Was the Apostle Paul Mentally Unstable?

II Corinthians 12:1-10

I (the apostle Paul) must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29007A" data-link="(A)”>revelations of the Lord. I know a man <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29008B" data-link="(B)”>in Christ who fourteen years ago was <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29008C" data-link="(C)”>caught up to <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29008D" data-link="(D)”>the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29008E" data-link="(E)”>God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29009F" data-link="(F)”>paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29009G" data-link="(G)”>God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29011H" data-link="(H)”>except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29012I" data-link="(I)”>I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.

So <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29013J" data-link="(J)”>to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-ESV-29013a" data-link="[a]”>[a] <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29013K" data-link="(K)”>a thorn was given me in the flesh, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29013L" data-link="(L)”>a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29014M" data-link="(M)”>Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29015N" data-link="(N)”>“My grace is sufficient for you, for <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29015O" data-link="(O)”>my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29015P" data-link="(P)”>the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29016Q" data-link="(Q)”>For the sake of Christ, then, <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29016R" data-link="(R)”>I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For <sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29016S" data-link="(S)”>when I am weak, then I am strong.

Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary:

There can be no doubt the apostle speaks of himself. Whether heavenly things were brought down to him, while his body was in a trance, as in the case of ancient prophets; or whether his soul was dislodged from the body for a time, and taken up into heaven, or whether he was taken up, body and soul together, he knew not. We are not capable, nor is it fit we should yet know, the particulars of that glorious place and state. He did not attempt to publish to the world what he had heard there, but he set forth the doctrine of Christ. On that foundation the church is built, and on that we must build our faith and hope. And while this teaches us to enlarge our expectations of the glory that shall be revealed, it should render us contented with the usual methods of learning the truth and will of God.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

Visions and revelations of the Lord.—It need scarcely be said that the history of the Acts is full of such visions (Acts 9:4-6; Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9; Acts 22:18; Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23). One other instance is referred to in Galatians 2:2. There is scarcely any room for doubt that this also had been made matter of reproach against him, and perhaps urged as a proof of the charge of madness. In the Clementine Homilies—a kind of controversial romance representing the later views of the Ebionite or Judaising party, in which most recent critics have recognised a thinly-veiled attempt to present the characteristic features of St. Paul under the pretence of an attack on Simon Magus, just as the writer of a political novel in modern times might draw the portraits of his rivals under fictitious names—we find stress laid on the alleged claims of Simon to have had communications from the Lord through visions and dreams and outward revelations; and this claim is contrasted with that of Peter, who had personally followed Christ during his ministry on earth (Hom. xvii. 14-20). What was said then, in the form of this elaborate attack, may well have been said before by the more malignant advocates of the same party. The charge of insanity was one easy to make, and of all charges, perhaps, the most difficult to refute by one who gloried in the facts which were alleged as its foundation—who did see visions, and did “speak with tongues” in the ecstasy of adoring rapture (1Corinthians 14:18). It may be noted as an instance of St. Luke’s fairness that he, ignorant of, or ignoring, the charge of madness that had been brought against St. Paul, does not grudge the Apostle of the Circumcision whatever glory might accrue from a true revelation thus made through the medium of a vision (Acts 10:10-11).

Gary:  The Apostle Paul was a man of visions and revelations.  He even made the assertion that everything he preached had been received by divine revelation directly from Jesus Christ.  Paul states in his epistles that he did not learn anything from the other apostles.

The questions is:  How do we know that Paul’s revelations and visions came from the All-Mighty Creator…or that Paul was simply mad and invented them in his deranged mind?  Ellicot’s commentary above demonstrates that even in his lifetime, there were Jews and Christians who thought Paul was mentally unstable or as we would say today…completely nuts.  What proof do we have today, 2,000 years later, that the people in Paul’s day who swore he was a basket case were wrong?  Paul even was on the outs with the leader of the apostles, Peter, often making belittling remarks about the Rock, upon which Christ would build his Church.

