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This question concerns a timeline. I have often wondered if two experiences Paul describes might be connected:

2 Corinthians 12:2-4: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak."

Paul has just related an occurrence not of this world, the "3rd heaven" — representing God's paradise. Is it possible that such occurred when he was stoned?

Acts 14:19-20: "But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city."

If not, when may this have happened to him? The "fourteen years ago" mentioned by the apostle in 2 Cor. 12 seems quite relevant.

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  • Still not convince it was Paul that was caught up Jun 22 at 4:05
  • Interesting Q - Many believe so - (that the two are related.). However I personally can’t support this scripturally so can only comment, but look forward to reading responses.
    – Dave
    Jun 22 at 4:15
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    That would be a stretch as there is nothing to link them AND Paul talks in 2 Cor 12 of another person making it much less likely.
    – Dottard
    Jun 22 at 7:22
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    Another might be Lazarus, but we're never told he had any vision. It seems very curious to me that Paul would relate an incident from 14 years earlier. Why would a vivid NDE be unexpected if Paul actually died? Surely, his executioners checked all his vital signs to confirm they were successful as they carried him from the city? I suppose it makes sense (to me) that such extreme circumstances would naturally lead to the events Paul describes.
    – Xeno
    Jun 23 at 3:11
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    1) Paul was dead: he had been stoned. There is really no supposing about it. So, what might he recollect from such an experience if not 2 Cor. 12? 2) What other person have we ever read about that was "caught up to heaven"? Yes, many saw visions. Where to we read of anyone else being "caught up to heaven" and returning? 3) Paul could not express what he saw. Who ever heard "inexpressible words"? John expressed his words, as did all the prophets. Why couldn't Paul? 4) Fringe theory?
    – Xeno
    Jun 23 at 4:28
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The 14 years before writing 2 Cor. is our only clue. Apparently, this places the event ca. A.D. 42 before the first missionary journey, thus not the stoning event. The only way the timeline could possibly match is if Paul wrote 2 Cor. in Rome just before his death ca. A.D. 62. However, I have not found anyone dating it other than. A.D.55 or 56. Paul's immediate plan to go for a third time to Corinth in 2 Cor. 13 doesn't support a date near Paul's death. Thus, the connection is unlikely.

2 Cor. was written ca. A.D. 56.

Paul wrote this letter from Macedonia a year after writing 1 Corinthians, about A.D. 56. -- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Cor.). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

That would place the event ca. A.D. 42 But, Paul's missionary journeys started ca. A.D. 47.

One must first decide when Paul was converted. A.D. 33 or 34 is likely, with the result that he stayed three years in Arabia and Damascus, before first visiting Jerusalem in 37. After ca. 10 more years (Gal. 2:1 marks 14 years after his conversion), Paul made his famine visit to Jerusalem (probably to be equated with Gal. 2:1–10). The first missionary journey was then from 47 to 48, and the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 in 49. This order, following Acts, is not incompatible with the Pauline chronology. The second missionary journey (first Macedonian and Achaian/Greek visit) lasted from 49 to 52, and the third (second Macedonian and Achaian/Greek visit) from 53 to 57. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned in Caesarea from 57 to 59. In 59 he was sent to Rome, where he was imprisoned until 62, and may well have died there. -- Porter, S. E. (2000). Chronology of the New Testament. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (p. 251). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Here's basic agreement with the timeline and explaining that it is Paul:

12:2–4. “Fourteen years ago” was perhaps a decade after Paul’s conversion. Because later Jewish teachers sometimes used “that person” as “you” or “I,” it is possible that Paul here relates his own experience in the third person to avoid boasting. Some Greek writers suggested that one should describe one’s experience as another’s if one were ashamed to speak of it openly; analogously, some Jewish apocalyptists may have transferred their own visions to those heroes of the past in whose name they composed their writings. Willing to boast only in his weaknesses, Paul will not accept any praise for his personal revelations (cf. Prov 27:2). -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (2 Co 12:2–4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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    There's no doubt (in my mind) that Paul is speaking of himself in 2 Cor. 12. He even follows up with 12:7: "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations..." Paul was given insight beyond all others: 2 Pet. 3:15+: "[Our] beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him... speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand" The very greatest of Paul's revelations must have occurred while he was "caught up to the 3rd heaven." He even states he "heard inexpressible words." If this was not as he lay dead (stoning) this is indeed a mystery.
    – Xeno
    Jun 22 at 19:44
  • Added quote explaining it is Paul.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 22 at 20:57
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    Thanks Perry. To be clear, I wasn't actually disagreeing with anything you wrote. Good job. +1.
    – Xeno
    Jun 22 at 21:10
  • I just wanted that quote because the commentators and Bible professors are virtually unanimous that Paul wrote about himself. Some in the comments disputed that it was Paul.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 22 at 22:27
  • Glad you asked the question. I wanted to investigate this before. Your question motivated me to do so.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 22 at 22:33
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Could Paul's stoning have anything to do with his vision in 2 Cor. 12?

Answer: It seems quite plausible that it did.

Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary journey1. From the island of Cyprus, they made their way to Asia Minor, preaching first at Perga, where it will be remembered that John Mark forsook them and fled back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). One can only imagine the dangers that dissuaded Mark from accompanying them further.

