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Paul's Trance - What It Says About Paul

 

Paul in Acts 22:17 speaks  in Greek of experiencing "ecstasy" in which his Jesus speaks to him. This is translated as a "trance" in English. Paul explains his Jesus spoke to Paul while he was praying at the Temple of Jerusalem. This was a few days or a couple of weeks after the Damascus-road encounter. Paul's Jesus in this "ecstasy" -- this trance -- tells Paul not to try to see the 12 apostles, as Paul was planning to do to tell them of the amazing wonder of "Jesus" appearance to him outside Damascus. Instead, Paul's Jesus tells Paul to leave Jerusalem immediately because the 12 will not believe Paul truly met the real Jesus. (Why was "this" Jesus worried? Could he not speak to the 12 just as he supposedly had done with Paul? But we digress.)

What is a trance? In Greek, it is the word "ekstasis." Our English word "ecstasy" derives from it. In Greek, it literally means to "stand outside oneself."  ("Ecstasy," Wikipedia.) Its Greek meaning is explained in the CTI Textbook for psychology students entitled Hallucinations: A Practical Guide to Treatment and Management (2016):  

Esstasy (or ekstasis) from the Ancient Greek ek-stasis, is a subjective experience of total involvement of the subject, with an object of his or her awareness. Because total involvement with an object of our interest is not our ordinary experience since we are ordinarily aware also of other objects, the ecstasy is an example of altered state of consciousness characterized by diminished awareness of other objects or total lack of awareness of surroundings and everything around the object. [Link.]

An ecstasy in its Greek meaning fits the modern clinical definition of hallucination. This is because it is a subjective experience without external stimuli. In our scientific era, it would be dismissed as self-communication that has no divine or demonic source. But we are Christians, and we believe divine communication is possible. But would God speak by an ectasy -- a trance?  The answer is NO! Only the pagan prophets and diveners of false gods did so.

Before Paul, A Trance Is How Pagan gods Alone Communicated

But in Paul's era, an ecstasy was the way pagans received inspired messages - by ecstasias -- from both gods and friendly demons. However, it was NOT the means God Yahweh used to speak with Hebrew prophets. In Aaron Milavec's work The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (2003), he explains: 

"In the ancient world, pagan prophets spoke in ecstasy -- thereby signaling that a god had taken over the faculties of his / her messengers. Contemporary studies of the Hebrew prophets have not yielded any agreement as to whether ecstasy was a normal part of the observable behavior of the prophets. R. Wilson: 324.)."

The 2016 textbook on Halluctionations quoted above explains the meaning of hallucination in our modern view, although such term 'hallucination' did not exist in Paul's era:  

A hallucination, in the broadest sense of the word, is a perception in the absence of a stimulus. In a stricter sense, hallucinations as defined as perceptions in a conscious and awake state in the absence of external stimuli which have qualities of real perception, in that they are vivid, substantial, and located in external objective space. The latter definition distinguishes hallucinations from related phenomena of dreaming, which does not involve wakefulness;  illusion, which involves distorted or misinterpreted real perception; imagery, which does not miimic real perception and is under voluntary control; and pseudohallucination, which does not mimic real perception, but is not under voluntary control. [Link.]

Hence, Paul experienced what modern science would say was an hallucination, but in Paul's era is how pagan gods -- not Yahweh -- spoke "inspired" messages to their pagan followers.

Sabine-Baring Gould in A Study of St. Paul, His Character & Opinions (1897) at 118 wrote about this ecstasy that Paul's experienced as follows:

"At this point, just before starting for Antioch, Paul fell into an ecstasy, and in this condition received a mysterious communication from on high."

The ecstasy-trance came at the Temple of Jerusalem when Paul ran there to share with the 12 the amazing appearance of "Jesus" to Paul outside Damascus. Baring-Gould explains:

Paul fell into a trance, while praying in the Temple. He saw Christ who said: 'Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive your testimony concerning me." These words certainly intimate mistrust as to the fidelty of facts in Paul's statement relative to his commission received in a vision." Id., at 122.

That is Paul's Jesus predicted Paul's version of facts about "Jesus'" appearance to Paul, if delivered to the 12, would be rejected by the 12. Rather than Paul's Jesus telling that he, Jesus, would appear again to the 12 with Paul, or some other means of endorsement, Paul's Jesus tells him to run and "make haste" to leave without ever seeing the 12 for the mere fear the 12 won't believe Paul met the true Jesus.

