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As he was crucified, Jesus engaged in a conversation with one of the other thieves hung along side him. At the end of that conversation is this pronouncement:

Luke 23:43 (ESV)
43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

This verse is often referenced to make a theological point about how people achieve salvation and the absence of ceremony/action in the process. However, it seems to me that most usages of the verse are based on an interpretation that uses a theological construct or doctrinal position of some kind to interpret this verse based on their larger understanding of the concepts. For example:

  • Protestants who believe salvation is entirely a work of God might say that this verse shows that Jesus’ pronouncement that this person was now heaven-bound means that he can bestow salvation on whomever he pleases without them having done any prior works or rituals. “Paradise” thus refers to Heaven and consequently salvation (admittance) is a free gift.

  • Mormons who believe that salvation is impossible without some accompanying works or rituals argue that this verse isn’t talking about heaven at all but some other realm where that person would again have a chance to do good works. Paradise is thus not heaven and the gift given was a second chance to earn admittance into heaven.

Starting with the word Greek παράδεισος and it’s original meaning and how it would have been understood in context, what can a good hermeneutical approach to this passage show us? How would the original audience have understood this usage? Then bringing in other passages to bear on the issue, what relevant related texts do we have? At what point in the process of zooming out from the text must our doctrine formed by other sources become the determining factor in how we interpret this saying?

Note that I do not think interpretation based on other clearer passages or understandings is wrong, but part of my interest in asking this is understanding where the line between that and textual analysis is drawn in this case. Is the word itself self-evident? If so why the dispute about what it means? If it’s not self-evident, when do we step back and apply other methods and what are those in this case?

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"Paradise" is a transliteration of παράδεισος, a word used only three times in the New Testament. Furthermore, the context of each of the three uses is different from the others, and by three different authors.

In 2 Corinthians 12:4 it appears to parallel or point to the term "third heaven" in verse 2. Since God is apparently immediately present there, this seems to be a reference to what we generally consider "heaven". (See the NET Bible notes on this passage as well.) However, since this passage refers to an apparent vision, it's difficult to relate directly to Jesus' statement.

In Revelation 2:7, this is given as the location of the "tree of life" - once again, what we typically believe to be an attribute of "heaven". In this case, the word is also modified by a possessive - "of God" - to differentiate it from any other paradises.

The meaning is somewhat more cloudy in Luke 23:43. First, we have to deal with Jesus' destination after death - did Jesus descend into Hell/Hades, and if so, how long did He remain there? In other words, does "paradise" refer to an understanding of Hades as a "holding area" for the dead? Or was He speaking in a sense outside space and time, and actually referring to Heaven?

As far as the original meaning of this word, the NET Bible notes provide the following definitions:

  • (Persian) A grand park or hunting preserve; enclosed, protected, well cared for, but sealed off or contained
  • A pleasure garden
  • A grove or park
  • ("Later" [?] Jews) The part of Hades set aside for the souls of the righteous until the resurrection
  • Heaven (possibly including the view mentioned above, with multiple levels of "heaven" - sky or atmosphere, outer space/universe, God's abode)
  • Eden

One critical point here is that none of the passages refer to any further work done by those in this location or state. Regardless of whether we take it as Heaven itself or a holding area for the righteous awaiting resurrection, their fate seems to be already determined. It also seems to be a place of pleasure, not torment or toil.

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  • 3
    +1: N. T. Wright comments (in nearly all the books by him I've read) that the righteous won't go to "heaven" in the Resurrection, but to a new creation, which included a new heaven and a new earth. As you suggest, one guess about what happens to the righteous before the Resurrection is that they wait in paradise. – Jon Ericson Nov 1 '11 at 20:45
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    I would add: The rabbis refer to the mystical meaning of scripture as Paradise, where the consonants are the same in Hebrew and English. Specifically it refers to the hermeneutic method of PaRDeS, refering to the four layers of interpretation. Pashat - Literal, Remez - Hints, Drash - Compare and contrast, & Sod - hidden. If Jesus was familiar with the method, or perhaps even the source of it, since the methods reveal sensus plenior, then one meaning of "This day you will be with me in Paradise" is that together they are painting another hidden esoteric picture with their lives. – Bob Jones May 28 '12 at 15:54
  • This meaning would not exclude others since there would be four layers of meaning in what he said. – Bob Jones May 28 '12 at 15:54
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Jesus' statement in Luke 23:43, as found in Luke, depicts Jesus' death as undoing the curse of Adam. It's not primarily about the afterlife or how we get into heaven.

