“You Will Be With Me in Paradise”
AS HE was hanging on the execution stake, dying in agony, the criminal begged the man alongside him: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” Jesus, even though he too was dying in excruciating pain, replied: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42, 43) What a comforting hope to offer to a dying man!
Did you notice, though, that the New World Translation—the version quoted in the previous paragraph—puts a punctuation mark after the word “today” when rendering these words by Jesus? This conveys the thought that even on the day of his own death, Jesus was able to promise life in Paradise to that criminal. On the other hand, The New English Bible punctuates Jesus’ words this way: “I tell you this: today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Most other translations agree with The New English Bible, conveying the idea that Jesus and the dying criminal were going to Paradise that very day. Why the difference? And which punctuation is correct?
In fact, there was no punctuation in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Bible. Hence, when punctuation was introduced, Bible copyists and translators had to insert it according to their understanding of Bible truth. Is, then, the traditional rendering correct? Did Jesus and the evildoer go to Paradise the day they died?
No, according to the Bible, they went to the place called in Greek Haʹdes and in Hebrew Sheʹol, both of which refer to the common grave of mankind. (Luke 18:31-33; 24:46; Acts 2:31) Of those in that place, the Bible says: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all . . . There is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheʹol [Greek, Haʹdes], the place to which you are going.” Hardly a paradise!—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.
It was not until the third day that Jesus was resurrected from Hades. Then, during almost six weeks he made a number of appearances to his followers around the land of Palestine. On one of those occasions, Jesus told Mary: “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17) So, even then he had not reached any place that could be called paradise.—Revelation 2:7.
In the third century C.E.—when the combining of Christian teaching with Greek philosophy was going on apace—Origen quoted Jesus as saying: “Today you will be with me in God’s Paradise.” In the fourth century C.E., church writers argued against placing a punctuation mark after “today.” This shows that the traditional way of reading Jesus’ words has a long history. But it also indicates that even in the fourth century C.E., Jesus’ words were read by some according to the way they are rendered in the New World Translation.
Today too, although many translators punctuate Luke 23:43 according to church tradition, some punctuate it like the New World Translation. For example, in the German translation by Professor Wilhelm Michaelis, Jesus’ words read: “Truly, I give you this assurance even today: You will (some day) be together with me in Paradise.”
What, then, did Jesus’ words mean for the evildoer? He may have heard of the claims that Jesus is the promised King. No doubt, he knew of the title “king of the Jews” that Pilate had had inscribed and hung over Jesus’ head. (Luke 23:35-38) Although the religious leaders stubbornly rejected Jesus, this repentant criminal expressed his faith, saying: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” He did not expect to rule with Jesus, but he wanted to benefit from Jesus’ rule. Hence, Jesus, even on that most difficult day, promised that the wrongdoer would be with him in Paradise.
In which paradise? In the Bible, the original Paradise was the parklike garden of Eden that our first parents lost. The Bible promises that that earthly Paradise will be restored under God’s Kingdom, of which Jesus is King. (Psalm 37:9-11; Micah 4:3, 4) Hence, Jesus will be with that wrongdoer and countless other dead ones when he resurrects them from the grave to life on a paradise earth and to the opportunity of learning to do God’s will and living forever.—John 5:28, 29; Revelation 20:11-13; 21:3, 4.