Please realize the apostles at Jerusalem and Bishop James were at a gate daily at the Jerusalem Temple. Paul was merely a few yards from them when told to, in effect, run away by Paul's Jesus.

Then Baring Gould says Paul's varying account before Agrippa and others about the Damascus-road experience involved inconsistencies that Paul's Jesus' prediction would have to come true  -- the twelve would never trust Paul's words alone. We read on page 122:

 

Baring Gould then says Paul lets us know  things never changed with the 12 -- they never approved Paul. For Paul admits he did not receive any acknowledgment from men of his apostleship, including the 12 - Paul insisting his approval only came from Christ - page 124:

 

Trace Evidence of Continuing Non-Acceptance of Paul

Further, in Romans 15, Paul speaks of persecution by those who are "disobedient" in Judea, and his seeking to bring a cash gift to Jerusalem, yet seeks prayer from the Romans that his "ministration" (cash gift) will be "acceptable to those in Jerusalem."  Paul writes:

30 Now I beseech you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;

31 that I may be delivered from them that are disobedient in Judaea, and that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints; (Romans 15:30-31, ASV.)

Hence, evidently, Paul was anticipating opposition from the leadership in Judea. They might not accept the gift to the Jerusalem church he was bringing from the Gentile churches.

Please note, Paul is not talking about bringing an offering for the poor at the Temple which is always beyond rejection. It simply goes into the poor box, and no one can say no to the offering. Instead, Paul was specifically talking about an offering to the Jerusalem church and its leaders. Paul anticipated some controversial issue might prevent its acceptance, which would never be an issue if the money were intended as a Temple offering.

And Paul's fear proved to be a valid one.  It was Apostle John's direction  that missionaries from Jerusalem should give charity to the "strangers" (Gentiles), but do as earlier missionaries did among the "strangers" (Gentiles). They took no money from the Gentiles. "For the name's sake [God's sake], they [i.e., earlier missionaries] went forth, taking nothing from the Gentiles."(3 John 1:5, 7 KJV.) John was urging the last crop of missionaries to the Gentiles to follow that same practice.

Implicitly, at the earlier time of Paul's Gentile Offering, Apostle John would have not accepted Paul's offering to the Jerusalem Church as a body. For to do so would be contrary to the principles of those sent out from Jerusalem to evangelize Gentiles. Apostle John evidently was concerned to obey Jesus' commands to "take nothing" from those to whom you preach and teach. (Matt 10:8-10). A missionary was only supported by seeking a home of a worthy person to stay in at each town you preach within. This will be your sole means of support. See Matt 10:10. Otherwise, you can become beholden to mammon (Matt 6:24), and make the paying Gentiles your new master in preference over the Lord you must serve with unswerving dedication and loyalty. Paul thus correctly anticipated "disobedience" to Paul's gospel that included taking money from Gentile believers for preaching and teaching to them. See 1 Tim. 5:17-18.

When Paul arrived with the gift from the Gentiles, Paul no doubt was shocked by its rejection by the Jerusalem church. Paul did not know the missionary principles of Jesus upon which Apostle John and the other 11 apostles relied. How could Paul not know?

Because Paul boasted late in his career of having been"imparted nothing by" the 12 apostles (Gal. 2:6) -- relying instead upon the unspeakable "revelations" from his Jesus (2 Cor. 2:1-16). Paul began his journey with the Gentile offering hopeful that the 12 would accept the Gentile offering. However, Paul did not know that Apostle John and the others among the 12 would have a valid reason to reject the Gentile offering. The 12 in rejecting it would simply be obeying Matt 10:10. The twelve knew that the elders who preach and teach are not entitled to a "double honor" of payment for their services from the Gentile congregants, unlike what Paul taught in 1 Tim. 5:17-18. The church's leaders cannot grow in wealth by taking offerings from anyone. Had they accepted the Gentile offering from Paul, it would have been approving a wrong practice of collection from the Gentiles employed by Paul.

Hence, the 12 were duty-bound, by the words of Christ, to reject the Gentile offering that Paul laid at their feet.

