In the Gospel Of Luke, we see Jesus speaking to the dying thief on the cross beside of Him:
Luke 23:43-And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Our friends among the Jehovah’s Witnesses have an interesting slant on this passage. Their Bible has been translated in such a way here that they teach that the thief would not go to Paradise with Jesus on that day. Notice:
Luke 23:43 (NWT)-“Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.”
By changing the location of the comma, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation of the Bible denies that Jesus and the thief on the cross would go to be in Paradise on that day.
Why did they make this change?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that man does not have an immortal soul, and that when a person dies he is simply unconscious till the end of time. Therefore, if Jesus taught that a saved person’s soul would go to Paradise when he died, it would demonstrate not only that man has an immortal soul, but that it is conscious after death!
By moving the comma, they have Jesus telling the thief, “Man, I’m telling you right now, one day far in the future, you will be in Paradise!”
To make it all even more complicated, in the original Greek New Testament, there are no commas at all!
So, which is it?
Luke 23:43-“Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:43-Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.”
Observing How Jesus Used The Same Phrase Throughout His Ministry
One of the first big clues to notice in our investigation is that Jesus often used the phrase “assuredly I say to you” throughout His ministry. He did this when He was emphasizing a very important truth and teaching. Look at how He uses the phrase “Assuredly I say to you” throughout the Gospel Of Luke.
Luke 4:24-Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.
Luke 12:37-Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.
Luke 18:17-Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
Luke 18:29-So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,
Luke 21:32-Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.
Observe that the phrase “assuredly I say to you” was used by the Lord throughout the Gospel Of Luke several times to emphasize an important lesson that He was teaching to the people. He would use the phrase, “assuredly I say to you,” AND THEN introduce this new truth or understanding to His disciples. It is because of this fact that the translators of the English versions place the comma AFTER the phrase, “assuredly I say to you.”
This is one of the reasons that we know that Jesus is telling the thief on the cross:
Luke 23:43-Assuredly, I say to you, TODAY you will be with Me in Paradise.”
One author has clarified:
“This is a clear case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses changing the Bible in order to fit their doctrines. Without any warrant whatsoever, they have forced a comma into a part of the sentence that changes entirely the intended meaning of Jesus’ words. It is helpful to observe how the phrase, “Truly, I say to you” is used elsewhere in Scripture. This phrase—which translates the Greek words amen soy lego—occurs 74 times in the Gospels and is always used as an introductory expression. It is somewhat similar to the Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” 60 Jesus used this phrase to introduce a truth that was very important. In 73 out of the 74 times the phrase occurs in the Gospels, the New World Translation places a break—such as a comma—immediately after the phrase, “Truly, I tell you.” 61 Luke 23: 43 is the only occurrence of this phrase in which the New World Translation does not place a break after it. Why? Because if a break—such as a comma—was placed after “Truly, I say to you,” the word “today” would then belong to the second half of the sentence, indicating that “today” the thief would be with Jesus in Paradise. But this would go against Watchtower theology. Hence, the relocated comma….Apologist Robert Bowman notes that if Jesus had really wanted to say, “Truly, I say to you today,” He could have done this very clearly by using a different construction in the Greek language. 62 But based upon the usage of amen soy lego throughout Scripture, it is clear that the word “today” belongs with the second part of the sentence, not the first. Related to all this, Watchtower expert Marian Bodine points out that the phrase, “Truly, I say to you today” does not make good sense: “It would have been needless to say, ‘Today, I am telling this to you.’ Of course He was! What other day would He have been speaking to the thief on? Jesus never added the word ‘today’ when speaking to anyone.” 63 According to orthodox scholars, this thief apparently believed that Jesus would eventually come into His kingdom at the end of the world. He therefore asked to be remembered by Jesus at that time. Jesus’ reply, however, promised him more than he had asked for: “Today [not just at the end of the world] you will be with me in Paradise.”…From the above, it is clear that Luke 23: 43 argues strongly against the Watchtower position that there is no immaterial nature that consciously survives death. As is true with other Bible verses, a thorough look at the text unmasks the Watchtower deception.” (Ron Rhodes, Reasoning From The Scriptures With The Jehovah’s Witnesses, 327-329 (Kindle Edition); EUGENE, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)
Interestingly enough, this also speaks volumes about the inconsistency of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation Of The Bible. In every other passage where this phrase is used, they correctly insert the comma after the phrase “assuredly I say to you.” The only time when they do not translate this in the same way is in Luke 23:43! Another researcher has noted:
