What did the Lord Jesus actually say to the malefactor
crucified beside Him in Luke 23:43?
The malefactor's words and His are as follows:
"Be reminded of me, Lord,
Thou mayest be coming in that Kingdom of Thine."
"Amen, to thee I am saying
with Me thou wilt be in the park."
That is the Greek brought over into English as literally as possible, and the parallelism is very striking. First is the appeal and the reply, second the note of time, third the future event that is to take place. The chief difficulty is in the note of time.
Whenever, hotan, presents no difficulties or ambiguities. The problem arises with sEmeron, to-day, which occurs 41 times in the Greek Scriptures. Many of these are similar in form to the passage in Luke 23:43, that is, to-day is found sandwiched between two sentences or clauses. Before dealing with these we may as well discuss and dismiss the occurrences which are not similar. Of these, in some it occurs at the beginning of a sentence, as in Matt. 6:30; 16:3; 21:28; Acts 4:9; 20:26; 27:33; James 4:13. Sometimes it is preceded by another sentence but separated from it by gar, for (Luke 19:5; 2. Cor. 3:14) or by alla, but (2. Cor. 3:15). In Acts 4:9; Heb. 1:5; 5:5 it starts the second sentence of two in a quotation. In Heb. 3:7, 15; 4:7 it starts another quotation. Finally, it occurs at the end, or towards the end, of a sentence at Matt. 6:11; 11:23; 27:8; 28:15; Luke 5:26; Acts 19:40; 22:3; 24:21; Rom. 11:8; Heb.4:7.
The occurrences in which to-day is sandwiched between two sentences or clauses are fourteen in number. In ten of
them to-day plainly refers back to the first clause. These are Matt. 27:19; Luke 2:11; 12:28; 13:32, 33; 22:34; 24:21; Acts 26:2, 29; Heb. 3:13. One other, Heb. 13:8, is rather peculiar.
"Jesus Christ yesterday and to-day the same and into the
Lastly, to-day is sandwiched between two sentences or clauses, and plainly refers to the second of them, in three places: Mark 14:30; Luke 4:21; 19:9; and in each of these it is prefixed by hoti, that; which is absent from Luke 23:43. Of these, the first begins like Luke 23:43,
but otherwise is very different, thus:
"Amen, I am saying to thee that thou to-day in this the night,
ere cock crows twice, wilt be renouncing Me thrice."
This would be conclusive, and would be recognized as so, but for the tremendous power of tradition. Yet the fact remains that, in constructions such as these three, the word hoti, that, precedes to-day and forces it to refer to what follows, whereas in Luke 23:43 it does not occur at all.
The evidence, therefore, is perfectly plain. Luke 23:43 should be construed as in the ten passages listed above. To attempt to force it to read as the three do is to fly in the face of the facts.
Nevertheless, no traditionalist will meet this evidence honestly. They never do in such circumstances. One writer, I regret to observe, suggests that Luke 23:43 "is exactly matched by chap. 19:5 ";
but this is just not true, thus:
"Zaccheus! Hurry! Descend! For to-day in your house I
There is nothing in Luke 23:43 corresponding to the gar, for, here.
This is, as a matter of fact, all that needs to be said; but perhaps I should mention that Dr. Bullinger ("Things to Come," Vol. 8, 1902) quotes a number of passages from the Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures in support of his case which we are here defending again. For instance, he gives a large number of relevant passages in Deuteronomy. One, Deut. 8:1,
"All the commands, which I command you to-day, you should observe to do."
Again, Deut. 30:16 reads:
"If thou wilt hearken to the commands of the Lord thy God,
which I command thee to-day, to love the Lord thy God. . . ."
However, it is a hopeless task to convince those who are determined not to be convinced. In a most unpleasant pamphlet, "The Intermediate State" by one W. Hoste, its author quotes Dr. Edwin A. Abbott
as saying (p. 48):
"The instances of anaggellO (I announce) entellomai (I com-
mand), repeatedly occurring in Deuteronomy have little bearing
here, as the whole narrative emphasises 'this day,' and the fact
that the law is being 'this day' enjoined in Israel."
The learned Doctor, somehow, forgets to explain how he knows that the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 23:43 do not emphasise "this day." Anyone might well suppose from what he says that the day of the Crucifixion was one of minor importance. Mr. Hoste seems to have noticed this,
for he says further:
"The deliberate remark of a sane and usually well balanced
expositor like Dr. Alford is worth consideration: 'The attempt
to join "today,"' he writes, 'with the words "I say unto
you," considering that it not only violates sense, but destroys
the force of our Lord's promise, is surely something worse than
Mr. Hoste does well in writing "usually," for Dr. Alford's extraordinarily silly remark falls immeasurably below his usual standards. The Commentary of Henry Alford, D.D. late Dean of Canterbury, is one of the most valuable of all.
