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According to the book True to the Faith, Luke 23:43 in the KJV of the Bible (and presumably many other translations of the Bible) was mistranslated.

There has been much said by modern divines about the words of Jesus (when on the cross) to the thief, saying, ‘This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ King James’ translators make it out to say paradise. But what is paradise? It is a modern word: it does not answer at all to the original word that Jesus made use of. Find the original of the word paradise. You may as easily find a needle in a haymow. Here is a chance for battle, ye learned men. There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise; but it was—This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: then I will teach you all about it and answer your inquiries. And Peter says he went and preached to the world of spirits (spirits in prison, I Peter, 3rd chap., 19th verse), so that they who would receive it could have it answered by proxy by those who live on the earth. (source)

Yet, there is no Joseph Smith Translation of Luke 23:43. Do we know why this is (i.e., if he knew that it was mistranslated, why didn't he at least note this in his translation of the Bible into English)?

  • I don't think you'll find an exact reason why one scripture was not translated, that's between Joseph Smith and God, but to Mormons paradise and the spirit world are basically synonymous. The spirit world is made up of paradise (heaven) and spirit prison (hell), and I believe what he is saying is that Jesus will be with the thief in the spirit world, not necessarily paradise, mainly because the last sentence mentions proxy work and Mormons believe if those in spirit prison accept the gospel they still need to be baptized (baptisms for the dead). – depperm Jul 7 '17 at 12:14
  • @depperm before seeing this quote, I had assumed that the thief was already baptized, but then sinned, but then was forgiven on the cross (which would let him go to spirit Paradise immediately). – PyRulez Jul 8 '17 at 1:19
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    it's possible but I try not to assume things that aren't explicitly written. Assuming too much can lead to false doctrine – depperm Jul 8 '17 at 12:50
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A short answer is (probably not the only potential answer here), there is evidence that the Joseph Smith Translation manuscript had not yet quite reached a state that Joseph Smith felt comfortable to submit to be published before Joseph Smith was killed. There is evidence Joseph Smith was working on the manuscript up until his death and ample evidence that he and other church leaders had every intention of publishing the new translation very soon, but that Joseph Smith was killed before declaring the manuscript ready to publish. Thus, there is the possibility of what we now view as "missed retranslations" would have been included in the final manuscript and that the manuscript as we have it now is incomplete as far as what Joseph Smith would have had published.

Also, the first quote listed below, that Joseph Smith did not correct all the verses he could have corrected, for whatever reason.


Some articles on this subject.

From the December 1972 Ensign, an LDS church magazine, an article by Robert J. Matthews, Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture Brigham Young University states:

It is evident from the manuscripts prepared by the Prophet and his scribes, and also from the statements by the Prophet himself, that he did not correct all of the passages that could be corrected in the Bible. Hence, the new translation is not finished. It is not a perfect Bible.

An article from the 1980 Liahona (another church magazine) with no stated author says:

Although the major portion of the work was completed by July 1833, he continued to make modifications while preparing a manuscript for the press until his death in 1844, and it is possible that some additional modifications would have been made had he lived to publish the entire work.

And then a January 1983 Ensign article, again by Robert J. Matthews, provides even more details than either of the previous two articles on the subject of the possibly unfinished manuscript:

Although the Prophet states that the translation activity was “finished” on 2 July 1833, the manuscript was not ready to be given to a printer. During the remaining eleven years of his life he continued to revise and add to the text and to make other editorial refinements to prepare the document for printing.

...[I]n June 1844, the Prophet lay dead, felled by assassins’ bullets, and the JST was not yet published. The Doctrine and Covenants was nearly ready for a republication at the time of his death and came forth from the press in September 1844. The JST would probably have been next, but the Prophet had been unable to get it published. He worked diligently on it during the closing years of his life when time would permit.

Robert Matthews then (in the same article) provides context for how finished the manuscript likely was at the time Joseph Smith was killed.

There has been an assumption that the JST was deliberately not published because it was grossly unfinished. That assumption is not based on all of the facts. The epistles of the First Presidency and of the Twelve as published in the History of the Church and the Times and Seasons, some of which are cited in this article, lead to the unmistakable conclusion that the intention was to publish. ...The basic conclusion seems to be that the work of translation was acceptable as far as the Lord required it of the Prophet at that time, but the manuscript was not fully prepared for the press.

