Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians
The Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth
Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson September 18–24: 2 Corinthians 8–13
I am going to break somewhat with my tradition this week and, rather than focus on just one topic, I will cover a few issues brought up by Paul in these chapters.
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 Paul writes, “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”
To what deep poverty in Macedonia was Paul referring? To answer questions concerning the history of events of the time, I turned, as I often have, to the Bible scholars quoted at Bible Hub. Ellicott’s Commentary on the New Testament states, “The ‘poverty’ at Philippi [in Macedonia] may possibly be connected with the preponderance of women in the Church there, as indicated in Acts 16:13. In the absence of the bread-winners of a household, Christian women in a Graeco-Roman city would find but scanty means of subsistence. In part, however, the churches were but sharers in a widely-spread distress. Macedonia and Achaia never recovered from the three wars between Caesar and Pompeius, between the Triumvirs and Brutus and Cassius, and between Augustus and Antonius. Under Tiberius [42 BC – 37 AD], they petitioned for a diminution of their burdens, and were accordingly transferred for a time from the jurisdiction of the senate to that of the emperor, as involving a less heavy taxation.”1
Acts 16:13 states, “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” “Thither” is italicized in The King James Version indicating that the word was not in the original but was added by the translators.
The three wars mentioned by Ellicott were: First, what is called Caesar’s Civil War (49-45 BC), fought across much of the Roman Empire: Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, and North Africa; between the forces of Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Caesar had been gone for nearly ten years fighting in the Gallic wars. Upon his return to Rome, the fragile balance of power, which Caesar and Pompey had shared, began to unravel — resulting in civil war. One of the major battles in this war was the Battle of Dyrrachium, which took place near the city of Dyrrachium, Macedonia, what is now modern day Durrës, Albania.2 The second war “between the Triumvirs and Brutus and Cassius,” has been called the Battle of Philippi, Macedonia (42 BC). The Triumvirate was Mark Antony and Octavian, and they were fighting against Brutus and Cassius, in part to avenge the murder of Caesar in 44 BC. The battle, which involved as many as 200,000 men, was one of the largest battles of the Roman civil wars, and was fought on the plain just west of Philippi.3 The third war was called the War of Actium (32–30 BC), in which the main Battle of Actium, a naval battle, took place in the Ionian Sea, near the former Roman colony of Actium, Greece. This was the last civil war battle of the Roman Republic, fought by Mark Antony and Cleopatra against Marcus Agrippa and Octavian.4 When armies clash, especially anciently, they lived off the land — they foraged, which means that they stole from the common people in and around the battle-grounds whatever they wanted. It is interesting that more than eighty years after the battles, the Macedonians were still feeling the financial depravations caused by the war.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 4, Paul describes a visit, “…to the third heaven [and] paradise…” He stated, “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… How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Most Bible scholars agree that the “man” to whom Paul referred was Paul himself.
Interestingly, Ellicott (as cited at Bible Hub) didn’t comment at all on these statements and the Pulpit Commentary says, “…all speculations about first, second, and third heavens are idle and useless…we encounter long speculations as to whether Paradise is the same as the third heaven; whether St. Paul is referring to two visions or two parts of one vision. Such questions are clearly insoluble, and I leave them where I find them. We shall never understand this passage otherwise than in the dim and vague outline in which St. Paul has purposely left it.”5 Neither commentary seems to make any connection to Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42 to the three degrees of glory, “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:” It is clear that without additional revelation, “We shall never understand this passage…” Fortunately, we have additional revelation in the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants — among many other modern sources.
Even someone in modern times, who was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, had a glimpse of the third heaven. In 1943, George Ritchie had a life-after-death experience where he visited two distinct realms of the afterlife. At the first level he witnessed people trapped here on earth — caught up in drinking, frustration, and anger — “writhing, punching, gouging,” but to no affect.6 These are described in Doctrine and Covenants 76:81, 98 and 103-106, “And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament. And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one…These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God…” Ritchie said, “If I suspected before that I was seeing hell, now I was sure of it.”7 Notice that even this lowest level, this hell, is a degree of glory — it is the first, or lowest level of heaven.
