Question: Please explain 2 Corinthians 12: 1-4.
Answer: 2 Corinthians 12: 1-4: 1 “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” 2 “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.” 3 “And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)” 4 “How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
These passages have been generally misunderstood by many Christians. Some think that the Apostle Paul’s description of this vision which he saw (vs. 2-4), whether with or without the body he did not know, proves that there is a spirit being within man that can live and act as a person, whether inside of one’s body or outside of one’s body. However, nothing that the Apostle says contains a hint of there being a spirit being inside of man that lives and acts when separated from the body.
The Apostle is defending his Apostleship against some of the Corinthians who were disparaging him, even denying that he was an Apostle. He here shows that he had visions and revelations that none but an Apostle could have, which proved his Apostleship. But for the sake of argument, let us grant for the moment that a spirit being had left the Apostle Paul’s body. If that had been true, it would have meant that the Apostle Paul would have been dead during the vision – a thing which, of course, did not occur – and hence known and seen nothing (Ecclesiastes 9: 5, 6).
But going back to the vision, when the Apostle says that he “knew a man in Christ” (v. 2), and that he “knew such a man” (v. 3), he is evidently speaking of himself, and he then proceeds to speak about the vision which he saw. In the vision, he was seized and taken down the stream of time to the Millennium – the time of the third symbolic heavens and earth – “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3: 13) (Revelation 21: 1). The first things he saw were the third heavens, the powers of spiritual control, Christ and His Church (v. 2); and then later the third earth, human society, together with the literal earth changed into a Paradise (v. 4).
The vision, however, was of such a kind that the Apostle Paul could not tell whether he saw it with his body, that is, with his bodily eyes, or whether he saw it without his body, that is, without his bodily eyes, but with his mental eyes. Hence, whether it was a physical or a mental vision, the Apostle could not determine.
St. Paul was not permitted to give the details of what had been revealed to him (v. 4), nevertheless, these revelations influenced all of his writings, and in the light of subsequent events, are now being clearly revealed to the sincere student of the Scriptures.