Can the Greek “optasia” (e.g. in Acts 26:19 “heavenly vision”) easily denote a physical event?

  • Question

    We read

    • Acts 26:19-20“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

    Can the Greek in a verse like this, translated “vision,” denote an objective mind-independent seeing, like standard physical angelic appearances, rather than a non-physical one? That is to say: linguistically, can a verse like Acts 26:19 easily (without strain) denote an objective mind-independent seeing, rather than a non-physical one localized in Paul’s mind?

“Yes, after all…
  • “Optasia” is usually physical

    Examples where “vision” (optasia) denotes a physical and supernatural event abound. In the New Testament, it is more often physical than not, where the term (optasia) is used these five times in total:

    • Lk 1:22 applies it to Zechariah's encounter with an angel physically next to the alter of incense.
    • Lk 24:23 applies it to the women’s seeing the angels physically standing at the empty tomb.
    • Acts 1:3 applies it (a cognate: optanomai) to Jesus presenting himself alive over 40 days, “with many convincing proofs”, in a context where the author was making clear Jesus physically interacted with them.
    • Acts 26:19 is the verse under consideration.
    • 2 Cor 12:1 does not say whether the visions were intra-mental or extra-mental.1
    1. One might cite the following example that Paul gives as a template, but Paul says there that he is unsure of its physicality (v2 “whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know.”) If it was in his body, it was not a vision but rather a revelation. And in fact, if Paul was taken to heaven in his spirit, he may consider that a revelation as well (rather than a vision).
  • v13 says “we had all fallen to the ground.”

    Given that this vision (optasia) is a reference to Jesus's appearing, it is also, inevitably, a physical appearance since the author of Acts is clear in reporting that Paul said it was physical. He said in the immediate context that the light shone all around them and that “we had all fallen to the ground” (in verse 13). This is relevant because if Paul and the author of Acts are competent users of Greek, then we can expect that a physical appearance like this can be properly called an optasia.