The Thief on the Cross – what he asks for

The story of the repentant criminal crucified on Jesus’ side gives way to various interpretations. The debate is over where the comma should be placed in Jesus’ answer. Since in the ancient Greek text there were no pointings, we may expect that it is the theology of the translators that determine the correct rendering, or is it? What if we the context gives us a clue?
Let us consider the following passage:

Luke 23:41 “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.””

Here the criminal not only recognises Jesus as the future king in the messianic Kingdom, but also reveals his conviction in his resurrection. In effect he asks for his own resurrection; “Please, don’t forget me when you usher in your Kingdom”.

Now let us examine Jesus’ answer:

Luke 23:42 “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.””

Since there were no pointings in the ancient Greek, we find no commas in the above sentence. Pointings were invented later on. Therefore, it is purely the theology of the translators that determines the place of the comma in the English.

We shall note that Paradise was synonymous with the Kingdom. In the Garden of Eden the Paradise was lost and taken from man, in the Kingdom Paradise is restored. In the LXX [Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanakh (OT)] the Greek term is translated as “garden”:

Ezek. 31:8 “The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were as nothing compared with its branches; no tree in the garden of God was like it in beauty. 9 I made it beautiful in the mass of its branches, and all the trees of Eden envied it, that were in the garden of God.”

Since Paradise was to be restored to man, in Jewish thought it temporarily existed with God. Anything God promised, to the Jewish mind it existed with God in heaven – not literally or physically, but in the counsels of God. When God promised something, to the Jews it was as good as done.

Considering the above, two interpretations can be offered, however only one is correct.

1. Luke 23:42 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This is how we find it in our bibles. However, this would mean Jesus was referring to Paradise that was hidden with God until the times of restoration of all things. This interpretation must explain why only Jesus was risen and not the repentant criminal.

Other questions that need to be answered are these:

a.) How could the soul of the thief be with the risen Christ in heaven? What fellowship exist between immaterial souls and people in a physical body.

b.) The Garden of Eden was a physical place in a bountiful, pleasant condition. It was lost, so what really exist with God? Did God take up the trees, plants and animals, and will he bring them back (restore them) to mankind? Or perhaps only the purpose to restore it to mankind exists with him, but then it is not a place to be .

Indeed, if we take that souls are really tortured by thirst and fire as we find it in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, then we may need to explain what sort of fire can cause pain to the immaterial soul, and what kind of pain receptors it has. How can such a soul thirst and what sort of water can quench the thirst of such souls.

You see, there are difficulties with this view, unless we take that the story is symbolic of the blessings of the Kingdom and the punishment of those who miss out – after the resurrection.

Now let us look at the second option, which I hold to be correct:

2. Luke 23:42 “And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.””

Remember, the thief asks for the resurrection at the ushering in of the Kingdom. According to this version Jesus simply grants his promise.

Indeed, the construct sounds somewhat strange to our ears. “I tell you today”. However, it was not so in the first century, as we find Paul using a similar construct:

Acts 20:26 “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you…”

Don’t we also use similar language? I tell you right now… which we use to give emphasis to what we have to say.

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