"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago -- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows -- such a one was caught up [seized upon, carried away -- Strong's #726, harpazo] to the third heaven. And I know such a man -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- how he was caught up [carried away -- Strong's #726, harpazo] into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." -- 1 Corinthians 12:2-4, New King James Version.
The above scripture is often given as evidence of the so-called "dual nature of man", that man has an immortal soul or spirit that is separate from the body. It is further claimed that the third heaven is now where "paradise" is, alleging that "paradise" was removed from sheol and taken to heaven. In reality, these theories have to be added to and read into the scriptures. Exactly what is being spoken of here? Does Paul describe a man's soul or spirit as having an out-of-the body experience?
The idea of "up" is supplied the translators. Rotherham gives a better rendering:
2 Corinthians 12:2: I know a man in Christ, who, fourteen years ago, whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not, God, knoweth, such a one as this, caught away, as far as the third heaven;
2 Corinthians 12:3: And I know such a man as this, whether in the body or apart from the body, I know not, - God knoweth,
2 Corinthians 12:4: How that he was caught away into paradise, and heard unspeakable things, which it is not allowable for a man to utter: -- Rotherham
Thus we need to see that the idea of "up" is supplied by translators, probably because in their minds they associated both the third heaven and paradise with Greek mythology, as adopted and adapted by traditional Judaism and Christianity. It is not actually part of what Paul said.
Except for being used of various specific gardens (Deuteronomy 11:10; 1 Kings 21:2; etc.), the word paradise is used in the Bible to refer to: (a) the garden of Eden, "the garden of God" (Genesis 2:8-15; Ezekiel 28:13), i.e., the perfect abode of Adam and Eve while sinless; (b) the symbolic paradise of God from which the overcomers of this age are symbolically given fruit from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7 -- compare Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8,9); (c) the earth after the kingdom is set up on it, as and after its curse of sin and death is increasingly removed (Revelation 22:1-3, compare Genesis 2:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 15:26), and it becomes increasingly (Daniel 2:35) "like the garden of Eden" (Ezekiel 36:35), i.e., Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Regained, which new earth was seen in vision and prophecy together with the third, the new heaven-the spiritual control of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; 2 Peter 3:6, 7, 12, 13; Revelation 21:1-3)-that will supplant the spiritual control of Satan, "the god of this world." -- 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:2.
Of the three above Biblically-mentioned paradises, (a) was destroyed long before Jesus' death, (b) is only a symbolic representation of (a) given to the overcomers of this age; (c) is still future; hence all refer back to or forward to the earthly paradise and none of these refer to a place where Jesus was to go when he died. Additionally on the third day thereafter Jesus stated that He had not yet gone to be with his Father (John 20:17), nor did He go there until until he ascended. -- Acts 1:3-11.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 the apostle Paul states that a man was seized [Strong's #726, harpazo] into the third heaven and to paradise. What is this "third heaven?" The Bible elsewhere answers this. The apostle Peter tells us that "by the word of God the heavens were of old, the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." (2 Peter 3:5, King James Version) Thus the first heaven and the first earth passed away in the flood of Noah's day. Peter continues: "But the heavens and earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." (2 Peter 3:6, KJV)
Here we have the second heaven and the second earth. But Peter further tells us: "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." (2 Peter 3:13, KJV) So from this we can see that the man the apostle Paul spoke of was seized, either bodily or by the spirit, as in a vision received than being taken in the body in time to the third heaven, the "new heaven," and paradise, "the new earth."
The scriptures pertaining to new heavens are not referring to new planets, nor to heavens ranged one above another, as many have supposed, but to the third of three great periods of time, beginning with man's creation and extending into the illimitable future. The first of these periods, termed the first heavens and earth -- the old order of things -- passed away with the deluge of Noah's day. The second period, "the heavens and the earth which are now," the present order of things, are reserved of God to pass away with a great symbolic fire of trouble -- revolution, etc. -- which will utterly destroy the present spiritual powers and the present social arrangements. -- 2 Peter 3:6,7; Galatians 1:4; Zephaniah 3:8,9.
The third great period is to be a "ages without end," under divine administration. This will be the third heavens and the third earth, or the new heavens and the new earth, which will differ from the present condition of things in that they will be righteous; whereas the present arrangement is imperfect, unrighteous. The "new heavens" is not of this world, but will consist of the new spiritual ruling powers of the future -- Jesus and the saints who have been chosen in this age. (Daniel 7:22,27; Luke 1:32,33; 12:32; 22:29; 2 Timothy 2:12; John 18:36; 1 Corinthians 6:2,3; Hebrews 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 1:6; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4,6) The present heavens consist of the nominal religious systems which, many of which Christ for their Head, but nevertheless bow in a very large degree to "the god of this world," "the prince of this world," "who now worketh in the children of disobedience," and who is captivating and blinding the whole world, with the exception of the few whose eyes of understanding have been opened in various degrees, who are under special blessing and leading, who are taught of God -- "heirs of the Kingdom."--Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4.
The earth is to be made a paradise under the rulership of the "new heavens", as in the Garden of Eden. We have many prophecies that show this. -- Psalm 72:6-8; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Revelation 20:1-5.
It is to this new heavens and new earth condition, this Paradise of God, that Revelation 21:1-4,22-27 speaks of. As the "new heavens" do not mean a new place for God's Throne, so the "new earth" does not mean another planet. The "new heavens" are a new condition, the spiritual power and control of Christ and His glorified Church; so the "new earth" means a new social order on this planet -- "the new heavens and earth" -- constituting the world to come -- "wherein dwelleth righteousness." (2 Peter 3:10-13.) The declaration of our lesson is that the former heavens and the former earth -- which are now -- will then have passed away and will be no more. All present institutions are to perish utterly in the great Time of Trouble with which this Age is very shortly to end.
For more information on the condition of the dead, the Bible hell, hades, sheol, lake of fire, etc., please visit the website: http://hereafter.reslight.net
Other related links:
Yahweh's Plan of the Ages
Mankind's Course to the Day of Judgment
The Thief in Paradise