So if Paul was mad when he believed he was teleported to the Third Heaven, maybe he was equally mad when he saw and heard bright lights speaking to him on the Damascus Road.  Christians cling to Paul’s statement “have I not seen the Christ?”.  For without Paul’s statement of “seeing” Jesus, we have no other verifiable first hand testimony of anyone seeing the resurrected Jesus. 

Are there enough indications both in the writings of Paul’s critics and in his own writings to consider Paul a very non-credible witness?  To the unbiased mind, I would have to say, “yes!”.

21 thoughts on “Was the Apostle Paul Mentally Unstable?

  1. Dear Gary: I hope you are well today. A couple of thoughts.

    First, if Paul was mentally unstable, he would not had been able to distinguish reality from non-reality. Just because he could not discern whether his experience was a vision or some out-of-body experience does not demonstrate insanity. The fact his cognition was working well enough to not only attempt such distinictions, but also to write later about historical remembrances of which he clearly distinguishes, demonstrates sanity, not insanity.

    Second, the commentary is referring to remarks made by Paul's critics. Of course critics are going to say he was insane. But such remarks do not equate to an absolute diagnosis of insanity. I'm sure for example you have had those instances where you could not tell if you were dreaming or were experiencing something that was real. I'm certain it would be unfair to ascribe insanity to your assertions. Yet when you later on recall the event, you clearly are able to produce a narration of cause/effect relationships and distinguish it from your experience of the everyday world. That to me evidences a sane mind at work.

    Thirdly, is it not arbitrary to take texts about Paul's experiences as historically reliable examples of experiences by a real historical figure and draw conclusions, and yet not regard texts about Christ's resurrection and post-mortem experiences as sitting on equal footing?

    Finally, the remarks made in the post are far from neutral. There is no such thing as “neutrality”. Either one rejects the scriptures out of hand as bogus or receives them by faith for what they are: God's word. The manner in which we discern which worldview is the most effective is its explanatory power, scope, coherence and correspondance with reality. I for one don't claim neutrality, and dear friend, I don't think you can claim neutrality either.

    I must go now. Hope you have a good evening.

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  2. Hi Gary, the difference between you and Paul is that, Paul personally knew the creator of heaven and earth just like me.
    It would be good for you to personally know the God of the Bible or you will die in your sins (John 8:24).
    Kind regards Paul.

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  3. You don't have to be a babbling, drooling schizophrenic to have periods of delusions and hallucinations. Here is one point regarding Bipolar Disorder:

    Sometimes, a person with severe episodes of mania or depression has psychotic symptoms too, such as hallucinations or delusions. The psychotic symptoms tend to reflect the person's extreme mood. For example, if you are having psychotic symptoms during a manic episode, you may believe you are a famous person, have a lot of money, or have special powers. If you are having psychotic symptoms during a depressive episode, you may believe you are ruined and penniless, or you have committed a crime. As a result, people with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms are sometimes misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

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  4. Can someone be schizophrenic or schizoaffective, have episodes of delusions and or hallucinations, and other episodes of near normal behavior?

    Delusions. These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For example, you're being harmed or harassed; certain gestures or comments are directed at you; you have exceptional ability or fame; another person is in love with you; a major catastrophe is about to occur; or your body is not functioning properly. Delusions occur in as many as 4 out of 5 people with schizophrenia.
    •Hallucinations. These usually involve seeing or hearing things that don't exist. Yet for the person with schizophrenia, they have the full force and impact of a normal experience. Hallucinations can be in any of the senses, but hearing voices is the most common hallucination.

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  5. Rather than symptoms being present at a constant level, people with schizophrenia tend to experience periods of wellness interspersed with periods in which they can become very poorly indeed. Doctors refer to these periods of unwellness as “episodes”.

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  6. So you see, someone who suffers from a mental illness can be as mad as the Mad Hatter one day and completely lucid a few days later. I have no way of PROVING that Paul had a mental illness, but if someone described a patient to me that had delusions of grandeur (“I am the greatest Apostle of all”) and episodes of hearing voices (the Damascus Road) and hallucinations that he was teleported to an unheard of “Third Heaven”, I would assume that the patient is mentally ill. I would NOT conclude that the Creator is whispering secrets into his ear. If I believed this to be true regarding a patient today, YOU would question MY sanity.

