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Paul’s Visit to the Third Heaven in 2 Corinthians 12

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 37:
“God Loveth a Cheerful Giver”




In the opening of 2 Corinthians 12, Paul makes a couple of remarks about his spiritual experiences because some have been questioning the adequacy of his authority; i.e., questioning his apostleship. Beginning with verse 1,

1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

From these four verses, I make the following observations:

First, Paul is talking about his own experience here. He is a little coy about it, speaking of himself in the third person but if you read the rest of the chapter, he makes it solidly clear that he’s talking about himself. He speaks, for example, about the thorn in the flesh which he is given so that he will not be prideful about this revelatory experience he has received.

Second, he concretely establishes here that there are no fewer than three heavens, because he has been to the third one; he says, “such an one was caught up to the third heaven”. If ones theology doesn’t have room for this many heavens, it doesn’t have room for Paul.

Third, he relates that he was not permitted to speak of some of the things he learned there. He there, “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” This is one of the obvious precedents for obligations not to disclose things that the Lord reveals that go beyond what has been authorized to go forth for general consumption. Alma teaches a similar principle when, in Alma 12, he is asked about the resurrection, a doctrine that was not generally known and understood at that time. Said he, “…It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.”

Paul had been trusted with some amazing experiences, but with that trust came an obligation not to disclose except within such bounds as the Lord had indicated. The Lord gave some more generally applicable counsel about handling sacred matters in Doctrine and Covenants 63: 64, “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, and ye receive the Spirit through prayer; wherefore, without this there remaineth condemnation.”

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