I am not clear about Luke 23: 43, where Jesus told one of those crucified with Him that he would be with Him in paradise. I've heard it explained that the comma is in the wrong place, which changes the meaning. Can you help clarify this verse?

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I am not clear about Luke 23

43, where Jesus told one of those crucified with Him that he would be with Him in paradise. I've heard it explained that the comma is in the wrong place, which changes the meaning. Can you help clarify this verse?

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Most Bible versions translate Christ's words to the convicted criminal being crucified with Him similar to the New King James Version: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Many people think Jesus assured the man he would go to heaven with Him that very day. But is this really what He meant?

Although it is a strong supporting factor, the fundamental understanding of this passage does not rest solely on the misplacement of a comma in English translations. Certainly the true meaning would be better understood if the comma were correctly placed after the word today. However, other rules of sound Bible study also help us to understand Luke 23:43.

We need to first understand that original texts of the Bible (Greek for the New Testament and Hebrew and some Aramaic for the Old Testament) used no punctuation.

As Dr. E.W. Bullinger explains in The Companion Bible: "None of our modern marks of punctuation are found [in Bible texts] until the ninth century . . . The punctuation of all modern editions of the Greek text, and of all versions made from it, rests entirely on human authority, and has no weight whatever in determining or even influencing the interpretation of a single passage" (1990, Appendix 94, p. 136, emphasis in original).

In most cases translators and publishers of the Bible have done an admirable job using punctuation to clarify the meaning of the Scriptures, but this is one case where their doctrinal bias has regrettably obscured the meaning of Christ's words. By placing a comma before "today" in Christ's statement to the dying man rather than after it, they have Jesus saying something He never intended.

We know this because the Bible clearly says Jesus Himself did not go to paradise or heaven on the day He died! Instead He died and was buried in the grave. Notice the apostle Paul's clear statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (emphasis added throughout).

Notice what Christ told Mary soon after He had been resurrected: "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father" (John 20:17). A full three days after His death, Jesus Himself clearly said that He had not yet ascended to heaven!

Jesus had earlier plainly said that He would lay in the grave for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). The Scriptures nowhere say that His body was buried but His soul went elsewhere. Jesus died and was buried. He went only to the grave. Therefore the dying criminal could not have been with Jesus in heaven that day, because Jesus Himself did not go there then.

If Jesus was not telling the man he would be in heaven or paradise on that day, what was He telling him?

A fundamental principle for sound Bible study is to carefully check the context. Notice the specific wording of the man's request: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). Notice that the thief expressed no expectation of immediately going to heaven with Jesus at the moment they died.

He may have already known something about the nature of the Kingdom of God—that it would be a literal kingdom to be established on earth by the Messiah, which many Jews of that day understood. Jesus Himself had previously given an entire parable "because they thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear" (Luke 19:11). Jesus also taught His disciples to pray, "Your kingdom come" (Luke 11:2). This Kingdom, as explained in our free booklet The Gospel of the Kingdom, is the Kingdom that Jesus will establish on earth at His return, not a location in heaven to which we go when we die.

Notice also Jesus' response to the man, telling him "you will be with Me in Paradise." Understanding the nature of the biblical use of the term paradise is crucial to grasping the meaning of this passage.

The word translated "paradise" is used only two other times in the New Testament. In both cases it refers to the place of God's presence.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul describes a vision in which he "was caught up into Paradise." Paul says this paradise was in "the third heaven"—the dwelling place of God.

Jesus tells us that "the tree of life" is located "in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). Revelation 22:2 explains that the tree of life is to be in the New Jerusalem. God will come from heaven to dwell in this New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2-3) after the resurrections of the dead mentioned in Revelation 20. Only at that time will men dwell with God in this paradise.

Putting together these scriptures, we can see that the paradise Christ mentioned, in which men will dwell with God, is to be at a future time.

How do we know this was Christ's meaning? Again, as noted above, Jesus plainly said He was going to be dead and buried for the following three days and nights, after which He clearly told Mary that He had not yet ascended to heaven.

