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.
2 Corinthians 12:2 (KJV)
Third heaven – How many of us believe Paul is talking about himself here? From the people I’ve queried lately, 100% believe Paul is referring to himself as going to the third heaven. I bring this up because this shows how much we inject our own paradigms into the text, rather than just reading what it says.
Paul says he “knew a man” and never states that it was he. Yet we read it and say, oh yeah he’s talking about himself. Than we explain it away by saying that Paul just mentions this man in the third person so as not to sound prideful. If this is the case, this is the only time Paul does this in his letters. It’s funny how we think the anomaly is the normal procedure in this case.
So let’s examine this a bit further. The concept of three heavens is completely Jewish. The early Jewish belief was:
1st Heaven – where the birds fly (atmosphere)
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. Genesis 1:8
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. Genesis 1:20
2nd Heaven – where the stars exist (space)
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: Genesis 1:14
3rd Heaven – where God lives
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:12
Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord‘s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Deuteronomy 10:14
But Hellenism quickly influenced this belief which brought about the concept of seven heavens. The study of this is recorded in the Merkabah which is a school of Jewish mysticism from 100 BCE to 1000 CE. Research has shown it is highly likely that the Jewish concept of seven heavens originated in Babylonian astronomy. And because of its mysticism, this concept found it’s way into the Kabbalah, Sefer Yetzirah (composed 200 BCE to 200 CE) as well.
By these seven letters were also made seven worlds, seven heavens, seven lands, seven seas, seven rivers, seven deserts, seven days as before, seven weeks from Passover to Pentecost, and every seventh year a jubilee. Sefer Yetzirah 4:12
So what do we do with all of this? Do we accept the Hellenized, Greek philosophical viewpoint which leads to mysticism? Or do we rely on Scripture and original Hebraic understandings? Do we inject our own paradigms into the text, or do we simply read it for what it says?