Definition: In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible the translators appropriately used the term “paradise” (pa·ra′dei·sos) with reference to the garden of Eden, because it evidently was an enclosed park. After the account in Genesis, Bible texts that tell about paradise refer to (1) the garden of Eden itself, or (2) the earth as a whole when it will be transformed in the future to a condition like that of Eden, or (3) flourishing spiritual conditions among God’s servants on earth, or (4) provisions in heaven that remind one of Eden.
Does the “New Testament” refer to a future earthly paradise or is that only in the “Old Testament”?
Separation of the Bible into two parts, appraising the value of statements on the basis of whether they are in the “Old” part or the “New” is not Scriptural. At 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight.” Romans 15:4 refers to the pre-Christian inspired Scriptures when it says: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction.” So, a sound answer to the question should consider the entire Bible.
Genesis 2:8 states: “Jehovah God planted a garden [“park,” Mo; “paradise,” Dy; pa·ra′dei·son, LXX] in Eden, toward the east, and there he put the man [Adam] whom he had formed.” There was an abundance of varied and fascinating plant and animal life. Jehovah blessed the first human pair and said to them: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) God’s original purpose for all the earth to be a paradise populated by those who appreciatively obey his laws will not go unfulfilled. (Isa. 45:18; 55:10, 11) That is why Jesus said: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth.” That is also why he taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 5:5; 6:9, 10) In harmony with that, Ephesians 1:9-11 explains God’s purpose “to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” Hebrews 2:5 refers to “the inhabited earth to come.” Revelation 5:10 mentions those who, as joint heirs with Christ, are to “rule as kings over the earth.” Revelation 21:1-5 and Re 22:1, 2 add delightful descriptions of conditions that will exist in the “new earth” and that remind one of the original Paradise in Eden with its tree of life.—Gen. 2:9.
Additionally, Jesus used the Greek expression pa·ra′dei·sos when referring to the future earthly Paradise. “He said to him [an evildoer who was being impaled alongside Jesus and who expressed faith in Jesus’ coming kingship]: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’”—Luke 23:43.
How can we be sure what Jesus meant by Paradise in his statement to the evildoer, at Luke 23:43?
Was it a temporary abode for ‘departed souls of the just,’ a part of Hades?
What is the origin of that view? The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states: “With the infiltration of the G[ree]k doctrine of the immortality of the soul paradise becomes the dwelling-place of the righteous during the intermediate state.” (Grand Rapids, Mich.; 1976, edited by Colin Brown, Vol. 2, p. 761) Was that unscriptural view common among the Jews when Jesus was on earth? Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible indicates that this is doubtful.—(Edinburgh, 1905), Vol. III, pp. 669, 670.
Even if that view were common among the Jews in the first century, would Jesus have endorsed it by his promise to the repentant evildoer? Jesus had forcefully condemned the Jewish Pharisees and scribes for teaching traditions that conflicted with God’s Word.—Matt. 15:3-9; see also the main heading “Soul.”
Jesus did go to Hades when he died, as is shown at Acts 2:30, 31. (The apostle Peter, when referring there to Psalm 16:10, is quoted as using Hades as the equivalent of Sheol.) But the Bible nowhere states that Sheol/Hades or any part of it is a paradise that brings a person pleasure. Rather, Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10 says that those who are there “are conscious of nothing at all.”
Was the Paradise of Luke 23:43 heaven or some part of heaven?
The Bible does not agree with the view that Jesus and the evildoer went to heaven on the day that Jesus spoke to him. Jesus had foretold that, after his being killed, he would not be raised up until the third day. (Luke 9:22) During that three-day period he was not in heaven, because following his resurrection he told Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17) It was 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection that his disciples saw him lifted up from the earth and out of their sight as he began his ascent to heaven.—Acts 1:3, 6-11.
The evildoer did not meet the requirements to go to heaven even at some later time. He was not “born again”—being neither baptized in water nor begotten by God’s spirit. Holy spirit was not poured out upon Jesus’ disciples until more than 50 days after the evildoer’s death. (John 3:3, 5; Acts 2:1-4) On the day of his death, Jesus had made with those ‘who had stuck with him in his trials’ a covenant for a heavenly kingdom. The evildoer had no such record of faithfulness and was not included.—Luke 22:28-30.
What points to this Paradise as being earthly?
The Hebrew Scriptures had never led faithful Jews to expect a reward of heavenly life. Those Scriptures pointed to the restoration of Paradise here on earth. Daniel 7:13, 14 had foretold that when “rulership and dignity and kingdom” would be given to the Messiah, “the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” Those subjects of the Kingdom would be here on the earth. By what he said to Jesus, the evildoer was evidently expressing the hope that Jesus would remember him when that time came.
How, then, would Jesus be with the evildoer? By raising him from the dead, making provision for his physical needs, and extending to him the opportunity to learn and conform to Jehovah’s requirements for eternal life. (John 5:28, 29) Jesus saw in the evildoer’s repentant and respectful attitude a basis for including him among the billions who will be resurrected to earthly life and the opportunity to prove their worthiness to live forever in Paradise.
When will the evildoer be in Paradise?
One’s understanding of Luke 23:43 is influenced by the punctuation used by the translator. There was no punctuation in the original Greek Bible manuscripts. The Encyclopedia Americana (1956, Vol. XXIII, p. 16) states: “No attempt to punctuate is apparent in the earlier manuscripts and inscriptions of the Greeks.” Not until the 9th century C.E. did such punctuation come into use. Should Luke 23:43 read, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (RS), or should it be, ‘Truly I say to you today, You will be with me in Paradise’? The teachings of Christ and the rest of the Bible must be the basis for determination, and not a comma inserted in the text centuries after Jesus said those words.
The Emphasised Bible translated by J. B. Rotherham agrees with the punctuation in the New World Translation. In a footnote on Luke 23:43, German Bible translator L. Reinhardt says: “The punctuation presently used [by most translators] in this verse is undoubtedly false and contradictory to the entire way of thinking of Christ and the evildoer. . . . [Christ] certainly did not understand paradise to be a subdivision of the realm of the dead, but rather the restoration of a paradise on earth.”
When would Jesus ‘get into his kingdom’ and fulfill his Father’s purpose to make the earth a paradise? The book of Revelation, written about 63 years after the statements recorded at Luke 23:42, 43 were made, indicates that these events were still in the future. (See pages 95-98, under “Dates,” also the main heading “Last Days.”)