2 Corinthians Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 12
1. I have to boast. There is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2. I know a man in union with the Messiah who fourteen years ago was snatched up to the third heaven; whether he was in the body or outside the body I don’t know, God knows.
3. And I know that such a man — whether in the body or apart from the body I don’t know, God knows —
4. was snatched into Gan-‘Eden and heard things that cannot be put into words, things unlawful for a human being to utter.
The third heaven is not the air (the first heaven) or the sky where the stars are (the second heaven), but the "place" where God is, a spiritual realm. Other explanations are possible.

Snatched up. The term is used at only one other place in the New Testameni, 1 Th 4:17, where believers are described being "snatched up to meet the Lord in the air." Jewish writings too report instances of people's entering Paradise; a well-known instance is Chagigah 14a, which starts out,

"Our Rabbis taught: 'Four men entered the pardes [Paradise: see below on "Gan-Eden"] — Ben-'Azzai, Ben-Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. "'

It tells of their experiences there; of interest is what it says Acher did as a result of his time in Paradise:
"He mutilated the plants,"

meaning that he apostatized. He may have become a Messianic Jew, or he may have adopted some other religious position; scholarly opinions differ. After leaving non-Messianic Judaism, he was no longer called by his correct name, Elisha ben-'Avuyah, but by a word that means simply "another" or "different." For more on him see Ac 22:3N; also compare Mt 1:21N on the name "Yeshua" and its variant "Yeshu"; and see MJ IO:20N.

Whether he was in the body or outside the body I don't know, God knows. Some modern occult-oriented religions make much of "out-of-body experiences"; terms such as "astral projection" and "etheric body" are tossed about to impress the gullible. In my judgment, people sometimes have such experiences; but the experiences are rarely from God. They may be from Satan, masquerading as an angel of light (11:14). Or they may be a natural phenomenon about which little is known; Kirlian photography, which reportedly can produce pictures of amputated limbs, illustrates what I mean. In a number of books, some by Christians, people report "after-death experiences" in which they travel great distances outside their body in a few seconds, sometimes through a "tunnel of light" to a "place" corresponding sometimes to Paradise, sometimes to Hell and sometimes to locations on earth, where they may be "met" by Yeshua or someone else. Of course, these people then "return to their bodies," which may have been dead by clinical standards for many minutes; otherwise, obviously, there would be no report. In most discussions of such experiences and phenomena Sha'ul's main point is forgotten — these matters are not to be a source of pride. A person's reputation should be based only on what his words and deeds warrant (v. 6).
Gan-Eden. See Lk 23:43N. 

5. About such a man I will boast; but about myself I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.
6. If I did want to boast, I would not be foolish; because I would be speaking the truth. But, because of the extraordinary greatness of the revelations, I refrain, so that no one will think more of me than what my words or deeds may warrant.
7. Therefore, to keep me from becoming overly proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from the Adversary to pound away at me, so that I wouldn’t grow conceited.
v. 1-2, 5-7 Sha'ul has declared his program of showing just how stupid boasting is (see 11:16—21N). This is why when he says, "I have to boast," he adds that there is nothing to be gained by it.

I know a man, namely, myself, Sha'ul. Out of modesty he prefers to speak of himself in the third person when talking about his visions and revelations. That he is speaking of himself is clear from vv. 6b-7; so that when he says in v. 5, "About such a man I will boast; but about myself I will not boast," it is as if Sha'ul were two persons (compare Ro 7:14-25); or, perhaps more accurately, it is that he is now completely objective about his experience and utterly unattached to it. 

8. Three times I begged the Lord to take this thing away from me;
9. but he told me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.” Therefore, I am very happy to boast about my weaknesses, in order that the Messiah’s power will rest upon me.
10. Yes, I am well pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties endured on behalf of the Messiah; for it is when I am weak that I am strong.
What was Sha'ul's thorn in the flesh? Some think it was a physical incapacity, such as stuttering (10:10, 11:6), epilepsy (5:13, Ac 9:4), or weak vision (Ac 9:7, Ga 4:15); some, the emotional suffering resulting from not winning Jews to the Messiah as he would have liked (but see Ac 28:24&N); others, a recurring temptation, such as greed (Ro 7:8); and yet others take the following phrase, "a messenger [Greek angelos, "messenger, angel"] from the Adversary," to mean that his "thorn" was a demonic spiritual being especially dispatched by Satan (Mt 4: IN) to pound away at him (compare Mt 25:41, Rv 12:7, 9).

From vv. 8-9a we learn that the "messenger from the Adversary," whatever it was, even if it was a demon, was sent by God — the Adversary has no independent power; God is in control of the universe. We also learn that sometimes God's answer to prayer is not necessarily to grant the request as asked, but to change the person asking (3:18), so that he no longer wants what he wanted before (vv. 9b—10). On "weak," see 10:l-2&N. 

11. I have behaved like a fool, but you forced me to do it — you who should have been commending me. For I am in no way inferior to the “super-emissaries,” even if I am nothing.
I have behaved like a fool to boast so much. See 11:16—2IN. "Super-emissaries."
See 11:5,13. 

12. The things that prove I am an emissary — signs, wonders and miracles — were done in your presence, despite what I had to endure.
The things that prove I am an emissary are signs, wonders and miracles (see Mk 16:15-20, Yn 14:12), made possible by the power (v. 9) which the Spirit provides (Ro 15:19; 1С 2:4-5,4:19; Ep 3:7,20); because "the Kingdom of God is not a matter of words but of power" (1С 4:20). 

13. Is there any way in which you have been behind any of the other congregations, other than in my not having been a burden to you? For this unfairness, please forgive me!
See 11:7-12&N. 

14. Look, I am ready this third time to come and visit you; and I will not be a burden to you; for it is not what you own that I want, but you! Children are not supposed to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
Sha'ul resumes talking about his plans; see 1:15—17&N. 

15. And as for me, I will most gladly spend everything I have and be spent myself too for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
16. Let it be granted, then, that I was not a burden to you; but, crafty fellow that I am, I took you with trickery!
17. Was it perhaps through someone I sent you
18. that I took advantage of you? I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him; Titus didn’t take advantage of you, did he? Didn’t we live by the same Spirit and show you the same path?
19. Perhaps you think that all this time we have been defending ourselves before you. No, we have been speaking in the sight of God, as those united with the Messiah should; and, my dear friends, it is all for your upbuilding.
20. For I am afraid of coming and finding you not the way I want you to be, and also of not being found the way you want me to be. I am afraid of finding quarreling and jealousy, anger and rivalry, slander and gossip, arrogance and disorder.
21. I am afraid that when I come again, my God may humiliate me in your presence, and that I will be grieved over many of those who sinned in the past and have not repented of the impurity, fornication and debauchery that they have engaged in.

next chapter...