Then Ritchie, “…began to perceive a whole new realm! Enormous buildings stood in a beautiful sunny park…We seemed suddenly to have entered an altogether different dimension, almost another kind of existence…here was an all-pervading peace…It was…like some tremendous study center, humming with the excitement of great discovery…I sensed no unfriendliness between these beings, rather an aloofness of total concebtration.”8
But Ritchie, “…sensed that even this was not the ultimate…But what if even a thirst for truth could distract from the Truth Himself…And then I saw, infinitely far off…a city. A glowing, seemingly endless city…The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place, and from the beings which I could now discern moving about within it. In fact, the city and everything in it seemed to be made of light…the vision faded. Even as I cried out with loss, I knew that my imperfect sight could not now sustain more than an instant’s glimpse of this real, this ultimate heaven…now we were speeding far away.”9 Ritchie had been denied anything more than a glimpse of this third heaven, into which Paul had entered.
By contrast, Lorenzo Dow Young, brother to Brigham Young, was shown the spirit world. He recalled, “…we were at the gate of a beautiful city. A porter opened it and we passed in. The city was grand and beautiful beyond anything that I can describe. It was clothed in the purest light, brilliant but not glaring and unpleasant…My guide pointed to a mansion which excelled everything else in perfection and beauty. It was clothed with fire and intense light. It appeared a fountain of light, throwing brilliant scintillations of glory all around it, and I could conceive of no limit to which these emanations extended. Said my guide, ‘That is where God resides.’ He permitted me to enter this glorious city but a short distance.”10 Whereas Ritchie only saw this “city of light” from a distance, Young was permitted to enter, even though for only a short distance.
We are told in Alma 40:11-14 that, “Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil — for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house — and these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.”
Alma described only two states: paradise and outer darkness. However, Paul’s letter and Ritchie’s experience would suggest that there may be two levels of “paradise.” The reasoning here is that Paul states that he was caught up to the third heaven — he was not resurrected, so, as a spirit he was not experiencing that resurrected state — however, his being “caught up to the third heaven” may have been a vision rather than an actual visit. Ritchie’s spirit apparently actually visited “hell,” some middle “university-like” state, and saw a “celestial” state off in the distance.
In an October 2009 General Conference address, entitled, “Joseph Smith — Prophet of the Restoration,” Elder Tad R. Callister asked, “Many teach that there is one heaven and one hell. Joseph Smith restored the truth that there are multiple heavens. Paul spoke of a man who was caught up into the third heaven (see 2 Corinthians 12:2). Could there be a third heaven if there was no second heaven or first heaven?” He went on to state, “In many ways the gospel of Jesus Christ is like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. When Joseph Smith came on the scene, perhaps 100 pieces were in place. Then Joseph Smith came along and put many of the other 900 pieces in place so that people could say, ‘Oh, now I understand where I came from, why I am here, and where I am going.’ As for Joseph Smith’s role in the Restoration, the Lord defined it clearly: ‘This generation shall have my word through you’ (D&C 5:10).” Elder Callister did not specify whether Paul’s experience was a visit or a vision.
However, in an April 1995 General Conference address, Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated, “In their final judgment, the children of God will be assigned to a kingdom of glory for which their obedience has qualified them. In his letters to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul described these places. He told of a vision in which he was ‘caught up to the third heaven’ and ‘heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter’ (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, he described ‘celestial bodies,’ ‘bodies terrestrial’ (1 Cor. 15:40), and ‘bodies telestial’ (JST, 1 Cor. 15:40), each pertaining to a different degree of glory. He likened these different glories to the sun, to the moon, and to different stars (see 1 Cor. 15:41).” Elder Oaks was clearly referring to the resurrected state.
Then we have an October 1976 General Conference talk by Elder LeGrand Richards, “Take this as an illustration — the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. We read in the Bible that Paul (although he didn’t say it was himself) knew a man in Christ Jesus who was caught up into the third heaven — and there can’t be a third heaven without a first and a second — and such an one was caught up into paradise (and then we have a place below that!).” Indeed, Paul did say that “he was caught up into paradise.” Which would suggest the spirit world before the resurrection, according to Alma. Of course, Paul’s experience may have been both a visit to the spirit world and a vision of the resurrection yet to come. To me, it makes sense that the spirit world, between death and the resurrection, would be divided along the same lines as the conditions after the final judgement — Alma implies some sort of preliminary judgement — except that by changes that a spirit being can undergo, facilitated by Temple ordinances, a person can apparently change venues in that world of spirits.
