Glenn expends considerable energy arguing that Paul's vision in 2 Cor 12 is not an "out-of-body" experience. He makes some good points. However, revisiting this chapter while reading a stimulating article by Jorunn Økland, (you can see it here) I had an idea that maybe Paul's tortured Greek and almost incoherent ramblings here may not infact be him giving in to boasting out of necesity but might in fact be him taking the mickey out of the super apostles by sarcastically imitating the way they describe their visions. Now I haven't read much on 2 Cor so I don't know if anyone has suggested this before, but here is my suggested reading.
12:1 Paul appears to concede the need to boast in order to show that he is as good as the super apostles, despite his sustained, impassioned and coherent defence of his ministry in the previous two chapters. He says that now "I will go on to visions and revelations in the Lord." After his impresive list of sufferings in the previous chapter we might well expect a similar list of spiritual experiences described in detail to impress us.
12:2 Instead Paul writes "I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago. . ." While this has often been attributed to Paul's modesty such sudden self effacement makes little sense in the context where he is in the act of defending his ministry and has just been extolling his virtues for the previous two chapters. As Glenn points out the rather vague, "whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows" actually appears next in the Greek text, breaking up the sentence which ends with "was caught up into the third heaven." Now the phrase "whether in or out" makes such a mess of the sentence that most translators rearrange the sentence to force it to make some sort of sense. You have to do that if Paul is talking about himself, but if he is actually talking about the false teachers and then interupts his sentence to insert one of their standard catchphrases, then suddenly this makes sense as a caricature of a reported vision by a visionary false teacher. In other words this is Pauline comedy as he "takes off" his opponents. This would be a big leap if it was only used once, but appearing twice in short succession (12:3) it seems reasonable to argue that Paul is giving a clear signal of some sort to his readers. There seems no other good reason for him to repeat such an unhelpful and vague sentence.
12:4 Contains another enigma that cannot be explained if Paul describing his own vision. If Paul is really claiming to be the recipient of a unique vision that cannot be shared with others and is using that to argue for his own apostolic status he 1) sounds more like a proto-gnostic superapostle than the apostle Paul who never seemed to be shy about using words to explain anything (see Romans or 1 Cor 15 for example), and 2) plays right into the hands of the super apostles who would have had many more and more impressive visions than that which Paul describes. (for an example of an impressive vision check out Revelation!) If however Paul is ridiculing the superapostles, the very fact that they cannot describe the content of their revelation shows how vaccuous and silly their revelations really are. For Paul the Gospel is something that can be shared and proclaimed, not a mystical secret that only the visionaries get let in on.
12:5 "On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses." This sentence confirms to the reader that Paul has been "boasting" on the behalf of the super apostles, but what he has really done is shown how silly and incoherent and useless their visions and revelations really are. His boasting on their behalf is purely sarcastic. They don't really know what has happened (in the body or out) and they cannot explain their meaning or relevance (not to be told or repeated).
12:6 In 12:6 Paul switches back to the first person. Speaking now for himself he suggests that he could truthfully boast but that he does not. So if 12:2-5 does describe his own vision he is now lying by suggesting that he didn't boast. Under this reading of course Paul is no liar, but was caricaturing another person, or people, and their claims of revelatory visions. Instead Paul admits that he could legitimately boast about revelations but chooses not to because he does not want to be judged by his revelations (which may well trump those of his opponents) but by the quality of his service among them (12:6).
12:7-10 Paul wants the Corinthians to learn to judge apostles based on the evidence of their words and deeds not their ability to recount extraordinary spiritual experiences. Instead Paul boasts how, rather than an out of body "spiritual" experience, he has been blessed by God with an in-the-flesh physical experience that has kept him humbled and reliant on God's grace (12:7-9), not his own spiritual acheivements. Paul's conclusion is that if he will be forced to boast, which he does through chapters 10-12 then it will be of the things that show how weak he is and how in need of God grace. Even this boasting is almost too much for Paul's humility, as he expresses in 13:1 "I have been a fool, you forced me to it!" They forced him to commend himself, but they could not force him to commend himself on the basis of his revelations or visions, only on his willingness to serve and to suffer for their sake and for the sake of Christ. That is the case, if we accept that in 12:2-5 Paul is presenting a sarcastic caricature and not an account of his own experience.
Let me know what you think :-)