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The reading of Luke 23:43 differs depending on how we punctuate it:

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Or

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Given that the original text did not have punctuation, can we reach a conclusion about which is a better rendering of the Greek? What clues support one reading or the other?

  • 1
    Not in the ancient copies. Modern editions like Nestle-Aland have them though. – Frank Luke Jan 20 '12 at 19:36
  • Pretty much all translations, from KJV onwards, choose to place the comma before today. – DJClayworth Jan 24 '12 at 20:55
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    This is no small debate and the ultimate decision seems to be dependent on theological inclinations. – swasheck Sep 26 '12 at 14:33
  • Merged hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/2471/… into this. – Caleb Sep 28 '12 at 16:31
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    I'm still a bit unsure with this question. We could randomly toss commas everywhere and change meanings. Ultimately though, this question is rooted in theological implication of such behavior. It certainly toes the line of on-topicness for this site. – swasheck Apr 22 '13 at 3:42
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While punctuation did not exist in the original manuscripts, there are good reasons for preferring in our translations the rendering, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise."

Here are several arguments in support of this conclusion:

  1. In "I say unto thee today," the word "today" is rather superfluous. Quite clearly Jesus is talking to him "today" and not "tomorrow." The only function it could have is to give weight to the statement; but in this case, the phrase translated "Verily" already serves this function.
  2. As TRiG mentions, this is consistent with Jesus' use of "Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν" (translated as "Truly I say to you") in the rest of Luke's gospel. In 4:24, 9:27, 12:37, 12:44, 18:17, 18:29, 21:3, and 21:43. Jesus never adds the word "today" in any of these other instances. While this does not prove the case, we might reasonably expect that 23:43 follows this pattern of speech.
  3. Similarly, this use of "today" would be consistent with its other uses in Luke's gospel. Luke's "today" has a theological meaning similar to "the hour" in John's gospel. Especially compare Luke 4:21, but also 2:11, 5:26, 13:32-33, 22:34, and 22:61. Consistently throughout the rest of Luke, "today" is used to emphasize the idea that something theologically significant is happening in the present.
  4. Lastly, and building on point three, it helps to see that Jesus makes his statement in reply to the thief's request: "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom" (NET emphasis mine). The request is of an indefinite "when you come in your kingdom." It seems likely that Luke highlights this exchange not simply to stress the innocence of Jesus and show Jesus' compassion to the thief on the cross (though, he shows no less than these things); but also Luke uses Jesus' words to emphasize to his readers that the cross is the means by which Jesus comes in his kingdom. Hence, while the thief makes his request with a vague future expectation of Jesus coming in his kingdom, Jesus replies in such as way as to answer that today, via the cross, he is coming in his kingdom.
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    Isn't another point that Jesus is often recorded as prefacing important remarks with Truly I tell you, but this is the only instance where he might have used Truly I tell you today? – TRiG Jul 2 '12 at 18:40
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    This is an excellent answer. – Kazark Oct 2 '13 at 1:30
  • Commenting on what you said at the end of your point 3: What is theological significance of this verse in Luke, that you missed to mention: 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."? – sdd Aug 25 '19 at 22:08
  • @sdd A good question to ask. In quick reply, if you look a little further down at 19:9 you see - "Today salvation has come." In Luke, the kingdom of God isn't something coming in the future that Jesus offers people. It is something in their midst (17:20-21) - today. – Soldarnal Aug 26 '19 at 15:08
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The Bible does not agree with the view that Jesus and the criminal went to heaven on the day that Jesus spoke to him. Jesus had foretold that , after his being killed, he would not be raised up until the third day. (Luke 9:22) During that three day period he was in the hades/grave and not in heaven.Following his resurrection he told May Magdalene:

John 20:17New American Standard Bible (NASB)

"Jesus *said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”

It was forty days after Jesus' resurrection that his disciples saw him lifted up from the earth and began his ascent to heaven . (Acts 1:3, 6-11)

Further in view of what Jesus said (John 3:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

" No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man."

so if the evildoer ascended to heaven prior to Jesus, this would make our Lord Jesus a LIAR.

Also the evildoer did not repent and was not baptized.

Further the evildoer did not meet the requirements for a heavenly resurrection:

Paul wrote:1 Corinthians 6:9-11New International Version (NIV)

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Also read: (Luke 22:28-30; 2 Timothy 2:12)

In conclusion the comma should be place after the word "today" placing it before contradicts the scriptures,

The Emphasised Bible translated by J.B. Rotherham has the comma after:.

** 43 And he said unto him—Verily, I say unto thee this day: With me, shalt thou be in Paradise.

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I've been studying this verse of late and noticed the only other occasion Christ made a similar remark emphasizing the timing was when He informed Peter that he'd deny Him thrice by cockcrow:

"Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." Matthew 26:34

"And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." Mark 14:30

So I wonder if you think Luke 23:43 should have the comma after "today" emphasizing the timing of his declaration not the timing of the thief's translation into paradise then shouldn't these verses likewise be translated similarly for the sake of consistency ie "I tell you tonight, you'll deny me thrice by the time the cock crows" rather than "I tell you, tonight you'll deny me thrice by the time the cock crows."