“Paradise” (παράδεισος) is the same Greek word used in the Septuagint and the New Testament book of Revelation for the “garden” of Eden. This suggests a possible reference to the events of Genesis 1-3. And this indeed fits a larger motif in Luke when we consider the narrative as a whole.

Luke presents Jesus as a new Adam.

Unlike Matthew who places his genealogy at the outset of his gospel, Luke places it immediately after Jesus’ adult baptism and just prior to the temptations. It’s thus bookended by the issue of Jesus’ sonship. In the baptism God declares Jesus to be His “beloved Son” and in the temptations, Satan challenges Jesus, ”if you are the Son of God…”

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

Luke next records the genealogy when is then followed by...

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:1-3)

Also instead of beginning with Abraham and working forward to Jesus, as Matthew does (Matthew 1:1-16), Luke's genealogy begins with Jesus and works backwards to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). The net effect makes this genealogy a list of sons rather than a list of fathers and points to Adam rather than Jesus.

Matthew's genealogy begins with Abraham and is a list of fathers.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram...

Luke is a list of sons ending with Adam and God.

the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Luke’s makes an implicit comparison between Jesus and Adam. Both Jesus and Adam are said to be God’s son.

Luke presents Jesus as tempted like Adam.

Jesus’ three temptations follow immediately after the genealogy. Like Adam, Jesus is also tempted. But Jesus’ success here is merely the beginning of a battle that will continue in the later part of Luke. Luke tells us that after the temptations the devil, ”left him until an “opportune time” (4:13). In Luke, Satan finds this opportunity at the beginning of the crucifixion plot, entering into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3).

This suggests that the events surrounding the crucifixion are themselves a continuation of the temptations. Certainly there are echoes of the devil’s challenge at the trial when the leaders ask, “Are you the Son of God…” (22:70). And it’s Jesus’ bold “Yes!” which seals his fate, shutting off any desire to save his own skin.

As with the other gospels, Jesus confession is juxtaposed with Peter’s denial. If Peter’s denial is due to, as Luke tells us, the sifting of Satan (22:31-32) then there is little doubt Satan is also present in this challenging question to Jesus. It echoes the devil’s challenge in the earlier temptations.

Luke presents Jesus undoing the curse of Adam.

At Jesus’ death, the centurion declares, “surely this man was innocent!” Here Luke differs remarkably from the centurion’s confession in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. In those accounts, the centurion says, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Owing to the fact that Luke has already declared Jesus to be the Son of God, it is doubtful that Luke wants to downplay this fact here. Instead, it appears the verdict of innocence is emphasized and is connected to Jesus being like Adam, the Son of God.

For Luke, Jesus’ innocence is not simply in reference to the crime for which He has been charged but instead refers to his victory over all temptation. What Christ has done in his persistent innocence is to reopen the way closed by Adam. Jesus final words to the thief on the cross are directly connected to this second Adam motif, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The way to the garden of Eden has been opened once again.

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  • As recognized by pretty much any early Church Fathers on the topic, Luke also draws a parallel between Eve and Mary (Justin Martyr, Dial. w/ Trypho, 100; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.22.4; V.19.1; Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ, 17; Jerome, Epistle 22, 21, Augustine, Christian Combat 22.24; etc.). For my part I find it interesting that the Life-giving blood of Christ pours from His side, just as 'the mother of all the living, called 'Life' (Eve, chavvah) was taken from Adam's side, and that Christ in a way names Mary mother of all the living in Christ (Jn 19:26-27; cf. Rev 12:[1,5]17). – Sola Gratia Mar 27 '18 at 20:31
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In the Hebrew Bible there is no explicit expectation that anyone ever went up to heaven after death; on the contrary, righteous people had had an expectation of descending down into Sheol. For example, Jacob (Gen 37:35) and Job (Job 14:13) and Hezekiah (Is 38:9-11) mention their expectation of going down into the earth after their death. The passage in Jonah 2:5-7 provides us an explicit reference to Sheol. That is, Jonah mentioned his descent into Sheol notwithstanding that his corpse remained in the belly of the great fish in the sea. In other words, Jonah had died in the belly of the great fish and his soul had descended to the "roots of the mountains," which is an allusion to the underworld of Sheol (since there were no roots of any mountains in the belly of the fish). In other words, Jonah had descended into the "belly" of the earth, which was Sheol. He was of course resuscitated by the Lord and went on to preach to Nineveh.

