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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Rapture Ecstasy

The English word ‘rapture’ is derived from Lat. raptus, the act of seizing and carrying away, hence transport of mind or ecstasy (ἔκστασις). In classic Greek ἔκστασις means frenzy; in the NT it rarely expresses this high degree of emotion, but may include distraction of mind, caused by wonder and astonishment, or exceptional joy and rapture. In Psalms 16:11 (Septuagint ) the latter condition seems to be implied. Amongst the results of the healing of the paralytic by Christ, St. Luke tells us that ‘amazement (ἔκστασις) took hold on all’ (Luke 5:26), whilst St. Mark, in describing the effects of the Resurrection upon the minds of the women, as they fled from the tomb, states that ‘trembling and astonishment (ἔκστασις) had come upon them’ (Luke 16:8). In Matthew 12:23, Mark 2:12; Mark 6:51 the verb ἐξίσταμαι is used, also in reference to the effects upon the multitude of the bestowal of the ‘gift of tongues’ (Acts 2:7; Acts 2:12), and further of the preaching of St. Paul in the synagogues immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:21). The stronger sense of the word, translated in English as ‘trance,’ is found in the description of St. Peter’s vision of the vessel full of unclean beasts (Acts 10:10, Acts 11:5). Whilst engaged in prayer in the Temple at Jerusalem, St. Paul fell into an ἔκστασις, in which he was warned by the Lord to escape from the city (Acts 22:17-21). These references to the word do not by any means exhaust the instances of undoubted rapture or ecstasy found in the OT or the NT. When the prophets felt that the hand of the Lord was upon them, there would doubtless have been the exaltation of spirit and the entrance upon the higher transcendent experiences, accompanied more or less by a cataleptic condition of the body. Whatever the gift of tongues implied in the early Church, it certainly included the power of rapt and ecstatic utterance, sometimes incoherent and requiring interpretation (1 Corinthians 14). St. Paul claimed to possess this gift, but he placed it on a lower level than the work of instruction that tended to edification. As an instance of the second stage of trance in which the spirit is believed to make excursions into other states and come into contact with other beings in the spirit world, we may instance St. Paul’s rapture on being caught up into Paradise and hearing unutterable words. St. John in his apocalyptic vision of the Lord of Churches was in the Spirit, and he saw the Living One in all His glory, when he ‘fell at his feet as one dead’ (Revelation 1:17).

In all mystical experiences and in all great religious revivals such outbursts of rapture are especially noticeable. The bodily powers are held in abeyance, and it seems as though the soul were actively engaged in cognizing spiritual objects, as St. Teresa experienced when ‘she simply felt Christ close by her.’ F. von Hügel deals with this subject fully, and indicates the manner in which these experiences may be tested by the moral and spiritual value of their results. W. James, who works out the psycho-physical accompaniments of these states, dwells upon the authoritative value they have for the experients themselves, and shows that they tend to break down the exclusive authority of the non-mystical or rational consciousness. They are as real as their results are real, and their value is to be judged by their effects in a higher order of morals and of life.

Literature.-W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902; F. von Hügel, The Mystical Element of Religion as studied in Saint Catherine of Genoa and her Friends, 1908; Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, 1911.

J. G. James.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Rapture Ecstasy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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