2 Corinthians 12:4

4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

2 Corinthians 12:4 in Other Translations

4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
4 was caught up into paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak.

2 Corinthians 12:4 Meaning and Commentary

2 Corinthians 12:4

How that he was caught up into paradise
Not the earthly paradise in which our first parents were; this was destroyed by the flood, and the place where it was not now to be known; and to what purpose the apostle should be carried thither cannot be guessed at; though some have thought that this is here meant: but not this, nor any place distinct from the "third" heaven, or place of the blessed, is meant; which is the sense of many of the ancients, who suppose the third heaven and paradise to be two distinct places, and that the apostle had two separate raptures. Clemens Alexandrinus {m}, reads the words thus, "I knew a man in Christ caught up to the third heaven, (kakeiyen eiv ton paradeison) , from thence to paradise"; and so Theophilact upon the place says, "from the third heaven he was immediately called up into paradise"; and so Oecumenius, "he was caught up unto the third heaven, and so again from thence into paradise"; and some modern writers have been inclined to think there were two raptures, and the rather inasmuch as the apostle is said to be caught "up to" the one, and caught "up into" the other, and makes use of the words "caught up" twice; or otherwise he would be guilty of a tautology, both in that and in repeating his ignorance of the manner of the rapture; to which is added, that he proposed to speak of "visions" and "revelations" in the plural number, ( 2 Corinthians 12:1 ) , and afterwards calls this vision an "abundance of revelations", ( 2 Corinthians 12:7 ) , but as it was at the same time that he was caught up to the third heaven, and into paradise, there being one and the same date of fourteen years ago to both; and as, in the account of the one and the other, he was equally ignorant of the manner how he was caught up, whether in the body, or out of the body; and seeing that there is no account of what he saw and heard in the third heaven, but only what he heard in paradise, which is referred to be told in the after account of this vision; and as the third heaven and paradise are one and the same place, it seems most reasonable to conclude, that not two raptures and two visions are here designed, but only one; and without any show of a vain repetition, the apostle having begun the account of this vision, might reassume what he had said, in order to give a more plain and clear account of it; and especially as there were some things he had not yet mentioned, and the whole was not easy to be understood and taken in, and the manner of it even unknown to himself; and this he might do to raise the attention the more unto it, as being something wonderful and extraordinary; besides, if his design had been to have given an account of two raptures, he would have distinguished them in a numerical way; and would have told us that he was twice caught up, as well as he afterwards says that he besought the Lord "thrice", at another time; and this would have been necessary to have prevented a mistake, of taking the one and the other for the same rapture, as is generally done; heaven is called paradise, because as the garden of Eden, which bears that name, was of God's planting, so is this made and prepared by him; as that was a delightful place, so is this; also because of Christ the tree of life, which is in the midst of it, besides an innumerable company of angels, and spirits of just men made perfect, the pure and undefiled inhabitants of it; and because of the river of divine love, of endless pleasures, the saints there are made to drink of. It was usual with the Jews to call heaven (Nde Ng) , "the garden of Eden", or paradise; and which they F14 sometimes speak of as upper and lower; the lower they suppose the souls of men are introduced into, immediately upon their dissolution; where they stay a while, and then go up to the upper paradise, the world of souls, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are. The Jews ought not to object to the apostle's being had into paradise before his death, for they tell us of several that entered there whilst alive;

``nine (they say F15). (Nde Ngb Mhyyxb wonkn) , "entered in their life time into the garden of Eden", or paradise; and these are they, Enoch the son of Jared, and Elijah, and the Messiah, and Eliezer the servant of Abraham, and Hiram king of Tyre, and Ebed Melec the Ethiopian, and Jabez the son of Rabbi Judah the prince, and Bethiah the daughter of Pharaoh, and Sarah the daughter of Asher; and there are some that say also F16 Rabbi Joshua ben Levi";

and in another place F17,

``four (odrpb wonkn) , entered into paradise; and these are they, Ben Azzai, and Ben Zoma, another, and R. Akiba;''

upon which is F18 added,

``they entered into paradise as it were by the hands of God, and they did not ascend up above really, but it seemed to them as if they ascended;''

how far this may serve to explain and illustrate the apostle's case, I leave, with this observation more concerning another use of the word paradise with them; which sometimes signifies a considerable share of knowledge of mysterious things, relating to the nature of God, angels of which Maimonides having spoken, says F19,

