Oh Comma, Where Art Thou?

Oh, Comma, Where Art Thou?

Life changing decisions can be made as a result of how one reads texts. At least it was, in my case….

Christians are to derive joy from their association with and walk with Christ, but as a Christian, or non-Christian, for that matter, who is one spiritually grounded, one eventually realizes that the trek in this life can suffer from challenges and pain.

So it is with a Christian’s walk with Jesus, which includes a walk to the cross, which includes carrying the cross, which includes suffering with those we love, as well as joy with those we love, including Jesus.

I am reminded of my formational period of Christian conversion, a time around 18 or 19 years old when my belief system was being changed and formed into the person I eventually became. At that time, I was attending Samford University, a private Baptist college in Birmingham, AL. This was in 1967 or 1968, soon after the Civil Rights Movement was active in that city. It was also during the time of the Vietnam War, and my foundational beliefs in Peace and Nonviolence, which I hold to this day, were being formed as a part of my conversion experience.

One of the classes I was taking was, I believe, a survey of the New Testament taught by Dr. Aubrey Lunsford, if I recall his name correctly. It came time to talk about Heaven and Hell, the cross, and such subjects. Dr. Lunsford believed that upon death one immediately goes to heaven, into the presence of God. At that time I was beginning to believe in a doctrine called “Soul Sleep,” which essentially states that at death, the soul returns to God, and is resurrected at a future time along with everyone else who has died, then some go to live with God in his Kingdom, and some go to Hell, which was in my view at that time, to suffer annihilation, not to cruelly suffer for all eternity, as was the predominate belief then.

Dr. Lunsford and I were discussing such matters in class one day, and as proof of his belief that one goes immediately to heaven when one dies, he presented the Scripture, Luke 23: 39-43:

39.)”And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If you be Christ, save yourself and us. 40.) But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Do not you fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? 41.) And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man has done nothing amiss. 42.) And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. 43And Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, Today shall you be with me in paradise.”

I knew exactly where he was going with this, and piped up in class that there were no commas in the original Greek text and the Scripture should actually be read as “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with me in paradise.” Dr. Lunsford knew there were no commas in the original text, and it seemed he had never heard such reasoning back then, in 1967 or 1968. My reading at that time would put the resurrection of the body at some time in the future, which it may be, but what about the Spirit that returns to God at death? What about the Soul, and when it returns to God? Will it be awake, or will it be asleep? Dr. Lunsford did not know what to say back then, and my opinion was not changed, nor was his. Nowadays, one can easily research the comma matter using the internet and make one’s own decision.

In conjunction with how one reads this verse, and where on places the comma, I would like to bring up this question, “When does the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Jesus, begin?”. Did it begin immediately after Jesus’ death on the cross? Does it begin when Jesus returns? Is the Kingdom in us now, or among us now, or in the future, or both?

How we read things and were we put commas can drastically change our lives. When do we want to enter God’s Kingdom, and to be with Jesus? Do we want it to be today? Do we want it to be immediately after we die? Do we just want to sleep for some intermediate number of years, a thousand or so? Do we not want any of this and say there is no God, no resurrection, no Kingdom, no hell, no way to be with Jesus, not today, tomorrow, at death, after death, and just leave me alone, thank you?

Oh comma, where art thou?

Grace and Peace,

John Cooper

About jcooperforpeace
Spiritual Director, Spirituality of Inner Peace

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