No doubt the manner to tell Paul "no" was done politely. The money could have then gone instead to the Temple as an offering for the poor. In such case, there is then no self-aggrandizement of the church at Jerusalem. This is likely what happened to the Gentile offering which Paul brought. But this is not what Paul intended from the beginning. Paul was intending to score points using someone else's money, only to learn that the 12 apostles would not accept it. Ironically,  the very reason for doing so was that, as Jesus warned, it might make the 12 beholden to Paul or the Gentiles whom he served.

Is A Trance Mentioned in Hebrew Equivalent in OT?

In the Original Testament, Balaam - the true prophet who later turns into a false prophet - had an experience which was translated in the Septuagint as "ecstasy". However, the "ecstasy" terminology is not supported in the original Hebrew, so says Faussett Brown, citing Numbers 24:4, and 16. Here is an excerpt from the Faussett-Brown dictionary entry on "Trance" that explains this translation background of the Hebrew relating to Balaam :

Greek ekstasis (Numbers 24:4; Numbers 24:16). Balaam "fell" (into a trance is not in the Hebrew) overpowered by the divine inspiration, as Saul (1 Samuel 19:24) "lay down naked (stripped of his outer royal robes) all that day and all that night." God's word in Balaam's and Saul's cases acted on an alien will and therefore overpowered the bodily energies by which that will ordinarily worked. Luke, the physician and therefore one likely to understand the phenomena, alone used the term.

...Paul in trance received his commission, "depart far hence unto the Gentiles."

 

The KJV follows the Septuagint error in Numbers 24:4 and Numbers 24:16, inserting "trance" to explain Balaam's experience. But the NIV properly corrects it both times to merely say "sees a vision... falls prostrate and whose eyes are opened." (See Num 24:4 both KJV & NIV; Numbers 24:16 both KJV and NIV.) This was exactly what Faussett-Brown said was a necessary correction to these passages in Numbers.

Why is Saul's experience discussed under "trance" for no translation uses that word under 1 Sam. 19:24? It appears Saul's experience is mentioned by Faussett-Brown to show that possibly Saul's nakedness reflected a lack of consciousness while prophesying outloud. But (a) this is not called a "trance" even in the Septuagint, and (b) Saul was conscious when prophesying out loud, and hence not in an ecstasy which is only about the receiving a message in one's mind while disengaged from the world, including speaking to others. See 1 Sam. 19:24 at Bible.hub. 

Impact on How To Read Acts 10.

Given this background, then notice Peter in Acts 10 has a "trance" too -- subsequent to Paul's trance (even though Paul discloses it later - in Acts 22), and look at the type of content the message reputedly had -- supposedly undoing God's Law on food laws -- the distinction of whether something is clean or unclean. Faussett-Brown says: 

Acts 10:10, Peter in trance received the vision abolishing distinctions of clean and unclean,.... (link.)

 

Be aware that Peter later concludes that even though the message appeared to mean what Faussett-Brown says, it could not and did not mean this. Peter next hears from the "Holy Spirit" -- not a trance any more -- a message that redirects Peter away from the literal words spoken in the trance to a wholly different goal - to visit with Cornelius: 

 

17 Now while Peter was much perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate, 18 and called and asked whether Simon, who was surnamed Peter, were lodging there. 19 And while Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20 But arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting: for I have sent them. 21 And Peter went down to the men, and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? 22 And they said, Cornelius a centurion, a righteous man and one that feareth God, and well reported of by all the nation of the Jews, was warned of God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words from thee. 23 So he called them in and lodged them. (Acts 10:17-23 ASV.)

Notice the Holy Spirit never confirms the content of the trance. After this direct message from the Holy Spirit, Peter surmizes independent from any blunt message from the Holy Spirit that the prior message in a trance really meant to be directed at accepting Gentiles, and not regard them as "unclean" as was a tradition -- not a Law. God thereby intervened to protect Peter from what was a false message in a "trance" -- as ecstasy is never a means of communication that the true God ever uses.

What is interesting is God does so without telling Peter the trance was false; the Holy Spirit merely directs Peter to contemplate a different meaning to the message other than a literal one. Perhaps God is testing us once more to read carefully this account, and to recognize Peter's trance message reflected "apostasy" if it was meant literally -- proof of a false prophecy in Deut 13:1-5. God did not want to make your personal test too easy. You have to read this passage carefully, and see there is (1) an apostate trance message about the food laws; and (2) a non-apostate Holy Spirit message that is lawful about Gentiles not being unclean -- as tradition, but not the Law, said otherwise.