The Temple And The Thorn: 2 Corinthians 12 And Paul’s Heavenly Ecclesiology -- By: Jason B. Hood

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 21:3 (NA 2011)
Article: The Temple And The Thorn: 2 Corinthians 12 And Paul’s Heavenly Ecclesiology
Author: Jason B. Hood


The Temple And The Thorn:
2 Corinthians 12 And Paul’s Heavenly Ecclesiology

Jason B. Hood

Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee

Jewish and Christian beliefs and Pauline descriptions of heavenly and ecclesiological realities provide support for a possible explanation for Paul’s supernatural experience in 2 Cor 12. In this experience, Paul enters the heavenly model for the earthly temple and witnesses God and Christ enthroned and glorified in the heavenly equivalent of the holy of holies. But Paul’s ecclesiology, featuring as it does the temple nature of the church and the church’s union with Christ, suggests that he would have seen the church enthroned as well (Eph 2:6). Tendencies in NT visions also lend support to this interpretation. Various factors, when combined with Paul’s commitment to the growth of the church as the earthly manifestation of the heavenly temple, suggest a possible link between the unspecified thorn in the flesh and Paul’s cruciform, missional suffering.

Key Words: temple, heaven, vision, cruciformity, thorn, eschatology, revelations, church, ecclesiology, 2 Cor 12

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” has been the object of much speculation.1 On the other hand, commentators sometimes avoid speculating about the possible content of the visionary event (hereafter referred to as “the Event”) that led to the thorn in the flesh. Harvey is not atypical: “We cannot of course know what Paul experienced.”2 Garland posits that this mystical experience “cannot be adequately communicated to others” and thus has “no value for the church”; he follows Talbert in ascribing a private, emotional, ambiguous “devotional” benefit to this Event, akin to the private benefit one might get from speaking in tongues.3 Goulder finds that the

visionary, whom he believes to be not Paul himself but a colleague of Paul also derided by the super-apostles or elitist Corinthian believers (perhaps Timothy; cf. 1 Cor 4:14–17), “saw nothing,” which fact contributes in part to Paul’s “unenthusiastic account” of the Event.4 Baird notes, “In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is ‘commissioned’ to silence.” He precedes this quotation by noting a few of the things visible in heaven but doe...

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