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It's an intriguing question we have raised before. The implications, if true, would be substantial.

Might the great Saint Paul -- who wrote a good portion of the New Testament -- have had a near-death experience?

There really is no final evidence. Researchers have been made to ponder it, however, and at least speculates that Paul -- who mentions knowing a "man" who was raised up from his body "to the third Heaven" -- may have been alluding to himself: that his experience referred, perhaps, to what transpired when he was stoned and left for dead in Lystra or to the great light on the road to Damascus (which led to his famous conversion).

"This is certainly not enough to stake a claim that Paul had a near-death experience," says Nancy Evans Bush, who heads a leading near-death research organization and is a student of the Bible. "What lends support to that belief are his later writings. Paul confessed in Second Corinthians of having 'visions and revelations of the Lord' that are strongly evocative of near-death experiences. Speaking about himself, he says: 'I know a person 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 such a person -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows -- was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.' In this passage, Saint Paul repeats himself, much the way contemporary experiencers do when describing what they went through. He complains about the impossibility of explaining the experience in words. And he admits to the strong possibility of an out-of-body experience."

Indeed, those who allegedly glimpse eternity during episodes at the brink of clinical death often tell of leaving their bodies and discovering truth of their lives and their missions (insights they are caused to forget upon return to earth -- disallowed from remembering and thus telling others, apparently because doing so would compromise the test of life).

The Light Saint Paul encountered on that road seems remarkably like a great light that is so described by the thousands who have reported such episodes.

Like Paul, they undergo massive conversion (henceforth focused on serving others and disdaining materialism).

In this vein, one might also wonder (when it comes to the afterlife and visions):

What about the visions of Ezekiel?

What about the descriptions of jewel-like structures in Revelation that are so similar to what is reported from alleged near-death glimpses of Heaven?

The problem with many near-death experiences is that they convey a scenario that lacks eternal punishment, as if sin isn't that big a deal, or they frame it otherwise in a context that's New Age.

Thus, we have to discern each case and exercise caution.

It all remains a presumption. But like near-death experiencers, Paul came back with the central message of love being paramount and, like experiencers, he lost his fear of dying.

"Ironically," stated Bush, "it is Saint Paul himself who asked rhetorically the much-quoted line about the sting of death. In First Corinthians, he described to his readers the mystery of death. He said that we shall not sleep but be changed. Later in the same verse he went on to say that when human beings put on immortality, 'then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, where is thy victory? Where O death is thy sting.'"

[Resources: The Other Side; see also Michael Brown retreats: Florida: afterlife, healing, prophecy and San Antonio, Corpus Christi]

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