught away, as far as the third heaven; And I know such a man as this, whether in the body or apart from the body, know not – but God, knoweth – How that he was caught away into paradise, and heard unspeakable things, which it is not allowable for a man to utter:” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)

    So, who was this certain man? Want to guess … was it Paul?

    Or was it John who was caught up into the third heaven, and saw the temple therein, the ark of the testimony of Christ coming down to a new earth; a new people. A man “in Christ” wrote the Revelation of Christ fourteen years before, as Paul stated, thus, it was written before 70 A.D. Not afterward, as Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written, approximately in 56 A.D., the second, 57 A.D. (?)

    So, the Revelation (an uncovering or unveiling) was given to John by the Spirit of Christ, approximately fourteen years (plus, or minus) after the crucifixion, fourteen to Paul’s (second) letter to the Corinthians, and on to the Abomination of Desolation. If, Christ was crucified in 29-30 A.D., then the destruction would have been within three generations (or, to the third and fourth).

    And, who is it that was worthy to open the book, which is not allowable for a man to utter, and was not to be sealed because the time – is at hand?

    Only “The Lamb is/was worthy” to open the seal of Judgment which took place.

    “Come out of her my people … lest you share in her plagues, for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds … and she will be burned with fire. Alas, alas, you Great City, in one hour your judgment has come.” (Revelation 18:4, 6, 8, 10)

    Revelation the book of comfort …

    For me, or mine, I cannot use the futurist perspective in justifying the prophets (profits) of end-time scenarios that contradict the Scriptures, and which are based on the imagination of men. As the Spirit of the comforter resides within!

    “for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.”

    This is just a personal quote:

    “No one knows the hour, if they don’t look at the clock!”

    peacemaker

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  6. Peacemaker, welcome to the New Epistles blog. John the Revelator…hmmm? You make a very interesting point we can think about. Second Corinthians was written around 55-57 A.D. But your point would have to assume that Revelation was written before this time anywhere between 43-57 A.D. This is entirely possible because some scholars have argued for a date of 54-68 A.D. for Revelation, which is the time of Nero’s reign and before the fall of Jerusalem.

    However, some argue for the later date of 94-99 A.D. for Revelation because of the conditions of the churches of Rev. 2-3 and their cities during that period.

    Another theory is that Revelation could have been composed and assembled in stages over many years and was completed in its present form toward the end of the first century. This reasoning would cover the differences.

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  7. Kevin, not an assumption, if given that Paul’s death was before 70. A.D., perhaps in 68 A.D. – considering his second letter to Timothy was before his execution, in around the year 67 A.D.

    Indeed, noteworthy!

    peacemaker

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  8. 2 Cor 12:2, concerning the use of the word 'man':

    "It was part of the rabbinic style to substitute an impersonal word – "man" – for the 1st and 2nd person when one talked of oneself"

    The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Rogers Jr and Jogers III

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  9. Brendan, thanks. It's part of the lectionary readings this Sunday. It makes sense if "man" was used in such an impersonal manner. Then it could very well be Paul himself.

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