Perhaps one reason for the feeling about the “unfinished” nature of the JST has been a statement by President George Q. Cannon in his Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet: “We have heard President Brigham Young state that the Prophet before his death had spoken to him about going through the translation of the scriptures again and perfecting it upon points of doctrine which the Lord had restrained him from giving in plainness and fulness at the time of which we write [2 February 1833].” (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1958, p. 148.)

We note, however, that what is referred to is the nature of the translation as it existed in 1833. During the eleven years of his life after that time, the Prophet apparently did much of what he desired to do with the JST. The original manuscript tends to bear this out, since it shows an original draft and a later more complete revision, clarified in language and thought, and versed and punctuated. That the work was not perfected is clear. But it is equally clear that it was nearer the stage necessary for publication than casual observers have realized. We must also recognize that although the manuscript was ready for publication, this does not prevent more information from being added when the Lord desires to reveal it.

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The easiest answer is: it was unnecessary.

Joseph was a young man, given to the brashness and bluster of youth. He sometimes got caught up in himself. That's easy for us to see, some 200 years later and flush with historical documents. Therefore, whenever I read excerpts from TPJS, I hold my judgement (and sometimes my breath) until I can get a better read on the situation.

The greek word used to convey what Jesus said in Luke 23:44 is Παραδείσῳ (transliterated: Paradeisō). It's used only three times in the ancient texts. Here, 2 Corinthians 12:4, and Revelation 2:7. Paul's use of the word is in context with the "third heaven", which we call the Celestial Kingdom. Obviously, Jesus wasn't pre-judging the malefactor or making his calling and election sure. John's use of the word is a bit more vague, as it is the location of "the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." But, from an LDS perspective, the Tree of Life was only physical in the Garden of Eden (...paradise...) and is figurative for all other references, relating to immortality (the resurrection), not exaltation (eternal life).

Luke's use of the word, if he actually used the word (the oldest Greek manuscript is not believed to be the original), is the most vague of all.

Gratefully, we have those 200 years of experience to work with. Remember, Jesus was hanging on a cross with nails in his body. I'm sure it HURT. Even the thieves, tied rather than nailed to their crosses, were in pain. The entire conversation, which seems polite and calm in the Bible, was much more likely to be spoken through that haze of pain, gritted teeth, and spoken in bursts as their bodies gasped for oxygen to try and handle the situation. No wonder Jesus uttered a sentence rather than a sermon!

So, when we accept the reality of Jesus' situation, the use of the linguistic construct elsewhere in scripture, the reality of Joseph's personality, the fact that he often received knowledge "line upon line", and the basic skepticism with which we must take all writtings not Scripture or General Conference addresses... we have the following:

Alma 40:11-14 teaches:

Concerning the "Wicked": they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness....

Everybody else is in Spirit Paradise.

Remember that imperfection I just mentioned? We believe in the Bible insofar as it is translated correctly. We believe that about all books. Joseph Smith taught that the Book of Mormon was the "most correct of any book on earth." But even it is not perfect. Alma 40:14 teaches that people stay in spirit paradise and spirit prison (together, "the spirit world") until their resurrection: which means he was being a bit vigorous when he said they would be cast into Outer Darkness. That's overclassifying it a bit as we have scriptures in the Bible and the D&C that teach that people are taught in the Spirit World, the purpose of which is fair judgement. Indeed, Moses described the entirety of the Spirit Wold as "prison" (a literary allusion to all spirits being held back for a purpose. Moses 7:57). But, a more detailed analysis of how mortal man isn't perfect and how that finds its way into scripture is an answer for another question. Taking what Alma taught for its intent:

A) Spirit Paradise is for people who accepted Jesus during mortality, whether they were perfect in all their ways or not.

B) Spirit Prison is for people who did not accept Jesus in their mortality, whether they were imperfect in all their ways or not.

NOTE #1: It is my personal opinion that judgement will be fair. This is why even when I was a Branch President, I was (and still am) very slow to "judge" people in this life. Who is to say that they have wholly rejected... or accepted... Jesus? Nevertheless, it is useful to understand the "limits", "boundaries", and "definitions" surrounding judgement so that we can strive to do better. Thus, I'll leave final judgement to Him and I'll stick to helping people repent.

