Christ told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in Paradise. (See Luke 23:43).
The text reads thus: "Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Believers in the doctrine of immortal souls, or spirits, boldly bring forth 1 Peter 3:18-20 in an attempt to prove that when Christ died on the cross He went down to preach to certain lost souls in hell. But that claim is no sooner proved to be groundless than they confront us with this text in Luke 23:43, and inform us that when Christ died on the cross He went immediately to Paradise. We believe that Christ did not go to Paradise that crucifixion Friday, and for the following reasons:
If the reader will compare Revelation 2:7 with Revelation 22:1, 2, he will see that Paradise is where the "throne of God" is. Therefore, if Christ had gone to Paradise that Friday afternoon, He would have gone into the very presence of God. But Christ Himself, on the resurrection morning, declared to Mary, as she fell at His feet to worship Him, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." John 20:1 7. How perfectly this statement of Christ's agrees with the words of the angel to the women at the tomb:
"Come, see the place where the Lord lay." Matt. 28:6. He had lain in the tomb, that was why He said on the resurrection morning, "I am not yet ascended to my Father." Are we therefore to be placed in the embarrassing position of attempting to decide whether to accept the statements made to the women by Christ and the angel on Sunday morning, or the statement made by Christ to the thief on Friday afternoons' No, Christ did not contradict Himself. Note the punctuation of Luke 23:43.
Then remember that the punctuation in the Bible is quite modern. The early manuscripts of the Bible not only did not use the comma, which is the particular punctuation mark in this sentence, but they actually ran the words right together in the line. Our translators used their best judgment in placing punctuation marks, but their work was certainly not inspired. Therefore we need not be held to these marks made by translators only about four hundred years ago, when we are endeavoring to determine the intent of the writers of nineteen hundred years ago.
The change of a comma may make a great difference in the meaning. If you write, "The teacher says my boy is no good," you mean one thing. But you mean something quite different if you add two commas, thus: "The teacher, says my boy, is no good." The words are the same, but the meaning is different. Now if the translators, who did such excellent work in general, had placed the comma in Luke 23:43 after "today" instead of after "thee," we would not be confronted with an apparently hopeless contradiction. Christ's words could then properly be understood thus: Verily I say unto thee today (this day when it seems that I am deserted of God and man and am dying as a common criminal), Thou shall be with Me in Paradise. Instead of being deprived of meaning, the words "today" take on a real significance.
A similar sentence construction is found in the writings of the prophet Zechariah: "Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee." Zech. 9:12. The context shows that the rendering "double" was not to take place on that very "today," but was a future event. It is evident that "today" qualifies "declare." Even so in Luke 23:43, if "today" be allowed to qualify "say," which is not only proper grammar, but a parallel to the language of Zechariah, there is no contradiction between the message to the thief and that to Mary. And, we should add, there is no conscious entity soaring away to Paradise that sad Friday afternoon.
Francis D. Nichol was editor of the Adventist Review. This article was taken from his book Answers to Objections, pp. 352-353.