Some theologians and religious denominations try to redefine Christ's use of paradise to say that this referred to where the righteous dead went before Jesus came—a sort of temporary "holding place" next to hell because heaven wasn't available to them until Christ ascended to heaven after His death and opened the way for them to follow.

This concept, however, is straight out of pagan Greek mythology about life after death (the Elysian Fields as the section of the Greek underworld for good people) and not something taught in the Bible. The idea that the righteous dead of Old Testament times went to a place called "paradise" and later ascended to heaven after Jesus was resurrected is disproved by the apostle Peter's plain statements in Acts 2:29 and 34—almost two months after Christ's death and resurrection—that King David "is both dead and buried" and "David did not ascend into the heavens."

Putting together the relevant scriptures, we can see here the truth of the matter. The robber had come to his senses while being crucified alongside Jesus (Luke 23:39-41). Like anyone facing imminent death, he sought comfort and assurance. Jesus provided it, telling the man, "Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise."

Part of His reply, "Assuredly I say to you today" was a "common Hebrew idiom . . . which is constantly used for very solemn emphasis" ( he Companion Bible, Appendix 173, p. 192). Examples of this Hebrew phrase, worded very similarly to Christ's statement, can be found in Deuteronomy 30:18 ("I announce to you today that you shall surely perish") and Acts 20:26 ("Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men"—New International Version).

Many centuries later, when the punctuation marks that we see in our English versions were inserted, Jesus' meaning was distorted by the wrong placement of the comma, and this Hebrew figure of speech was obscured. (Several other Bible translations and reference works, among them the Rotherham Translation, The Emphatic Diaglott, The Concordant Literal New Testament and A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, recognize the Hebrew idiom and correctly place the comma after "today" for proper punctuation.)

In conclusion, Jesus never said nor implied that the dying man would be in paradise or heaven on that very day. Christ was encouraging him by solemnly assuring him that a time would come, in God's future Kingdom on earth, when the man would be resurrected and would see Jesus again.

This dramatic event can be properly understood only when we comprehend the time frame of God's plan of salvation and the promised resurrections described in the Bible. To learn more, request or download our free booklet Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?


  • psw101

    Well I am sorry but it seems to me that if we accept the point that Jesus says, I tell you the truth today,..." the implication is that it could only be today that he is telling the truth but not necessarily so every other time he told the truth. I am a mere mortal but I believe that Jesus meant that, "... today, you will be with me in paradise". We must also remember that God is outside of time and space. What does that suggest... I'll be beaten up for this I am sure but I cannot believe that Jesus is saying, "I tell you the truth today". He never says it any other time so why this time? He says "I tell you the truth" or "verily I say unto you" about 70 times.

  • Gail104

    Donna Locke the commentator is correct in his assessment of the scripture. In 2nd Corinthians you must read the entire pericope to correctly exergete the scripture. Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him. For we all must appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. So the scripture is saying that because of faith (verse 7) we can be confident that we will be accepted of God and therefore will reign with Him. Being at home in the body means we care more about this world and worldly pleasure but to be absent from the body is to be at home or in good relationship with God through Jesus Christ so that whether living or dead we are pleasing to God.

  • Yochanan204

    Concerning pagan sources of some of our beliefs, why don't we try to get away from MORE Greek references? I have a list of 30 Greek words used in a "religious" context that I wish could be replaced with Hebrew (or at least English) words for Bible study.

    E.g. (and I may step on some toes here), "church" comes from the Greek word for "lord," even though it's used to translate the Greek for congregation, "ekklesia." The Greek "Kyriakon doma" means "Lord's house" (American College Dictionary, 1970). Notice the affinity with the Scottish word for church, "kirk." The Hebrew word "edah" (root "ed") meaning "witness," refers to the "witnessing body," and is usually translated "congregation."

    Even Jews, to this day, use 2 very common words from Greek, "synagogue" and "sanhedrin." WHY?

    The word "angel" is misunderstood and often pictured as a being with feathered wings. But only 2 classes of heavenly beings are described with wings in the Bible - cherubim and seraphim - and they are NOT angels. The Greek angelos means "messenger." The Hebrew word is malakh. (P.S.: angels don't sing.)

    Other Greek words in common use are: apostle, baptize, demon, prophet, devil, and more.

