“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
—The Apostle Paul, Colossians 2:8
Although defying exact definition because the practices and experiences of mystics are so various and mysterious, one dictionary defines mysticism as, “the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation and love.”  Note that in contrast to God revealing Himself in Scripture, mystical truth is individually, intimately, and immediately intuited through spiritual experiences.
In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identified four main characteristics of mystical experience: first, ineffability; second, noetic quality; third, transiency; and fourth, passivity.  James also notes that absorption, fusion, or union of the individual into the Absolute, or deity, is “the great mystic achievement.” He adds, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.”  On this point, James apparently suggested a fifth characteristic of mysticism—absorption.
There are those who speak of “Christian mysticism” and assert that the apostle Paul was a mystic.  From his epistles, they cite his experience, that of going to Paradise, and his condition, that of being “in Christ,” as evidences of his mysticism. For this reason, it is incumbent upon Bible believers to understand what Paul was saying about his experiences.
To determine if Paul was a mystic, analysis shall be offered regarding the incident of his being carried to “the third heaven,” and his state of being “in Christ.” The apostle’s experience and spiritual state shall be evaluated according to William James’ five characteristics of mystical experiences to determine whether or not Paul was a mystic. We note first the two primary New Testament references causing some to deduce that the apostle was a mystic.
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