Paradise | Devotion #5: The Comma
Sierra Combs | Women’s Ministry Director
English was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I have always enjoyed writing, and while I have lightened up considerably over the years, there was a time when I was a bit of a grammar and punctuation snob. Commas, in particular, are something that I have always been extremely fond of, as they can enrich the structure of the sentence and give room for added color. They really are extremely important. There are a few internet memes that stress this importance. Take for example: “I like cooking, my family, and my pets.” Now take out the commas: “I like cooking my family and my pets.” This is problematic. Another example: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” versus “Let’s eat Grandma!” As the internet meme wisely points out, commas save lives!
All joking aside, you might be interested to learn that the scribes who recorded Scripture in its origin did not use punctuation, as is did not exist yet in the Hebrew and Greek that the Bible was originally written. It was not until many centuries later when translators would study the context and meaning of the passages and add punctuation as they saw fit. There are a few places in the Bible that have comma discrepancies. Usually, they really are not that big of a deal and do not theologically alter the meaning of the passage. However, in the book of Luke, we find one passage that has two differing opinions and they revolve around the comma placement. Luke 23:43 tells us the dialogue between Jesus and the thief next to Him as they both awaited their deaths on a cross. This thief believed that Jesus was the Messiah and boldly asked Him to remember him when Jesus entered into His kingdom. Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This is likely how you have always read this verse, as every major Bible translation inserts the comma before the word “today,” all agreeing that Jesus was telling the thief that he would be in paradise with Him on that very same day.
However, there are many theologians who argue that the comma is misplaced, which changes the entire meaning of the verse. They argue that the verse should read “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise,” implying that while the thief would indeed one day see Jesus again in Heaven, it would not necessarily be that very day. Instead, he would go to the grave like everyone else, waiting to one day be resurrected upon Jesus’ return, and enter into His Kingdom at that point. It really is quite an interesting debate, one in which I will not get into here. In the end, only one thing matters. Over 2,000 years ago a sinner hung on a cross next to the Savior. Even though he was wretched, even though he was condemned, and even though he was sentenced to death for his sins, he recognized his desperate need for a Savior and realized that this Savior was Jesus.
Here is the best part! Aside from recognizing his need and asking Jesus to remember him, this man did nothing to earn the response Jesus gave him. He did not have to do a bunch of good works, or pray a very specific prayer in a certain way, or have someone come and take him off the cross for a couple of minutes so that he could get baptized. No. All he had to do was recognize that he was a sinner in need of a savior, and call upon the name of Jesus.
Whichever side of the theological fence (or comma!) you land, remember that what really matters is this great promise of the Gospel – for those of us who have called upon Jesus to be our Savior, we will be with Him forever in Paradise!