The Thief on the Cross Arguments answered


And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:43).


There are many who argue that people who believe in the resurrection and not the immortality of the soul have this scripture all wrong. Would be scholars maintain that this scripture is proof of the immortality of the soul.


One argument they maintain is that Apart from Luke 23:43, the phrase, “Verily I say unto thee,” is not followed by the word “today” in any other verses. So “Today” should be applied to the latter half of the verse which says, “shalt thou be with me in paradise” and not to the previous half of the verse, “Verily I say unto thee.”


The original Greek text, however, has no punctuation and, translated literally, reads: “Truly to you I say today with me you will be in paradise.” The adverb “today–semeron” stands between the verb “I say–lego” and “you will be–ese.” This means that grammatically the adverb “today” can apply to either of the two verbs. If it qualifies the first verb, then Jesus said: “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

In Greek, there is no specific rule concerning the position of the adverb, whether before or after the verb (see Word order in Greek and so in the NT is freer by far than in modern languages.” F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and ed. Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), § 472.)

Now why the reason for this exceptional attachment of the adverb “today” to the phrase “Truly, I say to you”? This could very well be the immediate situation they are in! (see Biacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection?). The thief asked Jesus to remember him in the future when He would establish His messianic kingdom. But Jesus responded by remembering the penitent thief immediately, “today,” and by reassuring him that he would be with Him in paradise.  Jesus was at the brink of death, and Jesus needed to reassure before he dies “today” that the thief will be in his future KINGDOM, as the thief asked, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” (v.42).

Linguistic evidence


When one observes the Gospel of Luke and Acts one notices, “Luke, however, has a definite tendency of using this adverb with the preceding verb. This happens in 14 of the 20 occurrences of sēmeron in Luke and Acts (Luke 2:11; 5:26; 12:28; 13:32, 33; 22:34, 61; Acts 19:40; 20:26; 22:3; 24:21; 26:2, 29; 27:33).12 Of the five uses of the adverb with the following verb, one is a quotation from Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33), and, in three cases, sēmeron is preceded by a conjunction (Luke 4:21; 19:5, 9),13 which makes such a construction inevitable. That is, there is only one example in Luke’s writings in which sēmeron was freely placed before the verb (Acts 4:9). The attempt to read the adverb in Luke 23:43 in connection to the preceding verb, therefore, is not only fully acceptable in terms of grammar but is also in complete agreement with Luke’s literary style” (Article; The Significance of a Comma: An Analysis of Luke 23:43 by Wilson Paroschi, PhD,is professor of New Testament studies, emphasis added; footnote 12, ‘In Luke 22:61, the position of sēmeron in relation to the verb must be settled on the basis of its unequivocal use in v. 34, and in Acts 27:33, the adverb must necessarily be read after an implicit ‘to be’ (‘Today is the fourteenth day’), as nearly all translations recognize.). So The adverbial phrase “to-day” modifies the verb “say” rather than the verb “shall be.”


He continues, “…the NT was written in Greek—not plain Greek, but sometimes a Greek stuffed with Semitic idioms. Luke’s Greek fits into this category, especially in the Gospel, despite the fact that he himself was not a Jew (see Col. 4:10–14). And it has long been demonstrated that the use of ‘today’ with a preceding verb to introduce or close a statement is nothing but a Semitic idiom intended to intensify the significance and solemnity of the statement that either will follow or has just been made” (ibid, emphasis added)


In fact, this idiom is rather common in Scripture, especially in Deuteronomy, where there are more than 40 examples of expressions such as, “I teach you today” (4:1), “I set before you today” (11:26), “I give you today” (28:13), “I command you today” (6:6; 7:11; 12:32), “I testify against you today” (8:19), and “I declare you today” (30:18; cf., 4:26; 30:19; 32:46; Acts 20:26;26:2).


To call this a “phantom idiom” just because none of the examples in Deuteronomy have the words “truly” (amēn) or “say” (legō), as Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr. do (Sense and Nonsense about Heaven and Hell [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007], 58), is nothing but a tergiversation. What is idiomatic is the adverb “today” to enhance the solemnity of an announcement, not the other words. (ibid, footnote 16)


Another similar sentence construction is found in the writings of the prophet Zechariah: “Turn you to the strong hold, you prisoners of hope: even to day 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 “to day,” but was a future event. It is evident that “to day” qualifies “declare.” Even so in Luke 23:43, if “to day” be allowed to qualify “say,” which is not only proper grammar, but a  parallel to the language of Zechariah;  Jesus message to the thief was a future time when he will be in the kingdom.


In the case of Luke, this and other biblical idi­oms would have come to him through the influence of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament exten­sively used by the early Christians. We find it worth mentioning that “ninety percent of Luke’s vocabulary is found” in the Septuagint (see Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 623).


