12:1-6 There can be no doubt the apostle speaks of himself. Whether heavenly things were brought down to him, while his body was in a trance, as in the case of ancient prophets; or whether his soul was dislodged from the body for a time, and taken up into heaven, or whether he was taken up, body and soul together, he knew not. We are not capable, nor is it fit we should yet know, the particulars of that glorious place and state. He did not attempt to publish to the world what he had heard there, but he set forth the doctrine of Christ. On that foundation the church is built, and on that we must build our faith and hope. And while this teaches us to enlarge our expectations of the glory that shall be revealed, it should render us contented with the usual methods of learning the truth and will of God.
2. Translate, "I know," not "I knew."
a man—meaning himself. But he purposely thus distinguishes between the rapt and glorified person of 2Co 12:2, 4, and himself the infirmity-laden victim of the "thorn in the flesh" (2Co 12:7). Such glory belonged not to him, but the weakness did. Nay, he did not even know whether he was in or out of the body when the glory was put upon him, so far was the glory from being his [Alford]. His spiritual self was his highest and truest self: the flesh with its infirmity merely his temporary self (Ro 7:25). Here, however, the latter is the prominent thought.
in Christ—a Christian (Ro 16:7).
above—rather, simply "fourteen years ago." This Epistle was written A.D. 55-57. Fourteen years before will bring the vision to A.D. 41-43, the time of his second visit to Jerusalem (Ac 22:17). He had long been intimate with the Corinthians, yet had never mentioned this revelation before: it was not a matter lightly to be spoken of.
I cannot tell—rather as Greek, "I know not." If in the body, he must have been caught up bodily; if out of the body, as seems to be Paul's opinion, his spirit must have been caught up out of the body. At all events he recognizes the possibility of conscious receptivity in disembodied spirits.
caught up—(Ac 8:39).
to the third heaven—even to, &c. These raptures (note the plural, "visions," "revelations," 2Co 12:1) had two degrees: first he was caught up "to the third heaven," and from thence to "Paradise" (2Co 12:4) [Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 5.427], which seems to denote an inner recess of the third heaven [Bengel] (Lu 23:43; Re 2:7). Paul was permitted not only to "hear" the things of Paradise, but to see also in some degree the things of the third heaven (compare "visions," 2Co 12:1). The occurrence TWICE of "whether in the body … I know not, God knoweth," and of "lest I should be exalted above measure," marks two stages in the revelation. "Ignorance of the mode does not set aside the certain knowledge of the fact. The apostles were ignorant of many things" [Bengel]. The first heaven is that of the clouds, the air; the second, that of the stars, the sky; the third is spiritual (Eph 4:10).