555 Difficult Bible Questions Answered

523. .What Did Paul Mean by "Caught Up to the Third Heaven"?

Paul was familiar with the learning of his age, and was a "master" in literary expression. He sat as a pupil "at the feet of Gamaliel," who was celebrated in the Talmudist writings as one of the seven teachers to whom the title "rabbin" was given. In II Cor. 12 (which contains the passage in question) Paul speaks of his vision when he was "caught up to the third heaven." In the Jewish teaching of the time, the first heaven was that of the clouds or the air; the second that of the stars and the sky, and the third was the spiritual heaven, the seat of divine glory. The word "heavens" is used in the Bible in varying senses, which must be gathered from the context, the most familiar being the visible heavens, as distinguished from the earth and as a part of the whole creation. (See Gen. 1 :i.) Paul's "third heaven" was thus higher than the aerial or stellar world, and cognizable not by the eye, but by the mind alone. The word "world" is generally used in Scripture in the purely material sense to refer to the habitable earth and its people. The passages in Heb. 4:3, 9:26, 9:5, 11:7, 11:38, etc., have thus material significance. In John 14:2, however, many interpreters recognize an implied recognition of other worlds, the whole universe being a "house of many mansions."