Commatology 101

by Caveat 15 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Caveat

    Commatology 101

    The WT argues that the expression on Luke 23:43 should be rendered: "Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in paradise."

    A great deal has been placed on this comma’s placement since the traditional understanding of this verse is in direct contraposition with the Watchtower teachings.

    Since commas are not included in the original language, our understanding of this passage is conditioned to our beliefs and the subsequent implications that may arise from it’s interpretation.

    By arguing that the correct rendering is "Truly I tell you today,…" the WT implies that Jesus used this phrase regularly and was a rutinary saying of Jesus since otherwise it makes no sense adding 'today' on this particular occasion. Since similar phrases are found all over the gospels we can verify the it’s usage by Jesus and hopefully be able to have a pattern that help us into resolving the dilemma.

    In the WT’s Comprehensive Concordance we can track the usage of the expression ‘Truly I tell you', ‘Truly I say to you’ and others that basically have the same structure.

    Jesus is quoted in the gospels 80 + times, according to the New World Translation, with expressions following the same formula.

    Here is a list of the places in the gospels where Jesus is quoted using the phrase or one of it’s variations: (You can verify them by using your Comprehensive Concordance book or look them up in your personal copy on the NWT, all are encouraged to add or substract as they do their own personal research)


    1) 5:18

    2) 5:26

    3) 6:2

    4) 6:5

    5) 6:16

    6) 8:10

    7) 10:15

    8) 10:23

    9) 11:11

    10) 13:17

    11) 16:28

    12) 17:20

    13) 18:3

    14) 18:18

    15) 18:19

    16) 19:23

    17) 19:28

    18) 21:21

    19) 21:31

    20) 23:36

    21) 24:2

    22) 24:34

    23) 24:47

    24) 25:12

    25) 25:40

    26) 25:45

    27) 26:13

    28) 26:21

    29) 26:34


    30) 3:28

    31) 8:12

    32) 9:1

    33) 9:41

    34) 10:15

    35) 10:29

    36) 11:23

    37) 12:43

    38) 13:30

    39) 14:9

    40) 14:18

    41) 14:25

    42) 14:30


    43) 4:24

    44) 4:25

    45) 7:26

    46) 9:27

    47) 12:37

    48) 12:44

    49) 12:50

    50) 13:3

    51) 13:5

    52) 18:17

    53) 18:29

    54) 21:3

    55) 21:32

    56) 23:43


    57) 1:51

    58) 3:3

    59) 3:5

    60) 3:11

    61) 5:19

    62) 5:24

    63) 5:25

    64) 6:26

    65) 6:32

    66) 6:47

    67) 6:53

    68) 8:34

    69) 8:45

    70) 8:51

    71) 8:58

    72) 10:1

    73) 10:7

    74) 12:24

    75) 13:16

    76) 13:20

    77) 13:21

    78) 13:38

    79) 14:12

    80) 16:20

    81) 16:27

    82) 21:18

    Out of these 80+ times ONLY 3 TIMES does some kind of fixed time follows the preceding expression ‘I truly say to you’ or one of it’s variants.

    These are:

    Matthew 26:34 "Truly I say to you, On this night before a cock crows you will disown me three times." (NWT)

    Mark 14:30: "Truly I say to you, You today, yes , this night before a cock crows twice, even you will disown me three times". (NWT)


    Luke 23:43 "Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise." (NWT)

    Notice that out of these three, two of them are rendered with the familiar formula "Truly I say to you’ separated from the rest of the sentence and only one includes the word TODAY into the expression by using the NWT punctuation.

    Again, out of 80+ times that Jesus used this phrase or something along the same line, ONLY three times did he used an immediate time reference along the phrase and only ONE time does the punctuation used by the NWT includes something different from the otherwise standard phrase used by Jesus.

    Jesus repeatedly used 'I truly say to you' and as far as I know NEVER used the word TODAY along his frequenly used saying.

    Coincidentally Luke 23:43 is the only place where the WT doctrines are challenged by the interpretation of said phrase.

    Active Witness, Are you still so sure of the correct rendering of this bible passage and the location of the famous comma?


  • Leolaia

    In addition to the observation you made, a more pertinent fact is the way Luke 23:43 answers the question posed by the repentant thief: "Remember (mnésthéti) me whenever (hotan) you may come (elthés) into your kingdom". Here (1) the verb "remember" implies the passage of some time (cf. Luke 22:61, 24:6), (2) hotan "whenever" in particular has in view an indefinite time in the future, and (3) the aorist subjunctive of elthés "you may/might come" also implies an indefinite future when used with hotan. In the reply, sémeron "today" is the counterpoint to this indefiniteness; it won't be some vague, indefinite time in the distant future but "today". The wording of the preceding verse thus strongly supports the traditional parsing of Luke 23:43.

    This simple point is something I've never seen the Watchtower Society address.

  • Hellrider

    And on this one:

    Mark 14:30: "Truly I say to you, You today, yes , this night before a cock crows twice, even you will disown me three times". (NWT)

    ...Jesus uses the "today"-expression on something that is to Why is it that "today" in this context means that is is going to happen "today", whereas in Luke, they claim that the meaning is that "I`m telling you this today". It doesn`t make any sense.