    Notice, that not one other apostle attests to the apostleship of Paul in their writings. I know that someone will refer to 2 Peter, but 2 Peter was NOT written by Peter the fisherman and chief apostle. 2 Peter was considered a forgery until almost the FIFTH century.

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  7. You said, “Second, the commentary is referring to remarks made by Paul's critics.”

    Do we have any record of anyone in the first century considering Peter, James, or John as mad? No.

    And why is that Paul said that “ALL of Asia (Asian Minor-modern day Turkey) had rejected him? That would include the church at Ephesus. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus, speaking through the author, pronounces a blessing on the church in Ephesus for what? Answer: rejecting false prophets!

    According to Jesus in the Book of Revelation: Paul was a false apostle.

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  8. “Thirdly, is it not arbitrary to take texts about Paul's experiences as historically reliable examples of experiences by a real historical figure and draw conclusions, and yet not regard texts about Christ's resurrection and post-mortem experiences as sitting on equal footing? “

    Scholars believe that Paul was a real person and that at least seven of the epistles traditionally ascribed to Paul were indeed written by him, including I Corinthians and Galatians. On the contrary, we have zero evidence of who wrote the Gospels, works of literature that demonstrate massive plagiarism by two of the authors and ever increasing levels of embellishments if one reads the Gospels in the order in which they were written.

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  9. “Finally, the remarks made in the post are far from neutral. There is no such thing as “neutrality”. Either one rejects the scriptures out of hand as bogus or receives them by faith for what they are: God's word.”

    Not correct.

    Just because I do not find any good evidence to believe that the books of the Bible are inerrant and the very words of the Creator of the universe, does not mean that they cannot contain some statements of historical fact.

    The key to reading the Bible is knowing how to separate historical fact from pseudo-history, embellishments and blatant fabrications. It is NOT an either/or choice: the inerrant Word of the Creator God or a blatant lie.

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  10. I am neutral on the question of a Divine Creator. Give me evidence and I will believe. But don't ask me to believe that the Christian God, Yahweh, is the Creator God simply based on appeals to something called “faith”. I consider faith without evidence no better than the superstitions of the witch doctor and voodoo-ologist.

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  11. Paul met the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus in a dramatic way, and he never was the same after that.
    Only a man of God who really knows the Lord Jesus can write and give testimony like Paul.

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  12. Paul specifically states in Acts that all he saw was a bright light IN A HEAVENLY VISION. He tells Christians that this was not a real earthy experience, but a heavenly one, yet Christians stake their faith on the false assumption that Paul saw a resurrected body.

    If you are going to believe in the writings of men who have heavenly visions then you should believe what Mohammad and Joseph Smith wrote also. Why do you choose to believe Paul's vision and not those of Mohammad and Smith?

    Again I must ask: Why don't any of the Eleven Apostles make statements in their epistles about Paul being an apostle?

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  13. Well Gary, we all believe in the writings of men. History books for example and even the writings of visions like Joseph Smith or Mohammed as you have said. But the difference is that some of us will judge those writings whether they are authentic and whether they are of God or of the devil.

    All of us have to believe in someone, even if we believe in ourselves.
    Although I suggest that you should only believe in the Lord Jesus Christ then you can't go wrong, believe in anyone else and you will perish with them.

    You said, “Again I must ask: Why don't any of the Eleven Apostles make statements in their epistles about Paul being an apostle?”

    You seem to have a very good knowledge of the Scripture.
    By the way, what makes you not believing in the Lord Jesus?
    After all, He is the creator of heaven and earth, don't you think He knows everything best?

