I suppose you could quibble with my title a bit, because Paul did technically share his story about being caught up into the third heaven. But it took him 14 years and he only told it when he was “acting the fool” in order to rattle the Corinthians back into a Christ focus. So why?
Consider the situation that Paul faced. At Corinth a group of false teachers were winning the affections of the Corinthians, and they were doing it through bragging about ecstatic experiences and visions and such. It was important for their faith that they adhere to Paul’s gospel (the biblical gospel) instead of this false gospel being pimped by the prosperity goons. And Paul had a story which could trump everyone of their stories. So what does he do? He tells his story (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) but prefaces his story by saying “there is nothing to be gained by it.” And then he shares it as if the thing didn’t even happen to him.
To Paul “visions and revelations” were not beneficial for either establishing or edifying the local church. He had this amazing story about going to heaven and being in the very presence of God, and he did not share it. I suppose he could have shared it in a few local church contexts. But this is the only place where Paul speaks of his visions and revelations and this trip to heaven. This is certainly the first time that the Corinthians had heard the story. I’ll be as generous as I can here. Though it’s possible that this heavenly trip had zero impact on his ministry, we have to at least say that it had a minimal impact on his ministry.
That is telling. And it’s important to note the reason why Paul didn’t share this story. It is because Christianity is the most falsifiable religion in the world, and God intends to keep it that way. Or to put it another way, Christianity is not founded upon ecstatic personal experiences and God intends to keep it that way.
In this regard Christianity is quite unique. Mormonism depends upon the testimony of Joseph Smith (and maybe the 11 other elders). Those golden plates were given back to the angel. You can’t dig them up. Islam is founded upon the testimony of Mohammed. He alone had the words given to him in that cave. You cannot necessarily prove that it is true. We could go on and on with about every major world religion. Christianity is unique. Find bones in Jerusalem that belong to Jesus Christ and the whole thing is a sham. It’s not dependent upon some person’s personal ecstatic experience.
This is why Paul didn’t share his trip to heaven story. And, frankly, it’s why we should be far more cautious with saying things like “God told me” or having a local church structured around a “vision” that God has given a pastor or a group of people. Again, personal ecstatic and unverifiable encounters are not the stuff of the New Testament. Christianity is a put-it-under-the-microscope type of faith.
Notice what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:6, “But I refrain from [boasting about my trip to heaven], so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.” Do you see what Paul is doing? He is saying, “I’m only going to boast in what you see Christ doing in my life (verifiable) or the gospel I preach (verifiable).”
The Spirit loves the light. He loves truth. The gospel isn’t afraid of the microscope. If the foundation of your faith isn’t something verifiable then it’s something different than what Paul preached. I’m not necessarily saying that dreams, visions, etc. don’t happen. (That’s a different topic for a different day). But what I am saying is that if we are to follow Paul (as he followed Christ) then we’re not going to give such things much weight. They aren’t needed for establishing or edifying the church.
This article originally appeared here.