Looking at the grammatical evidence, the consistency of Luke’s grammar, and the context of the situation Christ and the thief were in, one can conclude that Jesus did say, “Verily I say unto thee To day,  shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43); as others have concluded:


·        Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible renders’ this verse: “And he said unto him Verily I say unto thee this day: With me thou shalt be in paradise.”


·        The Concordant Literal New Testament reads: “And Jesus said to him, “Verily, to you am I saying today, with me shall you be in paradise.”  


·        George M. Lamsa, in his translation of the New Testament from Aramaic sources, renders it as follows: “Truly I say to you today, You will be with Me in Paradise.”

“Gave up the Ghost"?


There is a common expression in the Bible when someone dies and it is one who “gave up the ghost.” Many believe that this is proof that one has an immortal soul and when Jesus gave up the ghost he told his Father, “…into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46); so many believe that Jesus when he died went to heaven. Is this true? What does giving up the ghost mean, and did Jesus go into the hands of the Father when he died?


In Genesis 25:8 we read of the death of Abraham and it says: “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age...” In nine other instances in the Old Testament in the (KJV) similarly speaks of a dying person. In all those ten cases a single Hebrew verb (gawa) is translated into the four-word phrase “gave up the ghost,” or “yielded up the ghost.” In other instances in that same version gawa is translated to “be dead” once “die” 11 times, “perish” twice, and (as a participle) “ready to die” once.


Now the King James translators many times used the biases and preconceived ideas to translate certain words. They believed in the immortality of the soul and Ghosts, so they applied it to some words in the Bible. However “There is no special reason for retaining ‘ghost’ in the English…” (Robertson’s Word Pictures).


In Hebrew “gawa” means “to gasp out,” “to breath out,” “expire” “die” (see Strong’s #1478). Hence it is no surprise to find the Revised Standard Version saying “Abraham breathed his last and died.” So also the New American Standard Bible, The New American Bible, and the Jerusalem Bible. The English Translation long published by the Jewish publications Society of America simply says that “Abraham expired.”


In the New Testament of the King James it is stated concerning four persons that each of them “gave up the ghost” when they died. In two such accounts the Greek noun pneuma is rendered “ghost.”


But in these instances (Matthew 27:50; John 19:30) the Greek term is used “as the equivalent of the Hebrew word ruach, and means the ‘spirit’ or the breath of life from God...” (Is Your Soul Immortal, Robert Leo Odom, p.34, emphasis added). When looking at the 4 Gospels the context is clear as the Old Testament scriptures that it means “breath” not “spirit,” pertaining to a supernatural entity.


More modern translations correctly translate Matthew and John as “died,” “expired” or “breathed his last.” Notice:


Mark 15:37, 39 and Luke 23:46 the Greek verb ekpneo is rendered as “gave up the ghost.” The prefix ek (meaning “out”) and the verb pneo (“to blow, to breath”) are combined as ekpneo, which means “to breath out,” “to exhale,” or “to gasp.” (Bullinger’s Companion Bible) Several modern versions which are not paraphrasing rendered the verb as “breathed his last.” Some simply say he “died.” Interesting that this word is from “pneuma which is the root of ekpneō, the verb in Mark and Luke.”


In mentioning the deaths of Ananias, Sapphira, and King Herod, the KJV states that they “gave up the ghost,” or “yielded up the ghost.” (Acts 5:5, 10, 12:23). The Greek verb used here is eksucho, which is correctly rendered as “died” in several modern translations of the New Testament. No “ghost” is mentioned here.


Basically the breath of life when taken away results in soul becoming a dead soul. “In relating the story of the raising to life of the widow’s son at Zarephath by Elijah the prophet… the death of the boy is described as the cessation of breathing: ‘There was no breath left in him.’ This suggests that as the cessation of breathing caused the soul–nephesh to die, so the revival of breathing caused the return of the soul-nephesh back to life, a living soul.


"I Commend my spirit," Heaven?


What of Jesus, when he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit:”? What does this mean?


Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 31:5 when David being hunted down by his enemies said, “Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength. “Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth. “I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 31:4-6). The word “spirit” “may mean either ‘life,’ considered as the animating principle, equivalent to the word ‘myself;”’ (Barnes Notes, emphasis added).


David put his life in the hands of God and trusted that God would deliver him out of the hands of his enemies!


Jesus was saying the same thing! He put his trust in the Father to deliver him from the enemy which is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). And 3 days and 3 nights later God did deliver Jesus from death and brought him back to life, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” (Acts 2:24).


 The K&D Commentary states, “[Jesus] Like David, He commends His spirit to God; but not, that He may not die, but that dying He may not die, i.e., that He may receive back again His spirit-corporeal life, which is hidden in the hand of God, in imperishable power and glory.” (emphasis added).


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