Mystic or Sarcastic? Visions and Revelations in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Part 1
Many moons ago I suggested that the account of Paul's vision in 2 Corinthians 12 might not be 100% sincere but may in fact have been sarcasm or irony. At the end of last year I revisited this idea with a paper for ANZABS (Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies) and have become more convinced that this reading deserves consideration. The argument is far from complete at present. I suggest research needs to be done into the use of irony in Greek rhetoric and into accounts of visions in contemporary literature, and my own exegetical work is only cursory, however my hunch is that this further work would serve to confirm my thesis.
The question arose for me whilst researching 1 Corinthians a couple of years ago when I came across an article by Jorunn Økland, a Norwegian theologian at the university of Oslo. She compared Paul’s understanding of the self in 1 Cor 15 with that of 2 Cor 12 and commented. “2 Corinthians 12 presents us with the nice taxonomies and sorted worldviews of 1 Corinthians 15 starting to dissolve and collapse when confronted with Paul's own boundary breaking experience. For how can Paul - and modern interpreters - mediate and negotiate his experience within the parameters of the taxonomy that the experience exceeds?" *
If this Paul had this incredible experience 14 years ago, how is it that he did not incorporate it into his anthropology and cosmology of 1 Corinthians? My studies in 1 Corinthians had convinced me of Paul’s commitment to somatic Christianity, rooted in physical reality, relationships and ethics of bodily life – this passage seemed to undermine that with its description of a potentially out-of-body experience. Surely when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians this extraordinary experience should left its mark on his theology? What could be a reason for this inconsistency? One possible reason would be that Paul did not have such a vision as 2 Cor 12 describes, but he is in fact using irony to mock his opponents. I will develop my argument for this in subsequent posts but for now I simply want to point out how unlike any of Paul's other recounted spiritual experiences is the vision of 2 Cor 12.
* Økland, Jorunn, “Genealogies of the Self: Materiality, Personal Identity, and the Body in Paul's Letters to the Corinthians” in Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity, Seim & Økland (eds), (New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2009) 83-108, p101