The two men then boldly pressed on to Antioch (of Pisidia) where they encountered an attentive audience, with a number of Jews and Gentiles converting to the faith (13:14-43). However, within a week, unbelieving Jews had created such opposition that they were forced to leave the city and press on to Iconium (13:44-51). At Iconium, a good number of Jews and Gentiles again came to faith in Christ, and again unbelieving Jews instigated intense opposition. This time, the vitriol had grown worse. They, therefore moved on to the city of Lystra (Acts 14:8+).

While in this city, Paul healed a man lame from birth. When those of the city witnessed this miracle, they tried to deify both Paul and Barnabas, worshipping them as gods. The two immediately began to prevent the crowd from doing so, instead preaching the Message of Christ. Soon, however, unbelieving Jews again arrived from Antioch.

This time the encounter was far more severe: they stoned Paul, dragging his body out of the city where he was left for dead. Here we must ask the question: Is it really possible to believe that Jews, who were quite aware of stoning someone to death, did not complete their task?

Acts 14:19-20a: "But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city."

Luke merely tells us they "[supposed] him to be dead". He then got up and returned to the city — the very city where he had just been stoned! As mentioned, this stoning took place during Paul's first mission, early in his career as an evangelist. Whatever occurred in Lystra seems to have remained with the apostle for the rest of his life.

If, indeed, Paul's experience here is that to which he refers in 2 Corinthians 12, one can begin to understand how physical death was no impediment to the brave apostle to the Gentiles:

2 Corinthians 12:1-4, 7: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak...

7Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!" (emphasis added).

The "surpassing greatness of the revelations" (12:7) appears to be exactly why Paul would no longer fear death — and it is probably why he experienced the perils and brutality that he had. Despite all his sufferings, he maintained an extraordinary perspective:

Philippians 4:11: "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am."

The following is a list of some of those "circumstances" to which Paul fell victim:

Affliction (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
1. “Beaten times without number,
2. Often in danger of death.
3. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes.
4. Three times I was beaten with rods,
5. Once I was stoned,
6. Three times I was shipwrecked,
7. A night and day I have spent in the deep.
8. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers,
9. Dangers from robbers,
10. Dangers from my countrymen,
Affliction (cont.)
11. Dangers from the Gentiles,
12. Dangers in the city,
13. Dangers in the wilderness,
14. Dangers on the sea,
15. Dangers among the false brethren;
16. I have been in labor and hardship,
17. Through many sleepless nights,
18. In hunger and thirst,
19. Often without food,
20. In cold and exposure.”


Paul seemed perfectly willing to embrace death, that which would bring him into the immediate presence of God. After Acts 14, this makes sense; it should be apparent why he would later write the following to the Philippians:

Philippians 1:21: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

We know from Scripture that some false teachers appealed to "visions" or revelations that they allegedly received, visions not given to others, which thus appeared to set them spiritually apart as more authoritative in the faith. It was to these that Paul spoke in his message to the faithful:

Colossians 2:18: "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen"

As Paul relates his revelation of heaven in 2 Corinthians 12, he does so to draw attention away from himself, and is thus, deliberately vague. He also doesn't know whether he was "in the body" or "out of the body" when he was caught up to Paradise (cf. 12:2-3). Paul's reticence in his description appears to be twofold: 1) That which he witnessed was beyond human terms and thus "inexpressible" 2) Even if he wished to do so, Paul was not allowed to describe what he experienced (12:4).

Unfortunately, his reference to "fourteen years ago" (12:2) does little to disclose when this phenomenal event transpired because, as noted by another contributor, scholars are in disagreement over the date of 2 Corinthians. Here are some suggestions when Paul may have had his vison:

Occurrence
1. During Paul’s ten years in Syria and Cilicia
2. During his time in Antioch
3. At his stoning in Lystra
Passage/s
Galatians 1:21-2:1
Acts 13:1-3
Acts 14:19


From what Paul depicts, we might conclude that his vision of Paradise was granted at the time he was stoned and left for dead at Lystra. We do not know for certain whether Paul actually died at that moment but, as previously observed, it seems exceedingly unlikely that he did not.

Irrespective of the outcome of the incident, Paul was miraculously revived. And, for reasons we may never know, he kept the incident quiet for over a decade. Nonetheless, it stands to reason that his assailants succeeded in their mission. It is, therefore, quite plausible that at that moment, Paul experienced the events he conveyed so dramatically in 2 Corinthians 12.

Footnote

1Jackson, Wayne. A New Testament Commentary, Christian Courier Publications, "The Acts of the Apostles", 2011.

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  • While the sequence of events isn't under question, how do you establish a timeline that accounts for the 14-year difference? I also thought what Paul described in the first of 2 Cor.. 12 occurred during Paul being stoned. But, I couldn't account for the 14 year gap in time.
    – Perry Webb
    Jun 23 at 22:14
  • @Perry I cannot. But, as I commented, we should understand that Paul was dead from stoning. What might he recollect from such an experience if not 2 Cor. 12? What other person have we read that was "caught up to heaven" and returned? Yes, many had visions. You might say John was also "caught up to heaven" but he relates everything to us. Paul witnessed that which he could not express. What other prophet heard/saw "inexpressible" events? John expressed his vision, as did all the prophets. Thus, it seems this would be Paul's experience, one of magnificence, while unable to speak much about it.
    – Xeno
    Jun 23 at 22:53

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