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Does the Bible Talk About Near-Death Experiences?

Walter Bradley points to an incident in the life of the apostle Paul in the New Testament that sounds like a near-death experience

In this week’s Mind Matters podcast, Walter Bradley and Robert J. Marks once again explored near-death experiences and their impact on how we think of ourselves as human beings. While these experiences have some elements in common, people often describe them in different ways. One subject that came up in “Walter Bradley: Biblical Accounts of Near-death Experiences” was: Are near-death experiences discussed in the Bible?


20:30 | Near-death experiences in the Bible

Robert J. Marks (right): The apostle Paul wrote much of the new Testament but there is historical evidence that Paul had a near-death experience that he actually describes in the Bible. What happened there?

Walter Bradley: Yeah, this is really interesting. If you look at 2 Corinthians, Chapter 12, Paul is describing this remarkable experience where he said, I went to third heaven and I had experiences that were so remarkable that I really can’t describe them.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows. (2 Corinthians 12:2, NIV)

Note: It is generally thought that, in this passage, Paul is referring to himself. The “I know a man who” paraphrase was a form of personal modesty in ancient times.

Robert J. Marks: Just like all of the anecdotes about the near-death experience, it was indescribable…

Walter Bradley (right): It was indescribable and it’s because he was seeing and experiencing things that don’t exist on earth and so there aren’t any words for them and so forth.

But he talks about a near death experience and you say, is that reasonable? It’s very reasonable. In the Book of Acts, there were several places, one in particular, where he was stoned to death for preaching the gospel and they dragged him out of the city walls and left him for dead, and then he… it just says he came back to life and went back into the city.

Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. – Acts 14:19–20

Robert J. Marks: It’s hard to keep a good man down, right? Even one left for dead.

Walter Bradley: Right. Even left for dead. Now, not everything that happened to Paul was recorded in the Bible because the Bible would be way too long. But there’s almost no doubt, given that he was always out preaching, being challenged, and so forth, but it’s nice that they talk about this specific example.

For further reading: Research into near-death experiences:

What if a near-death experience is a vision of hell? Oddly, even distressing near-death experiences have had positive effects, say researchers. One researcher observes at Psychology Today that the strongest predictor of a successful suicide attempt is a previous failed suicide attempt—unless the person has had a near-death experience, in which case further suicide attempts are unlikely.

Do near-death experiences defy science? NDEs do not defy science. They sometimes challenge human senses, which are based on our biology. For example, if the human eye’s usual limitations were not a factor, previously unknown colors—which we know from science to exist—might be perceived.

Why medical scientists take near-death experiences seriously now
Today, we know much more about what happens to people when they die—and what we are learning does not support materialism. Near-death experiences are generally seen as real, even among hardcore skeptics, and research focuses on how to account for them

Near-death experiences are more real than some of the research (neurosurgeon Michael Egnor) At Scientific American, we learn of an analysis that tries to link them to recreational drug highs, based only on language use. Junk science of the sort that Martone cites is an effort to explain away, rather than to explain, near-death experiences. And that will hardly help anyone involved.

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Does the Bible Talk About Near-Death Experiences?