In 2 Cor. 12:4 does ἄρρητα and οὐκ ἐξὸν refer to what Paul was not permitted but capable of saying or was it what was impossible for Paul to put into words? Looking at the lexicons both meanings are possible. Does the context tell us what Paul meant by these words?

ὅτι ἡρπάγη εἰς τὸν παράδεισον καὶ ἤκουσεν ἄρρητα ῥήματα ἃ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἀνθρώπῳ λαλῆσαι. (2 Cor. 12:4, NA27)

how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Co 12:4, ESV)

  • Could you quote and link to the text please. I think your reference might be wrong.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 30, 2019 at 20:13
  • Sorry, I correct the chapter reference to 12.
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 30, 2019 at 21:06

1 Answer 1


Of ἄρρητα, arreta, Strong 731 Thayer states :

a. unsaid, unspoken: Homer, Odyssey 14, 466, and often in Attic.

b. unspeakable (on account of its sacredness) (Herodotus 5, 83, and often in other writings): 2 Corinthians 12:4, explained by what follows: ἅ οὐκ ἐξόν ἀνθρώπῳ λαλῆσαι.

'Unsaid' or 'unspoken' does not convey that something cannot be uttered because it is impossible to do so. Rather, something remains unsaid because people do not like to say it.

'Unspeakable' is stronger and the reason given is because the subject is sacrosanct. The reluctance to speak about it is unanimous, because people fear to broach the subject.

As for ἐξὸν, exon, Strong 1832, it is the same word that Jesus uses in Matthew 12:4 regarding the shew bread which it was 'not lawful' to eat (according to the law).

Thayer's note states that the reason for the matter being 'unspeakable' is because of what follows, that is to say, because of the subject being unlawful to be spoken of.

Paul's statement indicates that it is just not right to talk about such things. They are to be kept to oneself, if one has had such things revealed to oneself.

  • The only unspeakable word that would be spoken in heaven, which we know of in the Law, is the name of God.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 26, 2020 at 16:16

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