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Acts 10:9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16This happened three times, and immediately 17While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three a men are looking for you. 20So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

What's the difference between a trance and a vision? Are they the same?

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Both words occur together in Acts 11:5:

I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision (ESV)

While I was praying in the city of Joppa, I had a vision (GNB)

I was in the town of Joppa and was praying when I fell sound asleep and had a vision (CEV)

Many people today have experienced this (myself included). The vision is what you see like a movie you watch with closed eyes. The ekstasis (ἔκστασις) is a state of mind like a meditation where you focus on the vision and you seem to be unaware of what else is going on around you. It is like daydreaming. It often happens during prayer or worship as we see in Acts.

The English word "trance" may give associations that are potentially misleading. It does not mean you do strange things and jump around in a frenzy. It is much more like a state of meditation.

It does not mean that you are asleep, so CEV got it wrong here. GNB could not find a good English word to use, so they dropped it in 11:5. In 10:10 they said while the food was being prepared, he had a vision. In 22:17 likewise: while I was praying in the Temple, I had a vision This is a more accurate translation, because it communicates the meaning better than literal versions like ESV. Webster does give an example where trance seems to work okay: He was staring out the window in a trance.

In our own translation into Danish, we did like GNB in 10:10 and 11:5 and used our word for vision (syn). In 22:17 I used a more descriptive translation which I can give here in English: One day, when I was praying in the Temple, I was suddenly like in a different world.

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The Greek word ἔκστασις (ekstasis) occurs seven times in Mark 5:42, 16:8, Luke 5:26, Acts 3:10, 10:10, 22:17. It basically means, "a displacement (of the mind), i.e. bewilderment, ecstasy" (NAS). More precisely, according to BDAG #2, the word means:

a state of being in which consciousness is wholly or partially suspended, frequently associated with divine action, trance, ecstasy

The Greek word ὅραμα (horama) occurs 12 times in Matt 17:9, Acts 7:31, 9:10, 12, 10:3, 17, 19, 11:5, 12:9, 16:9, 10, 18:9. The primary meaning is what is seen, hence the English translation, "vision".

The difference between these two words which both refer to the same thing in the passage of Acts 10, is this:

  • ekstatsis is the state of mind (hence the English "ecstatsy") - being thrown out of one's normal mind (literally)
  • horama is the content of the message as it it is seen.

This, the two words are entirely compatible. God induce Peter into the state of mind (ecstasy or a trance) in order to deliver a message via a vision.

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