The penitent thief and the wayward comma

So where is the thief on the cross? You know, the one who hung alongside of Jesus on Golgatha.

The story of the thief on the cross is told in Matthew 27:38, Luke 23:32-43, and Mark 15:27. The tale is one of the most memorable in the Bible. A dying, penitent thief accepts Christ as his Lord and Master and is assured by Jesus’ own words of a place in paradise.

It begs the question:   Did the penitent thief go to heaven with Jesus that day?  Is there a contradiction between what Jesus told the thief and what He told Mary on Sunday? Is there another paradise besides heaven?

Luke 23 says,  “Then one of the criminals who was hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43)

One of the thieves, after joining with the other thief in mocking the Lord (Mark 15:32), recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and decided to ask for mercy and pardon. He offers up the simple prayer, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus accepts His repentance and gives him the promise that the thief on the cross will be with him in paradise.

Luke 23:43 says, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” But in John 20:1-17 we read that Jesus meets Mary in the garden on the first day of the week and says, ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.’”

Could Jesus  have been with the thief in heavenly paradise that Friday if He had still not ascended to the Father on Sunday? Is this a contradiction? What if the comma was after the word today instead of before it? The meaning would change completely. What if Jesus was saying, “Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) If the comma is placed after the word today, it shows Jesus being emphatic on that day of his crucifixion, saying, today when I am dying on the cross with no apparent hope, I am promising that you will be with me in paradise eventually. However, if the comma is inserted before the word today, Jesus would then be promising that the thief would be with Him that very day in paradise.

Is the punctuation in the Bible inspired? In the original Greek text of the New Testament there was no punctuation and no spacing between words. According to Greek language expert Michael W. Palmer, “The ancient Greeks did not have any equivalent to our modern device of punctuation. Sentence punctuation was invented several centuries after the time of Christ. The oldest copies of both the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament are written with no punctuation.”

When the translators of the English Bible translated this verse and others they had to decide where the punctuation should be. The translators themselves were not inspired. God definitely helped them translate the Bible, but the punctuation is not inspired since there was no punctuation in the original manuscripts. Translators made the simple mistake of placing the comma in the wrong position, maybe because of their traditional beliefs about what happens when you die.

There is a theory that paradise is not heaven but another place altogether. People generally come up with this theory to clear up the apparent contradiction between what Christ said to the thief on the cross and what He said to Mary two days later.

Christ promises to the faithful in the church of Ephesus: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Rev. 2:7.

So where is the tree of life? The answer to this question will help us know where paradise is. In Revelation 22:1-4, we learn that the tree of life is in the New Jerusalem. So we can know for certain that paradise is in the New Jerusalem where God reigns. It is not some place in the underworld or in the subterranean regions. Paradise is the garden of God, which is in heaven.

The Scriptures are clear that Christ had not ascended to the Father on Sunday morning. So had he been with the thief on the cross in paradise on Friday? A question to ponder…