Is there a problem with the punctuation, as we see that Jesus did not go to paradise that day?
Could Jesus' words be punctuated as:
I tell you the truth this day - with me thou shalt be in Paradise.
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I have heard three resolutions to the series of problems posed by this verse, and found a fourth researching your question. First, I challenge the assumption "as we see that Jesus did not go to paradise that day".
Omnipresence. Jesus possesses two natures, divine and human, linked into a unit in a way that is inexpressible. The divine nature of Jesus has always been in the presence of God in Heaven, and always will. The human nature and physical person of Christ would not ascend to Heaven until the third day. So the thief on the cross would on that very day be with the spirit of Jesus in Heaven.
Change in destiny. The "today" refers to the time of the change in the thief's destiny. He had been headed for Hell, but "today" that changed. Now that he has confessed his sins and believed in Jesus as his king he is saved and his destiny is to go to Heaven and be there with Jesus, how ever long that journey may take, whether one day, three, or a thousand years in purgatory (which I do not believe in, but also a possibility if you accept this interpretation). So a rewording would be, "As of Today, you will be with me in paradise."
Paradise. This revolves around the word "paradise". If it is not Heaven, but instead the place of the righteous dead (like Abraham) who had not ascended into Heaven yet because Jesus had not yet paid for their sins, then that was where the thief would go - "today". The thief would accompany Jesus on his journey to Paradise to set the captives free, then escort them into Heaven.
For reference: Here is the Greek in question:
Καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ , Ἀμήν σοι λέγω , σήμερον μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ Παραδείσῳ .
It is the comma after λέγω (lego) that is being questioned.
Here is Wilson Paroschi's take on the question, in an article from Ministry Magazine: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2013/06/the-significance-of-a-comma:-an-analysis-of-luke-23:43
There is minority support for the later placement of the comma after σήμερον (today) in Codex Vaticanus and the Curetonian Syriac, but also early additions of the word "that" into the Greek to cement our current, more common translation.
Quoting the above article in defense of the later placement of the comma:
Among the church writers, this reading was also attested by Ephraem the Syrian, of the fourth century,7 as well as Cassian and Hesychius, of the fifth century.
In a section of the article on linguistic evidence:
In Greek, there is no specific rule concerning the position of the adverb, whether before or after the verb.11 Thus, from the grammatical standpoint we find it impossible to determine if sēmeron in Luke 23:43 modifies the preceding verb (“to tell”) or the following one (“to be”). Luke, however, has a definite tendency of using this adverb with the preceding verb. This happens in 14 of the 20 occurrences of sēmeron in Luke and Acts (Luke 2:11; 5:26; 12:28; 13:32, 33; 22:34, 61; Acts 19:40; 20:26; 22:3; 24:21; 26:2, 29; 27:33).12 Of the five uses of the adverb with the following verb, one is a quotation from Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33), and, in three cases, sēmeron is preceded by a conjunction (Luke 4:21; 19:5, 9),13 which makes such a construction inevitable. That is, there is only one example in Luke’s writings in which sēmeron was freely placed before the verb (Acts 4:9). The attempt to read the adverb in Luke 23:43 in connection to the preceding verb, therefore, is not only fully acceptable in terms of grammar but is also in complete agreement with Luke’s literary style.
This article refers to Mark 14:30, the only other place where Jesus makes a similar reference to today, and where it would make no sense to attach the "today" to the "say to you".
“And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, [amen lego soi lego semeron taute te nykti] before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.”
This article lists all ALL 76 passages in the Gospels where Jesus says, "Truly I say to you", allowing you to see that either a comma or the word "that" is always placed after the word today.
Our Lord Jesus used the phrase “Truly I say to you” (Synoptic Gospels) and “Truly, truly, I say to you” (John’s Gospel) many times.
One aid to deciding if in Luke 23:43 he said “Truly, I say to you today,” with the comma after “today” or “truly I say to you, today” with the comma before “today”, is to see how he uses this phrase everywhere else.
Read through them extremely carefully, the evidence is there.
Matthew 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Matthew 5:26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Matthew 6:2 Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:5 Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:16 Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Matthew 10:23 for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Matthew 10:42 truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
Matthew 11:11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Matthew 13:17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Matthew 16:28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
Matthew 17:20 For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.
Matthew 18:3 Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:13 truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
Matthew 18:18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Matthew 19:23 Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 19:28 Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Matthew 21:21 Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.
Matthew 21:31 Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
Matthew 23:36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Matthew 24:2 Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.
Matthew 24:34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Matthew 24:47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
Matthew 25:12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:45 Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.
Matthew 26:13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.
Matthew 26:21 Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.
Mark 3:28 Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,
Mark 8:12 Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.
Mark 9:1 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.
Mark 9:41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
Mark 10:15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Mark 10:29 Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
Mark 11:23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
Mark 12:43 Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.
Mark 13:30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Mark 14:9 truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.
Mark 14:18 Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.
Mark 14:25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
Luke 4:24 Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.
Luke 12:37 Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.
Luke 12:44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
Luke 18:17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.
Luke 18:29 Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,
Luke 21:32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.
So it is either:
Luke 23:43 Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Luke 23:43 Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.
John 1:51 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
John 3:3 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:5 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
John 3:11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.
John 5:19 Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
John 5:25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
John 6:26 Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
John 6:32 Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
John 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
John 6:53 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
John 8:34 Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
John 8:51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.
John 10:1 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
John 10:7 Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 13:16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
John 13:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
John 13:21 Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.
John 13:38 Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
John 16:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
John 16:23 Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
John 21:18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.
Here's an answer I gave to a related question, What evidence is there that the thief on the cross was not baptized?. It seems even more on-topic here than there.
Remember that the original Greek didn't use punctuation, and whatever you see in English versions has been added by the translators, often based on their previous understanding of tradition.
In this case, the appropriate place for a comma in that verse could have been inserted after, rather than before the word "today".
That would give it a completely different meaning. Compare:
- Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
- Verily I say unto thee today, shalt thou be with me in paradise.
How can we know which one is the correct interpretation?
One way is to observe the use of sentence structure in Greek. The thief's statement was "remember me when thou ...". A balanced response to that would match the "when" with the "today". That is, Jesus tells him that there is no need to wait until the Kingdom, that He can tell him right away.
An even stronger indication that this is what was actually meant is given by matching more explicit facts given elsewhere in the Bible. In John 20:17, Jesus says "I am not yet ascended to my Father" and this is after the Resurrection. He had just spent three days and three nights in the grave, so the thief couldn't possibly have been in paradise with Jesus on the "today" mentioned during the crucifixion.
The comma goes before "today", Jesus lied, or the Bible contradicts itself. Which do you think it is?
All we know for sure then is that Jesus assured the thief that he would be with Jesus in "Paradise" when Jesus has his Kingdom.
Some denominations teach that the Kingdom of God is here on Earth now, so I can't speak for them. But others believe that the Kingdom will be here on Earth for a thousand years following Christ's return. At the end of that Millennium, there will be a second resurrection of those that died without ever being offered salvation (Rev 20:5), the vast majority of mankind. It is then that they will live in God's Kingdom, as physically resurrected people, and then that the vast majority of them will be saved. Finally, those few that still reject God, along with those in the third resurrection (Rev 20:13), who had previously died after rejecting salvation, will all be destroyed in fire (Rev 20:15), turned to ashes under our feet (Mal 4:3).
That second general resurrection into the Kingdom is when the thief will be given his first chance at salvation. It is then that he will be baptized.
And, assuming the other thief hadn't previously accepted God's holy spirit and then later rejected it, he too will be there.