Q. I have a question about Luke 23:39-43, and the arguments I have read about the comma placement, which changes the whole time element about when the thief actually went to Paradise. With the comma placement as it appears in Scripture, the thief went to Paradise that very day. Moving the comma over to follow the word today, the thief’s arrival was an eventuality, but not necessarily that day. I know that punctuation and verse and chapter assignments were not made until the Bible was actually put together by men, so how do we know for certain that what we see today is accurate?
A. As you pointed out, there were no punctuation marks in the original text. So what we have to ask ourselves is where did Jesus and the thief go when they died? Because regardless of where you put the comma it seems clear that Jesus told the thief they were going to the same place.
Some try to get around this by claiming the word today actually belongs at the beginning of verse 43 making it say, “Today I tell you the truth, you will be with me in Paradise.” This could also make it sound like the thief would eventually wind up with Jesus, but not right away. I haven’t found any legitimate translations from the Greek that say that.
If it’s true, as my study of Luke 16:19-31 indicates, that when Lazarus died the angels carried him away to Abraham’s side, and if Abraham’s side was also known as Paradise, like rabbinical teaching indicates, then we have the Lord saying that a believer who died before the resurrection went to Paradise. This supports the view that Jesus and the thief went there too.
But if they didn’t go there, then where did they go? I think I made a good case for the fact that Jesus didn’t go to hell as we understand it, like those who believe he endured three more days of suffering say. And from 1 Peter 3:18-20 we know Jesus didn’t just lie in the tomb until His resurrection. If they went to Paradise together on the day they died, like the widely accepted view of Luke 23:43 tells us, that means the thief didn’t experience some time of “soul sleep” either.
Also does anyone think Abraham was suffering in hell? Because the Lord shows Abraham and Lazarus in the same place in Luke 16:22. (To get around this, some make the claim that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is one of the many lies Satan planted in the Bible to throw everyone off the track and therefore it isn’t true.)
Of course the real issue is whether the Bible is the inspired word of God or not. If it is, then Jesus, the thief, and Lazarus all went to Paradise when thy died, just like the Bible says, until Jesus went to Heaven to sprinkle His blood on the altar there and opened its gates to the spirits of all dead believers who would follow.