In an earlier, October 1972 General Conference talk, Elder LeGrand Richards spoke at quite some length on this issue, “Paul was caught up into the third heaven (and there cannot be a third heaven if there isn’t a first and a second) and he was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words, ‘which it is not lawful for a man to utter.’ (See 2 Cor. 12:2–4.)”
“Let us consider then the statement made by Jesus to the malefactor: ‘To day shalt thou be with me in paradise’ (or in the world of spirits). The apostle Paul tells us that there are three heavens above the world of spirits, and Jesus said: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you … that where I am, there ye may be also.’ (John 14:2–3.)”
“The prophet Alma, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, discusses the condition of the soul between death and the resurrection, and he states this: ‘Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.’ (Alma 40:14.)”
“The world does not understand this, but if you will trust the scriptures, Jesus did not take the malefactor to heaven. He took him to the world of spirits, and there are three heavens above that, according to the Holy Scriptures. Why did he take him to paradise (the world of spirits)? It was a great gift and recognition at his hand because of what the malefactor had said on the cross.”
“Then the apostle Peter tells us where he went that day when he was crucified: ‘… he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, Which sometime were disobedient, … in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.’ (1 Pet. 3:19–20.)”
“So instead of the malefactor having to wait for years and years like those who were wicked in the days of Noah, the Savior took him with him that very day to the place where he could hear the gospel preached. Peter tells us that ‘for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’ (1 Pet. 4:6.) And that is where the malefactor went with the Savior that day, but there are three heavens above that to which Jesus did not take him.”
“You remember when the women came to the sepulcher looking for the body of Jesus and there were two angels, one at the head and one at the foot, and they said, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.’ (Luke 24:5–6.)”
“Then when the Savior spoke to Mary, she said, ‘Rabboni, which is to say, Master.’ (John 20:16.) Then he said, ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.’ (John 20:17.)”
“You see how much easier it is to understand when you read the scriptures correctly. No wonder Jesus said to the Sadducees, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures.’ (Matt. 22:29.) So that man went with Jesus that day where he could be taught the gospel, but Jesus had not yet ascended to his Father in heaven.” Elder Richards said, “…there are three heavens above the world of spirits…” He did not say that there are three heavens in the world of spirits. It is not clear to me why he made that distinction and then emphasized that Paul was caught up to the third heaven. I still think that Paul saw both the spirit world and a vision of the heaven above, which is apparently the abode of resurrected beings.
One last comment about Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: The word “reprobates” shows up three times in Chapter 13: verses 2, 6, and 7. That word did not sound to me to be of ancient origin, so I looked it up in Bible Hub and other places. According to that source (and quoting Strong’s Concordance), the Greek word was ἀδόκιμοί(adokimoi), which means “failing to pass the test, unapproved, counterfeit. By implication, worthless.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, “Reprobate” is “late Middle English (as a verb): from Latin reprobat- ‘disapproved’, from the verb reprobare, from re- (expressing reversal) + probare ‘approve’.” It goes on to say that this is an archaic word “(in Calvinism) a sinner who is not of the elect and is predestined to damnation.”
It is interesting to note that John Calvin (1509-1564), who was a French theologian, had a very strong influence over King James I of England (James VI of Scotland), who commissioned the King James Version of the Bible in 1604. James had been brought up in Scotland under the influence of Scottish Calvinist tutors, such as George Buchanan and was a lifelong doctrinal Calvinist — even though he opposed Puritan Calvinist doctrines and practices, and even some of Buchanan’s teachings.11 Therefore the term “reprobate” belongs to the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as part of the erroneous Calvinist doctrine of predestination and election — not to the first century author of the Corinthian letters.
The 8th Article of Faith states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” This is one of those places where the Bible was not translated correctly.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
1. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, as cited at biblehub.com/2_corinthians/8-2.htm; retrieved 9 September 2023
2. Beard, Mary, SPQR: a History of Ancient Rome, Liveright, New York, 2016
5. biblehub.com/2_corinthians/12-2 and 12-4.htm; retrieved 9 September 2023
6. Ritchie, George G., with Elizabeth Sherrill, Return from Tomorrow, Shire Books, Old Tappan, NJ, 1978, p. 59-64
7. Ibid p. 64
8. Ibid p. 68-69
9. Ibid p. 70-73
10. Crowther, Duane S., Life Everlasting, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, UT, 2017
11. Tudor Times Chapter 5; tudortimes.co.uk/people/james-vi-i-life-story/james-the-kirk; retrieved 14 September 2023