    Remember when Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord Jesus and after he hanged himself, there were only eleven apostles left, so they cast lots and chose Matthias. Now Matthias was man's choice cast by lot, but Paul was God's choice, the choice of the Spirit of God.
    Also there are other reasons why the Lord chose Paul; now, the twelve apostles were the foundation of the Lord's earthly Church and Paul was included with the original twelve of the foundation, but also he was to be the link in the succession of apostles who now are chosen and appointed by the Holy Spirit and not by man or clergy.

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  14. 1. What proof do you have that God chose Paul to be an apostle other than Paul's writings and those of his traveling companion, Luke?

    2. What proof do you have that the books we call the New Testament are the very words of the Creator?

    3. What proof do you have that Yahweh/Jesus is the Creator God?

    “By the way, what makes you not believing in the Lord Jesus?
    After all, He is the creator of heaven and earth, don't you think He knows everything best?”

    My answer: I no longer believe that Jesus is the Creator God because after a lot of study I find zero evidence for this belief other than four anonymous, plagiarized first century works of literature and the writings of a man named Saul of Tarsus who never met Jesus and who had a reputation among many Christians of being off his rocker.

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  15. And, why do we have zero statements from early Christians that Peter, James, John and the other disciples were liars, but not only do we have ALL THE ASIAN CHURCHES calling Paul a liar and rejecting his teachings but Paul himself must repeatedly defend himself by saying…”I am not a liar”.

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  16. Think about that: “All the churches in Asia have rejected me.”—Paul of Tarsus.

    That means Ephesus, Colosse, Tarsus, and the churches in Galatia, all ended up rejecting Paul's teachings, but Jesus himself in the Book of Revelation commends at least Ephesus for rejecting false “apostles”! Do we have record of anyone else (other than the Twelve) calling himself an apostle other than Paul?

    So if Jesus condemns Paul as a false apostle, why do you accept him as one? And why do you possess a Bible that contains the writings of a false prophet condemned by Jesus; a Bible canon selected by the Catholic Church and not by God?

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  17. Thanks Gary for saying that.
    1.Yes you are right, there are not many proofs I have for anything.
    A proof needs to have evidence and evidence needs to be believed and then it becomes 'proof', but only to those who believe.
    Now, we look around and see the marvellous creation and design of the trees, animals, nature etc. yet there are still some people who say that there is no creator (God) even though they see the evidence.
    The Bible does say, that God has made it evident that He exists in the things He has made and it has been clearly seen and understood so that they are without excuse.

    3. What proof do I have for Jesus Christ to be the Creator God of heaven and earth? Well, I like to say the Bible, but that is only acceptable for those who believe.
    But for you to have a proof, you need to meet the Lord Jesus Christ personally or have an encounter with the Lord Jesus just like Paul and I and many others and then you will never be the same again and neither will you ever ask again for a proof 🙂
    As for me, just like you, I couldn't have believed it until I met the Lord Jesus myself and that is two thousand years after He has resurrected.

    You need to believe that Jesus was resurrected on the third day and that He is alive and that He has shown Himself to numerous people throughout the centuries and also to me.
    It is possible that the Lord Jesus will also show Himself to you if you humbly ask and call upon His Name (Jesus).
    Please remember, through study the Scriptures you will never come to know the creator Jesus, you only will know ABOUT Him, but never KNOW Him.

    What proof do I have that the Bible is the Word of God?
    Perhaps, because it's the only book in the world who gives us an intelligent account of the creation of everything. But then again, it needs to be believed or it isn't a proof at all.
    As for me, before I met the Lord Jesus I was an unbeliever and a sceptic like you or Paul before the journey to Damascus, but after I was born again; I now do know the author of the Bible and don't need to have any so called 'proof'.

    You said, “Do we have record of anyone else (other then the twelve) calling himself an apostles other than Paul?”
    Perhaps, (Rom.16:7) 'Andronicus and Junias my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.'

    As I have said in my previous comment, that Paul was the last 'appointed' apostle and He was appointed by the Lord and not by man (2 Tim.1:11 and 1:1) and (1 Tim.1:1).
    Because he was chosen by the Lord, therefore he had to vigorously defend himself of his genuine apostolic ministry and that is to this very day, but he was accepted by every born again believer filled with the Holy Spirit and it was confirmed by his works and suffering.

