Looks like they can't make up their mind what it means....
(Paul was talking about himself)
*** Watchtower 2000 7/15 p. 27 Persecution Sparks Growth in Antioch ***
Another event that seems to date to this period is described at 2 Corinthians 12:2-5. Saul said: ?I know a man in union with Christ who, fourteen years ago was caught away to the third heaven, into paradise, and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.? Apparently, Saul was talking about himself. Since he wrote this in about 55 C.E., 14 years earlier would take us back to 41 C.E., in the middle of the "silent years."
(Paul is talking about the JW congregation)
*** Watchtower 1970 12/15 pp. 767-768 Questions from Readers ***
? What is the "third heaven" and "paradise" to which 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4 refers??R. B., U.S.A.
At 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 the apostle Paul describes one who was "caught away . . . to the third heaven" and "into paradise." Since there is no mention in the Scriptures of any other person having had such an experience, it seems likely that this was the apostle Paul?s own experience. Whereas some have endeavored to relate Paul?s reference to the "third heaven" to the early Rabbinical view that there were stages of heaven, even a total of "seven heavens," this view finds no support in the Scriptures.
When we examine the context, it becomes apparent that the apostle is not referring to the heavens within earth?s atmospheric expanse or to outer space. The apostle wrote: "I shall pass on to supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in union with Christ who, fourteen years ago?whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know; God knows?was caught away as such to the third heaven. . . . he was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak."?2 Cor. 12:1-4.
It therefore appears that the reference to the "third heaven" relates to the spiritual heavens and indicates the superlative degree of the rapture in which this vision was seen. In this regard, one can note the way words and expressions are repeated three times at Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 21:27, John 21:15-17 and Revelation 4:8, evidently for the purpose of expressing an intensification of the quality or idea.
Caught away to the "third heaven," the vision-viewer entered "paradise" and heard unutterable words. A key to understanding Paul?s description of the vision is found in the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures that relate to the restoration of God?s ancient people. Throughout many of the prophetic books of the Bible divine promises are found regarding the restoration of Israel from the lands of its exile to its desolated homeland. God would cause that abandoned land to be tilled and sown, to produce richly and to abound with humankind and animalkind; the cities would be rebuilt and inhabited and people would say: "That land yonder which was laid desolate has become like the garden of Eden."?Ezek. 36:6-11, 29, 30, 33-35; compare Isaiah 51:3; Jeremiah 31:10-12; Ezekiel 34:25-27.
However, these prophecies also show that paradise conditions related to the people themselves. By faithfulness to God, they could now "sprout" and flourish as "trees of righteousness," enjoying beautiful spiritual prosperity like a "well-watered garden," showered by bounteous blessings from God due to having his favor. (Isa. 58:11; 61:3, 11; Jer. 31:12; 32:41) The people of Israel had been God?s vineyard, his planting, but their badness and apostasy from true worship had caused a figurative ?withering away? of their spiritual field, even before the literal desolation of their land took place.?Compare Exodus 15:17; Isaiah 5:1-8; Jeremiah 2:21.
Thus the paradise envisioned by the apostle Paul could refer to a spiritual state among God?s people, as in the case of fleshly Israel. This can be seen from the fact that the Christian congregation was also God?s "field under cultivation," his spiritual vineyard, rooted in Jesus Christ and bearing fruit to God?s praise. (1 Cor. 3:9; John 15:1-8) As such it had replaced the nation of Israel in God?s favor.?Compare Matthew 21:33-43.
Paul?s vision, nevertheless, must logically have applied to some future time. An apostasy was due to set in among the Christian congregation, was already working in Paul?s day, and would result in a condition like that of a field oversown with weeds. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29; 2 Thess. 2:3, 7; compare Hebrews 6:7, 8.) So, Paul?s paradise vision would not reasonably apply while such was the case. Rather, it would evidently relate to the time of the "harvest season" when the genuine Christians would be gathered by the angelic reapers and would enjoy rich blessings and spiritual prosperity from God.
The anointed footstep followers of Jesus Christ who are living today are indeed enjoying a spiritual paradise, as can be seen from the spiritual prosperity now evident among them. In fact, the spiritual prosperity today under God?s established kingdom is more glorious than that enjoyed during the apostolic days, the initial period of Christianity. Sharing in today?s spiritual prosperity are the "great crowd" of "other sheep" who look forward to enjoying a literal paradise here on the earth in the near future.?Rev. 21:1-4.
(Paul was talking about himself)
*** Watchtower 59 2/1 pp. 69-70 Paradise ***
"He was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak."?2 Cor. 12:4.
WHEN something as grand and lovely as an Oriental Persian garden has been revealed by the fulfillment of divine prophecy, then it becomes lawful and timely for us to speak about it. Man can then speak about it with certainty, upon the solid ground of plain facts. Today, after nineteen centuries from when the apostle Paul mentioned it to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Greece, we can speak understandingly about the wonderful thing revealed to him. When submitting proof to the Corinthian Christians that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul said:
2 "I have to boast. It is not beneficial, but I shall pass on to supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in union with Christ who, fourteen years ago?whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know; God knows?was caught away as such to the third heaven. Yes, I know such a man?whether in the body or apart from the body, I do not know, God knows?that he was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak. Over such a man I will boast, . . . I shall not be unreasonable, for I shall say the truth . . . just because of the excess of the revelations."?2 Cor. 12:1-7.
3 Fourteen years before Paul wrote those words would fall about the year 41 (A.D.), or at least five years after he was converted from Judaism to Christianity by means of a miraculous vision in which he saw some of the blinding glory of the resurrected Jesus Christ in heaven. Telling about it before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa II and others in the stately group of people in the official audience chamber in Caesarea, Paul solemnly said:
4 "Amid these efforts as I was traveling to Damascus with authority and a commission from the chief priests, I saw at midday on the road, O king, a light beyond the brilliance of the sun flash from heaven about me and about those traveling with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground I heard a voice say to me in the Hebrew language: ?Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? To keep kicking against the goads makes it hard for you.? But I said: ?Who are you, Lord?? And the Lord said: ?I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Nevertheless, rise and stand on your feet. For to this end I have made myself visible to you, in order to choose you as an attendant and a witness both of things you have seen and things I shall make you see respecting me? . . . Wherefore, King Agrippa, I did not become disobedient to the heavenly sight, but both to those in Damascus first and to those in Jerusalem, and over all the country of Judea, and to the nations I went bringing the message that they should repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance."?Acts 26:12-20.
5 That vision was no daydream, no mere imagination or hallucination. It was so true that Paul took it most seriously and did not disobey its message to him. For proving obedient to the vision to the end of his life he died a martyr?s death. Equally so, Paul wrote in all seriousness about the supernatural visions and revelations that the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven gave to him. We may be sure, then, of one thing: We are not wasting time with a mere hallucination when we consider the supernatural vision to which the man personally known to Paul was caught away, to see paradise and hear unutterable words, which it was not then lawful for a man to speak. Rather we are using time to come to an understanding.
6 The man favored with such a supernatural vision was doubtless the apostle Paul himself, for no one else has told us about this experience that happened about A.D. 41. Paul, however, was not the only man to whom Jesus Christ made a disclosure about a paradise. Well before Paul became a Christian there was a man to whom Jesus spoke about paradise. This occurred in the year 33 (A.D.), on the Jews? Passover day, at Calvary, outside the walls of Jerusalem.