    I remember a time this was discussed at a meeting, actually. The speaker used an example from our own language, on the importance of "placing the comma right". In my language "not" and "don`t" is the same the example goes like this: A king heard that an old friend of his was to be executed for treason, but he wanted to talk to him first, and possibly pardon him, so he sent a telegram "hang him, not wait til I get there" ("not" and "don`t" is the same word in norwegian). So they hung the guy right away, just because the king put the comma in the wrong place. "So the placement of the comma can mean the difference between life and death", said the speaker, and everybody laughed, hu-hu-hu...duh, because" we", of course, by the wisdom and spiritual food provided by the FDS, knew better than the rest of christendom (literally, this was a matter of life and death...for the rest of christendom, was his point, and it was not missed on the audience)...we even knew where to place the comma.

  • Narkissos

    Excellent points.

    Other examples (of the indication of time being part of the statement, not its introduction):

    Matthew 5:18: For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

    Matthew 26:64: But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.

    Luke 17:34: I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.

    John 21:18: Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.

    N.B.: None of the above uses the hoti which explicitly separates the introduction from the statement (roughly equivalent to our use of the colon [:] introducing direct speech), so they are formally similar to Luke 23:43. Matthew 26:34 and Mark 14:30 on the other hand have the hoti (Mark even has the term for you, su, before the time indication: Amèn legô soi hoti su sèmeron...). I didn't find any NT parallel that the WT could point to, as a time indication belonging to the introduction.

  • IP_SEC

    That is very interesting and compelling, but if you will allow a detour into doctrine for a moment.

    Most christians believe jesus went to hell for 3 days after this. If this is so, how could anyone be with him in his kingdom that day? Never having been a christian, only a JW, how would a christian explain this?

  • Dr Jekyll
    Dr Jekyll
    Most christians believe jesus went to hell for 3 days after this

    Where did this teaching come from?

  • Hellrider

    The three days in hell-thing is in Peter.

    1 Peter

    3:18 Because Christ also suffered once for sins,

    the just for the unjust,

    to bring you to God,

    by being put to death in the flesh

    but by being made alive in the spirit.

    3:19 In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison,

    3:20 after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water

    It`s also mentioned in Acts 2:31. These verses are not mentioned to often among JWs, but I suspect that this is the reason why they claim that his ressurection was spiritual, not physical. But I don`t see this verse as problematic to christians. Couldn`t Jesus have just stopped by heaven with the dead robber he promised would be in paradise, and then went down to hell? Or maybe the dead robber was with him, by his side, even though this is not mentioned? By the way, the NWT translates "hell" here as "Tar-tar-us", another place from greek mythology than Hades, believing, naively, that this solves the problem of there being a place where the "souls" of the dead are kept. Tartarus was in greek mythology a place where disobedient gods (or in this case, angels) were kept to be punished. It is true that some manuscripts use "Tartarus", but I believe others use "Hades". And Hades was the place where the souls of dead humans were kept. Rather than being an argument for the "soul-doctrine", the three days in Hades is an argument for it. . Anyway, this is part of the story, but not a big part of it. The story of Jesus` death, ressurection and the three days inbetween is not really a coherent story. I guess that`s what makes it difficult.

    Angels and demons are referred to as "spirits" in the NT, by the way, and the spirits referred to here, are the angels that rebelled against God to go down to earth and pork all the hot, human chicks back in Noah days (they are referred to as the "Nephilim" in apocryphical books)

  • stillajwexelder

    or he reappeared in a resurrection and certainly as far as I know most Christians celebrate ascension day - when Jesus ascended into heaven - 40 days later - so NOT Today.

  • stillajwexelder

    a misplaced comma in a FORTRAN program once caused a rocket not to reach orbit - cant remeber which one - I will dig that info out

  • Narkissos


    The statement of Luke 23:43 must be put into the perspective of the apocalyptical belief in a special intermediate state, often described as a "hidden paradise," for the faithful awaiting their full reward in the resurrection (cf. Abraham's bosom in chapter 16).


    1 Enoch 39:4ff:

    There I saw another vision; I saw the habitations and resting places of the saints. There my eyes beheld their habitations with the angels, and their resting places with the holy ones. They were entreating, supplicating, and praying for the sons of men; while righteousness like water flowed before them, and mercy like dew was scattered over the earth. And thus shall it be with them for ever and for ever. At that time my eyes beheld the dwelling of the elect, of truth, faith, and righteousness. Countless shall be the number of the holy and the elect, in the presence of God for ever and for ever. Their residence I beheld under the wings of the Lord of spirits. All the holy and the elect sung before him, in appearance like a blaze of fire; their mouths being full of blessings, and their lips glorifying the name of the Lord of spirits. And righteousness incessantly dwelt before him. There was I desirous of remaining, and my soul longed for that habitation. There was my antecedent inheritance; for thus had I prevailed before the Lord of spirits.

    4 Ezra 14:9:

    you shall be taken up from among men, and henceforth you shall live with my Son and with those who are like you, until the times are ended.

    The specific point of Luke is that this immediate blessing, normally limited to the righteous, is open to the poor (Lazarus) and the penitent thief on a single word of Jesus.

    The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (V, 771) also makes an interesting point:

    In the martyr stories of later Judaism a recurrent feature is that converted Gentiles who (voluntarily or otherwise) share the destiny of the martyrs will also share their reward. Thus, when the fate of the martyr Chananiah b. Teradyon (c. 135 A.D.) who was condemned to be burned to death, was announced to a philosopher, he said: "Tomorrow my portion will be with this man in the future world." S. Dt. on 32:4 § 307.

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