    As you surely know, today we have many self proclaimed apostles in many denominations who love to be called 'apostles' and are not. But we and the Scripture call them 'false apostles', appointed by man and not by the Holy Spirit, and by their deeds you will know them.

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  18. None of the other apostles refer to anyone but the Twelve as being apostles. You are taking Paul's word for it. In fact, you are taking Paul's word for a lot of things that no other apostle or Jesus himself stated as fact.

    Please explain in detail how, when, and where you “met” Jesus. Did he appear in the flesh to you? Did you hear an audible voice? Did a book of Golden Plates descend from heaven and land in your lap?

    Or, did you have an incredibly intense emotional experience in which you believed you felt the presence of God? The problem is this: Millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons recount the same experiences with their gods.

    I too was Born Again…twice. Both times I was 100% sincere in my desire to believe, repent, and follow Jesus no matter what he asked me to do. Both times I had an intense rush of emotion and FELT the presence of God. And both times that intense emotion slowly faded away.

    If I said to you that I had just met the Tooth Fairy would you believe me just because I am willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that I “felt” the Tooth Fairy's presence? No. You would say that I am either lying or nuts. So why should I believe your intense feelings over your invisible, supernatural, being?

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  19. Yes, that's right Gary, none of the apostles refer to any other than the twelve as apostles. That is because they are the foundation of the Church and there are no more apostles after them who are addressed as apostles to this very day.
    The today's apostles do not have the title 'apostles', and they are discerned by the Holy Spirit which is in us and not by titles.
    The natural man is puffed up and likes to be addressed with titles and glory.

    Concerning the Bible; it seems to me that you think what Paul is saying is Paul's word.
    But no my brother, I consider the Bible to be God's Word and not Paul's word. It makes no difference whether Paul, Tom, Dick or Harry is speaking or is mentioned, it all is God's Word and is suitable for teaching and for correction in doctrine and conduct and to gain wisdom, insight and understanding in all of the true God's way which is Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Yes, you are right, there are many people with many different experiences, just as you have said, even with the Tooth Fairy, and for that reason I do not consider any experience of any value with the exception of meeting the living God Jesus Christ alone. Either we will encounter the Lord our God in salvation now, or we will meet the Lord in judgement resulting in condemnation and death.

    Also Gary, I believe that you were 100% sincere to follow Jesus.
    But why then did you stop believing in the Lord Jesus Christ?
    Wasn't He good enough to you?
    Who else can you believe and follow?
    Mohamed? Just look what he did, he was a liar, a fornicator, a deceiver and a murderer and also look at ALL of his followers, they cut off anybody's head who doesn't believe in their god.
    Jesus rightly said, 'that they can only do what they have learned from their FATHER the DEVIL!
    Is there anyone else to follow? Well, I think not.

    The Lord said, that there is not one righteous man, no, not even one.
    And that includes me and you and for that reason He was born into His own creation to reconcile us (you and me) to Himself, that is to Jesus Christ our Lord.

    I have tried many other ways including believing in myself, but it is all a waste of precious time, therefore I have committed my life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ without restraint.
    It's great! And no looking back for me 🙂

    I suggest the same for you. Let your gaze be fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Do not look to the left or to the right, do not believe in any man or any god or any church or leader or creed or what ever else, but in Jesus Christ alone and you will not be disappointed.
    Jesus Christ is the ONLY one to safely lead you through the troubles of life, that is for you and your house.

    Concerning the new birth; no man can be born again 'twice'.
    After Adam all men were born spirituality dead and for that reason Jesus said that a man must be born again.
    When a man is born again, he became alive again in the spirit and that life is 'eternal life', meaning, he can never die again (in the Spirit) or lose it, otherwise it's not eternal.
    That can only happen once to a person and not twice.
    Unless a man is born again, he cannot see or enter or function in the realm of the Spirit, because he is still dead in his sins and trespasses. He needs to have a personal new life experience and not a theory.

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