  • Skip Miller

    Hello Donna,
    First of all I like what Fulvio Acosta said two years ago:
    "It's interesting to note that the comments have nothing to do with the explanation just given." The Bible Study itself is eminently satisfactory and enlightening!!! But because I think you are honestly asking I will repeat one proof only: Where did Jesus go the day that He died? He went to the grave and stayed there for three days and three nights.
    God's Word tells us that Jesus did not ascend to heaven (and His Father) until Sunday. (John 20 : 17) It is really inconceivable for us to assume that the thief went to heaven on the day that our Lord and Savior (and soon coming King) was placed in a grave.
    The article clearly explains that the thief will be with Jesus, but just not yet.

  • Delon

    I am a little late to this conversation , but what worries me here is that this article indicates that the writer is confusing heaven and paradise , two very different places

  • AppleofHiseye

    The explanation given is completely untrue. The thief was going exactly where our Lord said he was going ON THAT DAY. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth before teaching false doctrine. The Word clearly states that as soon as we die, we're either with the Lord, or without Him. "we are confident moreover and are pleased rather to be absent out of the body and to be at home with the Lord". 2 Cor. 5:8 (direct translation from original). I would encourage you to research the countless testimonies from fellow believers who have died and been to heaven immediately after taking their last breath. Also, the countless testimonies of nonbelievers who died and went to hell immediately after their last breath and have since been born again. When the Bible talks about is "sleeping", it is speaking about our natural bodies, not our soul. Our natural bodies will be buried until we're caught up with Jesus to receive our new bodies as He did.
    Furthermore, JESUS WENT TO HELL TO CONQUER DEATH HELL AND THE GRAVE!! That's where He was after He died on the cross. Then, He came back into HIS HUMAN BODY, then ascended into heaven. Geez people, read His Word!

  • Child of Yahweh

    Donna, grave and hell are the same. The bible clearly compares death to sleep, the dead are unaware of the passage of time, John 14:10-12, Psalm 13:3, Daniel 12:2, 1Kings 2:10, 1Kings 11:43, and many more references to sleep being compared to Death. Also, Acts 2:34: "For David is not ascended into the heavens" ( King David)
    As for 2 Cor 5:8, go back and read in context please. Also, there is no "direct translations" as there are no "original scriptures"to translate from. My bible states, for the same verse; " We are confident , I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with Yahweh."
    We are composed of 3 parts, spirit, soul and body. Spirit: our connection to Yahweh, Soul: what makes us alive, comes from the Hebrew word nephesh which means living being. Gen 2:7- "and Yahweh formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul" The same term was used in describing the creation of animals. Body: our physical shell. We are all still learning, even me. Try learning/studying Hebrew, it will open your eyes with new and deeper meaning in the bible.

  • Fulvio Acosta
    It's interesting to note that the comments have nothing to do with the solid explanation just given. Thank you for clarifying this common error that exists even among many theologians. It is one thing to feel good about what we have been taught and another to feel good about being taught the truth. The truth is that both biblical events and biblical doctrine both teach what Jesus meant when he said, ‘today, you will be with me in Paradise’. When Jesus ascended in front of more than 500 witnesses, there is no mention that the thief was there. It is safe to note that the thief was exactly where he was expected to be, buried. He is, however, awaiting Christ's return and then the promise will be fulfilled when our Lord and Savior calls him to life. God bless you and may we continue to humble ourselves to receive God's truth summarized they way it's explained on this site. Thank you good news magazine - keep giving such summaries with class and clarity. God bless
  • Royan
    receiving salvation have nothing to do with all the ordinances. We are saved by grace through faith. Than those ordinances follow
  • D. Miller

    Since this thief, unlike the other one with them, believe Jesus was the son of God and had faith & was repentant....it looks like Jesus was telling him he was saved and would be in the Kingdom of God. He tells him that he'll be in Paradise with him. Like the example of Abram, it looks like it was accounted to him unto righteousness. Which is interesting in that the thief was not baptized, no hands laid on him...except to crucify him, and did not keep the commandment to not steal. This guy was willing to trust in what Jesus said and Jesus saw that it was good. thanks

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