Recently a friend asked me this question:
I’ve been curious about this ever since debating a 7th Day Adventist several years ago. Luke 23:43 when Jesus tells the other guy being crucified “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The ESV, King James and even the NASB put that comma there after “you,” making it sound like Jesus is tell the dude “you and I will both be in Paradise today.” But word around the campfire (including EW Bullinger’s notes in the Companion Bible) says that comma is not there in the manuscripts. And what Jesus is saying is more of an expression “I tell you this very day (as in an expression emphasizing he is passing info on to him that day, not necessarily they will both be in Paradise today).”
So, which is it?
Because ESV is good and the NASB is as literal as it gets? But (1) why are they adding commas if it’s not in the original languages (since that comma changes the entire context in some ways) and (2) what do you say on this matter? (The original question was about the idea of “soul sleep” the 7th Day Adventists believe, that when you die you kind of just sit there in the ground unknowing until judgement day, yet that makes no sense to me in light of Luke 16 and Ecclesiastes chapter 12, but maybe I’m wrong, so that’s why I’m asking you.)
First Things First
First, we should question the wisdom of my friend asking me anything like that.
I am not a Bible scholar and I don’t play one on the Internet.
The Best I Can Do
At first, I thought it strange that I’d never heard of this debate. Then reality set in and I realized I know virtually nothing about the Bible! I am just a reader who wants to know it better.
The following is just a better-formatted and edited version of what I sent to him in response. I am exposing all my insecurities here by making my “answer” public. I have no clue about any of this! But I am open to reproof and correction if some or all of my answer is incorrect.
Here is What I Replied With
The original Greek codices did not often use punctuation. I tried to locate one for Luke 23:43 and saw lots of references online about the whole matter you bring up. One of the early codex manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus, shows something said to be an “ink dot” and “not punctuation” and therefore cannot be determined to be punctuation in Luke 23:43.
I think that is a weak argument. The dot may or may not be an ink dot or punctuation and if it’s not entirely clear then we cannot – based on that alone – we cannot rule out it was a comma where the Jehovah’s False Witnesses and 7th Day Adventists and more say there was one. I believe seeing the dot and coming down on one side or the other is fallacious and guessing.
In other words, we have to say it could be punctuation or it could be an ink dot if it’s not clearly either. So we must use other tools.
Minority Text vs Majority Text
Do you know about these things called the “Majority Texts” and the “Minority Texts”?
In a nutshell, they refer to the earliest Greek manuscripts (codices) that have been found. Some translation camps prefer one over the other.
The Majority Texts are slightly newer than the couple of primary Minority Texts.
(I want to stress, I may have all this wrong! I’m no scholar.)
The arguments go like this:
- “We prefer the Minority Texts because they are older and were written closer to the time the original codex was written.”
- “We prefer the Majority Texts because there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them found in all different locations, and the reason they were so numerous is because they were more authentic in the days when manuscripts had to be laboriously copied by hand.”
The HIV Bible (a horrid translation also known in some circles as the NIV, the New International Version) uses the Minority Texts, not a good sign. So do the Jehovah’s False Witnesses.
The NASB, KJV, NKJV, and many other “literal” translations use only the Majority Texts, a good sign.
The fact one Bible translator chooses one over the other does not in itself make either right though. Still, I believe the that the Majority Texts are the accurate ones. Big time.
The real bottom line of the two sets of texts is really this: The differences are not statistically major. Statistically, a very small percentages of differences exist between them.
Now we do want the one that is most authentic to God’s original, inspired manuscript. We won’t know for certain until we get to Heaven which was the closest. But we should always strive to get the closest we can to the original writing. This is why I want to learn Biblical Greek (called Koine Greek).
The Real Answer
I see no problem with either use of the comma! If Jesus was telling the thief they would both that day be together, or if He was telling the thief they would ultimately be together (Jesus was said to go to Hades for 3 days although I am uncertain how reliable that is) doesn’t really matter.
Before Jesus’ death and resurrection people did not go to Heaven! They went to Sheol, which is Hades, and there was a good side of Sheol (aka, Abraham’s bosom) where the Godly went to wait for Heaven – this is never a “soul sleep” kind of limbo place – The people are awake, aware, talk, etc. (Luke 16:19).
But also, after His resurrection we know there is no “soul sleep” state because we know (the verses you supplied and others) that being absent from the body means being present with the Lord. (That verse in II Corinthians is also challenged a lot but I don’t challenge it.)
Now during the changeover – Jesus dying, resurrecting, being in Hades, etc., I think during the specific time we’re discussing, immediately after He was crucified, I am uncertain we can glean any specific thing about whether the thief went to Heaven that day or went to Sheol, the “good” side of Hades, to await the resurrection, but we know that Sheol was a pleasant place to be if you lived a Godly life for Him (again, Luke 16:19) and the bad side of Sheol/Hades was a horrid place to be (Luke 16:19).
To those in Abraham’s bosom, it certainly would be a paradise kind of existence, waiting for the glorious resurrection, being among only those who were Godly people, having none who died hating God in your midst.
And Paradise is not even proved to be Heaven, it may or may not be. If God had inspired Luke to use the actual Koine Greek word for Heaven instead of Luke borrowing the word Paradise from a non-Greek language (as we do, such as “carte blanche”) then we would know it was actually Heaven or Sheol but we don’t.
Could be, may not be, either way Paradise is still a good place.