Did the Apostle Paul have an "out of Body" Experience?

by Peter Salemi

 

Many feel that the Apostle Paul had an "out of the body" experience, and that this was a sign that he was mentally ill, possibly Epilepsy, as out of the body experiences are one of the symptoms.

Of course this comes from the passage in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 that says, "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

"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.

"And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

"How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."  On the surface this seems to be what his experience was, an "out of the body," sensation but was it really?

Out of body experiences occur mainly in Paganism among the "shamans" (see The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue By John P. Newport, p.219), Does one really believe that the Apostle Paul would actually believe in a pagan concept? The Apostle Paul says he believed in the Old Testament law (see Acts 24:14), and that law says not to engage in paganism (Deut 12:29-31). So an "out of the body" experience is out of the question.

So what did Paul experience?

Revelation of the Lord

In verse one of this chapter the Apostle Paul plainly said he experienced a "vision" and something was revealed to him. That something was the "third heaven" and "paradise."

When he experienced this vision, he says he saw one "caught up" to the "third heaven." Verse 4 says, " he was caught up into paradise." Obviously "paradise" and the "third heaven" are one and the same place. But Paul saw of vision of one being "caught up," not that he went into heaven by an "out of body experience." But what is this third heaven or Paradise?

Beginning with "Paradise" the Greek word is "paradeisos" (Strong's 3857), it means, "a park, that is, (specifically) an Eden (place of future happiness, "paradise"): - paradise." (emphasis theirs). Jesus used this word 2 other times in the scriptures, in Luke 23:43, and Revelation 2:7. Both refer to the Kingdom of God.

Isaiah 51:3 reads: "For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody." Notice this is on earth, not in heaven!

The Septuagint renders it this way: "And I will be comforting you, O Zion, and I comfort all her deserts, and I will place her deserts as PARADISE and he wilderness as the LORDíS PARADISE. They shall find gladness and exultation in her, confession and the voice of praise."

The Septuagint version is very important to our study, because it shows how the Judeans two centuries before Christ used the word paradise in translating the Old Testament. We see from the above that they used the word paradise in place of Eden and the garden of the Lord. The word paradise obviously was a reference to the Garden of Eden. It was used to describe the original condition of the earth before sin entered. it was also used to describe the future, perfected Kingdom of God, when the earth would again become a "Paradise." The Septuagint Version is the version of the Bible that they used in Palestine in Jesus day!

So if Paradise means the Kingdom of God, why did Paul also call it the "third heaven"? First, "It is unlikely that Paul alludes to the idea of seven heavens held by some Jews (Test. of the Twelve Pat., Levi ii. iii.)." (Robertson Word Pictures).

Barnes Notes says, "...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." Clearly the third heaven is the heaven of God's throne. Did the person Paul saw get "caught up" there? The Kingdom of God is going to be on this earth, so how could he have gone into heaven, when the Paradise is clearly on earth (Isaiah 11)?

The answer is given by Jesus. Jesus called the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew, the "Kingdom OF HEAVEN" (Matthew 4:17). Not the Kingdom IN Heaven, but the Kingdom OF heaven. from Heaven. Jesus said, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10). God's rule, his government in Heaven we must pray will come here, to be on the earth. The Apostle Paul saw the "Third Heaven" God's rule from heaven come to this earth, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth-paradise.

Out of the Body?

So what did the Apostle Paul mean when he said "whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;" Is this an "out of the body" experience? As noted above that is a pagan concept. So what did he mean?

Notice the Moffatt Version of the Bible as it arranges the verse properly, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. In the body or out of the body? That I do not know: God knows." (see also NIV, GW; CEV; ERV; GNB). Paul saw a vision of one "caught up" into the Kingdom of God that is ON THIS EARTH!

Do we see any other revelations of this event, being "caught up" into the Kingdom of God in the Bible?  Yes!

The Greek word for "caught up" is harpazō" (Strong's #726). This word is also found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 speaking of the resurrection at the second coming of Jesus and the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth, " For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up [harpazō] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (vv.16-17). The catching up of the saints is speaking of the resurrection when the Lord Jesus comes again and sets up the Kingdom of God. 

In 1 Corinthians 15 it also speaks of the resurrection. In this chapter it describes the bodies of the saints; their present condition, and the future condition of their bodies "at his coming." (v.23). Paul says, "But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?...So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

"It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (vv.35, 42-44). Two bodies he spoke of, the one we have now, and the one in the future.

The Apostle Paul also spoke of the body as a tabernacle, a temporary dwelling place until one comes into his or her permanent home-in their spirit body at the second coming.

"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

"For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from [not "in"] heaven:" (2 Corinth 5:1-2).

Verse one says there are two tabernacles, or bodies, one heavenly, and the other earthly.

Verse 2 and 3 explains that at the present time we are burdened in our earthly bodies; but our hope is that some day we shall be "clothed" in the heavenly body, "that the mortal may be swallowed up by life" (v.4).

When will this mortal be swallowed up by life? The moment we die? No, for Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:52-54 that our mortality will not be changed to immortality until the "last trump," Paul makes it Plain that he looked forward to the resurrection not to the day of his death: "...we are NOT wanting to be stripped [die], but to be dressed [resurrected]..." (v.3 C.V).

Paul then says, "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." (vv.6, 8). Do you see why Paul was speaking of being "in the body" and "absent from the body." He is not speaking of an "out of the body" experience. He speaking of two bodies; being in one, and out of the other. In our earthly bodies now, and out of them later; and be in our new permanent resurrected spirit bodies in the Kingdom of God-the third heaven-paradise! Paul explained elsewhere, when he and others that are saved will be "present with the Lord," "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?" (1 Thess 2:19). This is when this event will take place!

With this understanding, the whole verse in 2 Corinthians 12 can now be understood, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. In the body or out of the body? That I do not know: God knows." (Moffatt). 14 years ago he saw a man being resurrected into the Kingdom of God. He was not sure if he was in his resurrected body, or in his physical body, he did not know. Notice how God's Word Translation puts it, "I know a follower of Christ who was snatched away to the third heaven fourteen years ago. I don't know whether this happened to him physically or spiritually. Only God knows."  Was it his spiritual body or his physical body (1 Corinth 15:44), he did not know.

Why didn't Paul know? There are two resurrections. One of the saints that resurrect unto eternal life when the Kingdom arrives. The other, is the rest of humanity that resurrect into Kingdom of God back in their human fleshly bodies. Jesus said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,

"And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation ["judgment]." (John 5:28-29; Rev 20:4-5, 11-12). 

The resurrected saints will have their new spirit bodies, the others into their human mortal bodies to receive their first chance for salvation.  Why the Apostle Paul could not tell if this person was in his spirit body or natural body, if simply because 1. At that time they will all be followers of Jesus, and 2. The Immortal saints like Jesus will have the ability to manifest themselves into their old fleshly bodies if they so wish.

Jesus when he was resurrected, materialized to the disciples in the flesh so they could know who he was and could see him physically (Luke 24:39), and they saw his wounds (John 20:27). Jesus ate food (Luke 24:41-43). But the resurrected body does not depend on food for survival at that time, it is just for pleasure. So this is why Paul could not tell if this follower of Jesus was in the first or second resurrection, only God knew.

So in no way did the Apostle Paul believed in or he thought he experience an "out of the body" sensation. What he saw was a vision of the Kingdom of God, and seeing the resurrection of the dead..