At the same time I should say I personally don't believe that we remain conscious after death as I believe it is akin to sleep as Paul refers to it in his letters (1 Corinthians 11:30; 15:51), but this verse has made me wonder if maybe what Christ meant was that the thief would rest in Him upon his death like all who die in Christ are assured of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:14).

  • Matt. 26:34 contains ὅτι ("that") after σοι ("to you"), while Luke 23:43 does not. So, they produce a dissimilar comparison. – user862 Jan 14 '13 at 15:59
  • You're correct about the word "that" after the Lord – John Jan 15 '13 at 3:25
  • You're correct re d word "that" in Mt 26:34 & Mk 14:30! I only highlight such vss coz all d times JC uses tis phrase "Verily I say unto thee..." He rarely notes d date except in these 3 vss. Lookin@ other examples (Mt 6:2, 5; Lk 4:24; 11:51; 18:17) I'd av 2agree wit d trad view ie "Verily I say unto thee, today..." since d phrase is used often 2affirm wat JC was gonna say was true. McGuiggan notes d comma's added aftr d phrase in question & before d affirmation (google Jim McGuiggan & Lk 23:43). JWs & SDAs mite worry but as I said I tink we rest in JC when we die & mayb NDE r evidence of tis? – John Jan 15 '13 at 4:29
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    I believe he meant "I say to you, 'Today you shall be with me in the Paradise..." Like you. Just sayin' that your comparison was dissimilar and did not make an adequate argument. Nothing more. – user862 Jan 15 '13 at 4:45
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If we think the events in Jesus' life that followed will show were the comma should go.

1 Did Jesus go to paradise on that day and also have the executed Jew with him; no.

2 Jesus did not go to heaven until 40 days after his death:-

NWT Acts 1:3 "After he had suffered, he showed himself alive to them by many convincing proofs. He was seen by them throughout 40 days, and he was speaking about the Kingdom of God."

So the man could not go to heaven until Jesus opened the way up! The man was not one of Jesus followers.

3 "Paradise (Heb. "beghan-Edhen" Hebrew NT, see Gen 2:8,10), to the Jews was an earthly one (see Psalm 37: 10-11, 29) this is what the dying man had in mind and that was long into the future.

So according to context and Jewish theology, as Jesus was a Jew, the correct reading would be the latter:-

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Referring to a future time on earth for him to be in paradise.

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Does the Greek grammar of Luke 23:43 support that Jesus was in paradise on the very day he died?

No, quite the opposite.

Luke 23:43 is a text that has been used to “prove” the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. For example, the English Standard Version (ESV) renders it, ‘And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." [Αμήν σοι λέγω σήμερον, where σοι = to you, λέγω = I say and σήμερον = today] Since Jesus was in the grave for three days, his being in Paradise that very day could be interpreted that his body died, but his soul was in Paradise.

Some translations don’t punctuate as does the ESV, for example Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible with “Verily I say unto thee this day: with me shalt thou be in Paradise." (margin), Or: "This day (with me) shalt." The NWT (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Rendered from the Original Languages, 1984), with, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise." Evangelical apologist Rob Bowman criticizes this rendering (Understanding Jehovah’s Witnesses, Why they Read the Bible the Way They Do, 2001, p. 101) and says since the expression "Amen I say to you" regularly stands apart from everything that follows it, the fact that he used neither of these alternative wordings confirms that he meant today to be part of what follows. This illustrates a third point. Jehovah's Witnesses typically do not consider whether their interpretation best fits the precise wording of the text.”

However, this exegesis is flawed. While the phrase “Amen I say to you” looks the same in English in the 74 instances he analyzes, the Greek does not. The Greek shows that the order of the verb and personal pronoun in these 74 examples is reversed only at Luke 23:43. In the majority of the examples, the Greek word order is ‘Truly I say to you...’ but at Luke 23:43 it is ‘Truly to you I say today...’ This may seem like a minor difference, but it is not. This is because in Greek, an adverb regularly takes “second place” (BDF, 1961) to the verb. In Luke 23:43 this means that Jesus said “to you I say1 today[2]” where the adverb “today” modifies the verb rendered “say.” According to BDF the adverb is normally found in second place to the verb.

The rule

When the Greek adverb σήμερον takes second position to a verb in a separate sentence of direct discourse it always further modifies the verb in the first position, without exception, in the corpus of the Greek.

Or, simply: When σήμερον follows a verb in Koine where Greek syntax allows for it to modify the verb it follows, it always does.

To see a complete analysis of all the relevant texts in the LXX and NT, see:

The adverb σήμερον in relation to its verb in Biblical Greek November 29, 2019 when found in Direct Discourse – Luke 23:43

-1

The second point in Soldernal's post should suffice by itself to demonstrate that the phrase "I tell you the truth,..." is a fixed idiom. However, the last point doesn't properly explain what is intended by Jesus' response. "Paradise" is not mapable to "your kingdom" at least not in this context. Jesus does not enter into his reign until he is raised and seated at God's right hand.

I understand the reference to "paradise" to refer to the fact that he would be joining Jesus in being buried in a rich man's garden aka a "paradise". Being buried with Jesus in a beautiful garden was his paradise. Later he would join him in his kingdom.

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