Monday, May 6, 2019

Should Translators Place A Comma Before Or After The Word "Today" In Luke 23:43?

          "And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)

          This passage of Scripture has played a crucial role in the debate on the immortality of the soul. It has traditionally been argued that, since Jesus Christ promised the repentant thief who was crucified with Him entrance into heaven that very day upon physical death, our souls must continue to remain conscious after physical death. That interpretation, if upheld, would indeed fly in the face of the harmless but erroneous doctrine of conditional immortality.

          Proponents of this view correctly point out that the Greek language has no commas. Punctuation marks were added to manuscripts after the New Testament was written. Based on that fact, it has been argued that the correct placement of the comma should be incorporated after the word today. In other words, it has been suggested that Luke 23:43 should read as follows: "Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise." It would change the meaning of the text to mean that Christ spoke to him at that moment the promise of entering into paradise at some undefined point in the future as opposed to that same day of death. The timing of believers entering into paradise would therefore be sometime at the final resurrection.

          While both variant readings are theoretically acceptable, the objective of this paper is to argue in defense of a comma being inserted prior to the word today.

          First and foremost, the context demands that we understand the reference to today as meaning on that very same day. The dying criminal understood very well on what day that Christ spoke those comforting words. There was no need for Him to emphasize the timing of today. It would literally make no sense for a man who is suffocating and dying on a crucifix to make such a hasty waste of his words. In this grand episode of the incarnate Lord gently and affectionately showing forth clemency in response to the converted convict's petition, we see Him referencing to a paradise that reflected imagery of popular Jewish thought in regards to the unseen Edenic realm. This abode for the righteous is analogous to Abraham's bosom. "Today" in Luke 23:43 is contrasted with "When you come into your kingdom" in Luke 24:42. The repentant thief entered heaven the instant he died.

          Dr. Timothy E. Saleska gives these comments on the placement of the word "today" in Luke 23:43:

          "The reason that almost all translators place the comma before “today” is because of the expression by Christ: “Verily I say unto you…” That expression, used exclusively by Christ, occurs approximately 100 times in the Gospels and its intent is always to emphasize the statement that follows; in this case, “…today you shall be with me in paradise.” This is the strongest reason for placing the comma where almost all translators throughout the history of the church have placed it. It fits the meaning and intent of Christ’s promise to the thief that he would be with him that day in paradise. Christ wants him to be certain of that. If the comma is placed after “today” i.e. “verily I say unto you today, you shall be with me in paradise” the word “today” is superfluous. It is obviously “today,” there is no reason to say it; it confuses the meaning and intent. Also, why would Christ change the formula “verily I say unto you” emphasizing what follows, in just this one instance, when it is stated with the specific purpose I have indicated, everywhere else?"

          This excerpt from John Gill's Exposition of the Bible is also pertinent here:

          "Some would remove the stop, and place it after "today", and read the words thus, "I say unto thee today"; as if Christ only signified the time when he said this, and not when the thief should be with him in paradise; which, besides it being senseless, and impertinent, and only contrived to serve an hypothesis, is not agreeably to Christ's usual way of speaking, and contrary to all copies and versions. Moreover, in one of Beza's exemplars it is read, "I say unto thee, hοτι sêmεrοn that today thou shalt be with me", &c. and so the Persic and Ethiopic versions seem to read, which destroys this silly criticism."

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Your comment about the timing of the statement not needing the word "today" is right on target. It would be redundant. Only heretics want the comma moved.