Who put the comma between Jesus and the thief?
By Ken Osborne
When Jesus was hanging on the cross the thief to one side said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power”
And Jesus replied “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” …….?? (RSV. Luke 23:42,43)
In this exchange there are at least two things where misunderstandings arise.
The first one appears based on bias of church tradition, and pagan influences. (1)
The second one, which is key to the first, is the thought; ‘what is this coming in kingly power’ all about?
The first and major question here should arise to the logical brain, ‘If Jesus was to be in the grave for three days and nights, then how was he going to be with the thief in Paradise on the day he died????’
The answer is centred in another subject, that of understanding the difference between Heaven and Kingdom, but we will stay off that one for the moment that is another study matter. Let’s take the basic shorthand answer for this simple study;
The term “come in your kingly power” is in reference to the second coming of Jesus, when he returns at the end of the tribulation and sets up his kingdom ruling from Jerusalem, as many OT prophecies attest to. This is what the thief, a Hebrew guy who knew the scripture, was referring to, the Resurrection, when Jesus returns in his Kingly power with “his saints with him.” I believe that is us, because 1Thes4 says we the Body meet Jesus in the air, where in this study context in Rev19:13 Jesus is returning to the ground to conquer his enemies and subdue the nations, with his armies attending him. (see also Zech14:5, 1thes3:13, Jude14:14)
Around the third day Mary went to the grave. She saw two angels, and then who she thought might be the gardener, but it was Jesus. What did Jesus say to her? (Jn 20:17) “Do not cling to me for I HAVE NOT YET ASCENDED TO THE FATHER.”
What further proof do we need to see that during those days Jesus was not in heaven with the thief! So, did he drop the thief off on the way to Hades?
He was in the grave, from where God raised him as the first raised from the dead of many to follow, that is us, and the (still to occur) resurrection. 1Cor.15:20 “…… Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” This was written over 50 years after Christ, and so if the thief went to “paradise” with Jesus then more questions arise. Where is Paradise, and why did only Jesus be raised? Surely the comma implies the thief rose too, didn’t he? And three days prior!
In our Bibles, Paradise is another word for the restoration of this world under the kingship of Jesus after the resurrection. It’s the kingdom.
It is the 1000 years Millennial Reign of Jesus the King, future then and yet future now!
Jesus all through the earlier part of each Gospel is proclaiming the coming kingdom, and his Messiah ship, the kingship over that kingdom. He was rejected, tried and crucified as a blasphemer. The thief recognized him as that Messiah, and cries out to him in repentance. Jesus says in effect “you will be there in my kingdom.” Or as John Lynn would joke, “I see that hand.”
So what’s with my heading about the Comma?
This comma is a device used to delineate a time period in this verse. Our English punctuation was not used in Greek scripture, Greek and Hebrew tended to be written all in one case and with no spaces between the words and no punctuation marks. So the layout and the comma were decided on by the translators, hundreds of years later. They placed the comma to best show what they understood Jesus intending to say.
By placing it after “you,” they are making the word “today” be a strong statement of time, meaning it will occur that very day.
If we eliminate the comma or place it after “today,” then it becomes a statement of strength in saying to the thief, there and then, “you will be with me in my kingdom.” The first way makes verse 43 into a timetable. The second way makes the verse an emphasized future promise. I believe this is the correct interpretation for one reason because it eliminates the three day confusion and is logical in the greater biblical context. The verse is a confirmation from Messiah to the thief that his plea is heard and indeed he will be saved and “in the (future) kingdom.” This is why the mention of confusion between heaven and kingdom is relevant and shows how all these subjects inter relate. Hence my enthusiasm to bring up all subjects at once
What a difference a comma makes.
So my point in this is to show the use of the comma is a hindrance to correct understanding of plain scripture, placed there by well meaning translators because of the bias they have. The same bias hanging on from religious tradition out of the dark ages which people like Luther partly addressed. This hindrance causes us to reinterpret all sorts of other pieces of scripture, based on believing that the thief and Jesus went off immediately to heaven where he might be leaning over the railing ever since, watching us.
We Christians claim all scripture was inspired of God, in the NT its to the apostles who recorded it, in this case in Greek. If we claim all translators are also inspired by God to correctly translate each and every Greek word, then surely we would not have so many Bible versions and controversy, nor so many protestant denominations! Is this a fair thing to assume? The translators, if God controlled them, would have had to be like robots, but they are men like us. They are free will people and are freely doing what they can with the knowledge they have within their understanding and bias, just as the Bible Colleges and seminaries, and us as individuals, do even now.
The translators and academics are FREE WILL AGENTS. They can write and say what they believe is correct just as we can, and indeed I am doing now. God does not strike us down for saying or writing something incorrectly, whether by accident or on purpose, nor does he force our hand. He leads us with encouragement like a Father for his child.
So this comes down to what God knows and doesn’t know in what we will say or do next as true agents of FREE WILL, as imagers of God. i.e. we are made in Gods Image, in being able to think and act freely as God does, and not as a robot controlled by God. If we were totally led and controlled by a predetermining God then we would not do the silly things we have all done at times. We are IMAGERS of God (not very good images, in this fallen sin plagued state). We are designed to bear Gods image, His presence, into His created world, by the fall we have corrupted that image, hence the confusion over the nature of God, angry controlling or lovingly leading.
This simple study is to open our thoughts to consider that what we read in English in our favourite version of our Bible, might not be exactly that which God intended to be conveyed in the original.
I am not saying that we can’t trust our Bibles! I am trying to point out that just as Luther challenged and broke many man made traditions in the religious establishment of the Roman church at the reformation, we also have a responsibility to make sure we diligently study our scripture against the possibility of continued or new religious leaven. Israel did not recognize their Messiah because tradition over time had added so much confusion by the expansion of extra thoughts and misunderstandings. Inserted into Israels understanding of what they were told the scriptures said. By not each being diligent themselves they allowed the religious traditions to creep into the nations understanding of Gods word. This is what Jesus meant when he said; “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”
Pagan influences; This is the Greek ideas from Plato etc on the separation of created matter (evil) and spirit (pure) which became Gnosticism, the heresy plaguing John and Paul in the later epistles. This Hellenistic philosophy was extended into the early Roman church to attract the pagans, and unify the religions of the state in the Empire, under a ‘Christian’ banner. Christmas, All Saints ’ Day and Easter among others are similar in this concept. Pagan celebrations Christianized for the unity of the religious state of Rome, ideas which we absorb into our understanding of Gods word. It is event still in the concept of separation of body and soul at death as a tradition in the Christian church ever since. This distracts us from a true understanding of scripture as delivered to a Hebrew understanding when it was written in the first century AD. That of resurrection into Christ’s future kingdom.