I knew a man in Christ about fourteen years ago
Which is to be understood of himself, as appears from ( 2 Corinthians 12:7 ) , where he speaks in the first person; and the reason why he here speaks in the third, is to show his modesty and humility, and how much he declined vain glory and popular applause; and whilst he is speaking of himself, studies as it were to conceal himself from being the person designed, and to draw off the mind of the reader from him to another person; though another cannot be intended, for it would not have been to his purpose, yea, quite beside it, when he proposes to come to visions and revelations he had of the Lord, to have instanced in the rapture of another. Moreover, the full and certain knowledge he had of this man, of the place he was caught up to, and of the things he there heard, best agrees with him; as also his attesting, in such a solemn way, his ignorance of the manner of this rapture, whether in the body or out of the body, and which he repeats and refers to the knowledge of God, clearly shows he must mean himself; besides, it would otherwise have been no instance of any vision of his, nor would the rapture of another have at all affected his character, commendation, and praise, or given him any occasion of glorying as this did: though he did not choose to take it, as is clear by his saying that if he gloried of it he should not be a fool, yet forbore, lest others should entertain too high an opinion of him; and after all, he was in some danger of being elated with this vision along with others, that the following sore temptation was permitted, to prevent his being exalted with it above measure: and when he calls this person, meaning himself, a "man", it is not to distinguish him from an angel, whose habitation is in the third heaven, and so no wonderful thing to be found there; or from any other creature; nor perhaps only to express his sex, a man, and not a woman, though the Syriac version uses the word (arbg) , peculiar to the masculine sex; but merely to design a person, and it is all one as if it had been said, I knew a person, or I knew one in Christ: and the phrase "in Christ", is not to be connected with the word "know", as if the sense was, that he called Christ to witness the truth of what he was about to say, and that what he should say was not with a view to his own glory, but to the glory and honour of Christ only; but it is to be connected with the word "man", and denotes his being in Christ, and that either, as Dr. Hammond thinks, in a singular and extraordinary manner; as John is said to be "in the spirit", ( Revelation 1:10 ) , that is, in an ecstasy; and so here this man was in the Spirit of Christ, and transported by him to see visions, and have revelations; or rather it intends a spiritual being in Christ, union to him, the effect of which is communion with him. The date of
fourteen years ago,
may refer either to the time when the apostle first had the knowledge of his being in Christ, which was at his conversion; he was in Christ from all eternity, being given to him, chosen in him, loved by him; set as a seal upon his heart, as well as engraven on the palms of his hands, and represented by him, and in him, in the everlasting covenant; and so in time, at his crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God; in consequence of all which, when the set time was come, he became a new creature, was converted and believed in Christ, and then he knew himself to be in him; he was in him secretly before, now openly; and this was about fourteen years before the writing of this epistle; the exact time of his conversion might well be known and remembered by him, it being in such an extraordinary manner: or also this date may refer to the time of his rapture, which some have thought was some time within the three days after his conversion, when he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank; some have thought it to be eight years after his conversion; but the most probable opinion is, that it was not at Damascus, but when he was come again to Jerusalem, and was praying in the temple, and was in a trance or ecstasy, ( Acts 22:17 ) , though the difference there is among chronologers, and the uncertainty of their conjectures, both as to the time of the apostle's conversion, and the writing of this epistle, makes it very difficult to determine this point. They that make this rapture to be at the time of his conversion, seem to be furthest off of the truth of things; for whether his conversion be placed in the 34th year of Christ, as some, or in the 35th, as others, or in the 36th; and this epistle be thought to be written either in the 56th, or 58th, or 60th, the date of fourteen years will agree with neither: they indeed make things to agree together best, who place his conversion in the year 36, make this rapture to be eight years after, in the year 44, and this epistle to be written in the year 58. Dr. Lightfoot puts the conversion of the apostle in the year 34, the rapture of him into the third heaven, in the year 43, at the time of the famine in the reign of Claudius, ( Acts 11:28 ) , when he was in a trance at Jerusalem, ( Acts 22:17 ) , and the writing of this epistle in the year 57. That great chronologer, Bishop Usher, places Paul's conversion in the year 35, his rapture in the year 46, and the writing of this epistle in the year 60. So that upon the whole it is hard to say when this rapture was; and it may be, it was at neither of the visions recorded in the Scripture, which the apostle had, but at some other time nowhere else made mention of: when, as he here says,
such an one was caught up to the third heaven,
the seat of the divine Majesty, and the residence of the holy angels; where the souls of departed saints go immediately upon their dissolution; and the bodies and souls of those who have been translated, caught up, and raised already, are; and where the glorified body of Christ is and will be, until his second coming. This is called the "third" heaven, in respect to the airy and starry heavens. The apostle refers to a distinction among the Jews of (yatt aymvw yaeuym aymvw) (yalye aymv) , "the supreme heaven, the middle heaven, and the lower heaven" F6; and who also make a like division of worlds, and which they call (lpvh Mlwehw yeumah Mlwew Nwyle Mlwe) , "the supreme world, and the middle world, and the lower world" F7; and sometimes F8 the world of angels, the world of the orbs, and the world of them below; and accordingly the Cabalistic doctors talk of three worlds; (hatylt amle) , "the third world", they say F9, is the supreme world, hidden, treasured, and shut up, which none can know; as it is written, "eye hath not seen" and is the same with the apostle's "third heaven". The state and condition in which he was during this rapture is expressed by the following words, put into a parenthesis,
whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I
cannot tell, God knoweth:
whether his soul remained in his body, and he was caught up soul and body into heaven, as Elijah was carried thither soul and body in a chariot with horses of fire; or whether his soul was out of his body, and he was disembodied for a time, as Philo the Jew F11 says that Moses was (aswmaton) , "without the body", during his stay of forty days and as many nights in the mount; or whether this was not all in a visionary way, as John was "in the Spirit" on the Lord's day, and Ezekiel was taken by a lock of his head, and lifted up by the Spirit between earth and heaven, and brought "in the visions of God to Jerusalem", cannot be said. The apostle did not know himself, and much less can any other be able to say how it was; it is best with him to refer and leave it to the omniscient God; one of the four persons the Jews say entered into paradise, who are hereafter mentioned in (See Gill on 2 Corinthians 12:4), is said to have his mind snatched away in a divine rapture F12; that is, he was not himself, he knew not where he was, or whether in the body or out, as says the apostle.
F6 Targum in 2 Chron. vi. 18.
F7 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 1. 4. & 3. 2, 3.
F8 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 83. 2.
F9 Zohar in Numb. fol. 66. 3.
F11 De Somniis, p. 570.
F12 Cosri, p. 3. sect. 65. fol. 190. 1. 2.