So before the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, all righteous at their physical death descended into the Sheol, which was a place of rest according to the description mentioned in Luke 16:22-24. Sheol was therefore the "paradise" to which Jesus was referring when he hanged on the cross, since the destination was a haven compared to Torments, which was the destination of the unrighteous. When Jesus died on the cross, his soul descended down into Hades, which is Sheol (Acts 2:27 and Acts 2:31 compared with Ps 16:10, where "Sheol" is mentioned and equated with the Greek word "Hades" in the two passages of Acts). As the "second Moses" Jesus delivered the righteous from the confines of Sheol according to the timelines as illustrated here. That is, Sheol was the analog to Egypt, which "confined" God's people. From the resurrection onward, the Christian New Testament therefore begins to talk about going up to heaven after death (e.g., Phil 1:23), since Jesus was the "first born from the dead" (Col 1:18 and Rev 1:5). For more discussion, please click here.

Finally, Jesus alludes to Jonah who was in the "belly" of the fish, and, like Jonah, Jesus had indicated that he would be in the "belly" of the earth (Mt 12:40). This location appears to be where Lazarus was resting in the bosom of Abraham, which was the "place of comfort" according to the words of Abraham in Luke 16:25.

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  • There is clearly more to the idea of Paradise than Sheol, since Jesus spoke on a number of occasions about "the resurrection". When Jesus arose from Sheol, where do you imagine he went? Where did he tell his disciples they would be in John 14:3? – enegue Mar 21 '16 at 21:29
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What was meant by “paradise” when Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross? Luke23:43

Meant to the restoration of paradise on earth.

God created paradise for mankind on earth, and due to Adams disobedience, paradise was lost. This however has not affected God's will for the earth,God purposes that :

"The righteous shall inherit the earth and live upon it for ever." Psalm 37:29 (Jubilee Bible2000 )

“Let your Kingdom come."

Jesus taught his followers to pray: " Your kingdom come.Your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:10

Will this prayer be fulfilled?

The Hebrew Scriptures pointed to the restoration of paradise on earth.

It is obvious from Daniel's prophesies below, that God's kingdom will replace all human kingdoms and destroy them forever.

Daniel 2:44 (NRSV)

" And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever;"

The son of man, meaning Jesus will be given authority over all nations: Daniel reads:

Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Psalm 2:8-9 (NRSV)

"Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,and the ends of the earth your possession.9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

CONDITIONS IN THE PROMISED PARADISE.

The prophet Isaiah was inspired to describe the conditions in the promised Paradise,where wars, famine, deceases, that mankind is suffering today will be done away:

Isaiah 11:6-9 (NRSV)

The wolf shall live with the lamb,the leopard shall lie down with the kid,the calf and the lion and the fatling together,and a little child shall lead them.7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Also: Isaiah 35:5-7 and 65:21-23

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+35%3A5-7&version=NRSV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+65%3A21-23&version=NRSV

Revelation 21:4 (NRSV)

" He will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed away.”

God made the earth to be inhabited by mankind.

Psalm 115:16 (NRSV)

"The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings."

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“… bringing in other passages to bear on this issue, what relevant related texts do we have… If it’s not self evident, when do we step back and apply other methods and what are those in this case?”

This is the question I'm going to attempt to answer.

For me, the relevant texts fall within this same time frame: Everything Christ said on the cross. From a conceptual standpoint, this begs the question: Is there a pattern in what Christ said while he was on the cross? I think so.

Christ’s ministry began when he was baptized with The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit remained on him. He resurrected with The Holy Spirit in him. He gave The Holy Spirit after resurrecting. Common theme: Christ’s purpose for being here -The Holy Spirit.

What were the seven statements Christ said on the cross?

  1. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

  2. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

  3. “Dear woman, here is your son… Here is your mother.”

  4. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.”

  5. “I am thirsty.”

  6. “It is finished.”

  7. “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

With the exception of his third statement, do you see a pattern here?

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