Category Archives: 2 Corinthians

the 3rd heaven?

Sunday night we tried the ‘text in your question during the sermon’ thing again, and this time with a bigger response. The question that got asked the most about the passage (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), was, ‘What is the 3rd heaven that Paul talks about in 12:2?’, but we didn’t get time to answer it on the night.

Let me have a go now – feel free to comment!

The passage in question:
“2I 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. 3And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”

So what is the third heaven? It seems fairly clear that we can equate ‘the third heaven’ in v.2 with ‘paradise’ in v.4. The point is, he went to ‘the highest heaven’. The context is Paul countering the boasting of the false apostles in Corinth. That the discussion moves to ‘visions and revelations’ in ch.12 suggests that the false apostles were claiming a superior authority to Paul in part because of the visions and revelations they had received. Paul is dragged into a ‘foolish’ type of boasting in order to undercut their claims – you can tell that he wants to distance himself from claiming authority from these visions by the way he speaks of himself in the third person, before he reveals that the ‘man in Christ’ of v.2 is actually Paul himself.

But, even in this ‘foolish boasting’ mode, Paul establishes that the ‘visions and revelations’ that he had were of a higher order than those of the false apostles – they weren’t just ‘great revelations’, they were ‘surpassingly great revelations’ (v.7).

So, the ‘third heaven’ or ‘Paradise’, in this context, is the highest of all possible heavenly places.

Some say that the cosmology of the first century had layers. So, the first layer of heaven was the sky; the second was the place where the ‘ruler of the kingdom of the air’ dwelt (see Eph 2:2 – and Peter Bolt’s book, ‘Living With the Underworld’ for a good discussion of this); and then the 3rd heaven above that, where God dwelt with all of the heavenly beings. That is the possible source for Paul’s choice of words here.

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