Some Thoughts on Paul Being "Caught Up" Into Heaven

In his book, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, Professor Segal makes interesting points about Paul's reference to "a man in Christ" being "caught up into the third heaven." 2 Cor. 12:1-5.

First, Professor Segal notes that Paul's statement that he did now know whether this person was caught up "in the body or out of the body" effectively preclude the notion -- such as propounded by Doherty -- that Paul viewed such things Platonically:

We should note that Paul did not utilize the concept of a soul (pysche) to effect his heavenly travel. Not being sure of whether the ascent took place in the body or out of the body is the same as saying that one is not taking account of the Platonic concept of the soul. Had Paul been using the Platonic version, he certainly would have known quite well that the only way to get to heaven, to ascend beyond the sublunar sphere, was by leaving his body behind.

Alan Segal, Life after Death, page 411.

I do take issue with Segal's comment that the reason Paul is confused about the nature of the ascension is because he was unable to "distinguish between bodily and spiritual journeys to heaven." Ibid. It would seem that because Paul knew it was an either/or proposition, he well knew that there was a theoretical difference. It was only that as a practical matter he couldn't figure out which one it was. Afterall, the Pharisees believed in both the immortality of the soul and the reconciliation/resurrection of the body. This would seem to be right in line with Paul's allowing for the possibility of either ascension.

Second, Segal offers an explanation about why Paul refers to the event as if it happened to someone else ("I know a man in Christ . . . . ."). Most scholars conclude that Paul was talking about himself here. But why so obliquely? As it turns out, a good Pharisee like Paul would be expected to keep a "respectful silence" about their spiritual experiences. Ibid, page 409.

It is significant that in 2 Corinthians 12, when Paul talked about mystical journeys directly, he too adopted a pseudepigraphical stance. He did not admit to the ascent personally. Apart from the needs of his rhetoric, Rabbinic rules also forbade public discussion of mystic phenomenon. A first-century date for this rule would explain why Paul would not divulge his experience in his own name at that place. It would also suggest why Jewish mystics consistently picked pseudepigrahical literary conventions to discuss their religious experience.

Ibid, pages 415-16.

So, according to Segal, Paul is referring to himself but as a good Pharisee he does so in an oblique manner.

Though I'm finding things I disagree with as well, Segal's new book is very informative.


Anonymous said…
Segal does also say that Paul said Christians will be transformed into spiritual bodies after the resurrection - the same sort of spirit as the spirit of God moving on the waters

And on page 407 Segal claims that Paul saw Jesus in a vision.
Anonymous said…
I am a little confused, didn't Paul just mean being taken up in body [e.g Elijah] or in vision [out of body]. Surely the Pharisees only thought of a separation of body and soul AFTER death? Peter.
Layman said…
By spiritual bodies, Segal means exactly what I mean in my article on this: there is continuinty between the old body and the new one. The process is one of transformation of the old into the new. The body ceases to be in the tomb and becomes something much greater. Contuinty with transformation. As I stated in my article responding to Carrier on this point:

"a physical resurrection results in the original body missing from the grave, a spiritual resurrection has no affect on the original body."

Using this definition, Segal believes that Paul believed in a physical resurrection. One that resulted in a spiritual body, no doubt, but this is classic Pharisiac belief (except for the timing). Some excerpts:

Paul’s views on resurrection “put Paul in the same category as the apocalypticists who first recorded the notion of bodily resurrection.” Segal, Life after Death, page 412.

"The body of the believer eventually is to be transformed together wieth and combined into the body of Christ. The believer's body is to be changed into the same spiritual body of glory as that of the savior." Ibid., page 419.

"All of this suggests that te body of believers would be refashioned into the glorious body of Christ.... It all depends on a notion of body that is a new spiritualized substance, a new body which is not flesh and blood, which cannot cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." Ibid., page 420.

"The Greeks believed that the body was destined for destruction. But Paul did not follow through with a Platonic analysis of the immortality of the soul. Instead, he stayed in the apocalytpic-mystical world of Judaism, defending and sharpening that notion in view of the Greek assumptions about the continuity of life after death. Paul immediately suggested that the body will survive death, for it belongs to the Lord. God will raise it in glory and perfection by means of the spirit, just as he raised up the body of jesus, who is even now in his spiritual state." Ibid., page 423.

On the differences between a "spiritual body" and a natural body": "For Paul, life in its most basic sense, psychic life, was also bodily life. "Pneumatic," spiritual life is bodily as well, though Paul immediately reiterated that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). The psychic body is the ordinary body (flesh and soul); the soma pnematikon is the ordinary body subsumed and transformed by the spirit." Ibid., page 430.

If you had read his book it's strange that you would make such a significant omission. I certainly can't believed you missed all of the above references.

It makes your Comment very misleading.
Layman said…
"I am a little confused, didn't Paul just mean being taken up in body [e.g Elijah] or in vision [out of body]. Surely the Pharisees only thought of a separation of body and soul AFTER death? Peter"


I could be wrong, but it looks like Paul is saying that he definitely went to heaven in some sense--he just didn't know for sure in which sense.

Segal notes that we have little understanding of just what the Pharisees thought about mystical events like this one. He thinks we should treat Paul as a good source of first century information about the beliefs of Pharisees towards mystical events.


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