Mr. Hoste goes on to write about the Apostle Paul (p. 50):
"For him Paradise was a real, tangible place then
existing, into which it was not impossible for him to be
caught away in his body. It is certainly inconceivable
that a man could be caught away in his body into 'a
future blessed place.'"
Yes, and the real trouble with Mr. Hoste (and Dr. Alford here) is that for them nothing must be permitted to go against their traditional idols.
Actually, Mr. Hoste has put his finger squarely on a second point which will be more convincing to those who are unable to follow the argument of the first part of this paper.
He tells us (p. 50):
"But in 2. Corinthians 12 the Apostle Paul speaks of
it" (paradise) "as a present place into which he was
caught up and where he heard unspeakable words."
Most unfortunately for Mr. Hoste, whose obvious ignorance of Greek makes his patronising tone towards Mr. Rotherham and Dr. Alford very funny, the A.V. on which he relies for this is defective in 2. Cor. 12:2-4. Twice it says, not "caught up" but "snatched"; "snatched to a third heaven. . . snatched into the park." There is no "up" about it anywhere. How he knows what he thinks he does, or how he has discovered that Paul was "caught away in his body," he fails to tell us. This is an outstanding example of the downright carelessness over Scripture all too common in some expositors. The passage says nothing about Paul's body being snatched away. What Paul does tell us is that, when this happened, he was not aware whether he was "in body" or "outside of the body"; that is, actually alive, or dead.
As to a "third heaven," it is difficult to improve on the 1930 C.V. Note here, which points out that the first heaven was of old (2. Peter 3:5) and was followed by "the heavens which are now" (2. Peter 3:7). These also are transient, but there is to be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). The park (or paradise) of God is linked with the tree of life there (Rev. 2:7). In the Greek Scriptures there is not so much as a scrap of evidence that the park exists now any more than does "the Lordly Day." But these considerations are of no importance to such men. If God's Word will not pass through the sieve of their traditions, so much the worse for God's Word. That the final result is like soup rather than solid meat does not matter to them.
However, let us for the sake of argument suppose for a moment that Mr. Hoste is correct, and that the Lord Jesus with the malefactor went to the park (or the paradise) that very day. Now in Matt. 12:40 the Lord Jesus tells us that He was to be "in the heart of the earth three days and three nights." So the park to which He took him is "in the heart of the earth"! Comment is needless!
But it should be pointed out that the next words of the Lord Jesus in Luke after Luke 23:43 are: "Father, into Thy hands I am committing My spirit" (v. 46). Speculation about this exceedingly solemn matter is altogether out of order, and I refuse to accompany Mr. Hoste into it. Why should we pry into these secrets that God has kept in His own hands?
A few words are called for about two other passages which have caused much difficulty. 2. Cor. 5:6-9 is misunderstood chiefly through ignoring its context. We should begin with v. 1; and then we would understand that two habitations are in view: our present soulish body and the future spiritual body which is to be ours in resurrection. The interval during which anyone of us is dead is left out of account because, in fact, it does not count. When we die, our spirit goes to God Who gave it. In His keeping we shall not only know no sorrow or trouble, there will be none to sorrow or trouble about or to disturb our complete repose in Him. So there is little if anything to add to the admirable note in the 1930 C.V. about this passage.
Also, I have been asked to remark on Phil. 1:23,
"Yet I am being pressed out of (or, experiencing constraint
concerning) the two, having the yearning for the dissolution
(or, breaking loose), and together with Christ to be; for it,
rather, is much better, yet the remaining in the flesh is more
necessary because of you."
This is too literal for a proper translation, and is intended only to exhibit precisely what the Greek says. The "out of the two" presumably refers to the living or dying in v. 21. The form of the verb is the Middle Voice, which implies pressing on his own account rather than suffering external pressure. He was wanting to get beyond the alternatives of simply dying or going on living on to ultimate matters, being with Christ and serving the Philippians. I believe he departed here from his usual clarity of expression because he had knowledge that he was not at liberty to disclose then: that his ministry was far from its end. He implies this in v. 25, but could not say explicitly that the promised catching away of the saints was still some distance away in the future, so he had to leave it open. We now know that for him "the breaking loose" was to mean death, but none of us can know this for certain as regards ourselves; for so long as we remain alive, the next moment in our experience may be the Lord's shout and our snatching away.
What we must avoid is reading into this passage any idea that Paul was thinking in terms of his own profit, of what he personally was going to gain, one way or the other. This is plain from vv. 20-22. The Notes in the 1930 C.V. here are excellent. His living would further the fame of Christ, his martyrdom would do likewise. For himself, the end of the constraint would be the end of his troubles, for his next experience would be to be with Christ in resurrection glory. We too should realize this; but we must also be most carefully on our guard against those traditionalists who twist Paul's words to mean, " to depart to be with Christ." That is not what the Apostle Paul says here.
RB.W. Last updated 17.10.2005