“However, since they mention context, it would be useful to look at the rest of the Book of Luke and the other three Gospels. Jesus used the expression “truly I tell you,” or “truly I say to you,” on many different occasions. (The same Greek word is rendered both “tell” and “say”) How did the New World Bible Translation Committee punctuate the same expression in every other place where it appears? Where did all the commas go? There is a very easy way to find out. Ask the Jehovah’s Witness you are speaking with to show you the Comprehensive Concordance that the Watchtower Society published in 1973 for the New World Translation . Since the concordance is arranged alphabetically, have the Witness look up the word “truly.” There you will find a convenient listing of the six verses where the Lord used this same expression in the Gospel of Luke, as well as all seventy-one passages where he used it in the four Gospels. In addition to the chapter-and-verse numbers, the concordance shows the words immediately before and after “truly” in each text. Just glance at the list: the commas all line up, except for Luke 23:43. This is the only verse that they punctuated differently, so as to include the time element in the first half of the sentence—obvious proof that Watchtower translators altered this verse to fit the sect’s doctrines.” (David A. Reed, Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse By Verse, 68-69 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
The Early Christians Speak
We should also be aware of the fact that the Christians who lived immediately after the Apostolic Age understood Jesus here to mean that both He and the thief would be traveling to Paradise on the very day of their death. If anyone would have known how this passage was to be translated, it would have been them! Here are a few samples of their writings on the subject:
“Chrysostom: In the beginning, God shaped man, and man was an image of the Father and the Son. God said, “Let us make man to our image and likeness.” [Gen 1:26.] Again, when he wished to bring the thief into paradise, he immediately spoke the word and brought him in. Christ did not need to pray to do this, although he had kept all people after Adam from entering there. God put there the flaming sword to guard Paradise. [Gen 3:24.] By his authority, Christ opened paradise and brought in the thief. (Against the Anomoeans 9.15. [FC 72:239**.]. )
Cyril of Jerusalem: The tree brought ruin to Adam. It will bring you into paradise. Do not fear the Serpent. He will not throw you out, for he has fallen from heaven. I do not say to you, ‘This day you will depart,’ but ‘This day you will be with me.’ ” Take heart; you will not be thrown out. Do not fear the flaming sword, because it stands in awe of its Lord. (Catechetical Lectures 13.31. [FC 64:25**.].
This testimony from the second century Christians is not cited as inspired testimony, but as historical commentary from those who lived closest to the age of the Apostles. They would have a much better grasp of the original languages then people who are living two thousand years removed from the cross.
The Forgiven Thief Going To Paradise On The Day He Died Is Consistent With The Teaching Of The Rest Of The Word Of God
The teaching that the soul of the saved remains conscious and goes to Paradise at the time of death is not unique to Luke 23:43.
In the Book Of Second Corinthians, Paul talks about these same issues. He writes:
2 Corinthians 5:6-8-So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 12:2-4-I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
In both of these passages, Paul shows us that it is possible to be “absent from the body” as Christians (and in context of both chapters, he is taking about being absent from the body in regards to physical death). He shows not only that a person may be absent from the body (thereby demonstrating the existence of the soul), but also that the soul is conscious after death; and (when in a saved relationship), it is present with the Lord In Paradise. We also see that the soul is conscious after death (as demonstrated by the ability of the person to hear, witness, comprehend, etc).
The Apostle John weighs in on this topic when he discusses the martyrs under the altar:
Revelation 6:9-11-When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Notice that this text is discussing the dead saints. The Apostle is emphatic about this fact, explaining that they had been killed on Earth for their faithfulness to the Word Of God. The dead saints are clearly not unconscious! On the contrary, they are aware of where they are. They know who they are, and of their memories of life on Earth. The deceased Christians are shown to be very troubled because their deaths have not yet been avenged. This also teaches us that the dead saints have an awareness of what is happening on Earth, and they are pictured as praying on behalf of those who are still alive.
I find that last fact especially comforting.
This all fits beautifully with the testimony of Jesus to the thief of the cross in Luke 23:44.
Digging a little deeper, we observe that the Old Testament has taught these facts from the very first Book of the Bible. Indeed, we also learn that the Word of God promises the saved dead are reunited in death. Consider the phrase “gathered to his people” (and similar phrases) used in the Old Testament in reference to of the death of God’s people. Here are a few passages to ponder:
Genesis 25:8-Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
Genesis 25:17-These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.
Genesis 35:29-So Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, being old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
Genesis 49:29-Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
Genesis 49:33-And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Numbers 20:24-Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.
Numbers 27:13-And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered.
Numbers 31:2-Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”
Deuteronomy 32:50-and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people;
What did it mean that the saved dead were “gathered to their people?”
