Questions From Readers
● At Luke 23:43, why does the New World Translation put the comma after the word “today”?—E. D., U.S.A.
In the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures Luke 23:43 reads: “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’” Jesus said this in answer to the following request of one of the evildoers hung beside him: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.”—Luke 23:42.
However, other Bible translations punctuate Luke 23:43 differently. For instance, the King James Version says: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
There is no question but that the position of the comma changes the meaning of the verse. In the King James Version the comma’s being placed before the word “today” makes it appear that Jesus told the evildoer that he would be in Paradise that very same day. This would mean that Jesus would have to come into his Kingdom, and that Jesus, as well as the evildoer, would be in Paradise on that very day that he was speaking.
In the original Greek language of the Christian Greek Scriptures, how is this sentence punctuated? It is not punctuated at all. Why not? Because the writers of the Greek Scriptures did not use punctuation at that time. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956, Volume 23, page 16, states: “No attempt to punctuate is apparent in the earlier manuscripts and inscriptions of the Greeks.” It was not until the 9th century C.E. that punctuation came into general use. Although later Greek texts such as that of Westcott and Hort put the comma before the Greek word for “today,” they did so according to their own understanding and religious beliefs. However, neither the comma nor any of the other punctuation was there in the older Greek texts.
Where, then, should the comma be put? What is the testimony of God’s own Word on this matter? What did Jesus himself say? Did he believe he was going to inherit his kingdom and be in some kind of Paradise immediately after he died, in that same twenty-four-hour period?
Earlier, to his disciples, Jesus stated: “The Son of man must undergo many sufferings and be rejected by the older men and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised up.” (Luke 9:22) The two angels at the tomb told the women who had come there: “He is not here, but has been raised up. Recall how he spoke to you while he was yet in Galilee, saying that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be impaled and yet on the third day rise.”—Luke 24:6, 7.
Jesus was not resurrected on the day he died, but on the third day from his death. Thus, he could not have come into his kingdom on the day of his death. Then where was he during those three days, before his resurrection? Acts 2:24 says: “God resurrected him by loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to continue to be held fast by it.” So Jesus was in the grip of death during that time. Acts 2:27 further says concerning him: “You will not leave my soul in Hades, neither will you allow your loyal one to see corruption.” Hence, Jesus was in Hades, which is mankind’s common grave. And the Bible says that there is “no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol [LXX, Hades].” So he was out of existence in Hades, as was the evildoer.—Eccl. 9:5, 10.
Then, on the third day from his death, God raised Jesus from the dead as a mighty spirit creature. But the evildoer was not raised; he stayed in the grave.—1 Pet. 3:18.
When Jesus, after his resurrection, materialized to appear to his disciples, they asked him: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus showed that the answer was, No. The time had not yet come for his kingdom to be established.
Then, was God’s heavenly kingdom, with Jesus as king, established at any time during the lives of the apostles? No, for about sixty-three years after Jesus’ death and resurrection the apostle John was inspired to write that God’s kingdom was still in the future. (Revelation chapter 12) And it would be under that future kingdom that paradise would be restored.
Thus, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, in its rendering of Luke 23:43, is consistent with the truth of God’s Word concerning the establishment of God’s kingdom, the Paradise earth that will be restored under Kingdom rule, the condition of the dead, and where Jesus was during those three days.
Other translators have also seen the difficulty involving the comma in this scripture. The Riverside New Testament avoided the problem by not putting in a comma at all, rendering it: “I tell you truly to-day you will be with me in Paradise.” On the other hand, The New Testament by George M. Lamsa renders it: “Truly I say to you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” Also The Emphasised Bible by Joseph B. Rotherham reads: “Verily I say unto thee this day: With me shalt thou be in Paradise.”
So what Jesus was saying was that when God’s kingdom by Christ was established at a time then future, and when Paradise was restored to the earth, this evildoer could expect to be resurrected to have an opportunity for eternal life. He would be included among those mentioned at Acts 24:15, where it states: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” As an “unrighteous” person he would be resurrected and given the opportunity to learn of God’s purposes and requirements. If obedient to God and his King-Son, he would live forever on that Paradise earth, qualified to be among those of whom Psalm 37:29 foretold: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”