``these things the former wise men called (odrp) , "paradise", as they say, "four entered into paradise": and although they were the greatest men of Israel, and exceeding wise men, yet they had not all of them power to know and comprehend all these things clearly; and I say, that he is not fit to walk (odrpb) , "in paradise", but he whose belly is filled with flesh and bread, and it is bread and flesh to know what is forbidden, and what is lawful, and the other precepts of a like nature;''

and again F20,

``a man that is filled with all these virtues (meaning with wisdom, and understanding, and government of the passions and appetites) is perfect in his body, as he that enters into paradise, and inclines himself to these things which are great and afar off:''

once more F21,

``the words of the tradition are comprehended in the written law, and the exposition of them in the oral law; and the things which are called (odrp) , paradise, are contained in the Talmud;''

this they F23 call (hmkxh odrp) , "the paradise of wisdom"; whether this sense and use of the word may be applied to the passage before us, and so be expressive of that large share of divine knowledge which was communicated in an extraordinary way to the apostle, may deserve some consideration: however, this is certain, that when he was caught up into paradise, he

heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter;
to instance in particular things, which be then either saw or heard, as some have done, is bold and daring; as that he saw the divine Being with the eyes of his understanding, the several angelic forms, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, and the glory and beauty of the souls of departed saints; and heard the harmonious music of each of these happy creatures; had a view of the book of life, and was shown the order and method of divine predestination; was let into the mystery of the calling of the Gentiles, and the change that will be on living saints, and heard the whole account of the dispensation of things, in the church of Christ to the end of the world: the things were unspeakable, never yet related, and so not to be known: they were such things which the apostle himself, when out of the rapture, might have but very inadequate ideas of, and such as he was not able to put into proper words and language to be understood by others; and which as he heard them not from a mere man, but from the Lord, so no mere man was able to utter them, none but he of whom he had heard them: and besides, whatever conceptions the apostle might have of them himself, and how capable soever he was of expressing them; yet they were not fit and proper to be told in the present state of things, being no part of the counsel of God relating to man's salvation, the whole of which he faithfully declares; and yet were necessary to be heard by him, in order to establish his faith in the Gospel, to animate him in his ministry, and fortify his mind against all the afflictions, reproaches, and persecutions, he was to meet with for the sake of Christ. The phrase seems to be the same with (wrmal rvpa ya) , "it is impossible to say it" F24; and of such like secret things in paradise, or the world of souls, the Jews say F25 that

``they are hidden, and which (hbytkb twlel Mywar Mnya) , "are not fit to produce in writing";''

and so these were such as were not lawful to speak out, (glwssaiv) (anyrwpinaiv) , "with human tongues", as Justin Martyr says {z}; they were not in such sense "unspeakable", as not to be expressed by any; for they were expressed either by Christ himself, who was glorified in human nature, whom the apostle might now see and hear, or by some angel or angels, or they could not have been heard by the apostle as they were; but they were such as before never been spoken to any mortal man, and so could never have been spoken by any; and though they had been spoken to a mortal man, yet they could not be spoke by him to others; for though when he heard them, his human soul, for that present time, might conceive and take in much of the nature and meaning of them, yet they were such as he could not express by words, and represent to others by speech after the vision was over, and especially at this distance: not that it was sinful to have done it, if he could have done it; or that the things themselves were of such a nature, that it would have been criminal to have rehearsed them; but rather that it was impossible to do it, at least fully, since they might greatly regard the glory of the divine Being, and the worship paid him by the heavenly inhabitants: or could it be done in any tolerable manner, it might not be altogether convenient and proper in the present state of things; since the worship of the upper world lying in praise without prayer, might not be so fit to be related, lest it should be imitated by saints on earth: and seeing what the apostle heard was ineffable, and not to be spoken by himself; no credit is to be given to those spurious things called the Revelation and Ascension of Saint Paul, in which the author or authors of them pretend to tell us what these things were.


F13 Strom. l. 5. p. 586.
F14 Nishma Chayim, par. 1. c. 10. fol. 25. 2. &c.
F15 Derech Eretz, fol. 19. 1. Zohar in Exod, fol. 102. 3.
F16 Ganz Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 31. 1, 2.
F17 T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 14. 2.
F18 Tosephot, ib.
F19 Jesode Tora, c. 5, sect. 19, 20.
F20 Jesode Tora, c. 7. sect. 2.
F21 Ib. Talmud Tora, c. 1. sect. 12.
F23 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 96. 4.
F24 T. Bab. Megilla, fol, 21. 1.
F25 Nishmat Chayim, fol. 28. 1.
F26 Expositio fidei, p. 379.

2 Corinthians 12:4 In-Context

2 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.
3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—
4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
6 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,

Cross References 2

  • 1. ver 2
  • 2. Luke 23:43; Revelation 2:7
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