Another great posting by Leolaia that illustrates the use of the word "paradise" in usage when the NT was written:
are indeed bizarre and betray an ignorance of late Jewish cosmology,
which repeatedly located Paradise in heaven (cf. Testament of Abraham 11:1-10; 4 Ezra 4:7-8; 2 Baruch 4:6, 51:7-11; Life of Adam and Eve 25:3, 42:4; compare Revelation 21-22), or specifically in third heaven (cf. 2 Enoch 8:1-7; Apocalypse of Moses 37:5).
This "Paradise" was not some vague notion of a wonderful "paradise
earth," but nothing less than the original Garden of Eden which had been
preserved in heaven, which currently exists as the abode of Enoch,
Elijah, and other OT saints, and which would be revealed as the abode of
the righteous at the end of the age. Thus we read in Jewish apocalyptic
"And the men took from there. They brought me up to the third heaven. And they placed me in the midst of Paradise. And that place has an apperance of pleasantness that has never been seen. Every tree was in full flower. Every fruit was ripe, every food was in yield profusely; every fragrance was pleasant. And the four rivers were flowing past with gentle movement, with every kind of garden producing every kind of good food. And the tree of life is in that place, under which the Lord takes a rest when the Lord takes a walk in Paradise. And that tree is indescribable for pleasantness of fragrance" (2 Enoch 8:1-3).
"And he shall open the gates of Paradise; he shall remove the sword that has threatened since Adam, and he will grant the saints to eat of the tree of life. The spirit of holiness shall be upon them, and Beliar shall be bound by him" (Testament of Levi 18:10-12).
"To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God....I saw the holy city, and the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven...Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb [in heaven] and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street. On either side of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are the cure of the pagans" (Revelation 2:7; 21:2; 22:1-2).
he shall take from Beliar the captives, the souls of the saints; and he
shall turn the hearts of the disobedient ones to the Lord, and grant eternal peace to those who call upon him. And the saints shall refresh themselves in Eden; the righteous shall rejoice in New Jerusalem, which shall be eternally for the glorification of God" (Testament of Dan 5:11-12).
light of this well-attested concept in the contemporary literature, it
is clear that Paul is here describing a vision involving a rapture into
heaven, witnessing the indescribable things of Paradise -- a rapture
rather reminiscent of that of Enoch who was taken up into heaven in the
body, but who was "extracted from his earthly clothing" when he entered
the highest heaven (2 Enoch 22:8). It is not necessary to interpret 2 Corinthians 12 as referring to a vision of the future since the Paradise of Eden continues to exist in heaven before the throne of God.
As to whether Paul was referring to himself or someone else in the passage in 2 Corinthians 12, it is true he prefaces the vision by saying "I know a man in Christ," but the whole experience is related within a discussion of boasting of Paul's own experiences (ch. 11), and the fact that Paul related "these revelations" (tón apokalupseón) in v. 7 to his own
physical infirmity ("the thorn in the flesh") and interpreted his
infirmity as preventing him "from getting too proud" about the visions
indicates that he was indeed referring to his own experiences. It is
generally thought that Paul's description of the vision in the third
person was a rhetorical device designed to undercut a claim that
he was boasting, since he was on the surface speaking of someone other
than himself when he was really reporting his own experiences.
Otherwise, what relevance was there about talking about someone else's
experiences in this text? He was here trying to respond to the
criticisms of his opponents, which specifically included a criticism of
"weakness" and a criticism of "ambition" (10:1-18). His "weakness" or frailty in the flesh is rationalized in 12:7-10
as a hidden benefit which prevents him from getting proud from having
"visions and revelations". He only mentions the visions to explain why
he has this "weakness" that others criticize. But he is at pains to not
boast about the visions, and talks about it in a way that distances them
from himself. For Paul, he would rather boast about his weakness than
his spiritual strengths (11:30). By doing so, he contrasts himself with the "super-apostles" opposing him who freely boast about themselves (11:12).