Luke23:40-42 teaches:

But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

IMHO (I love that abbreviation, "in my humble opinion...", using the phrase is an oxymoron...) re-translating Jesus' statement from "Paradise" to "Spirit World" makes His statement to the malefactor meaningless as that will happen to everyone regardless of what they do on this earth. Such an answer could even be deemed cold, merely a means of getting the guy to shut up. Jesus has never been without compassion throughout His life.

On the other hand, the malefactor who is speaking (a) recognized Jesus for who and what He was and (b) honestly recognized his own sins. That is the basis for repentance. Not the end, but the beginning of sincere repentance. This alone qualified this gentleman for Spirit Paradise and, therefore, Luke 23:44 requires no modification at all.

NOTE #2: Yes, this sounds a lot like death-bed repentance, but remember (a) Ezekiel 18 permits sincere death-bed repentance and (b) there is time in the Spirit World for the Malefactor to learn about and fully accept Jesus and His gospel. What we must remember is that Spirit Paradise is NOT simply for people going to the Celestial Kingdom. We have no doctrine as to where the separator is, but a rough, imprecise, and possibly wrong "rule of thumb" is the line between the Telestial and Terrestrial kingdoms.

  • "We believe that about all books." couldn't there be books that, while translated correctly, are still wrong? – PyRulez Jul 9 '17 at 8:07
  • @PyRulez, you've asked a good question. From an LDS perspective, there are only a very few "writings" that could be deemed perfect: The Ten Commandments (written by the finger of God) and the writing on the Liahona (which appeared according to faith) are two such examples. Pretty much everything else (including all scripture) had the intervention of mortals (written by or translated by) --- and mortals both can and do make mistakes. It's the very reason we believe in the testimony of the Holy Ghost and ongoing revelation: so that the Lord can help us work around those mistakes. – JBH Jul 9 '17 at 18:18
  • The obvious conclusion to your question is, "Can the Book of Mormon therefore be wrong?" Even Joseph in his statement about the book taught that the Book of Mormon was "the most correct of any book on earth". Not perfect... just the most correct. We therefore believe in the word of God through written scripture, living prophets, and revelation through the Holy Ghost, all of which compensate for the errors made by mortal people. – JBH Jul 9 '17 at 18:21
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One important thing to understand is that Joseph Smith sometimes used the words "translate" and "translation" a little differently than we usually do. He is known to use them in the same way we might use the words "convey", "express", or "deliver". In this case, when he said that the word paradise was mistranslated, he probably meant that it conveyed, expressed, or delivered an incorrect idea to the reader. It may have technically been a correct translation (which may be why he didn't retranslate it), but perhaps it did not properly convey what Christ meant (leading him to say it was "mistranslated", or poorly expressed).

In the quotation you cited, Smith said that "King James’ translators make it out to say paradise. But what is paradise? It is a modern word: it does not answer at all to the original word that Jesus made use of." This is arguably correct. Most modern scholars believe that Jesus' original word was probably "Gan-Eden", meaning Garden of Eden. As I understand it, the Jews use the term Garden of Eden interchangeably with "The Bosom of Abraham", which is used to refer to the portion of Sheol (the world of deceased Spirits) where the righteous await the resurrection. (If someone has better information on this, feel free to correct me. I'm no expert on Judaism.) In this sense, Joseph was correct in saying that "paradise" is a less accurate expression of what Christ was trying to say than "world of spirits"; but it is also arguably correct to translate "Gan-Eden" as paradise, because "paradise" and "garden" were often interchangeable in the ancient world (including in the biblical languages of Greek and Aramaic), and the concept of paradise was closely tied to the Garden of Eden in the minds of the Jews anyway.

So we can see that both "paradise" and "world of spirits" are both decent approximations of what Christ said. Indeed, Joseph may have thought that Paradise was a more technically accurate translation, but not the most useful one in expounding doctrine. This could be one reason why he says it is "mistranslated" (poorly expressed) but never published the change.

Obviously I don't really know why Joseph did what he did, and I don't think anyone can give a perfectly definitive answer to your question. This is just my idea and suggestion. I hope it helps!

  • Interestingly LDS doctrine holds that after we die, we go to what is known as the "spirit world" before being judged, so that would make sense. – PyRulez Oct 20 '17 at 22:01

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