Luke 23.43 and misplaced commas
Spot the difference between these two phrases:
1. "Verily I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
2. "Verily I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise."
Exactly, the moving of the comma changes both the structure and the meaning of the sentence.
Scholars and interested non-scholars have noticed that Jesus uses, "Verily I say to you" as a prefix phrase when he is about to say something that should be listened to with care.
Matthew 5:18, "Verily I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away…"
Matthew 6:2, "Verily I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:5, "Verily I say to you, they have received their reward.
Luke 4:24, "Verily I say to you, a prophet is not without honour…"
Luke 11:51, "Verily I say to you, it shall be required of this generation."
Luke 13:35, "Verily I say to you, you will not see me until the time comes…"
Luke 18:17, "Verily I say to you, whoever shall not receive the kingdom…"
These illustrate what I mean. There are seventy-five of them all rendering the same Greek phrase (allowing for singular and plural "you").
No one in the NT uses this phrase but Jesus.
Scholars tell us that there is not a single illustration of it to be adduced in rabbinic literature of the time.
On rare occasions someone in earlier writings would conclude his own prayer with "amen"; it was a rare thing and it wasn't an affirmation so much as an appeal. It was common, of course, in ancient times for the Hebrew/Aramaic "Amen" to express agreement with the truth of what someone else said (we do it all the time, don't we).
None of that is what Jesus did.
He used the phrase in view over and over to affirm that what he was about to say was true and that it should be given special attention. We're too used to hearing the phrase to appreciate the astonishing authority expressed in it and the often solemn nature of it.
For obvious reasons the versions all add a comma (punctuation break) after the phrase in question and before the affirmation.
[Metzger and his colleagues (in their Greek text produced in association with the Institute for NT Textual Research and put out by the United Bible Societies—2nd edition) tell us they've given a warning when they judged punctuation could materially affect the interpretation of a text. They made some 600 entries but none on Luke 23:43. You understand, this doesn't mean these Greek authorities must always be correct in their judgment but they are advanced scholars whose work with the Greek text involves more than counting words and manuscripts. They are at home in the language of the NT and know the structure and rhythm and resonances of how the language flows. They're well aware that the Greek had no commas but they are the people who can tell what would be an awkward or strange or unknown structure in the speech of this one or that. I repeat, they don't profess always to know how the punctuation should be rendered but when they doubt it, they say so and said it 600 times—but not at Luke 23:43 or in any of the other seventy-five occurrences of the phrase.]
The seventy-sixth occurrence is Luke 23:43.
Here it is. "Verily I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise."
It's true Jesus could have said, "Verily I say to you today,…" But there is no record of him in his entire public life having done so.
Those who want the comma moved realize that if Jesus used the phrase as he did in all the seventy-five previous occasions their theology is in jeopardy.
Those like the Jehovah's Witnesses cannot have Jesus going to Paradise the day he died or a huge part of their theology collapses, so they move the comma and put in Jesus' mouth a prefix phrase he has never before used. In order to do this they have to rework the phrase he did use seventy-five times. And the only version I know that goes along with their decision is the one they brought out themselves.
Still, if my theology hung on it I believe I'd offer it as an option though I'd be more than a bit uneasy.
Did Jesus go to Heaven/Paradise the day he died? See what you think of this.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.