In 1843, Joseph Smith made the following remarks about Luke 23:43:
“There has been much said by modern divines about the words of Jesus (when on the cross) to the thief, saying, ‘This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ King James’ translators make it out to say paradise. But what is paradise? It is a modern word: it does not answer at all to the original word that Jesus made use of. Find the original of the word paradise. You may as easily find a needle in a haymow. Here is a chance for battle, ye learned men. There is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise; but it was—This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: then I will teach you all about it and answer your inquiries” (Teachings, p. 310; History of the Church 5:424-25).
My first question is very simple: How can we understand Joseph’s remarks here to be anything but mistaken? Here is a literal translation of the Greek text of Luke 23:43:
“And he said to him, ‘Amen to you I say, today you shall be with me in the paradeis?.”
The italicized word here is a transliteration of the Greek word that English Bibles, including the KJV of course, translate as “paradise.” Obviously, the English word “paradise” is simply an Anglicized form of the Greek word. It “answers to the original word” as much as any English word possibly could do so.
I have scratched my head and tried to think of how someone devoted to Joseph Smith as a true prophet might explain this apparent mistake. None of the explanations I can devise seem to work. Here they are:
- Perhaps Joseph meant that the word Jesus originally used—an Aramaic or Hebrew word—was not the same word as “paradise.” This won’t work, because he explicitly says “there is nothing in the original word in Greek from which this was taken that signifies paradise.”
- Perhaps Joseph meant that the text of Luke 23:43 was copied incorrectly and that the original Greek text used a different expression (that would translate literally as “world of spirits”). There are at least two problems with this explanation. First, Joseph challenged the “learned men” of his day to check his claim by referring to the Greek text. That challenge presupposes that the Greek text available in 1843 (which has the same word as the manuscripts discovered since then) was accurate on this point. Second, Joseph claims that the word “paradise” is not simply the wrong Greek word, but “a modern word.” This claim demonstrates that Joseph thought that the word was a modern mistake arising from the work of the English translators (note his reference to “King James’ translators”), not a mistake in the medieval or ancient Greek manuscripts. By the way, Joseph’s claim is simply false: the word occurs in Greek literature dating from several centuries earlier than the New Testament.
- Perhaps Joseph meant that the word “paradise” in Luke 23:43 does not mean “heaven” but refers to the “world of spirits” where the dead go awaiting the future judgment. No doubt something like this explanation reflects Joseph’s theological point, but it is not what he says. Rather, he says that the translators erred by using the word “paradise,” that the word is a modern word, and that nothing corresponding to it is in the Greek text.
My second question is a natural follow-up to the first. If Joseph was an inspired translator, how did he miss this in his revision of the Bible? I count changes to 25 of the 56 verses in Luke 23 in the JST, including changes to verses 39, 40, and 42, but no change to verse 43.
Edited by Rob Bowman, 25 June 2010 - 01:29 PM.