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2 Corinthians 12:2 (NIV)

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.

What is the "third heaven" that Paul mentions in this verse?

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Background (mostly based on non-canonical sources): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Heaven –  Muke Tever Dec 12 '11 at 13:37
FWIW, if you're an LDS believer, this is a reference to the celestial kingdom and different degrees of glory –  Richard Dec 13 '11 at 16:00

4 Answers 4

Two viable and not necessary mutually exclusive interpretations can be offered which result in the same theological conclusion.

Sky, Space, Heaven

I heard R.C. Sproul suggest that first heaven would denote the sky, second heaven deep space, and third heaven the presence of God. Ted Donnelly takes this interpretation in his book Biblical Teachings on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell:

  1. The word heaven

    refers first of all to the atmosphere: the air above us which envelops this planet. 'The rain comes down ad the snow from heaven' (Isa. 55:10). 'The dew of heaven' (Dan. 4:15) is so called because it comes down from the sky, from the air. We also read of the 'birds of the heavens' (Jer. 4:25). The frost, the wind, the clouds and the vapours, the thunder and the hail, all of these come from heaven. (Donnelly 71)

  2. In the second usage "heaven" is sometimes conjoined with "firmament" or "expanse," e.g. Genesis 1:14, Psalm 19:1 (Donnelly 72).
  3. This is termed "third heaven," in 2 Corinthians 12:2, "heaven itself," in Hebrews 9:24, and "highest heaven/heaven of heavens" in 2 Chronicles 2:6 (Donnelly 73).
A possible objection is that the distinction between sky/space is an anachronism, the distinction having arisen from our increased understanding of astronomy. However, both from the linguistic differences noted above (the usage of "firmament" for sense 2) and simply from the commonsense observation that probably no one has ever thought that birds regularly alight on the stars, no matter what their conception of the heavens, the charges of anachronism are refuted.

Three is Perfect

Three is a number of perfection because of the Trinity (e.g. Isaiah 6:3) and so Paul may very well mean it to be taken in a qualitative rather than quantitative sense—i.e. not indicating that there are multiple heavens but saying something to the effect of the heaven of perfection. Calvin says in his commentary on this verse:

He does not here distinguish between the different heavens in the manner of the philosophers, so as to assign to each planet its own heaven. On the other hand, the number three is made use of (κατ᾿ ἐζοχὴν) by way of eminence, to denote what is highest and most complete. Nay more, the term heaven, taken by itself, denotes here the blessed and glorious kingdom of God...


Either way, the safest way to understand this phrase in 2 Corinthians 12:2 is that third heaven indicates an immediate revelation of the presence of the Triune God.

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I cannot provide the exact cultural implications at the moment, but the third heaven has traditionally been taken as "into the very presence of God." This certainly was the position advocated by Aquinas as well as Augustine.

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I've looked at both references twice and I'm still not sure what subset of those passages you are referring to. Would you mind adding quotations from them to your answer? –  Kazark Dec 13 '11 at 1:02
Well, if you go to the next paragraph on the Aquinas link he references the trinity as being the supreme, superseding two different interpretations of what the "first" and "second" could be. In Augustine the link shows that he equates "third heaven" and "paradise". –  cwallenpoole Dec 13 '11 at 5:44

In Gen 1.1 'heavens' is a dual form of the word. God created two heavens and one earth. These are heavens 1 and 2 as listed above. They are created heavens.

The third heaven is referred to as the heaven of heavens:

2Ch 6:18 But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!

Even the heaven of heavens cannot contain God. There is no container larger than God. Even this third heaven is within God himself. Since those going there have an 'out of body' type experience, it is suggested that it exists in a spiritual realm.

The Jewish sages tell us that when God created, he created the void within himself, since there was no place outside of himself. Then he created what we see, within and from the void.

With this model, the third heaven is outside of the void and within God himself. While we exist in the void, there is a separation from the essential nature of God. In the third heaven, His essential nature is experienced without separation.

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There is a place called the 3rd heaven wherein this universe of ours floats and from a distance it may appear like a starry ball shaped object. The 3rd heaven is the “infinite universe” of the Triune God and our universe though maybe billions of light-years in size is not infinite as the majority believe it to be but rather finite because it is merely a vast space that God created for this earth and all the stars and galaxies.

It is God's word (Bible) which tells us that there are 3 heavens. The first one is the atmosphere around the earth with the clouds and rain. The 2nd one is the place where God has created all the stars and the uncountable number of galaxies which we call the universe. The 3 rd heaven is where He (King of Kings) lives in plain sight with all whom he has created, angels and redeemed human beings. No one has ever seen God the Father nor the Holy Spirit because they are both eternal divine spirits but he walks and talks and interacts with all those in his supernatural kingdom in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the triune God.

The 3rd heaven is where the Triune God has his "Eden" or "garden". This heavenly place is where the supernatural is a normal way of life and all who live there live forever. This is the kingdom that Jesus told Pilot he was from and this is the place where he returned to after he ascended. This 3rd heaven is a physical and spiritual place that has no size or limits because God is not confined and everything is within him because outside of him there is nothing. The 3rd heaven is the only place where there is life other than the earth. The universe itself is void of all intelligent or animal life but is teaming with the spirits of fallen angels.

Because Gods word (Bible) tells us that there will only be one coming “judgement day” on this earth and that the whole of creation has been corrupted and subject to decay due to the fall of man, there therefore cannot be any other human or physical life anywhere else in our finite universe (2nd heaven). Therefore there cannot be any intelligent beings coming to earth from other planets.

Aliens are a lie of Lucifer (the head of the fallen angels) and they are the ones masquerading as these alien beings. They have already had many face to face contacts with ordinary people and high up government officials world wide, some of which also have sworn allegiance to him (Lucifer) through the inner circles of organisations like the Free Masons, Jesuits or Illuminati to name but a few. Many of them don't know the sinister side of this phenomenon and prosper because of their allegiance with (Alien's) Satan. The demons have been masquerading as aliens for many years now and their purpose for this is to throw doubt on the bible teaching of salvation only through Jesus Christ. Due to this deception many people are questioning the necessity for Jesus when the universe is full of other more intelligent life billions of years ahead of us. Yes this alien phenomenon is real and area 51 is one of the main places where these demons masquerade as life from other planets and I am sure have already given plenty of deceptive and destructive advise to certain high up world government officials who have and still actually believed that they are extraterrestrial life and unaware that they are actually demons. This is all part of the devils plan of deception in these last days.

What I have just written is normally not accepted in part or full by anyone who has not yet experienced the reality of the supernatural presence of Jesus Christ. They can’t accept this simply because they have not found the truth and reason for everything (Jesus Christ) and have therefore not been set free by Him to accept the truth. If anyone does not come to the Son of God for forgiveness and pledge elegance to Him, that person will ultimately spend an eternal existence in another physical place where a raging fire will burn them and they will continue in this way forever. The "aliens" (demons) know this and a 100% of their time and work is spent on deceiving the world in many other ways, one of which is this "alien" phenomenon.

Because this world and universe have been created by God and never did form through its own means or through any other natural process like the big bang and evolution, it’s impossible to omit the spiritual from the physical when discussing this topic.

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This is an interesting answer, but it's lacking in a crucial dimension: you have told us 'what' you think, but not 'why' you think it, which is really what this site is all about. –  Jack Douglas May 21 at 15:17

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