“The last expression used is particularly noteworthy: he was gathered to his people. This cannot mean: buried with his relatives or ancestors, for we know that none of his kin except his wife lay buried at Machpelah. Apparently, the expression is then equivalent to the one used Genesis 15:15 , “to go to one’s fathers.” Those who have gone on before in death are regarded as a people still existing. This is a clear testimony to the belief in a life after death on the part of the earliest patriarch. Though no specific revelation on the subject seems to have been given to these patriarchs, faith in the Almighty God drew its own proper conclusions as to whether God would ultimately let his children perish, and its conclusion was correct: He cannot. This passage confirms that conclusion. If Scripture is to be explained by Scripture, then Hebrews 11:13- 16 offers the fullest confirmation of our interpretation….K. C. points out that the passage cannot mean “to be laid in the family sepulchre,” because it is used in cases where only one ancestor lay in the tomb ( 1 Kings 11:43 , 22:40 ) or none at all ( Deuteronomy 31:16 ; 1 Kings 2:10 ; 16:28 ; 2 Kings 21:18 ). Of course, when one’s “people” are thought of as having gone on before, they are thought of as assembled in the Sheol, which in this connection can mean only the “afterworld” or the “hereafter.” Nothing in this passage or in other instances of the use of the expression (cf. Genesis 25:17 ; 35:29 ; Genesis 49:29 , 33 ; Numbers 20:24 ; 27:13 ; 31:2 ; Deuteronomy 32:50 ) indicates that the existence in the hereafter is regarded as dull, shadowy or unreal. Since practically in each case men of outstanding godliness are involved, it would even seem strange if such were the ultimate issue of a godly life. True, the New Testament fullness of revelation is not yet found in the Old. But the common assertion that the Pentateuch knows nothing of a life hereafter and of the resurrection from the dead is merely a preconceived error. True, we shall have to resort in part to reasoning like that employed by Christ Matthew 22:31- 33 , but in reasoning thus we follow a very reliable precedent.” (H.C. Leuopold, Exposition Of Genesis Volumes 1 & 2,10594-10624 (Kindle Edition): Ephesians Four Group)
In another fascinating volume investigating ancient and modern Jewish beliefs about the afterlife, we are told:
“Burial in the family grave served to reconnect the departed one with a society of previously dead ancestors. This society was believed to exist in the tomb itself or perhaps in the surrounding locality. 9 Death itself was not seen as a cessation of existence. On the contrary, to be gathered to one’s ancestors implied but a passage to another realm where departed family spirits cohabited and the activities of kith and kin continued within the sacred ancestral society of the family tomb….A second type of apparition is reported in the early phase of the dying process. It is very common for a person in the throes of death to be visited by the spirit of a deceased relative or friend, who is ready to welcome them into the postmortem worlds. There are certainly countless reports of people who, just prior to death, have a dream in which a deceased spouse, parent, or sibling informs them they will soon be reunited. It is also common at the moment of death for a person to see before their eyes the spirit of a deceased loved one. 36 In like fashion, NDE experiencers report seeing a loving family member who, at the right time, is prepared to assist the person to make the transition from the physical plane. (In the case of NDEs, the beloved one often tells the person their time to die has not yet come.) Further along these lines, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross tells a fascinating story about a man who had witnessed a hit-and-run accident in which a woman was seriously injured. He stopped his car and offered help, but the woman told him there was nothing he could do except convey a message to her mother that she was okay and happy now because she was with her father. The woman then died in his arms. The man was so profoundly moved by the experience that he drove seven hundred miles to the Native American reservation where this woman’s mother lived. He delivered the daughter’s message, only to discover that the young woman’s father had died from a coronary approximately an hour before the fatal accident, and she had absolutely no way of knowing this news. 37 An anecdote like this suggests that there is a mysterious connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a connection that we often cannot fully comprehend. However, thousands of years before Raymond Moody and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Jewish tradition seemed to know something about this link between the dying and the dead. For example, the Talmud recounts how, at the time of his death, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai proclaimed that King Hezekiah, of Judah, was coming to meet him (Berakhot 22b). In like manner, the Zohar indicates quite explicitly that “at the hour of a man’s departure from the world, his father and his relatives gather round him … and they accompany his soul to the place where it is to abide” (II, 218a). And perhaps when biblical tradition uses the phrases “gathered unto one’s fathers” or “sleeping with one’s ancestors” to speak of death, conceivably these terms are not metaphoric, but allude to the experiential reality of encountering one’s deceased relatives and friends at the time of death. The convergence of evidence from NDE studies, deathbed observations, and religious literature suggests that at the time of death one is not alone. A disembodied being, or guide—either an archetypal, angelic wise being or a beloved parent, grandparent, or special friend—makes its presence known to the dying individual and actively assists in the transition from the world of the living to the world beyond. These guides have a very specific function: to initiate the neophyte into the realm of post-mortem consciousness.” (Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views On The Afterlife, 1188, 7255-7299 (Kindle Edition); Lanham, Maryland; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)
Scores of other passages demonstrate these same facts: mankind has an immortal soul, and there is conscious survival of the deceased beyond the grave.
The thief on the cross was allowed entrance into God’s Paradise on the very day that he died. We also may receive that forgiveness when we submit to God’s plan of redemption.
The Son Of God, Jesus Christ, died for our sins on the cross of Calvary. He was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Why not today turn to the Lord to be saved?
Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a Christian who has turned from the Lord, why not repent of your sin today and confess it to the Lord in prayer to be forgiven and restored?
1 John 1:9-If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.