Friday, November 23, 2007

Even the Commas Count

This Sunday the Gospel (Luke 23:35-43) gives us an account of possibly the most famous death-bed conversion.

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews."

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,"Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us. "The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God,for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said,"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you,today you will be with me in Paradise."

King of the Jews had mounted his throne and we are reminded that the condemned receive sentences corresponding to their crimes, while the faithful theirs corresponding to grace. It’s a wonderful affirmation that the grace of God can soften the hardest of hearts as long as it is still beating, and a warning that same grace can be refused.

But this reading also holds a hidden message. I would like to look at the last verse in the reading above (Luke 23:43):
"Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
The Greek text of the New Testament was written as one long string of uppercase Greek letters – no lowercase letters, no spaces between words, no punctuation, no breathing marks, no accents, etc. Below shows what the original text looked like, what the modern rendering of the text in todays Greek manuscripts, and my rough translation of the text (sorry it's so small):

The New World Translation of Holy Scripture (NWT) is the translation of the Bible that the Jehovah’s Witnesses use. This translation is notorious for poorly translating verses that seem to contradict their doctrine and theology. The above verse, Luke 23:43 is one such verse (John 1 is another great example). .

While virtually all mainstream translations (Catholic and Protestant) of the Bible translate the verse as:

"Amen, I say to you,today you will be with me in Paradise."

The NWT translates it as:

"Amen, I say to youtoday, you will be with me in Paradise."

Notice that the only difference is the placement of the second comma, but what a difference it is!

The commonly accepted translation poses a problem for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. For Jesus to claim that this man would be with Him that day in paradise would point to some non-physical (spiritual) mode of existence after death. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the soul ceases to exist immediately after death, and unless you were one of the 144,000 elect you will not be taken to heaven (paradise).

But when the translator moves the comma just one word over, the problem is solved. You now have Jesus promising "today", that the man will be with Him in paradise (no time constraint). Clever!

Remember, the earliest texts we have contain no punctuation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses like to point out this fact, but it really doesn’t support their translation only allows for its possibility. So how do we know who is right?

As Catholics, we know who’s right because God has given us an authoritative guide here on earth – the Church. He did not leave us a written Word without a voice to interpret it. And the Church has spoken, and the comma goes on the left side of the word “today”.
We have an eternal soul, our actions in this life affect the next, and it's never too late to change our heart.


Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Tricky things, those commas!

Ron Rhoades said...

>[Serviam! wrote]: The translation of the Bible that the Jehovah’s Witnesses notorious for poorly translating verses that seem to contradict their doctrine and theology. Luke 23:43 is one such verse.<

This is a statement of personal bias and is unsupported by any evidence. Believing it requires an ignorance of Greek and Hebrew grammar, Bible translation principles, and scripture context. Just a little honest research would have proven this statement false.

First, non-JW Professor Jason David BeDuhn compared eight translations in his book "TRUTH IN TRANSLATION: ACCURACY AND BIAS...” His study concluded: "It can be said that the NW emerges as the most accurate of the translations compared...the translators managed to produce works relatively more accurate and less biased than the translations produced by multi-denominational teams, as well as those produced by single individuals....Most of the differences are due to the greater accuracy of the NW as a literal, conservative translation of the original expressions of the New Testament."

Second, your accusation is proved false when educated hearers recognize that many other translators have placed the comma exactly where the NWT does: (e.g.; Concordant Literal NT, C.A.L. Totten, Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, George M. Lamsa’s Aramaic NT, Prof Wilhelm Michaelis, and James L. Tomanek’s NT).

Obviously these translators felt that the comma should follow the word SEMERON (today). Was it also preconceived theology that caused these Greek scholars to punctuate exactly as the NWT did? Since these translators did not share Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs, “theological bias” cannot be cannot be the reason. Their choice was solidly based on valid translation principles involving Greek grammar, usage and context.

Third, you might wish to change your view when you realized that one of the earliest NT manuscripts actually does contain punctuation and it places the comma exactly where the NWT does. This manuscript is the Codex Vaticanus and is “the most important of all the manuscripts of Holy Scripture” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Fourth, the context of Scripture proves that the comma must follow today. Jesus was dead and in the tomb (hADES) for three days, so he could not have been in any “paradise” that day (Acts 2:31). Jesus did not ascend to heaven until 40 days later (Jn.20:17; Ac.1:1-3,9).

Jesus had earlier held out the prospect of entry into that heavenly Kingdom for his faithful disciples (Lu 22:28-30). Yet, he clearly shows that they would “be with him” only at a far distant future time (Jn.14:1-3; Mt 19:28). If the Apostles will not be “with him” until his future coming, why does the evildoer get in immediately?

Scriptures plainly state that any resurrection of humans to eternal life with Christ would only occur after Christ’s future coming and presence; first those ruling as kings and then during “the thousand years” the rest of redeemed humans (1Th 4:13-17; Rev. 20:4-6; 14:4; 1Cor.15:20,23; cf. Dan.7:21-27).

When individuals take time to evaluate the facts rather than blindly accepting biased opinions they will find that every rendering in the NWT is accurate and solidly based on rules of translation.

>[Serviam!] So how do we know who is right?<

>As Catholics, we know who’s right because God has given us an authoritative guide here on earth – the Church...And the Church has spoken, and the comma goes on the left side of the word “today”. We have an eternal soul...<

The Scriptures state that they are the “truth” and to be used to correct doctrine (Jn 17:17; 2Tim.3:16,17). The Bible repeatedly says that the soul dies! (Ezek.18:4; Ac 3:23; Re 16:3). So when any “authority” claiming to speak for God disagrees with the clear teaching of Scripture I must apply Gal. 1:8: “even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to YOU as good news something beyond what we declared to YOU as good news, let him be accursed.”

Feel free to e-mail me for further discussion,

Ron Rhoades

Serviam! said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I have responded to your comments in a post you can find here.