googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Luke 23:43: Where to Put the Comma

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Luke 23:43: Where to Put the Comma

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.”
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.”
And he said unto Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
And Jesus said unto him,
“Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:39-43 (quotation marks added to KJV text for clarification)

There are certain cults that do not believe we are immediately with God when we die. They believe rather that we will be resurrected sometime in the future and live in a Paradise here on earth. The above passage would tend to rebut that; Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in Paradise today.

These cults have devised a clever argument to get around the clear meaning of this passage – they simply move the comma and translate v. 43 to say, “And Jesus said unto him, 'Verily I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with me in paradise.'” You can see then that this passage no longer says that the thief will be with Jesus, “today”; Jesus is only telling him “today” that he will – at some undefined time in the future – be with Him in Paradise.

Here's the verse in Greek:

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμήν σοι λέγω, σήμερον μετ' ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ.

In the original Greek, there is no punctuation so where to put the comma can be somewhat subjective. How can we be sure which is the correct translation? I’ve always said that the best way to interpret Scripture is with Scripture (a practice known as exegesis) so let’s look at some other instances where Jesus made similar remarks.

In normal conversation, it would be superfluous to say to someone with whom you are already speaking, “I say to you…” However, Jesus said it often. It was sort of an attention-grabber, to alert His listeners that He was about to speak a particularly important truth. It might be compared to the English idiom, “Mark my words…” Often, He would use the phrase to contrast His teaching with some erroneous belief or misunderstanding held by His listeners. Consider the following passage:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”

Matthew 5:43-44 (bold added for emphasis)

To paraphrase His point, Jesus is saying is, “You might believe this, but I am telling you what is really true.”

In the gospels, Jesus said “Verily I say unto you/thee…” approximately 77 times (in the KJV). He also said, “I say unto you/thee,…” (without the “verily”) another 57 times bringing the total number of times Jesus used this expression to 134. So how many times did Jesus say, “I say to you today…”? Besides the verse in question, there is no other instance in recorded Scripture where Jesus used the phrase, “I say to you today…”

Considering the number of times Jesus used the phrase, “I say unto you,” to suddenly believe He said, “I say unto you today,” in this one instance seems to me to be nothing more than special pleading.

I will leave it up to you to decide which is more likely. I believe the answer is obvious.

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