The Apocalypse of Paul, or the Revelation of Paul, is a non-canonical book, purportedly written by the apostle Paul, that describes, in graphic detail, life in heaven and hell. It supposedly relates what Paul witnessed when he was caught up to the third heaven (see 2 Corinthians 12).
As the story goes, Paul wrote his revelation but was ordered to hide the manuscript beneath the foundation of a house situated in Tarsus. Tarsus was the apostle Paul’s place of birth. According to the legend, centuries after Paul’s death, an angel revealed the whereabouts of this hidden book, and, at long last, its contents were made public.
Among the many theological oddities in the Apocalypse of Paul, damned souls suffering in hell are given a day of rest each Sunday (§ 44), an angel in hell with “a great fiery razor” cuts the lips and tongues of hypocrites (§ 37), and those who did not fast properly are tortured with great thirst while “hanging over a channel of water . . . and many fruits were placed in their sight, and they were not permitted to take of them” (§ 39). For a time, the book was popular among monks, for, according to its fanciful contents, those who endured the rigors of monastic life with its hard work and spartan conditions receive greater heavenly rewards.
As to its authenticity, the Apocalypse of Paul (Latin, Visio Pauli) was unknown to the early church fathers; the manuscript was likely penned between AD 250—400, long after the canon of Scripture was closed. Augustine of Hippo labeled the writing as fraudulent (http://earlychristianwritings.com/apocalypsepaul.html, accessed 12/7/22). Scholars tend to believe the manuscript, which was condemned in the Decretum Gelasianum, a late fifth-century document reflecting the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, originated in an Egyptian monastery.
The apostle Paul did experience a brief time to heaven. Referring to himself in the third person, perhaps as an indication of personal modesty, he wrote this:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:2–4, ESV)The event described by Paul may have occurred when he was viciously attacked by a hostile mob in Lystra (Acts 14:19). Regardless, whether in the body or in spirit, the apostle was supernaturally transported to the “third heaven.” The third heaven refers to the place where God dwells. As to what the apostle saw and heard there, we do not know, for he was forbidden to share the details of this singular experience. We may assume the place where God dwells is indescribably glorious and far beyond the confines of human imagination. Paul, who had witnessed what awaits God’s people, seemed to have no fear of death (Philippians 1:21–23). He knew what awaited him in glory.
From time to time, someone outrageously claims to have visited heaven (or hell) and returned to earth. Such reports are good for television appearances and book sales, but the discerning Christian must surely ask, “If the apostle Paul was not permitted to tell of his heavenly journey, why would God allow this person to speak of such an experience?”
God has told us all we need to know about heaven in the pages of Scripture. Spurious writings, such as the Apocalypse of Paul or a bestselling book touted by modern marketers, serve only to cloud our understanding.