Luke 23:43 is sometimes quoted in support of the dead going directly to heaven or hell at death - “I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise.”
The original Greek text contained no punctuation so that the adverb of time, (σήμερον semeron), “today”, could equally modify “I tell” (lego), or, “you will be” (ese). Therefore, on the basis of the Greek text and syntax of this verse alone, it is impossible to determine where the comma (if any) should be placed.
However, it is possible to examine the author, Luke, and how he used the adverb σήμερον before or after the verb it modifies. This adverb occurs just 20 times in Luke and Acts.
- In 14 of those, the adverb occurs AFTER the verb (Luke 2:11, 5:26, 12:28, 13:32, 33, 22:34, 61, Acts 19:40, 20:26, 22:3, 24:21, 26:2, 29, 27:33).
- Of the remaining cases where the adverb precedes the verb, one is a quotation from Ps 2:7 (Acts 13:33), and in three cases, σήμερον is preceded by a conjunction (Luke 4:21, 19:5, 6) which makes such a construction inevitable. The single case, Acts 4:9, where the adverb precedes the verb. Thus, placing the adverb AFTER the verb is entirely in keeping with Luke’s literary style.
In fact, Luke employs a common Hebrew idiom of adding “today” after a verb to add emphasis, and solemnity. For example:
- Deut 4:1 – “I teach you today”;
- Deut 11:26 – “I set before you today”;
- Deut 28:13 – “I give you today”;
- Deut 6:6, 7:11, 12:23 – “I command you today”;
- Deut 8:19 – “I testify against you today”;
- Deut 30:18 – “declare to you today”; etc.
See also Deut 4:26, 30:19, 32:36, Acts 20:26, 26:2, etc. Thus, Luke’s style is consonant with Biblical literary style.
The question of the placement of the above comma can also be resolved by the semantics rather than the syntax of the passage. If the comma is placed before “today” (eg, as in most versions), then Jesus said that very day the two would share the joys of paradise. However, if it is placed after “today”, then Jesus employs a construction, which adds emphasis to the veracity of what He is saying. In order to choose between these two alternatives requires the answer to two more questions: What is Paradise? And, Where did Jesus and the criminal go that day?
- Paradise: The word paradise, occurs only three times in the New Testament - Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7. These references suggest that paradise is synonymous with heaven.
- Jesus and the Criminal: Jesus did not go to heaven that day, Friday, because he told Mary Magdalene on the following Sunday morning (John 20:17) that He had not yet ascended to the Father. Neither did the criminal go to paradise that day because he was still alive at sunset and had to have his legs broken to prevent his escape over the Sabbath (John 19:31, 32).
Therefore, since Jesus could not have intended that He and the criminal were to be in paradise that day, he presumably intended the adverb today as emphasis as per Koine (common) Greek and Hebrew idiom. Thus, the correct place for the comma is after today thus making the passage read: “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise.” Thus, the passage does not (and could not) imply heavenly rewards immediately at death.
On this basis, there is no conflict with John 3:13 nor Acts 7:59.